Very Euro!

Posted: August 13, 2013 in Racing

Sorry for the long absence… was a very busy two-months for me with an all consuming project followed by a family holiday to escape the Aussie winter.  This is a post and some photos by Harry Hart, who’s son, Riley, recently went to compete in the European Junior Cycling Tour, in Assen (in The Netherlands).

Hopefully I’ll have some time to get back into more regular contributions in the coming weeks, but if you’re a cycling parent and want to send me something to post, please feel free.

Harry writes:

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The European Junior Cycling Tour (EJCT) is in its 49th year. There have been some stand-out alumni from the tour go on to great success, including Marianne Vos and Lieuwe Westra to name just two.

Over 700 riders from 19 countries were racing from age-groups under-9 to under-19 (or Cat 1 up to Junior men and women).  Up until under-17s (or Niewelinger), the European age-categories are single year, but mix boys and girls; with the boys racing girls who are a year older (for example Category 6 was boys born in 2000 and girls born in 1999).  Riley was racing in Category 7 – which was actually just boys born in 1999: there were 68 starters.

A few other things they do different:

  • Rollout is different and I think designed to suit certain gearing combos.  A full list can be found in the ‘regulations’ on the official site.
  • They don’t split the age category into grades – it’s all in and in some grades there were 140 riders on the start line!
  • There is a sign-in board before every stage which makes the kids feel very pro!
  • As the fields are so big, they draw numbers with riders lining up on the start line in that order (they’ll draw zero through nine with riders with the last digit called up in that order).
  • Equipment: no regulations on wheels so they’re running 50mm+ carbon tubs!

The tour is run over six-stages in six-days.  They’re pretty full on days for the organisers but for the competitors, once your race is over you’re free to do other things.  Probably 75% of competitors stay in the campsite.  It’s all very well organised with lots of activities, lots of interaction with other riders.  There are a few hotels in Assen to stay, but my advice would be to avoid staying at the nearest hotel – De Bonte Wever, unless you like hanging out in the bar from Star Wars!

The north of Holland is a funny place.  As we were arriving we saw thousands of people lining the road and standing on bridges over the freeway.  We weren’t sure what was going on?  Maybe a bike race?  It turns out the week before the EJCT there is a week of truck racing and showing and the people were lined up to see the convoy leave town… odd!?!?

Stage one was a 940m prologue – short-and-sharp / out-and-back along the side of a canal in downtown Assen.  It’s pretty cool as the whole 470m straight is lined with cheering people.  There’s a start ramp and each rider is called up and introduced individually to sign-on while some are interviewed… Riley, his Dutch not being much, answered a short question about Melbourne’s weather!  It’s all over in around a-minute-and-a-half.  Riley managed a very respectable 9th place with a time of 1.23.290 – the winner did a 1.20.990!

The 940m prologue takes place along a Dutch canal.

The 940m prologue takes place along a Dutch canal. The hot pink sure stands out!

Stage two was a criterium – 16-laps of a 1.8km circuit that was made up of narrow roads with a number of cobbled sections (not the nasty Roubaix cobbles, but cobbles none the less!) – oh, and it is was absolutely pissing down for the race!  Position on the start was up to a ballot and unfortunately Riley’s number was drawn last!  By the time he got to the front (three-laps in), a group of three had gone (which he had no idea about).  Those three ended up finishing 1-2-3 in final GC!  He was set to contest the sprint before a kid fishtailed in the second-last corner taking a few riders out and holders others up.  He rolled in in 20th in the same time as the lead bunch – but time bonuses for the top-10 meant he slipped to 12th on GC.

Stage two was a crit that in Australia would have been cancelled due to the rain!

Stage two was a crit that in Australia would have been cancelled due to the rain!

Stage three and it was ‘classics’ day.  A point-to-point race with full road closure and an entourage of bikes and cars that numbered 17 – including two police motos!  Start was on a first-in basis so we strategically set up rollers and kept an eye on the officials setting up the start ribbon.  As soon as they pulled it out, Riley hit the line just as the stampede started; front row thank you very much… at least for a short while!

Jersey wearers at the front... then its every man for himself! As the flag drops for the 'classic'.

Jersey wearers at the front… then its every man for himself!

Front row soon became fifth row back as riders did everything they could to move up.  Four kms in there was a touch of wheels that bought half the field down, including Riley.  He and four others spent the next 15kms chasing back on!  He made some friends on this chase.  He finished in the bunch after trying an attack with another rider with 3k’s to go.  He moved back further to 14th on GC, but still very much in touch of the top 10.

Day four saw a 6.7km ITT held on flat and windy roads outside the Assen MotoGP track.  Differences to Oz: no clip-on bars or TT helmets… 808s with tubulars are fine though, even for 9-year-olds!  Riley averaged over 40kmph to claim sixth on the stage and move up to sixth overall.  Stage was won by the Dutch National Champ, followed by British National Champ, with the Luxemburg National Champ 4th and German runner-up 5th!

TT start ramp - very pro, but no clip-on bars or aero helmets allowed.

TT start ramp – very pro, but no clip-on bars or aero helmets allowed.

Stage five was the traditional Omloop, which included a nasty short stretch of real, Flanders-style cobbles.  Lots of punctures on that particular stretch (Riley ran 25c Specialized Roubaix tyres and had no problems)!  It was 35-degrees so Riley was hoping this might melt a few away.  It wasn’t to be and the pace was on from lap one with accelerations out of every corner and for the sprint points every second-lap.  Riley held his position well until the second last lap when he went back a bit to recover for the final sprint… big mistake!  He was never to see the front again as the first five rode across the road for pretty much the whole last lap meaning no one could go anywhere.  With bonus seconds on offer Riley moved from 6th to 8th on GC.

Cobbles... just like the Ronde!

Cobbles… just like the Ronde!

Last stage and it was another kermesse style loop of 2.8km around the camp site.  Riley decided he was happy to throw away his top-10 if he could get away and maybe snare 4th!  He had ‘good legs’ and rode much of the race near the front.  He attacked on the second last lap but was bought back at the bell.  He stayed up front until the wheel he was on went backwards on the final cobble section and riders went past right and left… another lesson learnt and probably the only stage he was really disappointed with.  He finished 10th overall and had an amazing experience.

More narrow roads, big fields and tough racing for the final stage.

More narrow roads, big fields and tough racing for the final stage.

The racing is very different to Australia.  As its flat, there are no obvious places to attack and cause a selection (as we tend to do with hills here), so the pace is on right from the flag-drop and it becomes a race of attrition, especially for the first maybe five or six kilometres.  The big fields and narrow roads also make it very foreign for Aussie juniors.  There is a LOT of contact – especially at the start as riders battle to be in the front group but not on the front.  They are taking the tiniest of gaps and passing on the road-shoulders if they can!  It’s pretty confronting for an Aussie junior to experience this first-up.

Instead of having maybe a half-dozen people who could win (like in a lot of Australian races), there are 30 riders who on their day could take the win so no one gives you an inch or lets you in unless you’re wearing a leaders jersey.  There were a lot of UK riders there and Riley’s category was won by UK champ Daniel Tullet.  There’s not much of him, but he certainly knows how to position himself in the bunch and has a BIG engine – as was demonstrated by his solo win on the second-stage that set-up his victory.

Bike handling is another big difference; Riley thought he was a pretty good bike handler, but in Assen, he was going backwards on corners as riders flew around seemingly without care or concern.  The handling also stemmed to riding a lot on the grass and road edges to move up and push in.

If you’re thinking of going, feel free to get in touch with any questions in the comments section below.  It was an amazing experience and one I’d highly recommend for any Aussie junior.

There were trophies for the top 23 riders in Cat VII... now that's inclusive!

There were trophies for the top 23 riders in Cat VII… now that’s inclusive!

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