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Bike Racing in Belgium – A report for British Cycling

Ok, so it’s not running – and as you will read – I avoided running where possible too – but cyclocross is jolly good fun.  Honestly.  This report was written for British Cycling, but I’ve posted it here as this kind of funded trip wouldn’t go amiss for some of our talented junior runners…

I can’t believe it’s been a year, but once again, I have a spare room full of drying kit and a porch strewn with newspaper, mud and shoes. Last weekend 13 riders, 4 drivers and a British Cycling Coach headed to Belgium for the annual race trip organised by Chris Young and funded by the Dave Rayner Fund, Yorkshire Cyclocross Association, and British Cyclocross Trust Fund. Each year, the trip gives young aspiring riders the opportunity to test their legs, lungs and skills against some of the best from the Home of Cyclocross.

After an early start Friday morning, we were comfortably installed in Hof Ter Kammen – a cyclists guest house in Oudenaarde – later that evening. Once bikes and kit were organised it was time for relaxing evening and pizza before bed.


Saturday – Alsemberg

Saturday dawned frosty and bright. Hitting the road at 8.30am was early, but it meant that Chris Young could race the course in the morning and give us useful feedback for our events in the afternoon. Being able to pre-ride the course together was a fun experience, with the more experienced riders helping those on their first trip to Belgium to find the racing lines. Indeed, co-operation and teamwork was a major theme all weekend. From tweaking and cleaning bikes to collecting kit, taking numbers back, cooking and washing up, everyone mucked-in without ever being asked. It was a pleasure to be around such a friendly and professional group.

However, once the racing started, all niceties were throw out of the window. The Brits were here to ride hard, and ride hard they had to. Saturday’s course was a twisty, turney affair over rough grassland, mud, sand and singletrack. The going was heavy. The speeds were high on the tarmac start loop. One of the highlights of the day was hearing that Billy Harding and Benny Pygott lead the Junior (and Elite Women’s field) out onto the course.

The Youth race was huge with 56 on the start line. An early mechanical saw Alfie Moses out of the running and, well, running to the pits for a bike change leaving him a huge chase to get back on. Chris Barnes held his own during the early pace, staying near the head of the race, whilst Jack Fillingham and Abby-Mae Parkinson rode strongly taking the win in the Youth Girls category just ahead of Tom Seaman and finishing slightly ahead of Sarah Lomas, Alfie Moses and Hannah Saville.  

The weather cracked for the Junior and Women’s race. From bright sun to heavy hailstorm in one lap! The lines changed instantly and it was a battle just to stay warm. However, the sloppy conditions meant that bike changes weren’t too necessary as the tires were shedding. Unfortunately after a race long cat and mouse game with Katrien Thijs, the women’s race was suddenly stopped before the bell so although I finished in second we never had the chance to finish the battle! Billy had a storming ride to finish in 7th whilst Benny, Seb Marsh and Nikola Butler also made the most of the difficult, blizard conditions.

Nick Barnes was our sole representative in the Elite race. Conditions had brightened up but the course was a quagmire. There were short sections of running now around some of the bends and Nick was bike changing every lap.

Results from Alsemberg

17th Chris Barnes
27th Jack Fillingham
31st Abby-Mae Parkinson (1st Girl)
36th Tom Seaman
44th Sarah Lomas (3rd Girl)
48th Alfie Moses
50th Hannah Saville

Juniors / Women
7th Billy Harding
18th Benny Pygott
32nd Seb Marsh
37th Adela Carter (2nd Women)
44th Nikola Butler (6th Women)

Elite / U23 Men
30th Nick Barnes

Sunday – Lochristi

Another cold morning and a dash to get everything packed up before the drive to Lochristi. This was a lower-key race, although the roads were still closed all day for the event. Once again, we pre-rode the course in small groups. It was pancake flat with a quarter of it on tarmac, most on rough fields and the key section through a very muddy ploughed field. A small ditch became an interesting feature as for almost everyone this was a dismount, but Billy and Benny had honed their bunnyhopping skills to perfection and were clearing the gap easily. Chris Young raced early so was able to advise us on how the course was shaping up. Most were flat-running the ploughed field – that’s how churned up it was!

The Youth race started quickley and the British riders did well to creep up from their start at the back of the field. Tom decided to go for a swim in a stream but climbed out and got riding strongly again, managing to help Abby-Mae keep her slender lead in the Girl’s race – teamwork yet again! Alfie made up for his disapointment on Saturday with a gutsy ride just behind Jack who thought the course suited him well. Sarah didn’t get distracted by a mechanical in practice and finished 3rd Girl, whilst Hannah made good use of her running legs.  

The Junior and Women’s race was started without much warning and Benny was caught with his jacket still on. Somehow he managed to take it off in the midst of a fast start. Seb noticed he lost a few places so helped to pace him back up the tarmac – going into the red in order to help him out. Billy and Benny then proceeded to take back places by hopping the ditch, whilst Seb recovered from his early big effort. I was able to hit the rideable line through the edge of the ploughed field which helped me to pass several riders who were literally getting bogged down. Commitment was the key here – and Chris Young shouting was a real incentive for all of the Brits! Nikola also found the tough conditions to her liking and came home as 2nd Woman.

The Elite / U23 race was always going to be quick – especially on such a short, powerful course. Despite feeling tired from a tough ride the day before, Nick managed to keep with the pace and lasted for three quarters of the race finishing 33rd. The cafes and bars had filled up by now – mostly with people watching the end of the World Cup on TV, but the crowd were also knowledgeable on the race going on around their streets. Indeed, we were able to find the venue by asking someone to direct us using the local paper – of which most of the back pages were dedicated to cycling!

Results from Lochristi

15th Chris Barnes
20th Jack Fillingham
21st Alfie Moses
23rd Tom Seaman
26th Abby-Mae Parkinson (1st Girl)
35th Sarah Lomas (3rd Girl)
42nd Hannah Saville (5th Girl)

Juniors / Women
10th Billy Harding
16th Benny Pygott
17th Seb Marsh
18th Adela Carter (1st Woman)
20th Nikola Butler (2nd Woman

Elite / U23
33rd Nick Barnes

Hopefully the riders gained valuable experience of racing and travelling abroad. We must thank the Dave Rayner Fund and the British Cycling Cyclocross Fund for their support of this trip. We must also thank Mal Harding, Ian McParland, Steve Barnes and Jill Lomas for the mammoth amount of driving, for sterling work in the pits and for giving up their time to allow us to ride around muddy fields. We must also not forget Chris Young who’s coaching was superb and whose love of cyclocross is infectious.

Words by Adela Carter and Nick Barnes. Images from Adela Carter, Abby-Mae Parkinson, Nick Barnes and Rita Thienpondt.

About AccelerateDebs

Accelerate Simply, just loves to run. Moans about roads, preferring the mud and slopes of the fells, especially the Peak District.
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