Team Manager Chris Young reports on a weekend trip to Belgium, where a small group of Yorkshire Cyclo-Cross riders, predominantly youths, experienced racing in front of huge crowds at the Koppenburg and Zonoven events
As a rider, Belgium is the place to race if you really want to test your ability against the best. This year the Yorkshire Cyclo-Cross Association chose to tackle two of the season’s premier events, a taste of world championship standard racing. Our riders even received free entries and start money to race!
Leaving the UK on the Friday morning, we had 15 riders, 6 helpers and 30 bikes all crammed into 4 vans. Our destination was Lille, France. We made sure everyone was fed and watered on the ferry so we could get an early night and at 7am the following morning we were loading up for the final leg of the journey to the Koppenberg Classic in Oudernarde.
Once there, it was down to the signing on tent first to pick up passes giving access to the circuit for riders plus two helpers each. Even at 8.30 in the morning there were spectators arriving.
Everyone all pre-rode the course together, sussing out the corners and downhills along the way. The course took in the famous Koppenberg climb which features in many of the Belgian classic road races. Personally, it brought some amazing memories of past events. The rest of the course was on the hillside and to be honest it was tougher and more technical than anything we tend to see in the UK.
From our party, the rides of the day came from Lucy Horrocks and Sophie Thackray, who were first and second respectively in the Youth Girls race. Meanwhile, Amira Mellor was the first junior and 18th overall in the Elite Women’s event. The Youth boys race saw Harry Hardcastle taking seventh and Ben Turner tenth, though the stand-out ride came from another British rider, Ben Tullett, who claimed the win.
All our riders were handicapped by gridding towards the back of the start, though this is only to be expected on a one-off visit. Despite this big disadvantage the riders all battled on with some getting into the top twenty.
Once everyone was finished and changed, we stayed on to watch the Elite men’s event: watching the best in the world go round like they were on motor bikes opened a few eyes!
The Cub Hostel in Leurven was our next stop and we struck lucky and parked the vans in their underground car park, so we could leave them loaded.
Another 7am start on a morning of good weather saw us heading for the Zonoven Super Prestige event. Then it was the same procedure as Saturday: sign on, pre ride course, check out lines. Half the course was on sand with some big downhills and deep ruts, with some tough running sections.
Again the event was massive to British eyes. Talking to the organiser, we learned that these events take three days to set up and another three to take down! Apart from the course itself, there were VIP lounges and beer tents, plus all the TV camera positions.
True to form, the Zonoven sand took its toll on our riders. More with bad gridding positions meant our riders didn’t really have a chance to move up till after the first lap, by which time the leaders were well gone!
A couple of first lap crashes resulted in instant DNF’s, though happily there were no serious injuries. But several riders held it together and the rides of the day came from Sophie Thackray who was first youth girl and Ben Turner who worked his way through to finish 9th, a ride which without the first lap delys might have been good enough for a top three placing.
Overall, everyone performed to their best. The riders, helpers and support staff all mucked in together to make the weekend a success. The riders all came away buzzing from the experience. What more can you ask for? And there was no mud!
We’d like to thank the trip funders, Yorkshire Cyclo Cross Association, The BCC Trust and the legendary Brian Robinson. Plus the helpers, drivers and pit crew: Steve Barnes, Ian McParland, Juliet Horrocks, Marie Jackson, Colin Humphreys and Chris Young. Plus a big thanks to the supporters club who travelled themselves and did pits, start/finish and smiles!
Race Results Koppenberg
Youth Girls: L Horrocks 1st S Thackaray 2nd
Youth Boys H Hardcastle 7th.B Turner 10th E Cammeron 16th E Townend 20th J Reed 26th M Taylor 28th
Juniors A Mosses 17th C Barnes 37th
Under-23 J Clarkson 21st N Barnes 28th J Humphreys 33rd B Harding 35th
Elite women A Mellor 1st junior and 17th elite woman.
Race Results Zonoven
Youth Girls: S Thakaray 1st L Horrocks DNF
Youth Boys B Turner 9th H Hardcastle 16th E Cammeron 49th J Reed 55th E Townsend 57th M Taylor DNF
Juniors A Moses 35th C Barnes 40th
Under-23 J Clarkson 35th J Humphreys 37th N Barnes 39th B Harding 41st