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‘Jake Stewart, Great Britain?’ Second in the u23 Gent-Wevelgem and third in the Trofeo Piva in Italy, strong results – but we know that name... Ah! Yes, he and Fred Wright won the Berlin Six u23 race in 2017 and VeloVeritas was their official photographer for the day best have a word with the man...
Quickstep's win total for the year now stands at 24 with the victories not just down to one man but spread across the team – remarkable. How do they do it? To find out, we got in touch with our old friend and key leadout man in the QuickStep machine, Michael Mørkøv - who was instrumental in Jakobsen’s most recent triumph and similarly ‘pilot fished’ Hodeg to a stage win in the Tour of Catalonia – to get ‘the word’ from the horse’s mouth.
Mondays in the Flatlands of Belgium aren’t the best; most shops are shut but the flight back to Auld Scotia isn’t ‘til late so use has to be made of the time available. Looking out of the window on Monday morning, the man across the road has his priorities right – ‘keep that Jupiler cold!’
Roadside at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and KBK 2018. The first classic weekend of the year has been and gone and safely back in a rather snowy Scotland I've got time to reflect on the Classic season opener. The glorious Belgian sunshine all weekend could not lift the thermometer and the riders endured bitterly cold conditions for both Het Nieuwsblad or Kuurne Brussels Kuurne. Riders faced just under 200 kilometres each day and whilst the temperature had us looking for our thermals some hardy riders were glove free, presumably generating enough body heat from the effort.
Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo & The Netherlands) goes from way out, Arnaud Demare (FDJ & France) scrambles for his wheel but is lengths back at the line with Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain & Italy) doing well for a man whose speciality is late season races in balmy Italy, taking third. We agree it was a great sprint from the Dutchman but it wasn't a vintage Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.
"Ooooohhhhhhh!" The moan echoes around the bar; these boys are aficionados, they all know that solid Astana Dane, Michael Valgren Andersen isn't coming back - he timed his jump to perfection, there was that fatal second or two of hesitation among the frozen men behind him and he was gone, en route to win Het Nieuwsblad 2018. Big Pole Lukasz Wisniowski (Sky) takes second with the only Belgian who properly 'honoured the race,' big Sep Vanmarcke (EF) taking third place.
Jacob Vaughan is arguably the most successful of the Rayner Clan, this year with his move to the Lotto-Soudal U23 team. A solid first year U23 in 2017 was capped with an excellent win in the Guido Reybrouck Classic. We caught up with him prior to his first big get together with the team.
The David Rayner has been helping young riders realise their continental dreams since 1995 with David Millar one of the first to benefit, and Theo Hartley from Bolton in Lancs will be one of the grant recipients in 2018. He'll be joining the Belgian Illi Bikes squad, run by long term Six Day soigneur and track aficionado, Etienne Illegems and his son Ken who was for a time a mechanic with Team Sky but could get round a tough kermis on his good days.
The last few weeks we’ve been catching up with the young men who are out there in the Heartlands across Europe ‘doing it’ – Brittany, Lombardy and of course, Flanders. Englishman Ross Lamb – another man supported by the stalwart David Rayner Fund – has been notching up the results in the Flatlands: 4th in Heusden-Zolder, 2nd at Pulderbos, 2nd at Booischot, 3rd in the Memorial Vanconinsloo, 3rd at Huldenberg, 2nd at Geetbeets and 2nd in Linden Lubbeek.
The season of 2017 started with positive vibes. I was extremely dedicated and trained hard all through winter. My progression was measured by regular testing with my coach. By February I was counting down the days until I moved to Belgium where I would undertake my first season of racing on the Continent. Prior to leaving for my new home, I discussed a handful of targets to aim for during the season. This really motivated me to knuckle down and complete the last few weeks training.
It was back in July when we first heard about 21 year-old George Woods (Richardson’s Trek Racing Team) ‘doing the business’ in Belgium, we ‘had a word’ with him but with all that Tour carry-on we didn’t get round to writing the interview up. Then the other week we saw he was in the frame again, winning a 114 kilometre kermis at Deinze. High times we gave ourselves a shake and got the piece published!
I’m not really sure what to say about the month of May. I haven’t been training very well, I haven’t really performed in most races (best result has been 20th in a 1.12A kermesse, one of only two races I’ve finished this month), and on the whole I haven’t particularly enjoyed riding my bike all that much.
The beginning of April finally marked the start of my 2017 race season in Belgium, after a long winter’s preparation. An unfortunate issue with the team’s accommodation arrangements for the year meant I had to head home unexpectedly immediately after arriving in Belgium, and this knocked me a bit sideways mentally for a while.
Ghent, or rather ‘Gent’ we love it; the bars, the people and the fact you can walk into a filling station and there are six quality cycling magazines on the shelf to chose from, and you have to love a city where they have taps to discharge the rainwater. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the first real races of the year – Down Under, the Desert races, Langkawi? Come on!
The last time we spoke to Dan Gardner he’d just ridden the 2015 Worlds TTT in Virginia as part of the American Astellas team. This season saw him back with Astellas for the first part of the season before a mid-season move to the Heartland – Flanders – and a ride with the Baguet Bicycle Center Cycling Academy. The man behind the team, Serge Baguet is a Belgian ex-professional who rode for Lotto and QuickStep and can count a Belgian Elite Road Championship and Tour de France stage among his palmarès.
They’re not all going to make it; some do – Dan McLay, Adam Blythe, Jack Bauer... But they keep heading for the Heartland. And we’ve got another name for you to conjure with; David Hewett, is on the kermis trail in search of that elusive crisp World Tour contract - here’s his tale...
According to our research, the village of Plockton in Ross and Cromarty has a population of 378 – but it should actually be ‘377 and one would-be Kermis King.’ And you thought Plockton was only famous for ‘Hamish Macbeth’ and one of VeloVeritas’s favourite movies, ‘The Wicker man.’ Enter young Angus Claxton...
It’s hard to believe it’s 10 years since last I spoke to Paul Watson about a great ride he pulled off in 1987. Paul was British Amateur Road Champion in 1985, the same year as he was third in the Tour of Britain, ‘Milk Race’ behind Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner, Eric Van Lancker of Belgium and the man who should have been a super star but never quite was, Roy Knickman (USA). He rode pro with Van Lancker’s Belgian Fangio team at the end of that year but returned to Britain to ride for Raleigh in 1986.
It’s a while since VeloVeritas last spoke to Steve Skuse; Vik and I used to bump into him on our trips to the kermises. Steve got in touch the other day to tell us about another young man he’s looking after and who’s pulled off that difficult trick of winning a kermis in the Flatlands. And the better news is, he qualifies to ride for Bonnie Scotland... Jez McCann is the man; 19 years-old, raised in Gravesend, riding for Richardsons-Trek.
There’s never a good time to be in hospital but Grand Tour times apart, the start of March isn’t bad with cycling printed matter and video footage aplenty readily available, and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad...
It was Sean Connery's character in the film "The Untouchables" who suggested you don't bring a knife to a gun fight and it was clear that the weapons of choice at the opening classics weekend in Belgium would contribute to the outcome and individual's performance. Having wandered around the teams at both the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne it became clear there was a lot of nice kit being readied to race.
The Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne adventure began when I met Craig Grieve, Spokes bike shop owner and U23 race team backer, early Friday morning, to get a picture of the newly-logoed team car. For Craig, the journey to Kuurne is a long haul; catching a ferry from Hull, arriving Saturday in time for the riders to recce part of the course. We caught up with them on Saturday night in Kortrijk for a pizza and to hear how their preparation has gone and to plan for the race.
Saturday dawns crisp, cold and sunny for the Omloop Gent Gent. We have a copy of Het Nieusblaad which has all the information we need about the route so its time to head for the start. It's moved this year to the S.M.A.K complex, site of the Gent Six Day. As the car park fills with the now de rigueur coaches, ushered in by whistle blowing attendants we grab a quick pic of world champ Peter Sagan's Specialized before being asked to move on by an unfriendly team staffer...
The first weekend of the classic season is fast approaching, with the ‘semi-classics’, the 71st Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Elite 1.HC) on Saturday 27th Feb and 68th Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne (1.HC) the next day; the heat and sun of the Middle East and Australasia being replaced with the cold and biting wind of the Flemish Heartland.
It was last Autumn when we last heard from Robert Smail, one of those ‘forgotten men’ out there jousting with the Eeckhouts, Willems, Smets and Caethovens of this world in the land of the frites, cross winds and kermises. High time we had another word...
“James Spragg,” now there’s a name which hasn’t appeared in our pages for a while - but he’s back in harness and doing nicely thank you with some solid performances. We first came across James back in 2010 when he rode for the Qin Cycling Team and he's with Continental Team, Champion System for 2015 and back in the groove with some good results – like 10th on GC in the recent Baltic Chain stage race in Estonia.
One result which caught our eye recently was a win in the InterClub race at Zandhoven over 138 K where Englishman Jake Scott beat Stef Vermeulen of KWC Heist Zuiderkempen to take the win. InterClubs are ‘big deal’ races and the pro teams keep a close eye on the results – naturally, they’re not easy to win.
It’s high time we looked east again, across the North Sea to where bike racing isn’t an aberration, where it’s in the soil and a barrier to hang over with your Jupiler and frites is never far away. A name which we’ve seen cropping up this year is that of Luke Ryan (Richardsons-Trek Road Team) and recently he won a kermis at Torhout. There’s a man to have a word with...
The summer is coming to an end so it must be time for Madison-Genesis rider Mark McNally to come to form... McNally is a product of the British ‘cycling academy’ system and was a member of the winning team in the European junior team pursuit championship in 2007 and European U23 team pursuit championship in 2008.
It was the tailend of last year when we last spoke to 2014 junior Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner, James Shaw; he’s spent this season with the Lotto-Soudal U23 team - we thought it was high time we had a word.
‘Coolness’ is hard to define, most professional riders are smart, well turned out but only a few are ‘cool.’ Belgian Geert Omloop was one such rider but not only was he cool, he was hard as nails, a master of the art of the kermis and on his day capable of beating Belgium’s very best to win the National Elite Road Race Championships.
I remember once, after the last chase in a Six Day I asked Dirk, our Belgian mechanic; ‘was that finale ‘straight’ Dirk?' He fixed me with a patient stare, much as a good parent would do after their child has said something silly, ‘have you ever seen a ‘straight’ Six Day, Ed?’ I took his point, they’re all pretty much choreographed – but like I keep saying, you have to be able to take laps out of a string riding at 52-53 kph to win. But I reckon that on Sunday evening I did see a straight finale.
We're at the Gent Six Day, and of course, the pils still gets the better of a few of the ‘don’t get out much brigade.’ Friday night didn’t see the best madison chase ever, and on a unanimous decision we headed for frites – and beer. We love the Vivaldi, the landlady, the crazy clientele, the 70’s Disco and the fact that no matter how late we stay, we’ve never seen closing time... And the Saturday of the Gent Six Day means just one thing – the big ‘cross at Koksijde.
The last time we spoke to young Englishman, James Shaw he'd just won the junior edition of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Recently he's followed in the footsteps of Adam Blythe and Dan McLay by signing for Lotto's U23 'feeder' team. High time we had another word with him, we thought to ourselves...
The World Tour, the pinnacle; but unless you're a super talent nurtured from your junior years a la Taylor Phinney or Bradley Wiggins, how do you take the first step up the mountain where only the Super Teams can breathe the rarefied air? Well, you could do a lot worse that speak to a certain Peter Murphy - Jack Bauer did and the rest is history. Peter is one of the men behind Kingsnorth Wheelers - the Flandrian team with the English name.
If you’re not on one of the National Federation programmes there’s only one way to catch the eye and sign that coveted first pro contract. That is, either as an individual or with your team you head for Belgium, France or Italy and fight for results. It’s the time honoured way, good enough for Tom Simpson, Robert Millar and David Millar. A name which caught our eye recently in the Belgian kermises was 23 year-old Aussie, Jayden Copp (Bianchi DCM Arbitrage) with two fourth places, a second then a win. Well worth a word we thought.
If you remember our Gordon Arms Time Trial report earlier in the season then you’ll remember the name Harry Tanfield, he eventually took third spot. Harry also won last year’s Dave Campbell Memorial Race in the Kingdom of Fife, another race which VeloVeritas was present at.
It’s a sad day; VeloVeritas has lost our man in the Flatlands front line - Michael Nicolson. He’s back in the UK for 2014 and signed up with new team, Starley Primal – new home too for fellow Scot, Davie Lines. We thought we’d best have a word...
Last year Aldo again played the team role but for United Healthcare, after TT1 decided their future lay with a team where all the athletes were diabetic. Despite all the hard work for others he managed a big wing along the way in the USA’s longest – and one of the most prestigious – criteriums; the US Air Force Clarendon Cup. His 2014 season started in the desert and we thought it would be good to hear ‘from the horse’s mouth’ what the Tours of Qatar and Oman are really like – and how he copes with UHC’s cosmopolitan race schedule.
What have Geraint Thomas, Adam Blythe and new sprint star – he was only narrowly beaten by Boonen at Kuurne – Moreno Hofland all got in common? There’s a clue above in the place name: they’ve all won the junior Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. And adding to that illustrious list is another Englishman; 17 year-old James Shaw from Heanor in Derbyshire, he rides for HARIBO Beacon Cycling Team in the UK and took the honours with a perfectly timed move in the finale of one of the world’s premier junior races.
Het Hieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne are the first opportunities for northern European fans to check out the new hardware. Our trawl always starts on the Friday evening at the Holiday Inn, Ghent where F des J, Cofidis and Rabobank (now Belkin) set up shop for the first ‘real’ races of the year.
The GHS ‘10’ – as in George Herbert Stancer (OBE, 1878 – 1962), racer, journalist, cycling administrator and the man who lends his name to the British juvenile ten mile championship. Stancer was a champion of the race against the watch and the event was first organised to honour his memory and encourage youngsters to ride in time trials. On many occasions the winner has gone on to win the junior BBAR and then ...
Here at VeloVeritas we’ve been doing a bit of research into Six Days from years gone by and a name that cropped up was that of Derek Hunt. Hunt was a very successful schoolboy and junior on the UK scene in the 70’s before moving to The Netherlands where he was a regular participant in the amateur Six Days – notably, winning the Maastricht race.
So its been a few months since my last blog posting but now a week into my off-season its time to put some words together and sign off on this 2013 season. Having stepped on the plane to the USA way back on February 4th and now already in November its been a busy nine months; five months in the USA to start with and four months between USA/Belgium/UK is a lot of km's covered... by plane, car, boat and of course by bike!
Sometimes you time an interview just right and your subject goes out and does something big right after it. Take British cyclo-cross champion Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles) – or should that be, ‘Field de Brit’ as they say in the Flatlands. We spoke to him on Wednesday and on Friday his coach Dan Fleeman of DigDeep Coaching called us to tell us that he’d pulled off a ‘biggie’ – 13th in the Koppenbergcross after leading for the first two laps and a puncture with two laps to go.
The word ‘legend’ is over used these days; but today we bring you an interview with a man who firmly deserves the title – Mr. Rik Van Linden of Belgium. Nicknamed ‘Rik 111’ – following on from Belgian superstar riders Rik’s Van Steenbergen  and Van Looy  he was the son of a professional rider. Van Linden was an almost unbelievably prolific winner as a youngster and won the full classic Paris-Tours whilst still riding as a stagiaire. He won multiple stages in all of the Grand Tours and was green jersey winner in the 1975 Tour not to mention winning numerous semi-classics such as Milano-Torino.
When I get calls from both of our men who trawl the Belgian palmares websites – Vik and Dave – in the one day about a performance, I know it must be a good ride. Michael Nicholson’s 14th place in the tough GP Stad Zottegem over 182 kilometres behind Slovenian hard man Blaz Jarc (NetApp-Endura) with Vacansoleil duo Wouter Mol (The Netherlands) and 2012 Paris-Tours winner Marco Marcato (Italy) third and fifth respectively, certainly falls into that category.
VeloVeritas & Co. always tries to keep an eye on what’s happening in the Heartland of Flanders. If it’s not Vik, then it’s Dave who tips us of about who’s burning up the kermises – the name of 23 year-old Australian Luke Davison caught his eye with back to back kermis wins. You could race for years there and never win one – so two on the bounce is special. We tracked the man from Sydney down in Gent and had a word – but first of all, let’s have a meander through his palmares.
A man our friend Vik first pointed out to us last year and who we interviewed for ‘another well known website’ on account of him being North American, is a Thomas Rufus Gibbons – better known as Tom. When we spoke to Joshua Cunningham recently about what was happening in the Flatlands, he mentioned to us, ‘this American who won two kermises back to back – and that’s not easy to do!’ And sure enough, it was our boy, Tom. We caught up with the 23 year-old as he rested between races and opened by asking him about his ‘double.’