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Luke Ryan – Nipping Over to Belgium and Winning on the Kermis circuit

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‘That website of yours is seriously dire; all old boys from the past and testers – I thought you guys were into reporting on the young guys who are out doing the business in Flanders?’

One thing you could never accuse our lifelong friend, critic and soothsayer, Viktor of is sugar coating it.

But the man was right; 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…

Luke Ryan
Luke Ryan. Photo©DPM

Nice one Luke, the win in Torhout. Can you give us your background, please.

“I’m 25 years-old, I live in Canterbury and started racing at 19 so this is my seventh season.

“I ride for Richardsons-Trek and this will be my fourth season with them.”

Tell us about the team.

We’re probably the last of the true amateurs, nothing fancy, no team car but the guys at Richardsons love the sport, we don’t have a big budget but we really enjoy our racing – we’re always last to leave the car park, too busy chatting!

“Andy Lyons is our manager, he’s very experienced and still races himself – which is great because you can always turn to him for advice and he’s right there for you.”

Those orange Treks look nice.

“Yeah, Trek Emondas with Bontrager carbon clinchers.

“I love riding on tubs but the Bontrager clinchers are the best wheels I’ve ever ridden.

“As an 80 kg. rider I have a tendency to break equipment – I used to trash wheels and frames regularly but not now with the Trek and Bontrager kit.”

Tell us about your UK palmarès.

“I won the National B road race and quite a few crits in the south, there are lots of circuits with mid-week crits to race; Hog Hill, Hillingdon, Velo Park…”

Luke Ryan
The Richardsons Cycles team Trek.

So you’re ‘raiding’ into Flanders rather than based over there?

“It’s 20 minutes to Dover from my home and a day return on the ferry is 30 quid; it’s much easier for me to race in Belgium than it is to ride up north – six hours up the A1!

“There’s always a race in West Flanders and they’re mental – good mental but mental – one big long line…

“There’s country lanes, wind, pure racing; it’s tactical but it’s not at the same time – every man for himself, love it!

“I’ve been going for four years but this is the first year I’ve managed to crack it.

“The first couple of years it’d be lined out and I’d be 50th wheel, end up in the third group and get 30th if I was lucky with prizes down to 35th you’d scrape into the money.

“This year I’ve suffered the same but been in the breaks – it’s like Greg LeMond said; ‘it doesn’t get any easier, you just go faster!’

“I’ve made 10 trips to Flanders this year and had five or six top 10’s – you get to know the riders, the teams, who’s good, who’ll work…”

Tell us about your win.

“That was just on Wednesday and I still don’t know how I did it!

“It was a UCI 1.12A, 127.4 K – you get A’s and B’s, the A’s are over a longer distance.

“I was on my knees most of the way even though I was in the front group of about 16 which was away most of the day ‘til another five came across in the last laps.

“There were a lot of attacks and in the last kilometre a Belgian guy clipped off the front, I went with him but sat on him for about 600 metres then I jumped him and went for it.

“If you look at the pictures of the finish it looks like I won a sprint but it was me just hanging on – another 10 metres and I’d have been nowhere.

“That race was 44 kph average but I rode one the other week which was 46 kph – you don’t need an inside ring and much more than the 11, 12 and 13 sprockets.”

I was going to ask about where you stay over there but you have the ‘raids’ down to a fine art…

“Once you get to Calais it’s an hour to most races’ they start at 3:00 pm so I can rise at 07:00 am, have breakfast, leave for Dover and arrive there at about 10:00 am.

“I work in local government so I can work flexi or take a day’s leave; like I say, it’s much easier for me to race in Belgium than it is to race up in the North East.

“It’s high quality racing and if you’re getting up there in the races you’ll more than cover your costs with the prize money.

“I’ll usually have a friend come along – it makes it a bit more fun, my friend Harry from the Catford CC sometimes comes over with me or my team mates from Essex.”

Is it still easy to race in Belgium once you get over there?

“Pretty much, you need a letter from British Cycling and at the first race you have to pay six Euros for a registration card; they read the bar code on that at subsequent races – then it’s 10 Euros entry at each race but you get five back when you return your number.

“Prizes go down to 35th so you can usually win your entry fee back – but really it’s pretty much turn up and sign on.

“I was at one race once where there were 275 starters; they run out of numbers and were pinning bits of paper with numbers written on them on to guys backs. I didn’t see the front once in that race!

“There’s no maximum field because it’s rolling road closures – and you have primes every lap; from five Euros up to 25 each lap; one race I’d notched up 75 Euros in primes in the first hour and then I was fifth – so the costs of that trip were well covered.”

Luke Ryan
Ryan can get properly getting stuck in when the racing’s three hours long. Photo©Martine Verfaillie

Do you come up against ‘combines?’

“Yes and no – though the Belgians will work against you at the end so as a Belgian guy wins, they suss out you’re English pretty quickly – but there are times when they’re pretty honest.

“There were four of us in little group riding for sixth.

“Two of the guys weren’t working and they told me and the other guy who was working that they wouldn’t sprint because they couldn’t contribute – and they didn’t.”

“Have you had any interest from teams over there?

“Not really but then I don’t usually hang around at the end of races and it’s only in the last few months that I’ve started to get up there.

“A couple of years ago I really wanted to turn pro but whilst I’d still like to, it’s not the be-all and end-all that it was.

“I’m just happy to be going well; last year was just one crash and puncture after another, I was at the stage of handing my bike back to the team even though I managed a couple of local wins.

“This year, the last three months, anyway – I crashed early season and broke my hand – I’ve been flying albeit because I work full time a lot of my training is on the turbo.

“So, after four hours in a Premier Calendar I’m still there but I’m not competitive; whereas in Belgium it’s 120 K but because it’s so fast it’s only two-and-a-half hours.”

Do you ever consider heading over full time, try for a ride with the likes of AN Post?

No, unless I could make a living wage but I have thought about a ride with a team like AN Post; in that race I won it was an AN Post guy who took third spot (Jens Vandenbogaerde) – that’d be a good team for me with a programme which takes them into good races all over Europe.

“That’s something I’d really like to do, stage racing – even in a team role, I just love racing.

“If I could earn my living from riding a bike full time then I would – I hope one day that my career path takes me into cycling as a full time occupation at some time.

“In 2014 I was only working two days each week but I had all that bad luck and it reminded me of being a student, again – it’s great fun but you have no money.

“This year I’m working full time and if I have a problem with my bike I can just take it to a shop and get it fixed, I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay for it – I think that’s probably why I’m going better, this year because I don’t feel under pressure, I’m enjoying my racing.

“In 2014 all I wanted to do was to race and had all that bad luck – this year I’ve learned to that bad luck is just that – and you have to roll with it.”

Roll with it’ – isn’t that an Oasis song? With thanks to Luke for his time and wishing him ‘all the best’ for his future ‘raids’ into the Flatlands.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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