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Theo Hartley – Racing for Belgian team Illi Bikes, thanks to the Dave Rayner Fund

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It’s that time when young men and women head off across the North Sea or English Channel to pursue dreams of two wheeled glory.

But nothing is cheap in this world, especially given the current tragic Sterling to Euros exchange rate.

The David Rayner has been helping young riders realise their continental dreams since 1995 with David Millar one of the first to benefit.

Joscelin Ryan has been a Rayner stalwart for years now and VeloVeritas was one of the first to get the list from her for Season 2018 with 36 riders benefitting – 27 male and nine female.

Theo Hartley from Bolton in Lancs will 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.

We kicked off by asking Theo what the Rayner Funds support meant to him.

Theo Hartley
Theo winning the kermis in Booischot, Belgium. Photo©GVJ

The David Rayner Fund, Theo – how important has it been to you?

“It’s been crucial to me being able to race abroad.

“The financial support they give means I can actually live in Belgium for the full road season and concentrate on training and racing.”

You were originally a track rider?

I have always ridden both road and track.

“Being on British Cycling’s Olympic Development Apprenticeship (ODA) pathway as a Youth A meant there was a lot of focus on the track and I really enjoyed that.

“I still race in the local Manchester Regional Premier Division Track League when I can.”

In 2016 you were with DFL In-Gear, tell us about that.

“I mainly rode the national junior road race series and found it difficult due the very hilly courses!

“My best, and favorite result of 2016, was winning the Otley Chevin Cycles classic.”

Theo Hartley
Theo takes the win at Otley. Photo©supplied

Which team were you with in 2017?

“I rode for Identity Racing for most of 2017 gaining better results as a junior as my climbing had improved.”

Tell us about your results.

“As well as Otley, I had placings at several Regional A/National B races: Halesowen second, East Lancs RR fourth.

“I also came fifth in the junior national Madison champs in both 2016 and 2017

“I raced in Belgium for four weeks in August this year gaining a fourth in Vossem then a win the next day  at Everberg another win at Booischot,  and a hard fought second at Herselt Koerse.”

Are you still coached by Neo Pro Coaching?

Yes they have a great set up and I am now supported by the Neo Pro Cycling Academy which is great.”

Theo Hartley
Theo is no stranger to the podium. Photo©supplied

How did you get the Illi Bikes ride?

“I emailed the team with my palmarès and they offered me the ride which was fantastic as they’re such a well established and respected team.”

VeloVeritas had a word in Etienne Illegems ear about young Theo and he confirmed to us that he ‘checked him out’ with former British Professional Road Race Champion Tim Harris who’s ear is always hard to the ground in Belgian racing circles.

Have you met Ken or Etienne Illegems yet – or any of your team mates?

“I met with Etienne to sign my contract and then met Ken whilst getting measured for my kit.

“They were both very welcoming and Ken has been very supportive answering my (many) questions about the coming season!

“I’ve yet to meet my team mates.”

Where will you be based?

“I’m living in a shared house in Tielt Weinge with four other Brits.”

You’ve raced in Belgium before – what were your impressions?

“Very fast racing from the off and a lot flatter which plays to my strengths, and is the reason I wanted to be based in Belgium.

“There’s a huge race calendar and everything is very well organized and supported.”

Will this be your first long period away from home – wee bit nervous perhaps?

“The four weeks I spent in August flew past, and as I know the other lads in the house I’m hoping not to feel homesick.

“It’s my cooking skills I’m more worried about!”

Theo Hartley
Theo reckons he’ll be too busy to be homesick. Photo©supplied

What are your family saying about your plans?

“They’re really pleased for me.

“They know how much this means to me and it’s good to know they’re still there in the background supporting me.”

When do you head over and when’s your first team get together?

“My team launch is the 20th February so I’m heading over a couple of days before.”

What would make 2018 a good year?

“Remaining competitive as a first year U23 would be good.  There is a lot to learn and a big step up so if I’m still peddling come September I’ll be happy.”

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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