So the biggest cycle race in the world is the Tour de France? Not if you are under 18.
That would be the week-long European Junior Cycling Tour at Assen in the Netherlands. Not many young racers are able to ride a UCI-sanctioned race that has been graced by the likes of Mark Cavendish, Laura Kenny and Marianne Vos, but George Pittock of Thanet Road Club did just that.
The European Junior Cycling Tour is the biggest youth cycle race in the world. It includes coloured jerseys, points systems, motorcycle outriders, course cars and broom wagons, just like the Tour de France. It has some major sponsors including SRAM, Toyota, Rabobank and Shimano, and is the race where many of the world series pro-peloton riders had their first experience of this type of racing.
The 54th edition, from Monday 30 July to Saturday 4 August, attracted riders from the Netherlands, UK, Germany, Norway, Latvia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Sweden, South Africa, Lithuania, Portugal, Hungary, Australia, USA, Finland and the Czech Republic.
It began on Monday with the Prologue, a 1.7km individual time trial which is used to open the event and decide who wears the coloured jerseys on Stage 1. George’s time of 2:42.61 saw him in 46th place and 14 secs behind the leader, but confident of making up time in the longer stages later in the week.
Stage 1 on Tuesday was a Criterium race with 20 laps of a fast 1.8km circuit to the east of Assen. Unfortunately George was held up behind a crash on the first lap and lost touch with the main bunch. He worked hard in a small second group but could not bridge the gap, finishing in 52nd place and losing further time on the leaders.
Stage 2 on Wednesday was the famous “Klassieker”, 77.8kmfrom Gieten to Assen, the youth equivalent of Paris-Roubaix complete with fast tarmac but also some rough terrain and cobbles. Crashes and mechanical problems are common and often influence the result, and unfortunately for George this was the case. A big crash involving about 30 of the 130 riders at only 8km left 15 unable to continue because of injuries or mechanical problems. George had some deep cuts which were quickly treated by the medical team, but his handlebars were cracked and a buckled front wheel meant that he could not ride any further.
Some overnight repairs at the local bike shop meant that George was able to start on Thursday morning, but the rules state that in such circumstances the riders are given the time of the last finisher on Wednesday’s stage plus five minutes. George lost 18 minutes and what had been a realistic aim of a top 20 finish on general classification was over.
After an uncomfortable night, George travelled to the Stage 3 time trial at Lieveren hoping for a better day. He hoped to go under 20 minutes for the 13km distance on a fast and flat “figure of eight” course and was pleased with 19:28.90 and 35th place.
Stage 4 on Friday was the “Omloop”, four laps of a 12kmcourse at Kostvlies which featured a sharp right turn leading into a narrow cobbled section. Despite an astonishing average speed of 43kph (27mph) in 32 degree temperatures, George finished safely in the main bunch in 48th place.
The fifth and final stage on Saturday was another Criteriumrace, six laps of a 3.8km course through the Asserbos forest on the edge of Assen and using part of the prologue course. An early breakaway was chased down and the pelotoncrossed the line together in front of huge crowds and George was safely among them in 46th place.
George’s “nieuwelingen” (under 17) category was won by Oskar Johansson from Norway, with Boris Romers from the Netherlands second and Jack Rootkin-Gray from Solihull third and the best placed British rider. George finished 55thoverall.
“I enjoyed the experience of racing against some of the best riders in Europe and the rest of the world, and in different types of races to the usual closed-circuit races that we have in the UK” said George. “At the same time I am disappointed that the crash on Wednesday, which was not my fault but was unavoidable, cost me so much time and a better finish on GC. But that is bike racing and I will learn from it”.
Post by Colin Robinson and George Pittock.