Two GWR Team/3Vi/Swindon Cycles/Spiuk/High5 Under 23 riders Llewellyn Kinch and David Sinclair made the most of their summer break from university to spend three weeks racing and training in Belgium, the hotbed of European cycle racing.
The Flemish town of Waregem would be the temporary home for Cambridge student Llewellyn, 19 from Great Coxwell and Cardiff student David, 21 from Waterlooville as they travelled across Belgium to take in several of the fast and furious kermis races.
Although David had spent some time in France racing last year, this was the first time Llewellyn had faced competition abroad and their first event at Beernem would be a stiff start as the GWR duo faced 141 others for the 110 kilometre race.
With a ferocious pace from the start of the 17 lap race, the two GWR riders ensured that they maintained a position towards the front of the field in the opening laps and got into a few early skirmishes but with the high speeds they were shortlived.
A breakaway did eventually establish itself, but the pair remained in the peloton, until the closing stages where Llewellyn joined a group of ten riders that pulled clear. With several riders ahead the group managed to close in on all but five of the leaders and around 20 riders fought for 6th place at the line where Llewellyn took a fine 9th place, just 37 seconds behind the victor, Belgian based Brit Tobyn Horton (Team Deschuytter). David finished safely in the bunch some two minutes behind the winner in 43rd position from the 97 finishers in a race run off at an average of over 43 kph. Belgian Frederique Robert finished 19th, in one of his final events before he dons Quick Step colours as a trainee for them for the rest of the season.
116 kilometres was on the menu at Meulebeke two days later as the pair lined up amongst 88 riders including the Belgian bad boy of cycling Frank Vandenbroucke. With a high pace from the outset a group of five broke clear, and this would stay ahead to contest the finish.
As the leaders steadily built an advantage the GWR pair tried to instigate a chase group but the peloton steadily lost ground, and it was not until around 40 kilometres to go that Llewellyn managed to move away with 4 others. Despite not being able to close on the lead riders this group stayed ahead of the peloton and Llewellyn took another fine 9th, while David also broke away from the peloton with a group to claim 13th almost four minutes behind the winner Mario Willems (Kingsnorth International). Over half the field retired from the race, including Vandenbroucke.
15 laps of a 7.6 kilometre circuit faced 52 riders including the GWR pair at Langemark-Madonna for their next race. Early in the second lap a group of 10 riders broke clear and David made the move, but unfortunately on the 7th lap he and another rider lost their position in the break and fell back to the peloton and then into retirement.
Meanwhile Llewellyn tried several times to break clear of a lethargic main bunch but unfortunately overcooked it on one of the many cobbled corners and found himself in a ditch, and after extricating himself decided to withdraw from the event, as Bram Deprez (WC Soenens-Yawadoo Ingelmunster) took the victory
Three days later at Evergem Belzele saw a smaller field of 40 riders take the start of the 119 kilometre race. However with temperatures reaching 34 degrees it was going to be a tough race, with no one on hand to give the two GWR riders additional bottles during the final hour of the race.
In the opening laps the field split and David and Llewellyn worked well together to ensure they made the front groups, with several intermediate sprints the pace remained high, and David was able to win one of the sprint primes. With the heat and the constant attacking making the race a war of attrition, a group drew clear in the final laps while the GWR duo were prominent among the rest of the field to finish almost 2 minutes behind the winner Nicky Cocquyt (Rock Werchter Chocolade Jacques CT) with David 10th and Llewellyn 15th.
Oordegem saw the pair among 97 others for a 110 kilometre event, that featured a cobbled climb on each lap. The race split early on and unfortunately the pair were in what remained of the peloton, that eventually finished 2 minutes behind the winner with David taking the bunch sprint to claim 33rd while Llewellyn placed 53rd, as Belgian Beijing Olympian Iljo Keisse (John Saey Cycling Team) took the honours.
While the majority of their races were in the West or East Flanders provinces of the country, the pair decided to head to the Antwerp province to take in a an event at Kalfort(Puurs). Danny Verelst(Royal Cureghem Sportif Brussel) took victory in a closely fought race with the high speed (the winner averaging almost 45 kph for the 116 kilometre event), ensuring that all the attacks were nullified. David once again claimed one of the intermediate sprint primes that were on offer during the event, however, in the closing kilometres three riders managed to edge clear of the bunch where David took 19th and Llewellyn 20th as 55 riders finished the race all within a handful of seconds of the winner.
St Jan Ieper saw the pair face 13 laps of an 8.6 kilometre circuit and Llewellyn claimed 14th from just 46 finishers as David was among 58 riders who withdrew after feeling unwell. Three Lithuanians set about splitting the race from the first lap on a very windy and exposed circuit and eventually a group made its way across to them. They continued to gain over the rest of the field and at the line Sven Jodts (Wielergroep Beveren 2000 VZW) took victory at the head of a small break, with the remainder of the field finishing over 3 minutes behind.
The final weekend saw them face 68 others in a 112 kilometre event in Guzenzele, and with both feeling strong they covered all the early moves and found themselves in a large lead group as the frantic pace saw the race split regroup and split again. Unfortunately David had to retire as the incessant cobbled sections had cracked his wheel rims. Llewellyn stayed prominent until the final lap when a rider fell in front of him and he himself fell trying to take evasive action. After checkinhis bike over he continued to the finish to claim 25th, a couple of minutes behind the winner Stijn Minne (CT Keukens Buysse Knesselare).
Llewellyn commented on his return “Enjoyed it loads out there. Really good racing and would definately go back out there.” All you Belgian racers be warned the GWR boys are coming back for more!
The GWR Team will continue to develop its Under 23 squad into the 2010 season and is inviting applications from riders to join the team. Please email the team with a rider CV at email@example.com if you wish to apply for a position.