One of the final UCI races of the season, the three stage Keizer der Juniors, was run in northern Belgium over this past weekend. Backstedt sent a strong team of Dylan Hicks, Euan Woodliffe, Huw Buck-Jones, Alex Beldon and guest riders Noah Hobbs (TEKKERZcc) and Niall McLoughlin (Westport Covey Wheelers CC, Ireland). For most of these riders the race marked the end of their junior years before they embark on senior careers on various teams and in various countries. Exciting times for them all and somewhat emotional for the team management & parents.
Saturday’s Stage 1 was an 111km route out and back from Pittem, incorporating the iconic Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg cobbled climbs and two local loops in Pittem to finish. The weather was biblical - having avoided any rain at all in our Belgian races this year, we got our year’s supply in one deluge this time. The race was attritional from the start but the climbs were a little too far from the finish to be decisive. A strong Belgian rider got away in the closing local laps to win by 15 seconds and Noah, Alex, Niall and Huw all finished in the next group of 50 or so. Euan has been carrying an injury but battled courageously to hang on to the lead group until the final laps; Dylan had a puncture late on with the team car already ahead - both of them pulled out overnight.
Sunday’s weather was better: very windy but at least dry. Stage 2 was a pan flat time trial of 6km on a sinuous route through fields near Koksijde. Alex and Noah were both on full tt rigs, Niall and Huw on their road bikes. All four rode well with Noah the top of the pile and securing second on the stage, 3 seconds off the win and leaving him in third on GC, 8 seconds off the Stage 1 winner.
Stage 3 was a fantastic, intricate 100km kermesse course through Koksijde with a hill and plenty of twisty technical sections - one of the best kermesse courses we’ve raced. The team were all up to secure Noah the 8 seconds he needed for a GC win but there were plenty of other strong teams with the same idea. Alex, Niall and Huw closed down multiple attacks to protect Noah’s position and it was all together coming into the final lap. There’s nothing lucky about winning a sprint from an 80 person group in a race field as strong as this: Noah played his cards to perfection and showed his class to deliver a superb stage win and holding on to third place on GC.
This was a great weekend of racing and a fitting end to a successful season. The Rayner Foundation help over the year has been massively appreciated.