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Racing in Europe after Brexit (things can only get worse)

This time its not a happy tale where we tell of wonderous victories by the Rayner Foundation riders out in Europe. Rather a tale of the ever worsening realities faced by those teams and individuals who are going over there (as they must) to gain the necessary experience to progress their careers.

Sent by Giles Pidcock, owner/manager of the Fensham Howes MAS Design Junior Mens Team.

"A couple of weeks ago we took our team to Junior Liege Bastogne Liege in Belgium on Saturday and the GP Bob Jungels just over the border in Luxembourg the following day.


The racing went very well with four in the top 20 at Liege and then two in the break on Sunday and very close second place for Elliot on the line.

But what marked the trip was our experience with customs on the UK/EU border at Folkestone.


At the start of the year we invested further in our team and one of the things we did was to acquire a lovely big VW Crafter van – courtesy of one of the new sponsors, Redbrick IT.


Unfortunately this van has caught the attention of French customs officers and has been stopped and the driver fined by French Customs when returning to the UK after the two previous trips. The fine was for not having the correct paperwork for the equipment inside.

So we spent money with DHL who helped us organise an ATA Carnet for the team. An ATA Carnet a list of equipment and a declaration that we are temporarily exporting from the UK and importing to the EU and will shortly be doing the same in reverse when we return home. With this paperwork we avoid the large administrative burden of having to pay duty on our equipment and then having to claim it back when we come back to the UK a few days later. The money spent was £768 which is about half the cost of a weekend trip to Belgium. So a direct consequence of the fines and then us having to buy the carnet is that we’ve had to forgo one trip to the continent – to the obvious disadvantage to our riders and their career prospects.


This weekend to Liege/Jungels was our first trip with the carnet. So how did it go?


The process is:

  1. Drive to Folkestone but before going on the tunnel we have to report to an inland border facility, in Sevington, just off the M20. Here we have to get the paperwork checked, the contents of the van checked and then the paperwork stamped before we can leave.

  2. Then we get on the Eurotunnel as normal

  3. Upon arrival in France we have to go to an inland border there, get the paperwork checked (again), the contents of the van checked (again) and then the paperwork stamped (again).

  4. We can then go to the race

  5. After the race we have to repeat steps 1-3 in reverse before we can head home.

So what happened?


We took a team car and the team van. This is the story of the van’s journey across the border. In the van we had the driver, a mechanic, three riders and twelve bikes.


Friday morning at about 11.00. We found the inland border facility easily enough. It’s well sign posted. But the whole place is designed for lorries so all the booths are really high, even for a van. Once we’d got in and parked up our driver had to report to a portakabin and hand in the paperwork. Of course he got a scolding for not wearing a high vis vest whilst walking from the van to the building. We’re still in Britain remember where health and safety are the most important things. When he entered the portakabin there were many staff sat around a horseshoe of desks. There seemed to be more staff than needed, no one spoke English as their first language and everyone was probably on minimum wage. Like so much in Britain the Government seems to have subcontracted the whole job to one of their mates in the private sector who takes a big fee and then provides the “service” for the least cost possible and to hell with the poor folk who have to actually use the service.  Someone took the paperwork and told our diver to go and wait in the van for a text telling him he could return. He did this and then waited for 55 minutes. Got the text, got the paperwork and then went to the tunnel. No one looked inside the van. Additional time from motorway back to motorway 75 minutes.


Upon arrival in France went to another site designed for lorries, another portakabin but this time there were fewer staff, nicer chairs and a coffee machine. The paperwork was stamped promptly, and the van was sent on its way. Extra time added 50 minutes.


Total extra time on the way out – 2 hours and 5 minutes


23.00 Sunday night. Arrive back at the tunnel. This time the French customs is in the main building (where Starbucks etc is) so no additional travel needed. Our driver went to to the office, waited for a short period, got the papers stamped and was soon getting on the tunnel. Extra time added to transit time through terminal, 20 minutes


Through the tunnel as normal.


Arrived in the UK, left the tunnel, got on the M20 and then had to leave at the first junction to report again to the Inland Border. Can you imagine how inconvenient this is? The three riders all have school in the morning, some are doing their A levels this year, it’s now about midnight European time, the driver has been away for two days flat out driving and helping with the team and now rather than going home has to go to this inland border facility.  He arrives, parks up, gets bollocked for no high vis jacket again, goes in the portakabin, same number of staff, they take the paperwork, told to return to van and await text. 55 miniutes later (01.00 in the morning European time) the text comes. He returns to the portakabin but the paperwork is not ready. Operative asks why he has returned. Driver shows them the text. Man in corner who the driver reported to 55 minutes earlier shouts across saying “I sent the text to him, thought that might get you to look at it since none of you have had anything to do for an hour!”. Driver leaves with paperwork stamped but in a very bad mood. Extra time added 75 minutes.


Total extra time on the way home – one hour 35 minutes.


Driver arrives home at 03.30 UK time (04.30 European time).


So, all in all for this one trip it’s cost us £768 for the carnet and an additional 3 hours 45 minutes customs time.


Concluding Thoughts


Getting home at 03.30 is a lot different to getting home at say 01.30. It’s the difference between those involved being able to function on the Monday as opposed to the day becoming a write off. Neither arrival times are ideal but this isn’t pro racing, it’s volunteers trying to help U19 riders and all on a limited budget.


The reality is that these customs delays will have serious and real consequences for our team trying to race abroad:


  1. We might have to stay over an extra day incurring additional hotel and food costs.

  2. Riders will become reluctant to travel with the bikes meaning we have to take an extra vehicle – with additional costs.

  3. It will be harder to find volunteers to drive our van. Who wants to sit at a customs facility in the middle of the night?

  4. We might have to relocate the team infrastructure to Belgium – incurring additional cost to run a service course  (storage, vehicle, staff) over there so that we can avoid having to take equipment over the border each weekend

Brexit, the gift that keeps on giving.


If you have any ideas on how teams like ours could solve these problems please get in touch!"


Giles Pidcock

Team Manager Fensham Howes – MAS Design

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