SEVEN races at the weekend at Gent-Wevelgem. All of them centred around Ieper in West Flanders, the town famous for its connections to the First World War.
A mens professional and womens professional race was featured on our TVs. We all saw the brutal conditions the riders had to face. What we didnt see on TV were the other younger riders. Men U23, Junior boys and girls and Schoolboys and Girls.
This report came to us from one of the teams who participated in the Junior Womens race, Tofauti Everyone Active came from Essex to Flanders and there they conquered.
Team boss Ian Mansel Thomas sent us this report.
"A team of five riders made the trip to Flanders for the Junior Women's Gent Wevelgem race, including Izzy Sharp riding as a guest.
After an early rendezvous at sponsors Activ Cycles in Kent on Saturday morning, the riders, parents and staff headed over in a van and a team car. With our usual team vehicles at the CiCle Classic, we were lucky to be able to have alternative transport.
After arriving in Ypres to check in, regroup and grab some lunch, everyone headed just north to Boezinge, where the race was to be held. With the junior men's Gent Wevelgem taking in a lot of the elite course, it's still disappointing to see the junior women's race run on what is essentially a flat West Flanders kermesse course. Hopefully in the future, the organisers will arrange a more challenging parcours!
But, it's still Gent Wevelgem and it's still Flanders in March, so the conditions are always going to play a part. For the recon, the winds were crazy, though for race day on Sunday, they'd subsided, only to be replaced by persistent heavy rain.
Saturday evening saw us back in Ypres - time to shower and sit down for a final meeting to talk tactics. It was great that all the riders bought into the plan for the race and we were feeling confident that we had the organisation and the ability to get a strong result.
Then back onto the streets of Ypres, taking in the sights of the presentation preparations for the elite races the following day, followed by a hearty team meal. We were also joined this weekend by a couple of very good British U16 girls, who were racing the U17 event on Sunday with us, with one, Arabella Blackburn, getting a strong second place. The future is looking bright!
On to race day and an early rise was welcomed by the anticipated rain. As well as the race conditions for the riders, heavy rain always makes the preparation for a race that much trickier - everything seems to get wet through.
When the flag dropped, people seemed keen to race from the start. Our girls did an excellent job of moving up and getting themselves into good positions that they generally didn't deviate from the whole race. There was a crash on lap two, which Mari Porton got caught up in and that set her, and many other riders, too far back from the race to rejoin, so after a little longer she and a good number of others were broomed.
Our other riders, Carys Lloyd, Holly Ramsey, Lowri Richards and Izzy Sharp, were looking strong though and were riding a great race towards the front of the reducing pack. The conditions made further attrition inevitable and the race eventually whittled down from 146 starters to a bunch of about 45 riders. In that whittling down, Lowri was among the last few riders to get distanced. She did a great job to get back to the pack, before another acceleration saw her distanced again. She did though finish - only about half the field did.
At the front, Carys, Izzy and Holly were looking primed for the final - their positioning was impeccable, watching, controlling, driving the race. Holly was unfortunate to puncture on the last lap - a quick bike change and a chase and she got back to the bunch, though the effort meant she couldn't get to the very front of the race again.
Making a quick adjustment to this, Carys took on the job of two people, putting in an amazing lead out for the last 3.5km, guiding Izzy into the last corner in the perfect position, a couple of wheels back from the front. The sprint was on!
Cat Ferguson went first, which was gold for Izzy - Cat's kick is crazy strong, but Izzy's longer power is the stronger. Izzy was straight on her wheel and powered ahead in the last 100m to clinch victory.
Behind, a large crash on the finishing straight caught Carys (though she stayed upright), thankfully everyone coming out fairly unscathed, if a little delayed to the line.
Finishing positions -
1st Izzy Sharp
15th Holly Ramsey
28th Carys Lloyd
69th Lowri Richards
DNF Mari Porton
The team is hugely proud of these riders - they bought into a plan, did everything they needed to to make it happen, adjusted when the situation developed late on and managed to deliver the perfect result.
Huge thanks again to the Rayner Foundation for supporting this trip."