A few weeks ago the Rayner Foundation Gateway scheme assisted Halesowen Academy Cycling Club Juniors travel to the Ardennes in Belgium for an apppointment with Former World Champion Philippe Gilbert.. The race in his name The Philippe Gilbert Classic has been on the calendar since 2013 but this year was probably the first time he has been present to watch the action.
Looking back at the results there have been some serious riders standing on the final podium, the names Tom Pidcock, Arnaud de Lie and Remco Evenepoel jump out !
William Fotheringham took time off his day job to take his team HACC to the race and sent us this report..
"Twelve months ago, our trip to the Philippe Gilbert Juniors was a true voyage into the unknown, our first experiment with UCI-level junior racing. It was a spectacular success, with Joe Brookes hitting the podium on day one, Tomos Pattinson finishing sixth on day two, and the duo ending up 10th and 6th overall. Given that both have proven themselves to be among the best young riders in the UK this year, it was unlikely that we could top that 12 months later, given that the one thing we had learned was that this is a very hard, unremitting race.
We took our three first-year juniors, Luke Mannings and Kaleb and Isaak Herbert; we knew this would be a tough initiation for them at this level, but it reflects the progress all three have made this season that we even contemplated throwing them into the toughest arena in junior racing outside the World’s. They were accompanied by three seasoned “guest” riders – Ollie Boarer of Tofauti and Ryan Williams and Luke Brennan of BCC – thanks to their clubs for lending us them.
Day one started from the spectacular surroundings of the chateau in Harzé, with the added bonus of the presence of Phil the Gil himself; he has a bit more time on his hands than 12 months ago before retirement. The stage was the same as in 2022: a run out to a lengthy circuit, with the hills more long drags than short steep pulls, and the same lengthy uphill to the finish. One thing had changed; the speed was spectacular, largely due to the abolition of the junior gear restriction, plus the fine weather.
The pattern was similar, with a big selection at the back, partly due to the late date in the season, and also because this year, the organisers were obliged to take teams of six rather than five, meaning the chance of riders being out of form or tired were increased. The finish boiled down to a group of 80, with Ollie Boarer, Ryan Williams and Luke Brennan all comfortably in there behind stage winner Lars van den Heede of Crabbé Toitures, and Luke Mannings in the next big group.
Day two was the big one, but the organisers had achieved the seemingly impossible: the 118 kilometre route was even more technical and included even tougher climbs than the year before, which had been daunting enough; the two dead turns off main roads into steep narrow ascents were clearly going to be key points. There were still two climbs of La Redoute to finish, plus a technical descent back into the town of Sougné-Remouchamps at the foot.
Sometimes, however, a route can be so tough that it actually discourages aggressive racing; most of the riders knew that if they got in an early move, they would pay the price on La Redoute. So the upshot was again a big selection from the back, plus one significant move that included Jed Smithson of Fensham Howes, who duly paid the price on the finishing circuit. A group of about 60 riders hit La Redoute for the first time behind lone attacker Jarno Widar, a prolific winner this year, with victories including the Junior Tour of Flanders and Belgian national title.
By the finish he’d opened up a 48sec gap on his team mate Van den Heede to give him the overall title; for us Ollie Boarer sprinted in for a very decent 11th place, but unfortunately the time keepers decided to give the long string of riders behind him the same time, in spite of some very obvious gaps. That gave him 28th overall, with Brennan and Williams not far behind in 46th and 48th, of the 77 finishers in total. That in turn meant we ran out 10th team overall of 25, which can’t be sniffed at in this company. Not as spectacular as 2022, but valuable experience was gained by all, and four of the team will hope to come back for a second blast in 2024.
The trip was made possible with the support of parents Matt and Deana Mannings, with Andy Turner of ATP Performance https://atpperformance.uk
and Peter Hall also helping out at the race, along with sponsors Mark and Sara Northover of Fleur au Soleil; thanks to all for their time and commitment.
Sponsors Secret Training https://www.secret-training.com
provided nutrition support, while storage systems from BikeStow https://bikestow.com
made the bikes look good before stage starts; additional thanks to our sponsors Mapei UK, BroadBean deli, Swinnerton Cycles and ProVision custom clothing.
The trip was also supported like our Irish venture by the pathway scheme of the Rayner Foundation https://www.theraynerfoundation.org to whom go our massive thanks. "