Racing hard and fast in Europe – by Lynette Benson

European Junior Tour 2016

Cycling SA funded 12 deserving junior athletes, four girls and eight boys, to travel to Europe and participate in top European junior road races and gain some experience on the international road racing scene. The racing in Europe is a lot more frequent (juniors are allowed to race up to 3 times per week, there is a race almost every day of the week within reasonable traveling distance) and a lot more competitive than in South Africa.
The 12 riders were hand picked by a panel of selectors based on their performances at SA Road champs, a selection weekend held in Pietermaritzburg, which consisted of a crit, TT and road race, and overall performance throughout the year.
Both the girls and the boys stayed in a communal hostel in Geleen, Netherlands and traveled from there to their respective races. Apart from two training races within cycling distance from our home, the boys and girls never raced at the same venue.
CSA’s goal with the trip was to start developing young riders for the international racing scene again. They did do it in previous years with a group that included Louis Meintjes.
We raced crits and kermesse (circuit racing). In South Africa we mostly have mass participation events, where as in Europe it is category specific events. We seldom have crits in SA. The crit teaches you a great deal of technical skills (eg. Bunch riding, cornering (fast), taking sharp fast corners in a bunch, sprinting/accelerating out of every corner, managing bad roads and dodging man holes whilst in a bunch etc)
For me personally, my European campaign did not start like I would have wanted it to. After having a very long travel to our first race (Ronde van Kloosterburen), it started pouring with rain as soon as we arrived in Kloosterburen. I started very strong and managed to sit in the front split, until I crashed out in a sharp corner early in the race. One moment I was riding, the next I was sliding on the tar. Thankfully the roads were very wet, so I was left with a few roasties and lots of bruises. The jury did award me a lap of grace, but half a lap after falling back into the group I was before my crash, I got a flat rear tire and therefore had to withdraw.
Our second race (Kermisronde Bergeijk) was along with some of the top elite and junior ladies in Europe. It was a 2.3km circuit with 16 x 90 degree corners, making it extremely technical and tiring, as the girls sprint flat-out of every corner. I managed to get 8th Junior lady.
An-li Kachelhoffer organized that we could race (MARC DEMEYER VRASENE) with her in Vrasene, Belgium. There were riders from pro teams like Lotto Bellisol, RaboBank and international riders from Scotland and New Zealand. It was good to have the opportunity to race in both Holland and Belgium as the racing is very different. In Holland racing is full gas from the gun and they sprint out if every corner. In Belgium the pace is high and the roads are very rough, but the bunch settle after a while, so if you hang on to the bunch for a few extra few hundred meters you will come back when they go slightly easier for eg. A section with bad roads/sharp corner etc.
The tough roads and wind made for hard racing. I managed to finish in the main bunch and 5th junior lady. The race was won by a break away of 5 ladies.
At our last junior race (Hoohvliet Wielersspektakel Van Monster), we raced among national junior champs from all over Europe, I managed 10th junior and won 10€. As it was a very big junior race I was stoked!
After that we did one last local training race in Landgraaf(which was not a Junior race). About 150 riders from all categories race on a 1 mile track for 1h30 every week. Danielle ended 1st lady as she was slightly better positioned in the bunch.
Racing in Europe was absolutely amazing. My confidence whilst sitting in a big bunch and cornering at crazy speeds with riders all around me, improved tremendously.
European racing is very different from racing in SA. The types of racing for one. The amount of girls racing is 10 times more than in SA. The girls race hard and fast and very positive. Racing in SA is very negative in comparison to racing in Europe.

Thank you to CSA and our team managers (Barry Austin, Marilyn Rossouw), the team mechanic (Andrew Pieter Arendse) and everyone that was involved in making this all possible.