Report: GB Youth and Junior Girls in Europe
Photos: www.swhw.nl, Patricia Gouwelos & Ed Verveer
Report: Stuart McDonald, Olympic Talent Coach
Great Britain Youth and Junior Girls Teams compete in Holland and Belgium
Above: The finish of the Youth race
Six youth girls from the Olympic Talent Team and five girls from the Olympic Development Programme were racing in northern Europe on the weekend of the 28th/29th March for some early season development races. The teams contested the 'Omloop van Strijen' in Holland on Saturday and on Sunday were in action at the 'Omloop van Alsemberg' in Belgium. The Talent Team riders were Hannah Barnes, Hannah Shenton, Hannah Manley, Harriet Owen, Bryony Darbon and Lucy Garner, whilst the ODP team consisted of Ruby Miller, Corrine Hall, Sarah Reynolds, Laura Trott and Jess Booth.
The teams travelled out on Friday and after a long day on the road, settled into the hostel accommodation, with some riders opting to turn their legs for 20 minutes on the rollers and others relaxing in their rooms. After some typical Dutch food, the riders split into their respective teams for team meetings with their respectives coaches for the trip. Rob Sharman was on his debut race as newly appointed ODP coach, and Stuart MacDonald was looking after the youth girls for the weekend. Also on hand was newly appointed paracycling coach, Jayne Barrett who split her time effectively between both groups of riders.
After the meetings were done, the girls set off for an early night, as the following day involved an early start for the youth girls who were racing at 10am.
Saturday dawned under grey skies which meant only one thing - a wet race was ahead. It was not only the wet weather that was the problem, the temperature was struggling to rise above 7 degrees. The girls faced 3 laps of a 17km loop, which was predominantly flat, with a fast tailwind finish.
After the compulsory gear check the girls lined up on the start line, where their first task became obvious. The girls had opted for the shelter of the GB gazebo, instead of waiting on the start line in the cold wet conditions but had therefore sacrificed a good grid position. Near the back of the 85 rider field, their first task was to move forward as a team to the front of the race.
At the end of the first lap, it was obvious that the girls had performed their task well and with 4 riders in the first 10 and 2 others sitting comfortably in the top 20, things were looking good. The bunch was all together but the pace was high with the GB girls in control, ready to move with any attacks.
Above: End of the first lap and under the grime you can see 3 of the girls with one hidden about 7 back.
As the girls came through at the end of the second lap, the heavens opened with an ice cold downpour of rain. The race had now split, and in the 16-rider front group, GB were represented by Hannah Barnes and Hannah Shenton. 20 seconds back in the second group were Lucy Garner and Hannah Manley, and a further 20 seconds back in the third group were Bryony Darbon and Harriet Owen. The second group came through the finish area at speed and looked like they were gaining on the lead group which would have played into the GB girls hands as they were looking to set up a lead out if they were in the position to do so.
However, as the police outriders approached at the end of the third lap, it was clear that the finale would come down to a sprint finish for the lead group. Barnes and Shenton were positioned in the top ten but as the sprint opened up with 250m to go, the riders spread across the road leaving no route through. Barnes finished a creditable 6th and Shenton crossed the line in 10th position. Garner and Manley maintained their position in the second group whilst Owen and Darbon rolled in shortly after.
The girls were buzzing from the experience of the race but some were suffering with the cold so it was straight back to the changing rooms and some warm, dry clothes.
Above: Two of the girls cross the line, with their white jerseys now black with the grit and mud from the countryside circuit
It was now the turn of the ODP girls to take to the start line and fortunately for them, the sun has come out, but with that, the wind had picked up and was now whistling down the finishing straight.
The junior race had split by the end of the first lap, and present in the front group were Reynolds, Miller and Trott. Chasing hard behind them was Corrine Hall, who had escaped the chasing group and was battling the wind to try to get across on her own.
Above: Ruby Miller
Above: Corrine hall trying to bridge the gap
The front group was working well and the relentless pace meant that they would stay clear to the finish. With 1km to go, one lone rider had broken clear, and she just held on for the win ahead of a fast finishing bunch.
Above: Finish of the junior race
Trott and Reynolds finished inside the top 10, with Miller just outside. After the juniors race, the youth riders travelled south towards Brussels in the team cars, whilst the juniors changed into some training kit as they were doing a 50km ride towards the overnight stop at the Campanile Hotel near Brussels.
Once at the hotel, the youth riders set about cleaning their bikes and kit ready for another day of international racing on the Sunday. Once the bikes were gleaming, the riders settled into their rooms and the focus was placed on recovering properly with their feet up, rehydrating and watching the live coverage of the pro race E3 Prijs Vlaandren on TV. This was where the girls learned about how to dress for races when it is cold and wet, as the pro riders were fully togged up with knee warmers, arm warmers, overshoes etc. This was the main learning point for the girls on the Saturday after their unpleasant experience during the cold rain.
After a hearty meal at the hotel, the coaches ran through the plans for the next day with the teams, where the race was a junior and youth combined race, over 8 laps of a 6.5km lap. The lap featured a 1.5km climb to the finish, followed by a super fast decent and a technical section through the town of Drogenbos back to the bottom of the climb. The loop was part of the finishing circuit for the pro race Braabantse - Pilj which was on the same day and ensured that there was a good crowd out watching the racing and enjoying the atmosphere.
The race took place under blue skies but with a cold wind. However, the girls had learnt from their experience on Saturday and were more suitably clothed. As the riders came back into view at the end of the first lap, the bunch was strung out with the pressure being applied by the ODP riders. All the GB girls were well positioned and were inside the top 20 of the bunch.
The GB girls were active throughout the race with attacks coming from Lucy Garner, and Sarah Reynolds, and with the rest of the girls sitting comfortably near the front of the race, they were able to mark any dangerous attacks and also put the opposition on the back foot by counter attacking anything that came back.
The climb was taking its toll on the whole field with riders disappearing off the back of the peloton every lap. Positioning was crucial at the bottom of the climb to allow some sliding room as the pressure was applied further up, and on occasions the youth girls really had to dig deep over the top of the climb to stay in contact. However, the girls were able to use their superior skill level to move up through the bunch on the 45mph decent - the girls thought that they really benefitted from learning how to handle a bike on the indoor tracks throughout the winter.
At the start of the last lap, two Belgian girls attacked near the top of the climb but they were pulled back before the bottom of the descent, and it looked like it would come down to a bunch sprint. Again positioning for this was going to be crucial as the uphill finish sapped the strength and speed from the girls legs. Leaving the sprint until 130 - 150m was definitely the way to go. With 1.5km to go, youth riders Harriet Owen and Hannah Shenton set up a lead out for Lucy Garner. ODP riders Miller and Reynolds clocked this and moved into position to take advantage. However as the group went under the 1km to go banner, a touch of wheels right in front of the GB girls forced the girls to stop to avoid coming down. Miller and Reynolds escaped the carnage and continued their lead out effort with miller leaving Reynolds with 150m to go. The effort was taking its toll but Reynolds managed to lunge for the line to claim a fine 3rd position.
The Youth Girls negotiated the fallen riders and continued with Owen finishing 6th in the Youth riders classification.
So it was a story of a bit of bad luck but a very good start to the season for the 11 girls that made the trip. The weekend was a great opportunity for the riders to develop and learn how to cope with bigger fields, how to cope with the weather, positioning on climbs and through tight twisty Belgian towns with plenty of road furniture.