GWR Team's International Debut

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GWR Team's International Debut

Story posted April 20 | Team Press Release

“A great performance by all the team” was GWR Team Manager Dan Smith’s assessment of their effort in one of the hardest events on the cycling calendar, the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Espoirs (Under 23) race held in Belgium on Saturday. The five man squad of Doug Dewey, James Hawkins, Llewellyn Kinch, Sam Redding and Dave Sinclair literally faced an uphill challenge in the Ardennes region, against some of the best Under 23 riders in the world.

Despite its name, the race actually started in Bastogne and then took a circuitous route incorporating many categorised climbs before finishing in Ans, just north of Liege to complete a total distance of 178 kilometres. As the 173 riders prepared for the race, a quick look around the ‘sign on’ area, showed the names emblazoned on other team vehicles: Rabobank, Lotto, AG2R and Quick Step were much in evidence as development squads for their ProTour teams. These teams were among the 31 that eventually took to the start line, in the busy heart of Bastogne, for a presentation to the crowd that had gathered to watch the start of the race. Luckily the GWR Team support vehicle had drawn position five in the race convoy.

With an opening 25km loop, before passing back through the town, many riders were forcing their way clear with speeds touching over 60 km/h in some stretches. But it was not until the race headed towards the first climb at Houffalize that a breakaway began to open an advantage. With all the GWR riders prominent towards the head of the main peloton, on the descent into the town many other riders suffered punctures, as the road was strewn with potholes. As the riders crested the top of the climb, Sam Redding was to the fore of the main chasing bunch, as a small group of three riders began to pull away.

Over the next 20 kilometres, the formation of the lead group constantly changed as riders dropped away to be replaced by others moving forward, until two riders, Lithuanian Ramunas Navardauskas (VC La Pomme Marseille) and Dane Sebastian Lander (Team Concordia) began to build a lead so that by the summit of the Cote de Wanne they had built a lead of 1 minute 55 seconds. The fast moving field completed 84.5 kilometres in the first 2 hours of racing. 

With the terrain becoming increasingly difficult, the Cote De Wanne saw Dave Sinclair, who has only just returned to competition after a long period off the bike due to a hip operation, slip off the back of the main field and unfortunately on the descent Llewellyn Kinch suffered a puncture, just as the pace picked up again.

As the riders sped though the feed zone near Trois Ponts, Sinclair was quickly closing on a peloton that contained Dewey, Redding and Hawkins but only just made contact with the tail end of the pack as they turned onto the next climb, the Cote du Rosier, and despite digging deep all the way to the top he was unable to regain contact and as the race approached the 110km point he withdrew. Despite chasing for several kilometres to regain the peloton after his puncture, Kinch pulled out shortly after the feed zone after he was further delayed by race vehicles being held up by a crash.

As the race topped the Cote de la Vecquee, the two lead riders had gained a lead of 2.48 over a now splitting peloton, with the three remaining GWR men still in contention as they headed towards the notorious Cote de la Redoute, with gradients of 19% in places. With the field splitting into three groups on the steep slopes, Hawkins drifted backwards while both Dewey and Redding remained in the third group of around 40 riders that crested the summit. However as they reached the 145km mark, race officials, despite the size of the group, informed these competitors they were now more than 5 minutes behind the leaders, so as per the race rules, were no longer under the protection of race vehicles.

The majority of the group continued to the finish in Ans to complete the race, where despite riding at a steadier pace for the closing 30km, they finished little more than 20 minutes behind the winner but were not officially classified as finishers.  Hawkins would not make it to the finish though and retired from the race on the outskirts of Liege.

The race was won by Navardauskas, who took a stunning victory after being at the head of affairs for over 100 kilometres, by 36 seconds from another Dane Nicki Ostergaard (Glud & Marstrand) with Lander claiming 3rd after also being instrumental in shaping the race with his long break with the eventual winner.  The winner averaged more than 41 km/h for the race held in warm sunny conditions.

Although no GWR riders were in the final result, the five man team performed extremely well in a race of this quality. All the riders have either only recently returned from illness or injury, along with fitting in University studies and so Dan Smith was pleased with the performance of his squad. ”This has been a great experience for the guys to race at this level. We will definitely be looking for other similar opportunities later in the year when with full fitness, the riders will be in contention for achieving some good results.”

Next weekend sees the team, sponsored by Swindon Cycles Superstore, Scott Wilson Railways, Diamond Sports Massage Therapy, High 5, Giant UK, Joyriders Cycling Holidays, Spiuk, Continental Tyres and Kalas Sportswear tackle another International race, the East Midlands CiCLE Classic which finishes in Melton Mowbray, where the best of the domestic teams take on several invited foreign squads over a course which includes some roads that can only be described as farm tracks in what has quickly established itself as a major event on the British cycling calendar.

For more information on the GWR Team please visit