Having competed in cycling for the past 8 years, I have raced on many of the British closed circuits that the youth national circuit series consisted of each year. These races equipped me with an amazing basis as a youth for my cycling career to build off, as they are held on safe roads and circuits that allow for a rider to learn and improve. They also allow for a rider to compare themselves against riders from around the nation, but generally skills-wise we aren’t being tested to the same level as riders of the same age from different countries.
In addition to racing in the regional and national races held in the UK, getting exposure in different races abroad as a youth is important because it broadens skill ability and also prepares one for the bigger races as a junior and older, instead of being thrown into the deep end at more important races.
At the moment I can only compare racing in the UK with that in Holland and Spain but having raced at the European tour of Assen in Holland for 4 consecutive years, from first year under 12s to second year under 14s (in category 3-6), I would definitely recommend it for anyone who hasn’t been, especially as a race to introduce someone to racing abroad. It would definitely be one of my favourite races as a youth, as it provides an amazing opportunity to race internationally at one of the biggest and well-known road tours for youth in the world while also getting valuable race experience. Over my years there I have gathered various jerseys such as the yellow, white and pink but they are now all sadly too small for me.
For those who don’t know much about Assen, the tour consists of 6 days of racing back to back including races such as a prologue, time trial, classic and crit. Trying to get a place in the tour is always a struggle as the demand of people wanting to race is really high, with the total places gone in minutes. I found this especially in the categories I raced, so you had to be quick to enter. Up to the age of 14, girls race with boys a year younger than them, which is a challenge as boys racing tends to be more aggressive in the bunch than girls. Over the years my bunch skills developed as not only was I able to perform in the prologues and time trials, (which tended to be my strong point) but I began to hold my own more in the bunch races, being up near the front. I never went on to race in the Nieuwelingen category (roughly 16s) which is the first year girls ride on their own, as I went to the British track nationals instead, but from there races would have got longer and I’m gutted I never got to experience it. The area in Holland that we race in is also extremely flat with the biggest hill being that of going over a motorway (as a youth anyway!) I always liked this because I’m not the biggest fan of hills so I was more in my element.
My times there have also been some of my favourite holidays, being with my friends most of the day, spending my time either racing or in the pool. Another great place to race is Spain but I will explain my experiences there in my next blog.