Over the Easter weekend, a six man Glendene Cycling Club / BikeTrax junior team travelled to Belgium to compete in what is arguably Northern Europe’s biggest junior stage race of the year – The 27th Ster Van Zuid Limburg 3 Day International. In their first overseas race together, Jonny Bellis, Andrew Griffiths, Russell Hampton, Mathew Rowe and Peter Kennaugh all came away from the event with a lot of respect from their continental counterparts.
But it was Alex Dowsett, the Essex Engine, who stole the show by emphatically winning the opening time trial, taking then retaining the race leader’s yellow jersey and gaining a high degree of exposure in the Belgian National press into the bargain. The first stage was held on Saturday in the town of Borlo, Belgium, near the Dutch border. A field of 140 top International Juniors assembled for the short 5.3km time trial. Dowsett, riding in his first overseas stage race, rose to the occasion with a ride that stunned the opposition. His winning time of 6 minutes, 28 seconds smashed the 27year old course record.
Averaging over 30mph, Dowsett beat the Belgium National Champion, Jan Ghyselinck, by 14 seconds. Suddenly the unknown Englishman was the talk of the Tour. The afternoon’s 90km stage took the riders from Borlo to Bovelingen. The challenge facing the team in their first experience of Belgium’s fast and frantic style of racing was to defend Dowsett’s 12-second lead. Crashes were common and unfortunately Matt Rowe crashed out early on. With Glendene down to five riders, Russell Hampton orchestrated some great teamwork to protect their race leader. Subsequently, Dowsett finished in the bunch and retained the leader’s yellow jersey.
Stage three, held on Easter Sunday, was on an undulating 90km course, starting in Bovelingen and finishing with five laps around the town of Herderen. With the team down to five riders, manager Bob Downs briefed the riders with a plan that would see Hampton acting as road captain, Kennaugh and Bellis covering the breaks and Griffiths protecting Dowsett. However, disaster struck when Hampton crashed and then Kennaugh punctured; both were unable to get back into the race. Having lost half his team’s support, the opposition sensed Dowsett’s vulnerability. Under constant attack from the top teams, Bellis, Griffiths and Dowsett were too isolated to defend the leader’s jersey. Dowsett finished in the bunch, over a minute down on the leaders and dropped to 17 th place overall.
Monday’s final 120km stage was from Herderen back to Borlo and included a number of steep climbs and cobbled roads. Prior to the toughest stage of the weekend, Dowsett, Griffiths and Bellis had clear instructions to attack and stay with the leading Avia team. Dowsett’s aggressive riding saw him gain just under a minute on the fast moving bunch, but as expected, the relentless peloton pulled him back. Griffiths and Bellis also put in some sterling work and all three finished in the bunch. Dowsett held on to his impressive 17 th place overall, just 54 seconds down on the overall winner after over 300km of racing.
The Glendene Juniors finished ninth in the team honours and left for home with their heads held high. To have held onto the yellow jersey for more than half the race, in their first overseas race together, was a great achievement for the team and will stand them in good stead for the future.