Isla at Gent Wevelgem

On Sunday I guested for Team Footon Velosport in the junior girls race at Gent-Wevelgem. Although I raced in Belgium a lot last year, this event was very different to anything I’d done before. As it was a UCI level race, there were national teams from various European countries and club teams from Belgium and the Netherlands; unfortunately the American team couldn’t make it due to the recent events at Brussels Airport.

It was a very hard race due to the strong headwinds; Harriet told me how windy it was last year, but it didn’t quite do yesterday’s cross and headwinds justice! As a team we were forced to line up at the back of the group, as other teams got there incredibly early, sacrificing a warm-up; there were 120 riders, so everyone knew moving up would be tough. The race started off hard, dropping a lot of girls, but the majority of the team stayed in. Although myself and teammate Hetty moved up well during the first lap, the group became strung out into the headwind. People were chasing, then decided they were tired, so just swung out creating huge gaps in the string of riders- we were forced to go round the outside and try to get back into the group.

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Isla racing in Belgium

The front of the group really kicked out of the corner into the tailwind, and I wasn’t far enough forwards to go with it. A small group formed with me in, and we chased, only to be overtaken by the team cars with a very small gap between us and the bunch. We spent the remainder of the race weaving between the various cars, as we were travelling at a similar speed to the group, but couldn’t quite get back on- people kept kicking through and not pulling turns, which was very frustrating.

All-in-all, it was a great experience and I loved the atmosphere of the race, as it wasn’t like my usual race in Belgium. My teammates Hetty and Meg finished in the second group; around 20 riders rode away earlier in the race, so the two main groups were the only ones to be given finishing positions. Monica was also having an awesome ride, but punctured so had to finish a lap early, unfortunately.

What did I learn? Moving up is so important when it’s windy, but I felt like I did my best to try and get a good position. I was quite disappointed with what happened, but I felt strong working in the group and got 2nd in our sprint at the end on the cobbles. So, not a great race, but not bad!

Thank you so much to Team Footon Velosport for giving me the opportunity to ride, and to Caroline Stewart for being so helpful by mechanic-ing and coming with us!