Last weekend a Banbridge CC team travelled to Belgium to compete in the Benelux cup in Erezée, a UCI Cat 2 mountain bike race.
Having been invited to the event, riders James Curry, Gareth McKee and Lindsay Watson, with support provided by Simon Curry, used the race to gain valuable experience and evaluate the racing standard in Europe.
The team arrived in Belgium late Friday night and, care of some of Lindsay’s knowledge of the local lingo, found their way to their digs.
The race schedule for Sunday was Junior men starting at 10.15am and the Elite men starting at 3pm. This meant it was an early start to get to the course and signed on; from the start list it was clear that the race was not going to be easy with James starting 43rd out of 55 on the grid.
Straight into a fast rocky fire road descent, there was no room for error or overtaking, however gaps formed and James made his move to gain a few positions before the forest singletrack.
Once into the forest, it was very congested and the only way to gain ground was to dismount and run past riders to get to the front of the race.
James slowly worked his way through the field finishing his first lap in 28th position. On the second lap, he continued to make progress, crossing the line in 18th place.
There was some confusion with the race distance, Juniors started out set to complete four laps however it was cut short mid race.
James went into the last lap and was getting stronger as the race went on, finishing in 14th position having paced the race to last the longer distance - a fantastic result.
Representing the team in the Elite race was Gareth McKee and Lindsay Watson, however like James they were at the back of the grid in 57th and 61st positions.
After watching James in the earlier race, Gareth and Lindsay adopted his tactics and ran past as many competitors as they could to get a clear run at the downhill section. After the first lap, Gareth had made his way into 25th with Lindsay just behind in 35th.
With such a long six lap race, it was all about pacing it correctly. Gareth suffered a mechanical however, wrapping his chain around the crank, losing valuable minutes as he tried to get it released whilst watching the race go by. With a never say die attitude and a newly bent chain, it was a case of damage limitation for the Moneyslane man.
Lindsay had moved up into 30th position, steadily passing riders who had went too hard at the start and were now starting to tire. Gareth was now in 34th, working his way through the field.
Lindsay and Gareth crossed the line together on the fourth lap and they continued to work their way through the field finishing 22nd and 30th respectively.
This was a great experience for the three riders racing at this international level.
Huge thanks go to Simon Curry who looked after and supported the team over the weekend. A special mention also to Simon Gueuning, the team host, and his mother, who the whole team hope to return to next year.