Last Saturday I made the trek down to Belgium for the junior Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, have to say I was pretty excited to experience my first UCI 1.1, especially in a race as cool as KBK. Unfortunately as we got to Belgium late afternoon we didn’t have time to recce the course. Instead we got kicked out of the Mingay’s warm cozy van 20k from the hostel in Kortrijk and braced the Baltic conditions for a brisk spin home. After getting to the hostel, showering, wrapping up warm and getting a fat bowl of spaghetti covered in, as usual, way too much cheese. We went to bed ready for tomorrows big race.

Breakfast in the hostel consists of various meats and cheese, so, knowing this I came prepared. Two jumbo pots of Quaker Oats porridge, (not sponsored but if your reading this Quaker, hey.) a load of fruit and a couple of jam baps saw me on the way to Kuurne. Now I know the UK is currently under snow but trust me when I say this, It was COLD. I remember before we went to get our gears checked, I was stood outside the van in a gabba, a windbreaker and a thick coat, more than what I was racing in, but still absolutely freezing. I made an effort to see what the pros were wearing as they rolled out and then promptly put another layer on.

The first 30 mins or so of any race is always a bit sketchy, but the first 30 mins of the first race of the year was something else. But those who know me will know that I don’t mind that too much. However, after working out that my stem notes where 2 kilometres behind the actual race, I hit the first berg – the Wolvenberg – way too far back and, typically, was caught behind a crash. The Wolvenberg is a bit of a bugger, despite being only 708m its averages 7.9% and peaks at 17% so starting this at a standstill with a foot down was pretty brutal. I paced myself up the climb picking off riders as I went and had the front group in site with a long line of riders hanging off it in the first cobbled section. Getting around people on this was savage as I had to come off the preferred line and on to the rougher segments to come past. About 50 meters in to the cobbles, my one full bottle bounced out, taking all of my momentum with it, due my foot being unclipped by the bottle. ( I ended up doing the whole race on 500mil and scraps from the British riders around me, thanks Josh) After what felt like an hour of cobbles we where on too smooth roads.

Smooth roads and crosswinds.

A hard chase and a gel later I got back on to the lead group and took my time to recover before the Kwaremont, which I had heard mixed reviews about. Goats like Oscar Mingay had told me that it was no sweat at all, however, the downhill specialists amongst us had let me know that it was brutal and to be avoided at all costs. I like to think that I fall between those two categories and I’m glad to say I didn’t know we’d climbed it until I asked when it was coming up. Think that means these days I’m sat a bit closer to goat status – just a bit.

A shout of “work together lads” followed by one or two rotations of a half hearted chain-gang, ending in a small group drifting off the front when someone didn’t pull a turn, was pretty much the next 30k. Safe to say it was frustrating sat in a group of 30, knowing that the eventual winner, Remco Evenepoel, was on his own, a minute up the road.

The final 20k consisted multiple attacks with people trying to get away from the reduced peloton. I got fully involved as I was feeling really strong and fancied my self in the sprint from a smaller group and still thought the catch was possible. However, things were very cagey and no one really wanted to commit to the moves, more than often I found myself helping to bring back the moves that I wasn’t in. I think looking back I could have probably sat back a bit here to save my legs for the gallop. Eventually with about 3km to go I decided enough was enough and to save my legs for the sprint. I noticed that the Backstedt team were forming some sort of lead out for Charley Calvert, so decided to hop on that. I think Will Tidball had the same idea so it was nice to have a good scrap for a wheel. Luckily the Backstedt lads came through with a banging train and after hesitating a little too long, I came in 3rd in the bunch kick and 5th overall.

5th in Junior Kuurne Brussels Kuurne isn’t too bad but I think it’s always hard to walk away from a sprint happy in which you’ve been beaten. My next big race is Guido Reybrook, a fairly flat race with 12km of cobbles. I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks to John Barclay as ever for the opportunity and to you for reading,

Matt Shaw