The Easter holidays provided an opportunity for the team to take some of the riders on a trip to Holland and Belgium to experience some continental racing, involving bigger fields and different racing styles and conditions. The plan was to take in the 3-stage Healthy Ageing Tour for Junior Women event based around towns near Groningen, in the very north of The Netherlands and not far from the Germany border on the long weekend of Friday 6th April through to Sunday 8th April, and then move on to De Brabantse Pijl in Flanders that Connie experiencing last year.
The team sent a group of 4 riders consisting of Emily Bridson, Zoe Brookes, Hannah Graveney and Connie Hayes. Hannah was only going to race the HA Tour as she had to return back to the UK early.
Before leaving the UK, Connie tweeted, “So excited to be racing the Healthy Ageing Tour Junior Nations Cup race next weekend! Thanks to all the team sponsors for making this amazing opportunity possible!”
Healthy Ageing Tour Junior Nations Cup Stage 1
Six laps of the 16.2km circuit, along relatively flat and smooth roads, but with plenty of technical turns and pinch points, expected to be about 2 hours in length. A massive 127 rider field took to the start line, and alongside Admiral Liv AWOL were National Teams representing Sweden, Lithuania, Denmark, USA, Belgium, France, GB and more. This was certainly going to be a touch competition.
It was flat out from the very start, with crashes on the first lap which caught both Connie and Emily out, forcing them to chase all day.
In the end two riders from “Regional Team Drenthe”, Lonneke Uneken and Maike van der Duin took the win and second place, with another 75 riders all being given the same time of 2:08:15. Hannah Graveney wasn’t far behind and on her own in 80th place at a 3:33 gap, giving her a time of 2:11:48.
Zoe Brookes followed up in the next large group of 16 riders to cross the finish line 5:25 down and in 96th place with a time of 2:13:40. She tweeted “Mad day at Healthy Ageing Tour, super happy to have got round today. Thanks to Admiral Liv AWOL for the support and well done to the girls for strong rides despite some bad luck. Race blown to pieces in the crosswinds, thanks to Hillingdon Slipstreamers for teaching me to ride echelons!”
And in the last group of 18 riders to cross the line, 8:15 off the leader and in 105th and 116th respectively were Connie Hayes and Emily Bridson. With riders having to make the cut off time, all the team were safe through to the next stage. In the young riders category, Zoe was in 47th and Emily in 58th place.
DS Pat Hayes tweeted later in the evening, “Pretty tough day for the team. …. Strong rides from Hannah and Zoe to make top 100. Emily and Connie had tough day chasing after being caught up in first lap crashes, but survived time cut. So all go again tomorrow”.
Stage 2 moved to a circuit in and around the town of Winsum, and involved 5 laps of a 16.7km circuit, again spanning just over 2 hours. Not as flat as the day before, but still plenty of tight turns where the riders would not only have to be careful of crashing, but also be aware of the elastic effect each turn would impact on the peloton.
Pfeiffer Georgi, riding for National Team GB, took the win, crossing the line with 4 others slightly ahead of lead group in 2:07:27. Unfortunately for the team, Zoe in 95th place was the only team rider to make it to the finish with a gap of 13:39 from the leaders. In this stage, 24 riders, many representing National teams didn’t make the cut. Sadly this included Connie, Hannah and Emily.
On GC, Zoe was sitting in 91st with a time gap of 19:14 from the leader, and 42nd in the Young Rider classification with a time gap of 19:10.
Pat Hayes posted “Post race meal. Another brilliant day. Guys caught up in crash just outside neutralised zone and a hard day chasing in the cars. Heroic ride by Zoe Brookes to avoid the cut and survive to last day. Hannah Graveney very unlucky to crash in the group.”
Stage 3 (Final Stage)
It was back to Groningen for the final stage of the Tour. 10 laps of a 6.6km circuit and an undulating course over a 10m height variation within the centre of Groningen. The race was expected to last around an hour and 40 minutes.
Last rider left. Zoe was on the sign on podium ahead of Healthy Ageing Tour Day 3 in the town centre of Groningen, and when the commentator announced Zoe, he said what a shame she was the only one left from her team, and then invited her to sing or dance if she wanted to!
Despite lining up 35 mins before the start, Zoe was way back in the line. She got bored, so handed her bike to a Dutch girl and came to chat to Hannah G!
The final stage was a close affair with no real breaks of note when the riders finally crossed the finish line. Zoe was in the third group, 22 seconds of the front in 74th place, and a final GC placing of 86th with a time deficit of 19:40. In the Young Rider Classification, Zoe finished 39th.
Zoe tweeted “Thank you so much (to all the team sponsors) …. for the amazing opportunity to race in my first UCI nations cup race Healthy Ageing Tour. Also a big thank you to DS Pat, my team mates Hannah, Emily and Connie, and our parents for the support. Thanks to Huw Williams for getting me in good shape. Happy to have finished overall 86th out of 128 starters, with my best result 74th on stage 3.
And from Hannah G, “DNS – Thank you to Admiral Liv AWOL for the amazing opportunity of racing in the Healthy Ageing Tour. I had a great weekend with some great people Zoe, Emily and Connie. It was such a shame to crash out during stage 2 but it was still a fantastic experience.”
DS Pat Hayes summed it up “Huge thank you to organisers of Healthy Ageing Tour. An experience never to be forgotten for our 4 riders who learned so much and had such a great time. In sport it’s not the winning but the taking part that matters most. Marvellous event put on by brilliant people ❤️Drenthe”.
While Hannah had to head back to the UK after the Healthy Ageing Tour, the others headed on to the next race, the De Brabantse Pijl, in the iconic cycling district of Flanders.
Despite it raining the night before, it was clear the next day for the race start. It was a hard day out for the team in what was the support race for the Official Elite De Brabantse Pijl Men and Women’s Race.
While there may have not been much left in the legs following the Healthy Ageing Tour, it was another great experience to race in Belgium and Emily posted a superb 9th place finishing in a very select front group, with Zoe and Connie rolling through the finish together in 14th and 15th respectively.
Emily tweeted “Great time at De Brabantse Pijl support race yesterday- pleased to come away with 9th junior in a top Belgian national field on a tough, hilly course. Big thanks to Admiral Liv AWOL, my teammates and the amazing sponsors for a great experience racing in Europe this Easter”.
Connie posted to Facebook “Part one of my crazy April racing. Was far from my best at both the Healthy Ageing Tour and De Brabantse Pijl junior girls. However I learnt so much and am pleased with how they went for being at my worst. Riding at the same level as national teams riders was a real eye opener. HAT was an experience like no other and one that was only made possible due to the amazing sponsors we have at Admiral Liv AWOL. A special thanks has to go to Perkins, Admiral and Forte as without those 3 we would have never even been able to go. A massive thank you has to go to my amazing team mates for such a great week. A special thanks has to also go to Emily Bridson for taking me to see Fall Out Boy mid trip as well. Tomorrow sees me ride the first ever junior girls national series round, something I have wanted to see happen for years now. Then it’s back to holland later in the week for Omloop van Borselle where hopefully I will have better legs and a bit more luck!”
Featured photo by Johan Arling Fotographie. We’re very grateful for his permission to use his photo – other photos from Johan can be viewed on Facebook.