But they keep heading for the Heartland.
And we’ve got another name for you to conjure with; David Hewett, is on the kermis trail in search of that elusive crisp World Tour contract – here’s his tale…
What’s your UK background David, how did you get into the sport?
“I got into cycling pretty late at the age of 18 when I bought a road bike along with a group of friends from sixth form. Before that, I was a bit of an overweight teenager, although still involved in a range of sports throughout school.
“I cycled every now and then for a while, including doing a 100 mile sportive around the Surrey hills after only about 20 hours of riding experience!
“After 18 months, when I moved to university and got more involved with the cycling club there, I tried out 4th cat racing and was hooked.”
What are your UK palmarès like?
“Obviously I missed out on the usual experience of progressing through the junior ranks into U23, which I’ve realised can quickly shut a lot of team and funding doors unfortunately despite me still only having just turned 22 last month.
“Personally, I’d say that was maybe a bit of an old, close-minded cycling tradition.
“I’ve had two years of serious racing – last year, I starting training properly and raced a full season for the first time. I got my 1st cat licence 13 months after being a 4th cat and won the Tour of Sussex 3-day Regional A race as a solo rider without a team around me.
“I also got a few top 10s in National B road races which were obviously a step up from the 4th cat crits I’d been doing up until then – I think it’s fair to say I make a lot of mistakes last year but also learnt a huge amount and developed massively as a rider.
“My progress seemed to catch the eye of Tim Elverson, who offered me a ride on the Pedal Heaven Excel Academy for this season.
“I also got my first taste of the Belgian kermis scene, and it was immediately clear why everyone says the racing there is mental, but totally brilliant.
“This year, I got a 1st, 2nd and 3rd in National Bs in the spring (one year on from racing my first National B!) before having time off for my university finals exams and then training hard towards my summer move to Belgium.”
“Whilst I am very keen to return to Belgium, I had actually spent quite some time looking into racing in Spain or France next year, because I know that at a good race weight I’d be producing some very competitive numbers on the climbs and could perform there.
“I’m keen not to pigeonhole myself as a classics rider at this stage, as I think there’s always the potential of being a competitive GC rider in hillier terrain too.
“I had some promising emails from one of the top Spanish amateur and French DN1 teams, but wasn’t able to secure anything for this season.
“I’m very happy to be in Flanders again next year with PCT Tomacc though, as I still think it’s one of the best places in the world to be for learning the race craft and developing as a rider.
“You only have to look at the way in which Belgium recently dominated the crosswind section at the World Champs in Doha to realise that fundamentally they know how to race bikes when it gets tough, arguably better than anyone else, and they’ve learnt that from growing up racing in areas like Flanders.
“Some people seem to find racing flat race courses frustrating because it allows riders to hide in the wheels and doesn’t make selections based on power like it may do in the mountains, but I see that as a brilliant opportunity to learn from the best and understand how to win bike races. It might not be a fast track to big results or a flashy team that gives you bikes or whatever, but long term I think it’s the way to go.”
How long were you there for and where were you based?
“I headed off to Poperinge in West Flanders a few weeks after I graduated from university in the summer.
“I spent six weeks living in the team house of PCT Tomacc, a BVB team I was guest riding for in kermises and InterClub races.
“Poperinge is a great location – it’s only about five kilometres from the lovely concrete/bike path free roads on the other side of the French border, it’s 45mins from the Dunkirk ferry port so I can be back on my doorstep at home in about three hours all in, and the town itself is pretty nice with a good centrum of bars and cafés.”
I read you’re a vegan, doesn’t that make life difficult?
“It’s something that I’d experimented with at university, but I didn’t have the time to really understand everything behind it fully and establish it as a core part of my lifestyle whilst studying and training full time – back then, life was pretty hectic.
“Once I graduated, there was no reason to not follow a vegan lifestyle and in Belgium I had a couple of vegan friends from Australia who were able to guide me.
“To answer the question, it doesn’t make life difficult at all. For a start, it’s generally cheaper, and it automatically makes my diet cleaner and more nutritious by bolstering my intake of whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes and cutting out the rubbish. Not to mention the massive environmental, health and ethical implications.
“I’m spending less money, to eat more healthily, get leaner, have a fraction of the environmental impact, and not kill animals – it’s a no brainer!”
How many races did you ride and what were your best results?
“I think I did a handful of kermises, a weekend stage race in Brittany and a handful of InterClubs. I arrived in Belgium straight off the back of the biggest training block I’ve ever done, as I was playing catch up a bit after my mid-season exam break.
“I kicked things off to a great start less than 24 hours after arriving by making the nine man break at a kermis, and just missed the podium by coming fourth from a two-up sprint for third place (despite pulling the old ‘dive across the other side of a traffic island’ trick!).
“I managed to beat the famous Joeri Stallaert though (then the amateur Belgian national champion), and was pleased with how I’d raced overall – a sign of what I could do on a good day. Unfortunately, after that things mostly went downhill to be honest…
“I got ill, and was feeling increasingly fatigued to the extent that I had to take almost a full week off the bike. The form just wasn’t there to be doing well in the interclubs, and my only other decent ride was 15th in a kermis from a breakaway group.
“In hindsight, I think the first week or two in Belgium should have been much easier in terms of training load following the previous training block and stress of exams, but I’d just arrived in the heartland of cycling and was excited to hit the ground running!
“Whilst I was a bit disappointed to leave without having been up there in an InterClub, I now know what’s required and that. I’m very capable of performing at that level and getting a big result against some of the best young riders in the world. I’m grateful to the team for seeing past this too and offering me a place for next season.”
Tell us about your team – how were you accepted by the Belgians?
“Cycling Team Tomacc is a Beker van België team based in West Flanders, competing in the BVB series of races as well as the large InterClubs where the likes of BMC Development, Lotto-Soudal U23, EFC-Etixx and Team 3M show up.
“The team staff comprises the owner, the manager and his wife, and the mechanic and his wife, so it’s a really close-knit friendly family atmosphere and one of them normally swings by the team house on most days to check everything’s okay, resolve any issues, and clean the house/change bed sheets as necessary.
“Next year the team is electing to skip the BVB races, because the quality is just not there compared to other races, and instead cross the border more often and do more races in Northern France, which I think it a good move.
“So the calendar will be predominantly these races plus the usual big InterClubs in Belgium, and potentially one or two UK race entries that I’m looking to help arrange.”
Favourite things about living and racing in Belgium?
“It would have to be the intangible buzz and excitement around bike racing in Belgium. Somehow, there’s just a sense of the legendary Belgian races and riders at every race you go to, and you really feel like you’re living the dream and that a big opportunity is just a win away.”
Less palatable aspects of Belgian racing and living?
“The language – it’s totally incomprehensible and seems like it’s going to be a real pain to try and learn.
“You can learn Dutch which pretty much covers the written language, but the pronunciation is totally different to Flemish, which itself has dialects and words which can vary from town to town, so unless you were brought up as a child in a particular Flemish area it’s exceptionally difficult to accurately learn the language.
“Also a lot of the roads in Flanders aren’t all that brilliant for training on as you’re either confined to a bike path or the roads are made of saddle sore inducing concrete slabs.”
That’s one ‘full tool’ Specialized machine you ride, how does it cope with the cobbles?
“It’s pretty rapid, perfect for Belgium really as it will happily sit at 45kph all day long and is noticeably faster than standard road bikes. It takes on the cobbles no problem, I think the carbon bars and long carbon seatpost help to smooth them out a bit, but riding the Kemmelberg for example was still fairly grim.
“I usually get a bit over-excited whenever I come across a stretch of cobbles in training and tend to smash it up a bit, but the bike is more than happy to oblige.
“It’s been a great bike, but I’m looking forward to something new for next year and I’m currently picking up various second hand parts and building a race bike up to my own specifications which is quite good fun trying to source optimised equipment on a budget.
“I’m a bit of a kit geek when it comes to stuff like that, but I know it makes a real difference at the end of the day.”
You had a crash – what happened and are you well now?
“I’d returned from Belgium a few days beforehand and then drove down to Cornwall to spend some holiday time just chilling out and getting some final end of season tune-up training sessions in.
“In a nutshell, my bike handling skills let me down (not for the first time, though being two hours into a fasted ride I was also not entirely lucid!) and I was caught out by a very steep and damp descent down a narrow lane, where a gentle corner tightened into a very tight near-hairpin turn. Cue me clipping an oncoming car, hitting the deck hard on my right shoulder, and smashing my collarbone into pieces.
“One of the silliest and most avoidable spills I’ve had, but as it’s becoming clear, also one of the most involved in terms of recovery. I waited 11 days before having surgery to fix the break – three hours, 11 screws, a very long titanium plate and a 15cm incision later and it was done.
“I was told to expect three months off the road due to the severity of the fracture, and currently I’m almost five weeks in.
“I’ve adapted a bike for the turbo, and can do a few other activities like legs-only swimming, but I should expect to be in a sling, twiddling my thumbs, for three weeks or so before I can start strengthening the shoulder. It’s a long road to recovery…”
Who’s your role model?
“In the cycling world, there are riders I admire for their racing style and class, and then there’s others I look up to as character role models (and some that I admire for both).
“I’d put guys like Niki Terpstra, Geraint Thomas, Tony Gallopin and Steve Cummings in the first group – they all just look super smooth on the bike and have all pulled off some truly memorable wins.
“Chris Froome, Peter Sagan and much of the Orica squad woul