An honest and interesting inside view of a young neo-pro learning his trade on the European roads

Belgian Project Graduate 2019 Matthew Devins with his girlfriend Caoimhe O’Brien -Torelli-Assure Ladies Team GB (Photo Sharon Mc Farland)

Matthew wrote to me yesterdaySo I’ve been in Belgium for almost 2 weeks so far and I’ve raced 3 UCI 1.1’s and one pro kermesse so far. There’s been a few world tour teams and all the major pro continental teams in the UCI’s that I have raced in so the level has been pretty high, to say the least. My first race was the GP Leuven which was more of a kermesse type of race that took in the finishing circuit of the world championships course for this year. The course was quite technical and also included several short, punchy climbs on each lap. The start was very full-on and it was quite a shock to the system for me that day. I was hanging on as the last rider in the bunch for about 30 minutes before the break eventually went and things eased off. Approaching the last 90 mins of the race the pace really ramped up and the bunch was whittling down every lap. Going over a climb a split appeared about 20 riders in front of me and I just couldn’t get back on again after that. So I rode the last 2 laps with the group that I was in and finished my first race in 83rd

My next race was the Egmont Cycling Race which was a very tough day out. The weather was relentlessly brutal for 5 hours and everybody was struggling big time with the conditions. The power was never extraordinarily high or anything but instead, it was more a race where if you could just suffer in then you’d do well. I found that this type of race suited me far more as I could just grit my teeth and keep fighting towards the back end of the race, with 2/3 of the race off the back as we approached the last lap. Again like the previous race, as we went across a difficult cobbled sector, a split occurred in front of me and my group failed to rejoin the head of the race again. I finished in 47th place which was definitely a step in the right direction for myself all the same. The next race that I did was a local pro kermesse which took place just outside Aalst which was only a 20km ride away. A number of world tour guys turned up with the likes of Taco Van der Hoorn having won a stage in the Giro earlier this year. There were nearly 180 riders on the start list and it was a very different style of the race to the far more controlled 1.1s. There really wasn’t much rest bite at all once the flag dropped. Unfortunately for myself, I punctured just 40 mins into the race and that was it for me. In those smaller kermesse races, you can’t afford to puncture as there’s no real neutral service or team cars allowed behind. So that was my race done unfortunately but it did make for a good day’s training

Rik Masil (Ex Belgian pro-level footballer) and his wife Sabien Himpe, long time guest parents for the Belgian Project…a home from home for our young Irish talents and a big part of the success of the project (Photo taken in Wexford during the Nationals a few years ago by Caroline Kerley)

My most recent race was the Marcel Kint 1.1. Quickstep turned up with a strong team and the race was very very controlled for the first 3 hours which was quite a stark contrast to the kermesse the day before. The action only kicked off in the last 50km as everybody began jostling for positioning and nobody wanting to miss out in a split. With 40km to go, as I was riding along a rider just simply rode into the back of me and damaged my rear derailleur. There was a good clip on Eurosport of myself as the incident unfolded but it was more or less game over at this stage for me. Between the narrow roads and a long wait to get my bike sorted the race I have never seen the front of the race again. I did chase hard and managed to work my way up nicely through the team cars however I just couldn’t regain contact with the bunch. 143rd in that race for me. The highlight of the day though was seeing Rik and Sabien who came to see me before the start of the stage. I hadn’t seen them in over 2 years so it was great to see them again

On a personal level, it warms my heart to see these lads like Matthew getting a wee step up the ladder and getting the so important experience of higher-level road racing…mixing with the World Tour stars at times must be a thrilling thing for such a young lad! Whatever happens in the future..he will have “Lived the Dream” and build character and determination, which set you up for later life! Proud of you mate…keep it lit, regards, Dany B

Matthew’s support when home