Report Joseph,most photos Martine Verfaillie as indicated, with thanks to both!!

A busy few weeks since finishing my summer exams in June. Straight to Portugal to race with Academia Ciclisimo Jopelor and then home for the Irish Nationals and the junior Tour of Ireland. The nationals went well enough missed the break and left if too late to chase the leading group. Got away with 20 km to go with another rider and we made over a minute and a half. Happy to come away with fifth and learning from each race. The Junior tour of Ireland was also some experience. Had a decent start and finished in the main bunch. Heading into stage 4, legs were feeling great and head was in the right place. I was in a great position heading into the last 15km. Unfortunately, there was a bad crash that took a big group of us out. I managed to get my spare bike and the adrenaline was rushing through my veins as I managed to cross the line. However, the concussion kicked in and total left side of my body totally banged up. Hospital that night ended my junior tour. Devastated, sore and tired I managed to pick up the pieces and after resting and sleeping I got my chance to go to Belgium

.Arrived meeting my new host family I couldn’t have been happier. Rik and Sabine were as Dany had told me the most wonderful and generous people. They welcomed me and took me under their wing. Cycling enthusiasts on a different level I knew I was going to enjoy my time here.

I was soon joined by Josh another Navan Road Club man and Darragh who was staying only 5km away. We would make a great team. (Photo above courtesy of Marie Louise social media page, his mum) We got to experience the Belgian style Kermesses. So many Belgian and international riders, we were racing at a different level with other Junior rider enthusiasts. We got to meet so many riders just like ourselves living the dream. Rik and Sabine would bring us to the races and keep an eye on us. Cycling Vlaanderen portal was very user friendly. We pre book our races and pay on the day. Numbers racing would range from 90 to150 on any given racing day. We raced in Yeast, Kooigem, Erondegem, Torhout, Dadiziele, Loppem and Helquin.

The racing was fast, hard and aggressive from the start. Averaging 43/44 km/h pretty much for the whole race. Tough 2 to 2.5 hours of racing crit style. I completed 7 races finishing in the leading group for all the races. The racing was sketchy at times and hard to read for the first few races. However, we got the hang of it and were moving up in the placings. Legs and fitness was great and I was feeling in top shape. Top 15, then 11th and then a nice 5th after getting away solo from the peloton. Super buzz after the races it was great having the Irish lads there too. Oisin then joined forces with three of us. Great to get to know OIsin and Darragh during our Belgian experience. It was great to get out on the bike every day and do our training on the Belgian roads. Rik and Sabine brought us to Koppenberg climb which was class. Had a few adventures taking off for the day got to visit Dunkirk, Bruges, the nearby towns of which one was Roeselare which held the after-race Crit from Tour de France. Some buzz.

The 5 weeks flew by. I returned last week with a few days to prepare for return to school Leaving Cert Year. That should be fun. I can’t put into words my gratitude for Rik and Sabine they were fantastic. I don’t know if we scared them with our attempt at cooking though!
Thank you to Dany Blondeel and all at the Belgian Project for giving us the chance to have this wonderful experience. Thanks to Martine and Rik who captured some lovely photos during our racing, wonderful to have. Thanks to the Belgian cycling community who were very helpful and encouraging.
I am now at home taking a few weeks to rest and reflect on my accomplishments this year. I have to say I am extremely proud of everything I have accomplished as a first year Junior. I have become more resilient; I have learnt some valuable life lessons and I can put the bad days behind me and focus on all the positives in the racing. I am thankful for all my cycling friends, my family and my mentor, coach and friend Andy Layhe. Cyclocross season is fast approaching, and I am looking forward to getting stuck in along with the Irish and Maths study. That should be some fun!!!!

Thanks to Noel and Valerie Moran at Bective Stud and Tearooms and Spun Cycles here in Navan, for helping me on my journey. Thanks also to Navan Road Club, Joa and the Portuguese team, Cycling Leinster and Cycling Ireland who have given me many opportunities.
Until my next visit to Belgium maybe to compete in a cx race over the winter! My cycling journey continues….