Connie Hayes at the Jeugdtour

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Left to right: India Gloag, Josie Sheppard, Hannah Graveny, Rosie Wallace and Connie Hayes

Cat. A Connie Hayes is a well-known rider on the road and in cyclocross and has numerous good results and a fine selection of podium finishes to her name – including first place at the London Youth Games in 2016 when she won the U16 Time Trial.

For 2017, Connie will ride for Hub Velo-Liv, a new team for 2017 created specifically for Junior women making the transition to adult racing which will be riding the Team Series and events around the country as well as doing some racing in Europe, with the Assen Jeugdtour and the North-West Tour as particular objectives. Here, she tells us all about her experiences at this year’s Assen.

This year I raced at the 52nd edition of the European Youth Tour Assen in the Nieuwelingen meisjes (U16 girls). It is a six stage youth and junior race that takes place in and around Assen in Holland every August which I have participated in for the last 4 years. One of the best things about Assen is that you get the opportunity to mix with riders from all over the world.

The event starts on the Sunday with sign on and the handing in of spare wheels. It’s at this point the nerves kick in as you realise that unlike in the UK where you know the majority of the riders you know little to nothing about most of riders you’ll be competing against.

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On the start line with VC Londres’ Josie Sheppard

Stage 1 is a 1.3km prologue around the roads outside the event headquarters campsite and the Assen velodrome. Knowing the drill from previous years I made sure I was at the start pen ten minutes before my start time. I signed my box on the sign on sheet and waited till they called “number 20 Connie Hayes” I went into the pen and presented my bike for gear check. At this point the nerves started to take over, I don’t know why as I had absolutely no expectations as prologues really aren’t my thing. A few minutes later I was in the start house ready to go, “5,4,3,2,1” the jury’s hand went done and I was off down the ramp. Not much to say really as it was over in just over 2 minutes.

Stage 2 is fast, brutal criterium around a suburb of Assen. A strong first lap is crucial, something that me and a large group of girls did not have and resulted in us forming a chasing group and spending the whole race trying not to loose to much time. Although not one of my favourite races it was still great fun and a great course.

Now Stage 3 is where it starts to get different to youth racing at home. Unlike the road races in the Isle of Man and North West tours which are just big circuits which last longer than crit races, Assen has a point-to-point road race. For the U16 and junior girls who race together for this one stage it’s a nice 8:15 in the morning start about 40 minutes away from the centre of Assen. 140 girls lined up ready to face the 60km race. It split from the moment the lead car pulled off the front – I was in the third group with a lot of the British girls as well as riders from the Swedish and Norwegian national teams and Holland, Spain and Belgium. Sadly this year the 4.4km of cobbles which is best point of the course in my opinion was taken out due to the wet weather making them slippery and muddy, although there was another 1.7km section at about 25km to go but I knew my chances of getting there were very slim as they only like having two groups on the road, and so despite having the second group back in sight and closing right down on them we were pulled out of the race about 3km from the only cobbled section. Now we had to make our own way back to the race HQ. After getting lost in the pouring rain last year I knew I needed to follow the couple of local Dutch girls who knew the way home. Luckily for me and Rosie Wallace, doing this got us home and in the dry before the rest of the bunch we had been with.

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Starting the time trial

Stage 4 was the stage I had really been waiting for. Being a time trial specialist I rarely get the chance to ride at home so a nice closed road 8 mile time trial was my idea of amazing. It was a great course with a couple of false flat sections. Having a proper start ramp is always a nice feeling. Same drill as the prologue just in reverse GC order. Not long after the start due to me having a poor GC position I soon found myself passing riders, but due to us having the wide roads all to ourselves this really wasn’t a problem. The times were very varied but my time stood until the GC contenders started coming in. I finished in 20th which I was very pleased with.

Stage 5 is an omloop which is three laps of a 14km circuit for the girls. The circuit featured a lot of paved sections as well as a short cobbled section. The pace kicked up about 8km in and about 10km me and a large group of girls had been dropped. After one lap the lovely hot sun that was present at the start disappeared only to be replaced with hail, rain and strong wind. My group finished only a minute down on the main bunch despite the awful conditions we were finishing in.

ConnieHayes004Stage 6 is the race I always dread every year. Do not get me wrong, I love the 3.6km circuit though the woods on the pavé, but I dread the fact that when you cross the line on Stage 6 it’s the end of the Tour for that year. However, I finished the last stage in the main bunch -which was nice to personally end on a good ride.

I would recommend for any youth or junior girl to race at Assen as it truly is unlike anything you get elsewere. Not only is it six days of closed road racing but its six days of meeting other racers from around the around the world and learning how different riders ride.

Connie Hayes – Hub velo