Matthew's Report from Belgium!

23 August 2011
Hi everyone, how are things back home in Ballymena? I've been hearing that the club runs are as fast as ever!!!  Here is a report of my time in Belgium....
Sunday 30th August was a very early 2 am start with a long and daunting day of travel ahead.( Ballymena to Dublin, Dublin to Brussels, Brussels to Brugge, Brugge to Ostend!) On arrival at Brussels airport I caught the train to Bruggge, where I was collected by Adam, an American rider who had been staying in the team house and riding for Team Deschuytter. From there we drove to Oudenberg which is a stones throw from oStend. When I arrived at the team house I met Oliver, an Australian rider who was also riding for the team.They are both u23 riders (espoirs). My first race was on the Wednesday just after I arrived in a town called Kooigem. It would be an understatement to say it was a shock to the system! The first half of the race was ridden at a ferocious pace with riders getting dropped and pulled frequently. I made it just over half distance before getting caught behind a crash on a narrow street. Game over at that pace!
On the same day the Scottish talent team arrived; my new team mates for the next few weeks. These are a great bunch of lads and have really made my trip enjoyable! Training and racing with them has been fantastic and we got on like a house on fire.
Our first interclub was a big race that only teams can enter, with over 150 riders. It was on Saturday 6th August, just up the road from our house in Oudenburg. Most of the team were sick as a stomach bug had spread through the house. The race was hard, with wet 'greasy' roads and very technical... we all suffered! Since then we have been racing kermesses frequently. Even these are hard with the Belgium champion's team riding and top world junior team Avia.
At the start of my trip nerves where killing me after a recent crash in the Junior tour of Ireland, (my poor Specialized SL3 is in the skip) but being thrown in at the deep end in Belgium has brought my cornering ability back up and nerves have faded away. I have been finishing in the front group in the past couple of kermeses and my highest result was 31st in a crit in Torhout. The racing here is very hard but it has been an amazing and exhilarating experience. Getting to know other high level junior riders and getting contacts for U23 teams next year has also been fantastic! Living independantly, having the use of the team car and running the house by ourselves has also been a character building experience. We also got to take in a stage of the Eneco Tour which was brilliant.
I am now in my final week in Belgium, with 3 more races to go. I am aiming for a top 10 in at least one of them. The time here has literally flown past and I can't believe that it is almost time to go back to Ireland. The Scottish guys are now back home along with the American. I am going to enjoy the final few races this season over here with the amazing weather we are getting (sunny 30 degrees). This trip has been the experience of a lifetime and will be one that I never forget. Hopefully I will be back in Belgium soon!!
I would like to extend my gratitude to Dany Blondeel at the Belgium project who made this all possible.