Journals

Nathan Hardy journal: Euro vision

Journals 2022: Nathan Hardy #02

18-year-old Nathan Hardy is focusing on his road racing development this season with his Tofauti Everyone Active team. In his first journal post, Nathan talks about his experience of racing in Europe, and how that differs from what he knows in Britain…

As my first block of racing draws to a close, I wanted to reflect on the differing styles of racing in the UK and in Europe, primarily in Belgium. After (sort of) two Belgian UCI races (Ed. Nathan crashed out at Kuurne) and two rounds of the UK Junior National Series, I think now is a good moment to compare the two racing styles. 

Whilst I enjoyed this first block of racing, including 10th place at the Guido Reybrouck Classic, there were lots of lessons learned to take with me going forwards. 

Of course, there are very obvious differences between the UK and the continent, such as closed roads, and a bigger event buzz, team presentations, and the occasional appearance fee, but I want to shed some light on what cannot be seen superficially from a spectating perspective.

Nathan at the 2022 Velomax Ronde, Bovington. Photo: Katherine Mills

Quite possibly the biggest difference is the way that the races are raced. UK junior races have a pattern; imploring attacks from lesser-marked riders right from the off, who then come back an hour later, triggering a flurry of attacks from the main favourites over the next half hour, and the winning break goes with somewhere between 40 km and 10 km remaining. 

UCI races are far less formulaic, riders’ strategies vary hugely depending on the route and how they think they can win the race

Although they can be similar, UCI races are far less formulaic, riders’ strategies vary hugely depending on the route and how they think they can win the race. It is because of this that UCI racers are far more tactically advanced; being strong here is not going to make the difference, with at least 20 riders having the capabilities to be in the top five at the line, and half the race being capable of a top 20. 

I would say that it is this added depth that we do not always see in the Junior National Series; that is what makes the racing so hard, although this is beginning to emerge within the UK, and there is a plethora of talent on our shores currently – as the UCI races have already shown us this year. 

In Europe, the pace of the race tends to be full gas, or close to it, for three hours straight, whereas in the UK you can feel the pace ramping up throughout the race, as the finish comes closer. This tends to be down to the constant fight for position, and the decisive sections often being very close to the start of the race in UCIs. An example is at Guido. The toughest cobbled section came 11 km in, meaning that the first 15 minutes were raced over 50 kph, a much more hectic start than a UK national.

Nathan (centre, in green) at the 2022 Velomax Ronde, Bovington. Photo: Katherine Mills

Also, the UCI races tend to resemble a professional race a lot more, with almost every rider there being well versed in the cultural nuances of bike racing, something that will likely never be seen outside of Flanders or Nord-Pas-de-Calais. This is shown most obviously through the early breakaway, not only the want to be in it, but the willingness to let riders go as well. This usually then signals the easing of pace for 10 km or so to let the break get a gap, before starting to ride them back. 

On the continent, more riders are willing to work for a teammate, with many seeing it as the modus operandi, even in the youth ranks, whereas in the UK races I think that there is more of an every-man-for-himself characteristic

Often in the UK, there is no such desire to let riders go, as teams are smaller and less organised than the Europeans. Also, on the continent, more riders are willing to work for a teammate, with many seeing it as the modus operandi, even in the youth ranks, whereas in the UK races I think that there is more of an every-man-for-himself characteristic, which led to some intra-team tactical disasters at points during the 2021 season. 

The other major difference is the variety of terrain that the race routes cover. Every UK national I have done is essentially the same, save for CiCLE. “A rolling route, with a short sharp climb, on a lap of 13 kilometres,” is how Dexter Mansell opens our pre-race team Zoom calls before almost every national. Obviously, as UCI races can be anywhere in the world, there will be a greater difference in the topographical makeup of the many parcours that exist, but each race has its own character, and no two races are the same. 

Even all the Flemish races that do laps of the hellingen of the region are all fairly distinct, despite some even covering the same roads and climbs. From cobbles to 5 km plus climbs, Europe gives riders a chance to experience what UK races rarely offer. 

Featured photo: Katherine Mills

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