If you’ve ever wanted to give racing a shot over in Europe and always wondered how to start, look no further. Throughout the upcoming season we’ll be following Chris D’Amelio who is in his second season with Team Cyclingnews.com. He’s had a season of feeling out the playing field and now is a in a great position be giving us his TIPS on the who, what, when, where and how in the European Peloton.
Every cyclist dreams of turning professional and riding the Tour de France. Unfortunately, only a few ever get the opportunity, not to mention have the talent and dedication. For the rest of us though, there are still plenty of opportunities to race in Europe and test the legs in the heart of cycling.
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
Get an International Licence and Insurance . This can be organised through Cycling Australia and will set you back some decent coin. The license will last you all year long and unfortunately you need to get this in addition to your domestic license. You can’t get a license unless you have the appropriate travel insurance which will cost you according to how long you intend to be racing over there. If you plan to do the full season you don’t get much change from a grand! You’ll also need a Permission to Race Letter. Any race you try to enter in Europe, whether it be France, Belgium or elsewhere, they will ask for a permission to race letter from your home cycling federation. This basically states that you are a paid up member of Cycling Australia and have the appropriate insurance. This can be organised when obtaining a license.
Race Season : The European season starts off in February and goes all the way through to the end of September. Races early on in the season are often very nervous in the bunch, as all the riders are super motivated to start their year with good results and the weather is more often than not, pretty miserable. Hence, if you were planning to do a shorter stint, its best to aim for the middle months of the year. Also, during these months there are more races to choose from. You could even race every day of the week if you like, although it’s not advisable.
Team or no team? It is possible to get yourself on an amateur team that will take care of you at races. Some teams will do as little as giving you a jersey and a race program, whilst other teams will take care of everything from bikes and equipment, to accommodation and a food allowance. The best way to get a spot is to have someone who can hook you up, but doing some research on the internet and sending some emails off is the next best thing. Generally, the most popular locations are the north of Belgium (known as Flanders or Vlaanderen), or France. A very popular team for English speaking riders, Australians included, is the Kingsnorth International Wheelers, which are based out of Gent in Belgium. Although a very basic team, a lot of good riders have used the team as a foot in the door to get themselves over to Europe to kick start their careers.
Alternatively, you can head over and race independently . I did this a few years ago when I traveled to France for a couple of months to race. I was lucky enough to have a friend racing for one of the big amateur teams in Brittany (north-west corner of France) and he was nice enough to give me a room to stay, although it wasn’t much bigger than a toilet cubicle. A lot of the time you have to take what you can get though. I was able to travel to most races with the team and if I had any troubles with entries or mechanicals the team management would usually help me out. I found that the organizers of a lot of the bigger amateur races over there aren’t too keen to have too many foreigners entering, although you’re quite entitled too. It was certainly handy to have some French speaking counterparts when issues like this occurred, as sometimes they don’t speak a lot of English. The races are a little easier to enter in Belgium, as most people speak excellent English and the bunch is generally filled with foreigners. So if you get stuck without a team but still have drive to race in Europe it is possible, but the logistics will be a little more difficult than having a team that will take care of you
Cashola $$$ . Finally, you need to have the funds. Although there is the possibility to make a bit of money from races if you’ve got some good form, you’re kidding yourself if you expect to head over there and live off winnings.
So there’s the basic things you’ll need to get yourself in amongst the action in Europe. There are a heap of Aussies over there battling it out so you always bound to bump into a few countrymen to keep you from going insane. Be prepared for some tough racing but it is well worth the experience.