Strong Irish amateur compares racing in Belgium to Irish scene
Craig Rea opens the throttle during a race in Belgium earlier this season. The 23-year old will spend much of the season on the continent racing and training full-time and here, he gives an insight into life out there.
By Brian Canty
Craig Rea has decided to take the plunge and spend much of the season in Belgium racing for amateur team Molenspurters Meulebeke.
The Phoenix CC man, 23, went out to Belgium last summer to race.
And after receiving an offer to come back and guest for them this year he was only too happy to accept.
“Racing with them allows me access to the biggest amateur races Belgium has to offer,” he said.
“You would get the likes of Lotto Soudal and BMC development teams lining up alongside 180 other riders.
“I’ll also be racing at home for a select few races, such as the An Post Rás.”
Rea has ridden the Des Hanlon this year and finished fourth after being in the break all day.
“Belgium, in my eyes, is the world capital for cycling racing,” he said.
“Everyone here knows about the sport. A season with consistent results and a few podiums in Ireland and you’re barely noticed.
“But a win or two in Belgium and people will definitely know who you are.
“Another reason for the move is just because the opportunity is there.
“I wouldn’t be content with settling for another season at home knowing I could be getting stuck into the races out here.”
Of course, if it sounds glamorous, it’s not.
Rea describes the life for an amateur thus: “Compared to the racing in Ireland it’s more competitive and there is just more people there to race.
“Numbers-wise, you would get up to 200 people on the start-line.
“And the people you’re racing against are either wanting to turn professional or have already been professional.
“So to have any hope of doing well in the races you have to always be at the pointy end of the race.
“You need to be following whatever moves are going, knowing who the strong ones are and having a really good race craft.
“On top of that you need to be strong, not the sort of strength that Irish races require where you’re always at around threshold.
“Belgian roads differ in that you’re always sprinting to the next corner. So sprint, recover, sprint recover, repeat.”
Will still keep hand in at home
Rea plans to return to Ireland for the Tour of Ulster at the end of this month.
“I’m making sure to come home as much as possible because I’ve heard too many stories of riders cracking out here.
“I’ve also decided to do the Tour of Ulster and the An Post Rás this year with my club Phoenix CC.
“Having missed out on the Rás last year due to exams at university I’d love to get back to it.”