First timer’s guide to Assen
18 October 2013
The European Junior Cycling Tour is so popular among young British riders that it is often simply known as “Assen”. It has the reputation of being one of the biggest, most exciting experiences that a youth racing cyclist can have. Paul Miller visited Assen with his eight year old son for the first time in 2013. In this feature he shares his experience of being a first-timer, to help other parents make the racing trip to Holland.
Let’s be honest, the chances of a young racer one day being able to ride a UCI-sanctioned race that has been graced by the likes of Marianne Vos, Laura Trott and Mark Cavendish are slim.
Fortunately, there is one race that they can ride which has had some serious career cyclists attend at some point in their youth.
The European Junior Cycling Tour hosted by the Provincie Drenth within the Assen region is a six day tour that attracts at least 700 youth racers and has been run for 49 years. The event has some major sponsors including the likes of SRAM, Toyota, Rabobank and Shimano along with many local companies participating in its success.
Now many UK clubs make their own annual trip and chances are you will only have to sign up, pay your cash and go racing. But we saw some UK racers that had made the pilgrimage by themselves and this short piece is really aimed at them, not the year-in year-out stalwarts who probably have the whole Tour down to an art. My son raced the Tour and said it was his greatest racing experience thus far, so what little knowledge I have is passed on here.
Registration is the first step – see this web page on the Tour’s own website.
This usually opens in February, and until you have signed up and paid your monies you will not be assigned a Bib (race) number. The cost for each rider is 80 Euros with funds transferred via bank transfer. Once payment is received your number is issued.
To register you will also have to assign your rider to a “Categorie” of which there are eleven and each has its own gear setting. The Categorie is determined by birth year (please note that in some cases girls will be a year older to even up the racing – for example, in my eight-year-old son’s Cat II it was boys born in 2004 and girls born in 2003).
The gear restriction differs from the UK and some categories will not allow you to use the lockout screws to restrict gears. This is because the full range of the cassette will be required as some riders in the older categories may have to hand in spare wheels upon registration in Assen. These are then used as spares during the road race. This video shows how to do your own gear roll out.
Also, note that no time trial bikes are allowed below the Junior Category.
The following table shows categories, year of birth, and maximum gear for the 2013 race. See British Cycling’s youth gearing restrictions for comparison. Also, available is a specific cassette termed the “youth cassette” or “rear block” by the Dutch. This cassette has sprockets often required for youth racing and I’m sure is available at the cycling shop/tent near race registration if necessary, so no need to panic if running Shimano/SRAM who are race sponsors.
|Boys born in 2005, girls born in 2004 and 2005||5.46m|
|Boys born in 2004, girls born in 2003||5.46m|
|Boys born in 2003, girls born in 2002||5.78m|
|Boys born in 2002, girls born in 2001||5.78m|
|Boys born in 2001, girls born in 2000||6.14m|
|Boys born in 2000, girls born in 1999||6.14m|
|Boys born in 1999||6.55m|
|Boys born in 1998 and 1997||7.01m|
|Girls born in 1998 and 1997||7.01m|
|Boys born in 1996 and 1995||7.93m|
|Girls born in 1996 and 1995||7.93m|
The six day tour’s programme starts with the Prologue on the Monday which is just a 1 kilometre dash in order to get a few jerseys out of the way, but the real action starts the next day at the Criterium (of which there are three in total), another 2.5 kilometre time trial, and a “classic” on the open road from a set location and finishing at the stadium Wielerhome Stadsbroek (which is also where registration takes place on the Saturday). Spare wheels are also dropped off at this time as well as licences kept and a transponder given out with a deposit of 10 Euros.
Travel and finding a place to stay
Now, accommodation in the area can get booked up rather quickly and depends on the type of comfort you require and the depth of your wallet/purse. You can easily race and have a vacation at the same time if you’re a bike-head.
Camping is an option that many take up at the stadium Wielerhome Stadsbroek where some of the races start as well as being where the information centre is located from 08.00 to 19.30. Price depends on the size of pitch. The shared shower facilities are excellent so don’t think “Glastonbury”, although the area is notorious for heavy rains in a heartbeat so peg down well! Cost for the week is in the region of 70 Euros so not excessive.
Another popular spot is Witterzomer which is a form of lesser Centre Parcs with swimming pool, beach area, lake, tennis court, etc..
Various types of chalet are available with various spec’, although some parts of the complex can be noisy as kids do run rampant. If bringing other non-racing siblings there is plenty to do. Facilities include a launderette, café bar and a supermarket. Bookings run from Friday to Friday so an extra few days will be required as the final day of racing is on Saturday, or a hotel will need to be booked. A ten day stay is in the region of 1000 Euros for a two-bed chalet sleeping four.
Also see tourist information in the Province of Drenth. There are plenty of options and the Dutch speak better English than some from our own beloved shores so contact the office to see what is on offer in the region.
There are various ways to travel across to Holland but, for us, the simplest journey was a Stena Line ferry from Harwich taking about six hours to the Hook of Holland. From there the drive to Assen was a little under three hours so not too taxing. The cost was about £200 for three people with a fully laden estate car.
Competition and regulations
Now a little about the action… There are four classifications, and the following jerseys are available and worn by the leaders:-
- General Classification – Yellow Jersey
- Points Classification – Green Jersey
- Specials Classification – White Jersey
- Girls Classification – Pink Jersey
First three ranked riders in all other categories. Also, the top ten in each category are awarded a trophy and a place on the podium at the presentations following the final race.
Full racing regulations for the 2013 race can be found here.
However, to be honest, medals and jersey aside, the experience alone is invaluable. As my own son stated, to be able to ride in such large, strong groups was something he wasn’t able to do in the UK. Yes, it is definitely a taste of the big time with riders from 19 countries and 31 national champions in attendance. and from a viewer’s perspective it felt as good as going to any UCI race as we cheered on the various teams from Britain in each category.
Many of the overseas parents asked me about the state of youth racing in Britain, and asked if I would recommend them to make the journey to the UK. It was hard to suggest many races though after seeing what was on offer in Assen! The hope is that one day the UK will put on a Tour that will attract our European youth counterparts in such numbers with organisation to match.
Yes, the Tour can feel overwhelming with European youth racers being fully sponsored and coaches shouting their teams on but, even so, racers such as Lewis Askey (Lichfield City CC) and Dan Tulett (Hargroves Cycles) crossed the Channel and brought it to them. On a personal level Caelan took eighth in Cat II out of 35 racers with our own Ben Askey (Lichfield City CC) taking fourth and the green jersey.
Well I guess the most important question is “did the experience improve his racing…?” Hell yeah.
Lastly, everything about this great Tour can be summed up by Jaap Kuin (Alderman of Sport, Assen City Council): “The future is in the young people’s hands. It is a wisdom that the European Cycling Tour took to its heart many years ago”.