So the biggest cycle race in the world is the Tour de France, right? Well not if your between the ages of 5 and 18 it’s not. That would be the week-long European Junior Cycling Tour in Assen, Holland – the Jeugdtour…and it’s about as serious as kids cycle racing gets, anywhere in the world.

Every year, kids from all over the world converge on the Dutch town to battle it out over 6 days of road racing. It’s the pinnacle of junior cycle racing. This year, over 500 riders were entered in the first 4 minutes after entries opened. Around 700 riders registered from 19 different countries.

This is a kids bike race, like no other…

  • Monday: Prologue*
  • Tuesday: Criterium race*
  • Wednesday: Classic road race
  • Thursday: Time Trial*
  • Friday: Cobbled Omloop race*
  • Saturday: Criterium race and Award Ceremony

The age group system is different to the UK with single year age groups (rather than 2 year age groups in the UK) with the subtle difference of the girls running with the boys in the year group below, which is a great leveller and good encouragement for more girls to have a go!

  • Category 1: 5.46 metres rollout
  • Category 2: 5.46 metres rollout
  • Category 3: 5.78 metres rollout
  • Category 4: 5.78 metres rollout
  • Category 5: 6.14 metres rollout
  • Category 6: 6.14 metres rollout
  • Category 7: 6.55 metres rollout
  • Nieuwelingen (U17): 7.01 metres rollout
  • Nieuwelingen-meisjes (U17): 7.01 metres rollout
  • Juniors (U19): 7.93 metres rollout
  • Juniors-Girls (U19): 7.93 metres rollout
  • *Aspiranten: Riders aged 5 to 10 years old without a race license – shorter event.

As you can see, the rollout limits for each age group are also longer than British Cycling allow in the UK, so coupled with predominantly flat courses means quite high average speeds with the youngest Category 1 seeing nearly 21mph average speeds in their races.

Riders in each age category will compete for the coveted classification jerseys. Just like any grand tour, it’s pretty special to have worn a jersey or won a stage at Assen:

  • General classification: Yellow jersey
  • Points classification: Green jersey
  • Special classification: White jersey
  • Girls classification: Pink jersey

It’s all pretty serious stuff with coloured jerseys, points systems and very close racing, particularly in the older age groups – with many of the world series Pro-Peleton riders having ‘cut their teeth’ at Assen in their youth days. For the younger riders, it’s just a fantastic experience of tour riding, over different courses on consecutive days with riders of all nationalities. Motorcycle outriders, transponders, course cars, broom wagons – it’s all there plus a great holiday too!

The 2017 edition had over 700 riders entered from: Netherlands, UK, Germany, Norway, Latvia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Sweden, South Africa, Lithuania, Portugal, Hungary, Australia, USA, Finland and the Czech Republic. Organisers provide an event campsite for all competing families, but there are lots of options for holiday homes, hotels or AirBNB in the local area around Assen.

Kids Racing squad of 3 entered their first tour this year (now our 5-year old can race in Aspiranten!) and had a blast. They all really enjoyed the week. Here is a little rundown of how the week played out from our experience…

The campsite opens with people arriving from all over Europe to stay on the Event HQ site with toilets and shower supplied. Great value (€45-€90 for the week) and by all accounts good, clean facilities. As its Holland, there a lots more campsites very nearby too.

Voluntary gear checks, signing-on and bib numbers are issued from the HQ, a large white event trailer outside the venues cafe/bar. They also post the Prologue start times for the following day’s opening event.

Finally, it all begins with the Prologue. Essentially an individual Time-Trial used to open the event and decide who wears the coloured jersey’s on Day 2. The organisers use a little white trailer for the start of this and the Time Trial later in the week.

The course is located in the woods adjacent to the event HQ, and just a short bike ride to the start area. It finished in front of the big orange bus (which you will find at the finish line of all races throughout the week, where the officials are based) by the event HQ. After a smooth tarmac road, the course turns onto a cobble section – so like any stage, it’s worth a recce beforehand.

The start procedure is pretty much the same for every race throughout the week (take a look below). Results get posted up by the officials trailer at the HQ very quickly aswell as on the event website, with constant notifications on their FaceBook and Twitter accounts. It’s very easy to keep in touch with the tour as in progresses.

After each category has finished, there is a short prize giving to award the jerseys after each race, so those wearing the first coloured jerseys are now all set for Day 2!

The Criterium is next up with a format that many of the kids will be familiar with already, a multiple lap race of a closed circuit, with course cars on the stage. It’s a fast circuit through a leafy housing estate located in an eastern suburb of Assen (15mins from the HQ by bike). It’s mainly on smooth tarmac with a cobbled section just before they turn onto the finish straight. The assembly area for gear checks and gridding is in a car park adjacent to the start/finish line bus. This race was a standing-start from the line. Its a fast race, the 9-year old category 3 riders averaged 36km/hr!

This is the classic Road Race (klassiker) in a route to the south of Assen using the roads around the outside of the famous Assen TT circuit, winding its way back to the event HQ finish. If you have several kids in different age groups, this is a tricky day. We had 3, but still managed as the start times for their different age groups allowed Dad to take each one to their start and get back in time to take the next one to theirs. Again, a fast route on some superb tarmac with just a hint of cobbles in the village for Witten a couple of km’s from the finish. The ‘flyover’ just after Witten provides the KOM opportunity! As its a road race with a broom wagon, again its important to understand the rules on mechanical issues and make sure their bike is ready for it. This was also a fast race, as the prevailing wind direction will usually create a tailwind. The starts are neutralised behind a course car and plenty of outriders.

Time Trial day based in the village of Lieveren which is a furthest stage from the event HQ (approx 20km away) and the vast majority drive to the location. Car parking is laid on in a farmers field and motorhomes can use it. As per the Prologue, the organisors use their starting ramp trailer. Each age group has a different start point (all on the same course) so the distance changes for each age group. Once an age group has finished, the trailer is hooked up and towed to the next start point and so on. Riders run in reverse GC order.

Its the cobbled Omloop criterium next, based in the small village of Kostvlies – although the Aspiranten race is back at the event HQ later in the afternoon, which can cause something of a logistical problem for parents with multiple children in different categories. A dry day is preferable on the cobbles for obvious reasons! Same rules apply to this Criterium as they did on Tuesdays, the primary difference being that some age groups start in different locations, being led-out to their start by a course car. Again, the starts are neutralised behind this course car and plenty of outriders.

Final race day using part of the Prologue stage and the event HQ campsite roads, it’s another Criterium race with lots of spectators as the event comes to a close. It’s soon followed by the official award ceremony, which can take some time to finish, so be cautious not to book the ferry too early if you plan to return on Saturday afternoon! Don’t forget to hand your bib numbers back to the officials and swap it for an official Assen jersey for all the finishers! Prizes for the Top 6 in each age group too.

Typical Race Start Procedure
Find the signing-on gazebo (blue Shimano tents in 2017) and the attached board displays the category currently open for signing-on. When your category is ready, the signing-on sheets are available for each rider to sign-on. They will then be called forward to grid up from the holding area.

Jersey wearing riders and gridded on the front row, the rest are gridded using a draw system, with bibs ending in a particular number being rowed up together. So over the week, it makes things as a fair as possible. Once called forward, often riders are gear-checked again, not all riders, but usually the jersey riders and a selection of others.

The grid is formed up behind the commissaries course car, which in the case of the Road Race and Omloop will take them though a neutralised section before releasing them to race. For such a large and complicated event, the organisers have this all down to a fine art – and it works!

Congratulations! to everyone who raced at Assen, it was an incredible experience for all the young riders who took part, something they won’t forget in a while. Some superb performances by many British riders, particularly in the younger age groups. No doubt our 3 feel the same as everyone else, they would love to go back again! We shall see…we might do logistics slightly differently next time, as cycling to and from races including some recce rides added upto approx 250km that week, a bit much!

Beware, when it rains (and it will rain) it really rains! Is it expensive? We don’t think so, other than the entry fee’s which are very reasonable for 6 races, you won’t have a lot of free time to spend money like a normal ‘holiday’ – especially when you have several riders. But then again, is it actually a ‘holiday’ 😉

For all the details on this incredible youth cycle race – take a look at their website or follow on Twitter for up-to-date results and the race unfolds in August. Full regs are HERE.

#ejcta #HUPcc