STRATFORD’S Keir Lewis revealed being roared down the home straight on The Mall by hordes of fans at the Prudential RideLondon Youth Grand Prix would live long in the memory.
The 16-year-old was one of 48 talented young cyclists picked to contest Saturday’s Youth Grand Prix in front of thousands of cycling fans who lined the London route in support.
The 45-minute race followed a 1.3-mile loop around St James’s Park and Buckingham Palace and saw 12 teams from regions across the UK compete for the £4,250 pool of prize money.
It was the same route tackled by some of the world’s best females just minutes earlier, including world champion Marianne Vos and double Olympic champion Laura Trott OBE in the Women’s Grand Prix.
The grand prix race was introduced last year within the programme for the London Cycling Festival – a part of the 2012 Olympic legacy to promote sport.
The youth races were designed to showcase the potential Olympic cyclists of the future and four boys and four girls were selected for each team, with cash prizes on offer for the top five teams (scores given for the first three riders over the line within each team) and also for individuals placed in the top ten.
Lewis’ selection to the team came after a good performance in a National Series Youth Circuit race at Castle Combe in previous weeks.
Lewis, who finished 39th for the West Midlands boys’ team, said his outing in London had been an experience to savour despite the stiff competition.
“It was a really good experience for me and it was pretty great to have cycled down The Mall,” said Lewis, who attends Stratford School.
“It’s a shame I couldn’t take it in more but when you come around that last corner and there is just a sea of people around you it’s great.
“It was a really hard race and was relentless really. There was constant attacks off the front which made it very difficult.”
Lewis had a great start and made it to the first corner (in front of the Palace) in the third wheel. The circuit was flat with long wide straights, so it was clear from the start it would be a fast-paced race that would make it difficult for the riders to break away and stay away.
As anticipated, each lap invited a new rider to attack, including Lewis who made several committed attempts to break away. However, despite the talent and strength on show from individual riders, the main peloton was too strong as a unit, so it quickly extinguished every concerted effort and pulled the riders back into the bunch.
The pace proved too much for some, as they lost touch with the main pack and had to face the long, wide roads alone without the protection of the peloton.
With only a few laps to go it became clear the spectators were in for a bunch sprint finish. After around 32 minutes of hard racing the bell sounded for the last lap and Lewis pushed forward to the front of the peloton.
It was clear the winner was going to be the rider that was not only tactically astute and brave but also one that managed to preserve some energy for the final push.
As they approached the last corner from Horse Guards Road, into the headwind on The Mall, the riders gave all they had to cross the line.
Lewis, despite all efforts, had expended too much energy throughout the race and did not quite leave enough to contend the final sprint. The race was won by a London rider and the winning region was Yorkshire. The West Midlands boys’ team finished just outside of the prizes in sixth place.
“I’m not too happy with it because I went early on the last lap and committed and gave it everything and when my break didn’t work out I had nothing for the sprint at the end,” said Lewis.
“I’m glad I did it though because I committed and it was one of those tactical decisions that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
“I put in one too many attacks and my legs were pretty battered by the last lap so I just couldn’t pull away.”
In the end it was the Yorkshire boys’ team who would come out with top honours, with their four riders picking up the best combined results for a £500 bonus.
Despite missing out on the overall prize, Stratford teenager Lewis believes the experience is one that can only serve to further his cycling ambitions.
“It was a big learning curve for me and something that is going to make me a better rider,” he added.
“It was pretty surreal actually to have some of the best riders in the world going before us.
“There were just great views everywhere although I didn’t really get the chance to enjoy it that much because I had my head down the whole time.
“It was my last race as a youth rider so it was incredible to finish with a huge crowd instead of at a small race with one man and his dog watching.
“It’s something I will always remember because it is the first big race I’ve done of this type. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve never had to deal with crowd noise like that and it distracts you a bit.”
Prudential RideLondon took place on August 9/10. To find out more, visit www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk.