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Sunday, 16 December 2018

Ben H: Racing from the front in the far east

Cast your mind back to the summer, remember those glorious months when we hardly ever needed to wear our arm warmers or wash our bikes. Up here in the north east one of the highlights of our cycling summer was the National Road Race Championships in July held on a circuit around Stamfordham in Northumberland and what an event it was. Brilliant weather, a great circuit, big crowds and a well deserved win for Connor Swift of Madison Genesis. For north east fans though the highlight of the day was seeing one of our own, Ben Hetherington finishing an incredible 6th after being in the break all day with some of the best riders in the country.
Above Ben in the break and on the front at the Nationals climbing the infamous Ryals. At this point the lead group contained sixteen riders including eventual runner up Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue) and third place finisher Owain Doull (Team Sky) and had established a three minute lead over the peleton

The manner of Ben's ride and his result at the nationals may have came as a bit of a surprise to some UK cycling fans and it certainly seemed to surprise the commentators as he is not particularly well known on the UK pro scene. North east fans were less surprised though as Ben is a very popular rider in the region who has twice won the north east Divisional Road Race Championships (2015 and 2016) and has been a prolific winner of regional road races, circuit races, and time trials for a number of seasons. The reason that Ben's UK profile is relatively low is because he races for a Finnish team Memil/CCN Pro Cycling and does almost all of his racing abroad, in Scandinavia, eastern Europe and particularly the far east, especially in China
On the Tuesday evening after his epic ride at the nationals Ben had recovered sufficiently to race in our local TLI summer series at the Croft motor racing circuit Croftcycleracing. Above warming up with a another good friend, training partner and team mate in the Ribble Development Squad Jason Hurt enjoying first hand Ben's account of over 100 miles in the break with some of the UK's top professionals and valiant attack during the run in to the finish.
Above another picture of Ben at the Croft circuit, (taken by another mate Dean Reeve) this time with his hands in the air taking a solo victory riding for our team before we became Ribble Pro Cycling. I have previously posted here on the evolution of the team and its development over the last six years, a process which continues into 2019 with the step up to UCI level. Ben flourished during his three seasons with the team and won a lot of bike races during that time.
I usually catch up with Ben a couple of times during his fleeting visits back to the UK, above  enjoying the sun at one of our favourite cafes. I think on this occasion Ben had just returned from the ten day Tour de Maroc where the team had an excellent tour and took a stage win.
Some of the Memil/CCN Pro Cycling squad with Ben centre and on his right two other UK pro's who I know, next to Ben is Rob Orr who rode with our team a couple of seasons ago and on Rob's right sprinter Jacob Tipper who rode for Ribble Pro Cycling in 2017. To Ben's left is Finnish rider Hiski Kanerva and completing the line up from the Netherlands Roy Eefting
 
Above - The Memil/CCN boys are presented to the crowd (below) at the opening ceremony of the eleven stage Tour of Poyang Lake in China. Memil/CCN Pro Cycling are a UCI Asia Continental team whose title sponsors are Swedish cycling brand Memil and CCN a Hong Kong based sports clothing manufacturer.
Through conversations with Ben and from following him on Instagram (@ben.h95) I realised how incredibly popular bike racing is in China and the far east generally. Tens of thousands of spectators attend the opening ceremonies, hundreds of thousands of spectators watch every stage by the roadside and local TV audiences are regularly in the tens of millions
Equally huge crowds watched the opening ceremony prior to the prestigious Tour of Qinghai Lake  above Ben gives the fans a wave as he is introduced.
 Also waving at Qinghai Lake Jacob Tipper as he sprints to victory on stage eleven. After a very successful season experiencing international competition with Memil/CCN Jacob is returning to race a predominantly European programme with Ribble Pro Cycling in 2019.
Ben on the front working for the team at the Tour of Qinghai Lake. This year was the 17th edition of the 2.HC race which is part of the UCI Asia Tour, click  here ToQL-FB for some great images and videos from this year including one with the highlights of Stage 11 which the team won  ToQLStge11 watching these video gives you a real sense of how massive these races are.
This time off the front and a typically aggressive move animating the race. Ben is a rider who is always keen to get in a break but he is also a bit of a specialist at the lone attack and if he gets away his time trialling strength makes him extremely difficult to bring back.
Yes I am pretty sure the Memil boys enjoy racing in China.The team's race calendar for 2019 has yet to be fully finalised but it is likely to start with the tours of the Phillipines, Taiwan and Langkawi along with another trip to the Tour de Moroc. Following the Tour of Norway in May Memil/CCN will be returning to China for a series of major stage races likely to include the Tour of Hainan.

LATEST
Ben is currently in Spain preparing for the 2019 season but unfortunately his training block has not got off to a great start as earlier this week he was struck by a car during a training ride.
                                                                                             Tues 11th December - just before impact
As you can see from this video collision in which Ben is at the front of the line (obviously) it was a nasty accident and although his bike was completely destroyed Ben suffered relatively minor injuries. A bit of a setback for sure, but thanks to tremendous support from friends at Blanca Bikes Ben is already back training, although feeling a bit sore. You can keep up to date with Ben's training and 2019 racing season on his blog Trying To Make My Dream Reality - looks to me like he already has!

Next post will be in 2019 have a great Christmas and thanks for reading.




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