Evan Larson is an 17 year old junior (racing age 18) from Redlands, CA and has been a part of Sean and Rachel Wilson’s junior development program since he developed an interest in racing over seven years ago. Evan was one of the four juniors who took part in the EU race project that recently concluded. Below are some accounts of the trip that Evan put together.
Tour of Ireland
We arrived in Ennis a day late after nearly 2 days of travel after missing a connecting flight in London Heathrow due to a delayed flight from Dulles. While finally being settled in Ennis, we still had no bikes. Fortunately, the Junior Tour of Ireland race director, our team directors, parents back home and the very helpful Shannon airport staff all rallied together and managed to get our bikes to us the very next day! (which is a damn miracle considering how horrific Heathrow baggage claim has been as of late.) With bikes in hand, we were finally able to pre-ride courses and get the legs tuned up for the start of the stage race, which was in just 4 days. On Monday, the day before the start, my legs were feeling AMAZING and I was super stoked to find out what I was capable of in the European racing scene.
Unfortunately, I tested positive for Covid-19 following Stage 4 of the tour and was unable to finish the final two stages. I ended my race sitting 16th in GC with my legs feeling fantastic and my heart heavy with disappointment. I spent the days I was supposed to be racing stages 5 and 6 moping about and resting. The rest of my time in Ireland was spent recovering to be well enough to travel safely.
HOWEVER, not all was lost by any means. Not only did I learn a TON, but I also got to experience and see so many amazing things: European bike racing, the beautiful country of Ireland, Ireland’s… interesting but delicious food, the rich history that the town of Ennis has to offer, the incredible views from the roads of the east coast, and so much more. Best of all, I got to do what I love: race my bike with some amazing people in some incredible places.
Now onto the next adventure: Belgium!!!!
The Belgian Block
The first thing I noticed about Belgium is that cycling is to Belgium as football is to America. Like… people actually think you’re cool for racing bikes. People ride bikes EVERYWHERE! People of all ages! AND they appreciate my tanlines. The boys and I were stopped in restaurants because people wanted to know why we, as Americans, were in Belgium. When we said “bike racing” they were immediately intrigued. The culture surrounding cycling in Belgium is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and I am definitely stoked on it.
As if Belgium couldn’t get any better, I met some of the kindest people who open their hearts and provided their resources to me on the trip. I initially stayed at the Park Hotel in Izegem where my new best friend and first Belgian fan Stephan cared for me as if I was his own son. He drove me places, chatted with me, told me cool cycling stories… the works. I then stayed at Cycling House Belgium which is essentially a totally purpose-built apartment complex for cyclists and racing teams. The owner Els Delaere was one of the most accommodating people I have ever met. And finally, there’s Franky Verhoye, one of our director Joe Holmes’ old friends. Franky felt like the entire team’s fairy godfather. If we needed anything, anything at all, Franky could make it happen. Also, his wife Chantal has the BEST post-ride snacks, and she knows exactly how to make a hungry teenage boy smile cause she has a seemingly endless supply, haha. I cannot thank them enough for their hospitality and love.
As far as racing goes, I learned a TON not only about how bike racing works in Belgium, but how I work as a bike racer. In the first 3 races I did, I got 30th-40th place. I just couldn’t seem to break into the top 30. But with the help of our team director Joe Holmes, I was able to muster the confidence I needed in myself to stop just finishing the bike race, and start actually racing it. In the last two Kermesse I raced, I placed 19th and 10th! I am extremely proud of the progress I made and am ever thankful to Joe for his tough love and guidance. I am sad to be leaving a place with such an amazing racing scene and would love to continue to improve, but my time in Belgium has come to an end.
On top of all this awesomeness, I also had the opportunity to live and grow, essentially on my own! The boys and I planned day trips to several Belgian cities, including Oudenaarde, Bruges, Roeselare and Brussels. We each gained a sense of independence and confidence in ourselves that I am sure we will carry with us far beyond this trip. We learned how to live with others for a long period of time, how to cook for a large number of people, how to keep a dirty kitchen clean, how to do all of this as a team and so much more.
After 6 weeks away, I am definitely feeling homesick and am ready to come home and put all the lessons I’ve learned about bike racing and life into practice.
So, cheers to the next adventure! Thank you all so much for all of your support. A special thank you to Joe Holmes, Gillian Elsay, Rachael Wilson, and Sean Wilson for making this all possible. Because the path for youth cycling development in America is through Europe. And without coaches and mentors like you, it would not be possible.
PS: I also love and appreciate my family very much for the sacrifices they made to get me to Europe this summer. They are the best fam any kid could ask for.