BMX racing has come a long way in 40 years, from the embryonic days of the scene in Europe to a successful professional Olympic sport. Ahead of the weekend’s UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in Papendal, let’s consider the host country, the Netherlands, as an example of the sport’s evolution.
When BMX landed in the Netherlands in the late 1970s, Gerrit Does led the way to organise the sport primarily in his country, but also internationally. With the zeitgeist perfectly captured, BMX grew tremendously quickly to hit a level in the early 1980s of nearly 10,000 license-holders in the Netherlands. While the current level of around 2,000 is smaller, the growth has been in the quality of the riders, thanks to the support of the National Olympic Committee and an amazing training facility and staff.
The investment in this centre has lead to today’s great results...
The Olympic Training Centre at Papendal is the national training centre of the Netherlands and hosts a team of professional BMX racers. It’s located in the Veluwe woods, 8km North-West of Arnhem, where the second round of the 2019 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup will be held this weekend. Papendal is the home base of the Netherlands National Olympic Committee (NOC*NSF) where around 550 top athletes, including BMX riders – mostly Dutch but also some from other nations – use the facilities. The Olympic Training Centre has been completely modernised including the construction of some 20 buildings and regular updates to the BMX track.
In March 2009, Papendal became a Centre for Elite Sports and Education (CTO), where athletes can train, study and live all in one location. BMX athletes now profit from this opportunity, making them professional athletes while finishing school. Papendal has a sports hotel, where the young athletes who train full-time at Papendal have their own room. Since 2013, the training centre has had additional off-site accommodation, just 4km away.
In total around 850 people work at Papendal and there’s surely no better place to live if your goal is to be the best in your field. Being surrounded by top athletes, not just from your own sport but also many others, your focus can remain on just one thing: getting ready for the next race.
Surrounded by nature, at this beautiful and dynamic location, sporting excellence and business make a colourful combination. The organisers behind the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in the Netherlands have seen their event voted “best event” of the year, twice in a row – and for good reason. The organisation is top-notch and with the parallel Framed Festival, there is plenty for fans to do to complement watching the best BMX athletes race in the UCI World Cup: this weekend there will be healthy food trucks right next to the grandstands, music concerts, a Pump Track Battle open to the public, and BMX Flatland demos and clinics.
This weekend, 220 Elite and Junior riders will participate at the World Cup at Papendal: 54 women and 166 men. The international field of athletes will get a taste of the Netherlands, on and off the track. For some it will be in preparation for 2021, when Papendal will host the UCI BMX World Championships which is set to involve 3,500 participants across all age categories. By then, an extra starting hill will have been built at Papendal, and the permanent pump track and dirt jumps behind the starting hill will also receive some love and care to help ensure that all visitors have a good time.
The secret of “the Dutch” success in BMX racing is often pondered – and there is no doubt that the professional facility as Papendal certainly helps. With 13 UCI World Cup wins to date, Dutch rider Laura Smulders is one of the favourites again in 2019. Her male compatriot, UCI Individual Ranking leader Niek Kimmann, has won five – and with the long first straight, the powerful rider wants to show he’s the boss in front of his home crowd, even from lane 8. With so much time spent on the Papendal track and in the gym, the Dutch squad expect business as usual. The men sit in second place in the Nations ranking while the Dutch women lead the charts in both Olympic Qualification and UCI Elite Women Nation rankings, thanks to the professional BMX programmes.
In 40 years of BMX racing a lot has changed : from the early pioneers having fun jumping their steel BMX bikes to a full-on Olympic sport with professional training facilities such as those the world will have eyes on at Papendal this weekend.