BMX Racing European Champion Zoé Claessens returns to UCI World Cycling Centre

Over four years after first joining the UCI World Cycling Centre’s (WCC) training programme, the Swiss athlete has returned to prepare for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Switzerland’s Zoé Claessens was just 18 when she first arrived at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland, in 2019. She had plenty of ambition but little idea about training and competing at Elite level. She was very quickly brought up to scratch. The UCI WCC BMX Racing coach at the time was none other than 2013 UCI World Champion Liam Phillips, and she found a role model in one of her training partners, Denmark’s Simone Christensen, who had already won multiple medals at European level as well as bronze at the UCI World Championships in 2015.

“When I arrived, I was the new kid on the block. I didn’t have much experience. I had been to some UCI World Cups, but my results weren’t very good. Simone was my example. Thanks to her, I learnt such a lot.” 

The two years that followed were a whirlwind of progress with highs (after winning the Junior bronze medal at the 2019 UCI BMX World Championships, she took Elite silver in 2022 and was crowned 2021 European Champion) and a few disappointments (she fell in the semi-final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games).

At the end of 2022, Zoé joined the Swiss Army’s Elite Sport programme, enabling her to train full-time for four months. At the end of the programme, in March 2023, she moved to the south of France where she shared an apartment with another former UCI WCC BMX Racing athlete, Sae Hatakeyama, of Japan. They trained each day on the track at Sarrians, host of a round of the UCI BMX Racing World Cup.

“My time in France helped me grow, both as an athlete and a person,” says Zoé, who adds that having grown up in a large family, she was used to being independent and getting on with things alone.

Her continued progression in 2023 saw her win her second title of European Champion, shortly after disappointment at the UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland (United Kingdom) where she crashed in the Final after sailing through qualifications without a problem.

“Overall, I think I improved during my year away, but I would have liked to obtain more results,” she says. Liam Philips, now the UCI WCC’s Performance Manager, corrected certain technical aspects after watching videos she sent through from Sarrians.

“But it’s not really the same as having a coach with you in the same place,” she admits. “It was a very good experience and I learnt a lot but I’ve realised I’m better off in Switzerland, and more importantly at the UCI World Cycling Centre.”

Last year’s end-of-season break started earlier than planned due to catching Covid-19 in Argentina at the final rounds of the 2023 UCI BMX Racing World Cup.

It was not how she had envisaged finishing the season, but she quickly put the frustration behind her and arrived in Aigle to begin her winter training programme in December.

Together with the rest of the UCI WCC BMX Racing group and the centre’s current coach Twan van Gendt (2019 UCI World Champion), she has just arrived in Australia to prepare for the first rounds of the 2024 UCI BMX Racing World Cup: in Rotorua, New Zealand, on 10 and 11 February followed by Brisbane, Australia, two weeks later. It will be an intense start to an equally intense season.

“The main aim of the year will be the Olympic Games, but also the UCI World Championships in Rock Hill (USA). There are a lot of important races and I don’t want to concentrate only on the Olympics. For me, the UCI World Cups and European Championships are also super important. The season will be long but that is cool.”

The Swiss athlete is aware of her new role within the UCI WCC group: “I used to look up to Simone and I guess some of the others might now look at me to set an example, but I don’t want to be the leader.

“The most important is that we train together and get along well. That is why the Centre has always helped me. To train with other athletes, see how they approach things, and observe is an enormous help.

“I am so happy to be back!”