Track training with no track: UCI World Cycling Centre trainees adapt their plans

The ability to thrive in the face of adversity.

Of all the attributes the UCI World Cycling track cycling trainees have developed during their time at the high-performance centre in Switzerland, the above is not one they thought they would need so soon.

But with their races cancelled or postponed, their training partners spread across different countries, and no velodrome to train on, they have had to draw on this essential quality.

“They will definitely take away a lot of positives from this situation,” confirms their coach Craig MacLean who, since the coronavirus pandemic has seen his athletes confined to their respective countries, is training them from a distance. “They have discovered that they are a lot more resourceful than they realised and that they have the self-discipline to continue working hard on their own.

“It may not have been obvious to them before but as top athletes, their ability to thrive in the face of adversity has become apparent. They can take confidence from discovering their strength of character.”

Scotsman MacLean, a former Olympic medallist (silver in the team sprint, Sydney 2000) and UCI World Champion (team sprint Copenhagen 2002), is proud of how his athletes – some of whom were qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – are coping with their respective confinements in Thailand (three athletes), Trinidad & Tobago (two athletes), Italy (one athlete) and Great Britain (one athlete).

“I think it’s much more mentally challenging than we realise but this can be tempered by doing the hard, physical work,” says the coach. The saving grace in the current situation is that most of the athletes around the world are in a similar position so at least our athletes don’t feel like they’re missing out or falling behind.

“The key is to have a familiar routine with some purpose and structure. We can see progress from some of our athletes so it will be interesting to see how that translates to real performance on the track when the time comes again.”

For Craig MacLean, one of the main challenges is that his athletes are all using different equipment: “That makes it difficult when it comes to prescribing training and at first there was a bit of trial and error. For all of them, it’s impossible to access a velodrome although through various static trainers most of them have been able to replicate the type of training they would ordinarily do on the track.”

Some of his athletes send him videos of their training which enables their coach to give them constructive feedback. As with the UCI WCC trainees for other disciplines, the track specialists also try to join in the group core and stretching sessions led by the Centre’s physiotherapist.

“This has been really useful for keeping the athletes connected with each other and still feeling like they’re part of something,” says MacLean

Living alone in an apartment in Bangkok (Thailand) Jai Angsuthasawit appreciates the team sessions to keep in touch with his fellow WCC athletes: “I miss being around the team, the social aspect and the ease of having all the facilities in one place,” he says. “It’s hard when you go from training every day in a professional environment to training at home alone. The velodrome and gym are shut here, as well as the public bike paths, so my training is on the ergo or using limited gym weights with another member of the Thai team.

“For the moment it’s a case of wake-up, easy session on the bike then hit the big efforts in the afternoon.”

After a consistent last season that saw him finish first overall in the keirin in the 2019-2020 Tissot UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Jai Angsuthasawit does not have a problem with motivation: “I just love the sport and strive to be number 1 someday.”

The same motivation comes from Jaïr Tjon En Fa. Unable to return to Suriname due to border restrictions, he remains in the Mon Séjour accommodation in Aigle, just 2km from the temporarily-closed UCI World Cycling Centre.

“I am qualified for the Tokyo Olympics which helps me stay very motivated,” he says. “The postponement wasn’t such a big shock. It’s not what I had hoped for or wanted but I think it was the best decision given the situation we are currently in. It also gives me an extra year to prepare so that is also a positive.

“Training is not the same as it used to be obviously, but I am still able to do most of it. We moved some of the WCC gym equipment to Mon Séjour and I do a lot of track training on the Wattbike. I have been on the road more often than I used to and overall training is going well.

“If I had gone home, I would not have been able to train at all, so staying here has been good for me. I am also able to train on the road, which is very restricted in Suriname,” he concludes.