UCI World Cycling Centre: the season so far for BMX Racing athletes Claessens and Benalcazar

In May, we introduced the eight BMX Racing athletes training at the UCI World Cycling Centre. In this second episode dedicated to the centre’s BMX Racing group, we talk to two of the athletes: long-term UCI WCC trainee Zoé Claessens and newcomer Pedro Benalcazar.

With victories at the last two rounds of the UCI BMX Racing World Cup, in Papendal (the Netherlands), Swiss Champion Zoé Claessens has firmly staked her claim as one of the best in the world.

One of her training partners this year at the UCI World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland, is 18-year-old Pedro Jose Benalcazar Guerrero. The Ecuadorian dreams one day of competing in the Olympic Games, like his fellow trainee Zoé did in Tokyo last year.

Coach Tyrone Johns explains: “We have eight BMX Racing trainees this year with very different levels of experience and it works fantastically. There is a real interaction between the athletes. They learn from each other, motivate each other and manage to draw the best out of their teammates.

“When Zoé won her first UCI World Cup it was a celebration for the whole team. Likewise, she is thrilled when her fellow UCI WCC trainees reach their own personal goals.”

Pedro, the youngest and newest member of the UCI WCC’s BMX Racing group confirms: “I’m learning a lot from everybody at the World Cycling Centre and I think I’m getting better!

“When we go to a competition and I share the same race tent as Zoé, who wins, I am so proud,” says Pedro who is still finding his feet at Junior level after several successes in age-group racing as a young teenager.

He particularly enjoys the training sessions on the UCI WCC BMX Racing track, where a lot of emphasis is placed on the all-important gate starts. Having tasted UCI World Cup racing, his major goals for the rest of the year are the UCI BMX Racing World Championships in Nantes (France) on 26 July and the American Continental Championships in Santiago del Estero (Argentina) on 6 September.

Zoé meanwhile won the Swiss National Championships last weekend, but will not travel to Dessel (Belgium) this coming weekend to defend her European title that she won last year in Zolder. Instead, she will concentrate on the upcoming UCI BMX Racing World Championships at the end of the month.

Her two UCI World Cup victories in Papendal on 11 and 12 June came in the middle of her final school exams and two weeks after a nasty crash in the second Glasgow (Great Britain) round of the UCI World Cup. It was a disappointment after having finished second in the previous day’s opening round.

The 21-year-old takes it all in her stride, and arrived in the Netherlands with determination… plus her schoolbooks which, she admits, she did not open: “I knew I had the level to win a UCI World Cup but I didn’t really think I would win twice! It was incredible!”

With her string of successes boosting confidence, her longer-term goal is Paris 2024. A crash in the semi-finals at Tokyo 2020 dashed her hopes of Olympic glory but she nevertheless lived the Olympic experience to the full.

“It was cool to go to the Olympics. I fell in the semis, so it wasn’t my best competition but it was still good,” she says, despite feeling the lack of spectators due to restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic: “I like it when there is a big crowd. It creates a good atmosphere and is motivating.”

Part of the UCI WCC BMX Racing group for more than two years already, Zoé has progressed as an athlete thanks to continuous strength sessions in the gym (“not my favourite but if you don’t do it, you really notice”), speed training behind scooter alongside the Rhône River (“fun”) and many hours on the UCI BMX track (“my favourite”).

“When you watch BMX it looks super easy,” she recognizes. But it’s really hard. You need lots of technique, strength and speed. It’s like all sports. If you want to have a high level you have to really work at it.”

Zoé will join the Swiss Army programme for Elite sportsmen and women at the end of this year where she will train full time for four months before returning to the UCI World Cycling Centre. Having passed her exams, her studies are on hold as she concentrates on confirming her place at the top of the international BMX Racing scene.