On the brink of her Elite track cycling career, Ukrainian Alla Biletska arrived at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland, last week, full of ambition.
UCI World Championships, UCI Track Champions League, Olympic Games… the 20-year-old wants to be part of - and shine at - them all.
As a Junior, her cycling career was certainly moving in the right direction. Double medallist at the 2021 UCI Junior Track World Championships in Cairo, Egypt (silver in the sprint and bronze in the keirin), she also came second in the keirin at the UEC Junior European Championships in Apeldoorn (the Netherlands) the same year.
Then Russia invaded Ukraine at the beginning of 2022.
Amidst the turmoil that ensued, Alla Biletska and her family made the decision that she should move to Lithuania with her team to continue training in safety. Now, after 18 months based in the capital Vilnius, she has moved again, this time to Switzerland where she joins the UCI WCC’s track programme.
Her family, living in the occupied area of eastern Ukraine, is full of support.
“They cannot travel abroad,” says Alla Biletska. “They are in the occupied territory where there are battles. I am in contact with them but it is not always easy. They are my biggest motivation. My parents have always worked so hard to help me and I want to give my best for them.”
Training with some of the best
At the UCI WCC, she is already in the thick of training with the existing track group, which includes Trinidad and Tobago’s Nicholas Paul, recent silver medallist in the sprint at the UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. The group’s coach is Great Britain’s Craig MacLean, silver medallist in the team sprint at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and UCI World Champion in the same specialty two years later.
“At first I thought ‘oh wow, they are some of the world’s best riders’ but when I met them I realised they were easy going and very friendly. It’s so nice to train with them,” she says. “I think the training in Switzerland is going to be hard but I already love what I have seen. And it is a beautiful country too. I am looking forward to riding outside a bit as well.”
A former runner, the young Ukrainain has been cycling since she was 16, when her father bought her a mountain bike. Her coach quickly saw she was a talented sprinter and encouraged her to try the track. She hasn’t looked back.
Her pathway maybe more complicated than for some, but as she left home at the age of 13 for training reasons, she is used to being away from her family.
Meanwhile she continues to study physical education online at the Ukraine’s Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute.
UCI WCC Director Jacques Landry said that the centre was delighted to welcome Alla Biletska as part of ongoing support for athletes from Ukraine since the outbreak of war. Following the invasion, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and its World Cycling Centre worked closely with Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee President and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Sergii Bubka, and the Union Européenne de Cyclisme (UEC), presided by Enrico Della Casa, to help Ukrainian riders arriving in Switzerland, most of whom were hosted by the National Federation, Swiss Cycling.
“Numerous Ukrainian athletes are based in Switzerland and it was natural for us to invite Alla to join our track group in Aigle, Switzerland,” said Jacques Landry. “She is very talented and if we can help her reach her goals, we in turn will be reaching the goal of our assistance programme.”
Alla Biletska’s first major objective with the UCI WCC track group is to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. She is in good company, as that is also the aim of most of her training partners, including Nicholas Paul and Suriname’s Jaïr Tjon en Fa both of whom already competed in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (6th in the sprint for Paul and 4th in the keirin of Tjon en Fa).
“I want to show what I am capable of and do my best to get to the Olympics one day… so why not Paris?” confirms Alla Biletska.