Fifteen years have passed since Géry Covent of SCN Gent (Belgium) last competed at the UCI Indoor Cycling World Championships. His most recent bid for the title was in Schiltigheim, near Strasbourg, France, in 2003, where the then 21-year-old artistic cyclist scored 289 points to finish ninth. He represented Belgium four times at the World Championships, starting out as an U19 junior in 2000 and recording two 12th-place finishes, one tenth place and one ninth place. Then, almost as soon as it had begun, the Belgian called time on his competitive sporting career.
Now a father of two, Covent spends more time on a road bike these days, and enjoys watching Belgian cyclo-cross with his son Yunes.
Yet the news that the UCI Indoor Cycling World Championships would be returning to his homeland for the first time since 1986 inspired the 36-year-old to launch a comeback. Covent announced his official return to the floor on his Facebook page in January by telling his followers: “Hello, as many of you know, I’m back in artistic cycling training,” and made a clear statement of his intent “to compete at the World Championships in Liège at the end of this year.”
At first glance, it appears that this is a reasonably easy dream to achieve in his homeland. With only one male artistic cyclist currently competing in Belgium and each nation entitled to enter two riders, Covent’s place at this year’s World Championships seemed practically guaranteed from the outset.
Nevertheless, as Covent is well aware, “a lot has changed in the last 15 years.” In 2007 the performance time was shortened from six to five minutes, the maximum number of elements was increased to 30 and a new scoring system was introduced. The Belgian’s sport has become faster and more athletic, while the standard of international competition has progressed significantly.
Yet Covent remains undeterred. He has been preparing meticulously, expanding on the repertoire he once learned as a youngster, and has completely redesigned his bike. In March he became Belgium’s Elite National Champion at the first attempt for the first time in his artistic cycling career. He also wasted no time in breaking the national record.
Despite his meteoric rise, there have been setbacks. At his first international appearance, Covent spent almost more time on his feet than on his bike: his result at the inaugural Elite European Championships in Wiesbaden in early June was a disappointing 13th and last place. The low point of his year came a few days later when he broke his foot in a training accident, forcing him to spend six weeks in plaster.
Did this signal the end of his dream of competing at his home World Championships? Of course not! The Belgian resumed Project Liège after a two-and-a-half month break, and announced: “I’m now working hard with Lorenzo Vandorpe.” Vandorpe is the second Belgian artistic cyclist and the man who spent several years as the country’s only representative in the men’s category while also competing in cycle-ball tournaments.
Covent ultimately qualified comfortably for the 2018 UCI Indoor Cycling World Championships. He demonstrated his good form in impressive style at the start of November by improving yet further on the Belgian record with a score of 119.77 points, a result that could earn him a place in the top ten in Liège. His starting score of 139 points means he will start 12th at the World Championships. “But the most important thing is that my dream comes true and I perform well,” he said ahead of the competition.
In addition to Covent and Vandorpe in the men’s event, hosts Belgium have just three other representatives at the UCI Indoor Cycling World Championships. Tatika Dovendaerde (Wondelgem/31) will be among the most experienced competitors in the Women’s Elite category with a starting position of 11th.
Brecht Damen and Niels Dirikx (Beringen) will be participating in the cycle-ball competition for the sixth time since 2011. Once again, their target for 2018 is to stay in Group A. Last year they achieved their best result at a UCI World Championships with fifth place.