2019 UCI BMX World Champion Twan van Gendt spent two days this week training in Aigle, Switzerland, with athletes from the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC).
Six weeks after pulling on the rainbow jersey in Heusden-Zolder (Belgium), the Dutch athlete and fellow members of Team Oegema TVE chose the UCI WCC to put some final touches to their preparation for the fourth stopover of the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in Rock Hill, USA (September 13-14).
Van Gendt already knows some of the UCI WCC trainees from racing against them in international competitions. He also used to race against their UCI WCC Coach, 2013 UCI World Champion Liam Phillips: the two shared the overall UCI World Cup podium in 2014.
“It’s been good to train in Aigle and to train on a different track,” said the UCI World Champion. “This track is quite steep. It’s good. We did some half-lap efforts and start practice.
“Yoshi (Nagasako – Japan) and Simon (Marquart – Switzerland) are both really good. I was better than them on the gate, but they know the track here and could overtake me afterwards. I’ve set the record on the start hill so that gives them a benchmark to aim for.
“It has been good preparation and we had fun as well.”
Rock Hill will be van Gendt’s first UCI World Cup appearance wearing the rainbow jersey, but he does not feel any extra pressure: “I already have the stripes,” he points out. “The rainbow stripes are a big thing in cycling. I’ve been racing at the top level of the sport since 2011 so it took me a while to get there, but finally those stripes are mine!”
The stripes are his despite a roller-coaster few years since winning both the Dutch National Championships and European Championships in 2015.
Wanting to improve on an incredible 5th place at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the tender age of 20, van Gendt’s Rio 2016 campaign nearly came to a premature halt when injury jeopardized his chances of qualification. The determined athlete eventually earned his ticket to his second Olympics, but things did not go to plan. A first-round crash – he still bears the scars – severely handicapped the rider who nevertheless qualified for the semi-finals but would not make the main race.
After two UCI World Cup podiums – including victory at Heusden-Zolder – in 2017, van Gendt again found himself on the sideline, this time with a knee injury. But he came back… and broke his ankle at the 2018 UCI BMX World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Six months later and 7kg lighter due to muscle loss, van Gendt again began the road back to fitness, with his new team and its coach Martijn Jaspers.
“There were certainly a lot of ups and downs at the beginning of the season. At the beginning of the year I didn’t see it (the World title) coming. But in July everything started to click.” - Twan van Gendt
Two weeks before the 2019 UCI World Championships, van Gendt claimed second place in the Dutch National Championships behind 2018 overall UCI World Cup winner Niek Kimmann and in front of Dave van der Burg. The podium was the same at the European Championships one week later.
“Niek had come off four UCI World Cup wins in a row, so I realised I was back in shape. The week before the Worlds I was doing PRs (personal records) and seeing numbers I’d never seen before.”
Physical condition aside, van Gendt points out that the mental side is also crucial in a sport where it can come down to hundredths of a second. A slightly slow reaction in the start gate and the race is over. Concentration must be 100% from the heat through to the quarters, semi-finals and Main race.
“You have to be perfect all day long. It’s almost impossible to deliver,” says the UCI World Champion.