The BMX Supercross track at the UCI World Cycling Centre has been swarming with talent this week as potential Olympians from the world over vie for a place on the centre’s high-level training programme. The aim: the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
At ease on a BMX bike, and happiest when flying through the air, the 27 young athletes from 17 countries are part of the current talent identification camp thanks to their aptitude in the Olympic discipline of BMX.
But they need to demonstrate more than talent to make the select few who will be based at the UCI World Cycling Centre for the next three years.
“It’s not enough to have ability,” warns UCI WCC High Performance Manager Belinda Tarling. “We’re also looking for athletes with that fighting spirit, a desire to surpass themselves, and a focussed approach to achieving their goals. We want athletes who are open to training techniques that may be unfamiliar to them, who are thirsty to train and who are never late for a session.”
The final selection will be made between participants of three camps held at the UCI WCC in the last year.
Representing the continents of Europe, Africa, America and Asia, the group currently at the UCI WCC is following an intense programme including individual assessments, track technique, gym training, sprint sessions and classroom theory.
From the mouths of the athletes
“It’s challenging but that’s what I’m here for,” enthuses first-year Elite Sienna Elaine Fines, from the Philippines. “I didn’t get much coaching as a development rider, and I’ve never been on a big track like this before. I have learned a lot here already, especially bike skills, and there is still so much room for improvement.
“My goal is to be invited back and to be a top contender in the UCI World Cups and Continental Championships. And of course, Tokyo! But I also want to help the sport develop in the Philippines, to take ‘this’ to ‘there’.”
At 20 years of age, Belgian Mathijis Verhoeven is one of the more experienced athletes on the talent ID camp. But the 2015 Junior European Champion and reigning Belgian Champion was not going to pass up the opportunity to train in Aigle: “For sure, riding here in Switzerland on a new track and with new coaches is motivating,” says the young rider who is aiming for top-16 placings in rounds of next year’s UCI World Cup and UEC European Championships. “I don’t know if I am capable of that yet but I will give my all. The transition from Junior to Elite was really hard. When you’re a Junior you think you are so good, and then you find yourself at the start next to your idols… and the racing is aggressive and fast.”
From the mouths of the coaches
Three coaches are putting the athletes through their paces: Cycling Ireland Performance Coach Jeremy Hayes and Swiss Cycling’s Head of BMX and development Didier David, both supported by accomplished British athlete and Olympian Kyle Evans, whose role in Aigle is to demonstrate, motivate and advise.
“I’ve seen some of the riders before at races so they have a familiar face and can ask me questions,” explains Evans. “At the same time, I can also talk to the coaches from the athletes’ point of view.
“Some of the younger riders especially are quite intimidated coming to the UCI and training full time. They remind me so much of me at 17 and my first training camps. You have to grow up overnight.
“If someone is struggling, I help out, but I also push them. You can see which riders want to be pushed and which ones bury their head in the sand. BMX is a short career. Some people make it and some people don’t so you need to push and grab every opportunity with both hands.
“At the end of the day you need to be able to step away and say that you gave it absolutely everything.”
Didier David confirms that the young athletes are indeed giving their all. He said many had never trained at such an intense level before, and they also had to adapt to the track.
“Most are in very good physical condition but some still have work to do as far as technique goes. Improving technique becomes difficult after 15 years of age but they are motivated. There is also a very good team spirit, with some of the older ones acting as leaders in the group.”
A similar camp held in Aigle one year ago, saw some of the participants invited back for a longer, three-month camp from May to July this year to prepare for the 2017 UCI BMX World Championships. The preparation proved successful, with two of the riders making the podium: Latvians Vineta Petersone and Mikus Strazdins won bronze in the Junior Women’s and Junior Men’s competitions respectively. Of the 11 UCI WCC trainees, all Juniors, who attended this camp, four went through to the quarter-finals and three to the finals.