In the weeks leading up to their most important competition of the year, 10 para-cyclists were put through their paces at the UCI World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom, South Africa. From there they travelled directly to the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Pietermaritzburg - the first time this event has been held in South Africa.
Between them, the camp participants succeeded in taking eight podium spots in Pietermaritzburg, including three titles of UCI World Champion. Those who finished further down the rankings nevertheless fulfilled expectations: “We were all pleasantly surprised by the results,” confirmed Jean-Pierre van Zyl, WCC Africa’s Director.
He explained that during the three-week camp, the athletes benefited from group training, individual sessions and specifically-tailored sessions designed by the High Performance Institute of North-West University. All four sport classes were represented at the camp: handbike, cycle, tricycle and tandem, with participants ranging from relative newcomers to the sport through to reigning UCI World Champions.
“As this was the final stage of their training, we had to ensure that we balanced their load without exhausting them prior to the competition,” explains van Zyl. “We worked hard on their core muscles and also concentrated on technique and cornering. There was some high intensity training, with the tandems doing motor-paced sessions to simulate race conditions and push them that little extra.”
The two tandems on the camp, both from Poland, had a successful campaign in Pietermaritzburg with Iwona Padkoscielna and her pilot taking a silver medal (road race) and a bronze medal (time trial), and Marcin Polak successfully defending his time trial world title as well as winning silver in the road race. Two gold medals went to the Netherlands’ Carmen Koedood (WH2), while Sweden’s Ricard Nilsson (MT1) won bronze in the road race and silver in the time trial. All under the watchful eye of Jean-Pierre van Zyl:
“It was an amazing learning experience both for the athletes and for the WCC staff. The athletes’ positive attitude has certainly rubbed off on all of us.”
Mari-Liis Juul, WC5, Estonia
- Road race 6th
- Time trial 9th
Used to training alone, Estonia’s only licenced para-cyclist Mari-Liis Juul particularly appreciated the advice of the camp’s coaches: “My biggest surprise was the core training. After the third session, I felt much stronger and more athletic. We had two technical sessions which were just what I needed. I corrected my posture on the bike, and although my cornering still needs practice, I now have the basics to be able to develop by myself.
“I loved the difficult courses in Pietermaritzburg. Unfortunately, I didn’t really nail it this time, and I suffered some mechanical problems but I am happy to have gained that experience. In the years to come I will become stronger and more skilled.”
Carmen Koedood, WH2, the Netherlands
- Road race UCI World Champion
- Time trial UCI World Champion
Carmen Koedood went one better than her two silver medals at the last UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Nottwil, Switzerland, in 2015. After receiving her second rainbow jersey in Pietermaritzburg, the 21-year-old Dutch rider said: “I don’t know how I can describe this feeling. The camp was the perfect preparation for these Worlds. I learnt to take corners better and I worked on my technique. The training was very intensive but I never wanted to give up. I think I will train differently now in the Netherlands!”
Hassan Dia, MH4, Lebanon
- Road race 14th
- Time trial 15th
With only one year’s experience in handcycling, the 21-year-old Lebanese athlete had everything to gain from the training camp: “I learned how simple things can have a large impact, for example diet, sleep patterns and warm-up techniques. I also realised the amount of work I need to do to become stronger. But no matter how hard a task is, it is nothing when you have a passion for it.
“Back home I will try to apply everything I learned on the camp. My long-term goals are to reach the Paralympic Games and be competitive at the UCI World Championships. I am encouraged that professionals are praising the level I have at a young age.”
The UCI World Cycling Centre has been holding camps for para-cycling since 2015. Until now they have been held at the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland.