One of the particularities of the UCI Road World Championships is that the riders represent their country rather than their trade teams.
During the event, athletes take leave of their teams to defend their national colours, joining their country’s accommodation alongside their compatriots, national coaches, medical staff and mechanics.
But this year, in the small Italian village of Bagnacavallo situated 25km from the Imola - venue of the 2020 UCI Road World Championships - four men and three women from six different countries shared the same accommodation and team staff.
Representing Syria, Eritrea, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Barbados and Chile, the athletes were housed by the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) which had rented accommodation for qualified riders whose National Federations were unable to travel to Imola.
The three women Eyeru Gebru (Ethiopa), Amber Joseph (Barbados) and Catalina Soto Campos (Chile) are all members of the UCI Women’s Team, WCC Team, living and training in Aigle, Switzerland. Of the four men lodging in the WCC house during the UCI Worlds, one – Merhawi Kudus – is a former UCI WCC trainee, while fellow Eritrean Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier, Azerbaijan’s Elchin Asadov and Syrian Wais Ahmad Badreddin were benefitting from the UCI structure for the first time.
The UCI WCC’s Education and Detection Project Coordinator Jean-Jacques Henry explains: “We have rented accommodation for our UCI WCC trainees at the UCI Road World Championships every year since 2014 in Ponferrada (Spain). But this year (with the coronavirus pandemic) some National Federations were unable to travel to Italy, so the WCC staff decided to lend a hand even if the athletes were not part of our WCC training programme.”
The seven athletes were looked after by two UCI WCC Sport Directors / coaches, two mechanics, two soigneurs and a cook. They were taken on a recon of the race route, benefitted from a pre-race briefing, had a car in the race convoy and staff at the feed zones.
“Without the UCI WCC, they could have participated but it would have been very different with no help whatsoever,” observes Jean-Jacques Henry, who added that the atmosphere between the athletes in the ‘team’ house was excellent despite them riding for different countries.
Sharing and solidarity
“You share so much in cycling, and in difficult moments – like getting dropped on a climb – you show solidarity. There was no animosity whatsoever.”
Morevover, for Elchin Asadov and Wais Ahmad Badreddin it was an unexpected and happy reunion: the two rode for the same team in 2019.
The seven athletes performed as well as could be hoped in Imola considering the lack of racing this year and came away armed with valuable experience for the rest of the season.
For the three women, it is a return to the UCI WCC and their teammates in Aigle before travelling back to their respective countries for the winter break. Ghebreigzabhier has rejoined NTT Pro Cycling Team for the Giro d’Italia, Merhawi will tackle the Classics with Astana Pro Team, and Asadov rejoins UCI Continental Team Bahrain Cycling Academy. Meanwhile Wais Ahmad Badreddin, six years after completing a harrowing journey by car and boat from the Syrian capital Damascus to Lausanne (Switzerland) via Lebanon, Turkey and Greece, has next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games for motivation: he is one of 50 athletes across all Olympic Sports to benefit from an International Olympic Committee (IOC) refugee scholarship.
The UCI’s International Relations, Development and WCC Director Vincent Jacquet explained that the UCI WCC’s initiative to help athletes at the UCI Road World Championships was in line with the year-round work of the UCI World Cycling Centre.
“Our elite coaching and training centre welcomes around 100 athletes a year in the Olympic disciplines of road, track, mountain bike and BMX Racing,” he said. “Most of these talented young men and women come from countries whose Federations do not have the necessary resources to enable them to reach the highest level of competition.
“While some of our resident trainees were able to join their national delegations in Imola, other athletes risked finding themselves with no support. By giving them access to our accommodation and professional staff, they were able to compete in the UCI Road World Championships in the best possible conditions.”