One of the simplest of pleasures in life – drinking in the outside elements – is what Colombian Pablo Alejandro Wilches misses most since being confined to his home in Facatativá, not far from the Colombian capital of Bogotá.
Pablo is one of seven members of the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) Under-23 road team all of whom, after starting the year at the centre in Aigle, Switzerland, returned home due to the current coronavirus pandemic. All are eagerly awaiting a lifting of restrictions that will allow them to come back to the high-level training centre.
“It’s not great staying at home all day without a little bit of sun and wind on my face but we have to follow the rules and be responsible,” says 20-year-old Pablo Wilches.
The rules in his hometown allow him just one hour of outside activity a day, between 6am and 7am, and without venturing further than 1km from his house.
“I train on the rollers most of the time and take part in video meetings with the UCI WCC physio for some core stability exercises and stretching. I keep my focus on my goals and keep dreaming and training to become a professional cyclist. I feel so motivated to be part of the team at the WCC. It is a dream come true and a chance that not many riders in the world have.
The role of the far-away coach
“My coach is an important power in keeping me motivated and fit. He’s always asking about my situation, motivating me and helping me.”
That coach is Canadian Richard Wooles, still based in Aigle but in constant contact with his athletes: “They have been up and down. They have had some really good training and positive days followed by some lower days.
“Their motivation is also up and down. That is normal. The key is how they respond to the downs, and this is when it’s good to have a quick call. We talk over what they can do, but not all the other stuff that is out of their hands. We look at what they can control, what they can influence and what they just have to accept.”
Wooles has had to adapt training to the individual situation of each of his riders, who are dispersed between South Africa, Morocco, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Colombia. Even virtual training and group video sessions – common methods being used by athletes worldwide - can be complicated for those who have poor, or no, Internet access.
“Some have been able to get back into riding outside and others have been living 24/7 inside with their family,” says Wooles. “The focus needs to be different for each athlete. Some need short-term goals, some need to look forward to when they can be back on the road and others don’t really want to think about anything so they need to just enjoy riding their bike for now. We are all different and the number one goal is to stay positive and look ahead.”
Wooles continues: “Coaching is about more than just helping them ride fast. It is about helping them grow as people and giving them tools for handling adversity.”
Like his Colombian teammate, South African Tiano da Silva also found the lack of fresh air one of the hardest things to cope with: “Two days after my arrival back home it was announced that South Africa would go into nationwide lockdown for three weeks. I couldn’t believe it. I was going from being outside in one of the best countries there is for riding, to being locked in my house on an indoor trainer!”
He now has the right to ride outside between 6am and 9am but remaining within a 5km radius of home in Johannesburg.
“My first ride outside was refreshing. I say refreshing because everything became clearer and I was able to see past this whole situation,” explains da Silva.
Missing the UCI World Cycling Centre environment
A typical day now will see him do two sessions on the bike, interspersed with exercises and gym work. Despite group sessions via video, he misses the team environment, training with friends, and the structure of his days at the UCI WCC.
“At home I have a lot of time on my hands and I am often looking for things to keep me busy, whereas at the WCC I am often looking for time to relax from a hard day of training.
“What I look forward to most when I get back to Switzerland is the team structure and the facilities the WCC offers.”
Even Canadian Riley Pickrell agrees, despite the fact that where he lives on Vancouver Island, he has been able to ride outside since his initial 14-day self-isolation period: “Everyone I know is healthy and abiding by the social distancing guidelines that are keeping everyone in Canada safe,” said the 18-year-old. “My training is relatively unrestricted due to the low Covid-19 threat in Western Canada. But I’m looking forward to being back in Switzerland for the longer rides we do together and the training environment.”
Sentiments echoed by Pablo Wilches: “The first thing I will do when I get back to Aigle is go to my favourite place in town with a nice view and say thanks to life for giving me this chance to return to Europe and keep building my dreams!”