Spotlight on Fiji
With a population of barely 900,000, Fiji does not have an enormous pool of people from which it can create a base of cyclists.
However, with the re-introduction in 2016 of the National Championships, a calendar expanded to 10 events, the formation of a new cycling club, and the selection of two women for a continental cycling programme, this cluster of islands in the South Pacific Ocean is on the right track.
“Cycling is relatively new in Fiji and not everyone knows how to ride a bike,” explains Peter Sinclair, President of Cycling Fiji. “Cycling is not something everyone grows up doing. We have a lot of work to do to grow the sport to its potential here.
“This year we are planning to concentrate on youth development to see if we can encourage cycling across the local population. We plan to start grass track racing to encourage cycling in a safe environment, get children interested, then build from there.”
He notes that more people are becoming interested in cycling, not only as a sport but also for health and recreation. The Federation nearly doubled its membership in 2016, and a club, founded last year by locals and for locals in the Fijian capital Suva, has the wholehearted support of Cycling Fiji.
“They have a membership of about 12 and organise regular rides. We are very supportive of this initiative and hope it will continue to grow and inspire other clubs to form.”
In 2016, the Federation re-introduced the National Championships after a hiatus of three years, and the popular two-day format including time trial and road race will be repeated in August this year between Sigatoka and Pacific Harbour.
Although the national calendar, which features 10 events including the three-day Tour of Fiji in October, is currently dedicated to road cycling, plans are afoot to develop mountain biking.
“Despite the potential for good mountain biking in Fiji, we do not have dedicated trails,” says Peter Sinclair. "This year we hope to organise two trial mountain bike events in collaboration with Fiji’s Rucksack club. One would be held on the island of Ovalau, on half sealed and half unsealed roads, and the other would take riders across parts of the interior along rugged unsealed roads.”
Continental programme for women
Last year, two of Fiji’s women cyclists were selected for a 10-month programme, launched by the Oceania Cycling Confederation, which saw them supported by professional Australian coaches via structured training sessions, and advice on racing tactics, nutrition and bike handling.
While one of the athletes, Lavinia Dickinson, had to pull out due to study commitments, Leena Pratt has improved significantly under the guidance of coach Janelle Smith and with the support of Suva’s cyclists.
Leena Pratt is Fiji national champion, and also Cycling Fiji’s General Secretary. “Leena is a great role model for women’s sport in general and cycling in particular,” enthuses the Federation President. “We are hopeful that she will play an even bigger role in encouraging other women to engage in cycling.”
Meanwhile Cycling Fiji’s immediate goals include strengthening the Federation’s governance with a new constitution which is due to be presented to members late next month.
“We also aim to work with the government and other groups to improve legislation for cyclists in Fiji,” says the President. “We will continue to develop the sport by improving its accessibility – through grass track racing, mountain biking and some awareness events – which should lead to a schools programme in the coming years.”
Peter Sinclair’s efforts to develop cycling in Fiji are made with a longer-term goal in mind:
“Long term we want to develop the raw talent of local athletes to become world class cyclists.”