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UCI World Cycling Centre: road trainees gearing up for European summer

Thi That Nguyen wins second stage of Princess Maha Chackri Sirindhorn
Thi That Nguyen wins second stage of Princess Maha Chackri Sirindhorn's Cup Women's Tour of Thailand

At the beginning of the year, eight women and ten men from 15 countries arrived into a bitterly cold Swiss winter. While the locals complained about the constant sub-zero temperatures, the UCI World Cycling Centre’s (WCC) trainee athletes – the majority from much warmer climes - got resolutely down to work.

When it was too cold or slippery to ride outside, the UCI WCC coaches found them indoor alternatives. The men’s group – which arrived earlier than the women – spent one month in Spain to get in some quality training on roads clear of snow and ice.

The trainees, aged between18 and 25, have now proven themselves in the first races of the season and, together with their coaches, look forward to the season’s next major objectives.

Women trainees: many on familiar territory

The UCI WCC held no secrets for half of the women’s group, who were returning to the Swiss training centre for the second – in a few cases third -  consecutive year. And stronger than ever, according to UCI WCC coach Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas: “When they went back to their respective countries at the end of last year, they used the break to assimilate all they had learned.

“On arriving back in Switzerland at the beginning of this year, their skills such as descending and riding in a peloton were just as sharp – or even better – than when they left.”

Their increased confidence and constant progress means that this year they have targeted races of a higher level than last year.

UCI World Cycling Centre's women athletes with their coach Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas

One of the highlights so far has been the Princess Maha Chackri Sirindhorn's Cup Women's Tour of Thailand (April 8-10), a Class 2.1 event on the UCI international calendar. The team of five came away with three stage podiums, including third place in the team time trial and a win for sprinter Thi That Nguyen (VIE) in the second stage.  In the overall classifications, the WCC riders claimed third in the teams classification, 2nd in the points classification and 3rd in the mountains classification with Nguyen, and the top two spots in the classification for best South-east Asian rider with Nguyen and Thailand’s Phetdarin Somrat.

“There is a lot of cohesion in the group,” explains their coach. “Each of them has a specific role or goal going into a race and they work together very well.”

Events coming up on the calendar include one-day races such as the Trofee Maarten Wynants (1.1) in Belgium on May 6th and the Grand Prix de Plumelec.Morbihan Dames (1.1) in France three weeks later.

Men trainees: learning from experience

Like the women, the men’s group has also been targeting races of a higher level than in previous years. Their coach Jean-Jacques Henry points out that something is to be learned from every race.

“This is one of the first years we have tackled such high-level races so early on and it is helping them progress.”

He cites the recent Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 as an example. Despite some tactical errors from the team at the beginning of the race, the centre’s best-placed athlete, Barnabás Peák (HUN) was in line for a top-10 placing at 7km from the end. However, a crash saw him lose time and finish 37th. Their coach says:

“The higher the level, the more they pay for even the slightest error. We try to make them think during a race. We envisage a huge number of different situations at the race briefing, but it is up to them to recognise the situations and react."

He adds: “We try to create a good understanding between everyone which isn’t easy with the language barrier. But it is beginning to gel now.”

The men have enjoyed success and podiums closer to “home” such as victory in Switzerland’s Grand Prix Mobiliar on April 2nd with Panama’s Franklin Archibold.

The group has a busy schedule coming up with races such as the Tour de Bretagne in France (April 25-May 1), the Vuelta Bidasoa in Spain (May 9-12), A travers les hauts de France (May 18-20) and Paris-Roubaix U23 (May 27). The major goal before September’s UCI Road World Championships will be the Tour de l’Avenir (August 17-26), final event of the UCI Nations’ Cup U23.

Two UCI World Cycling Centre trainees in the mix at l'Enfer du Chablais (SUI)

UCI WCC Director Frédéric Magné explained that aim of the centre’s training camps was to expose riders to high-level racing.

“These athletes are among the best in their own countries, and our aim is to accompany them up to the next level,” he said. “Riding in a peloton of more experienced cyclists forces them to dig deep both physically and mentally. They learn to read a race, think intelligently, and save their strength and power for use in key moments of racing. It is fantastic to see how they progress.”

The road trainees currently at the UCI World Cycling Centre come from Trinidad & Tobago, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Argentina, Portugal, Panama, Croatia, Mongolia, Serbia, Poland and Hungary.