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Youth Sprintfest 2013 nurtures a new generation of sprint talent

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Youth Sprintfest 2013
Event: 2-3 March 2013
Location: National Cycling Centre, Manchester
Report and Images: Andy Whitehouse

The National Cycling Centre in Manchester played host to some of the UK's future sprint stars this weekend at Sprintfest 2013.

Following on from the success of two previous training weekends in 2012, it was a chance for young riders, coaching staff, commissaires and parents to come together in a controlled race environment to learn what is involved in a track sprint event. 30 boys from the youth A age category and 15 girls also from the same age group were selected to attend the weekend based on a strict criteria set out by organiser Tim Buckle and the British Cycling coaching staff. Such was the standard of the applicants almost half didn't make the cut.

"While I was learning we did have the DHL sprint school which helped a lot but the Sprintfest is a great environment in which to learn, the young riders can come here, learn and then take those skills into an event like a National Championship".

Matt Rotherham, British Cycling Olympic Academy Programme Rider

A handful of invited Team GB sprinters were in attendance to give their help and encouragement to the youngsters, among them John Paul, who finished 2nd overall recently in Six Days of Bremen, Olympic Academy Programme rider Matt Rotherham and Kian Emadi who recently starred alongside Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes in the team sprint at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Minsk.

Two four-hour sessions were run giving riders the chance to compete in a 200m time trail and three-rider match sprints, which produced some tight racing and fast times, much to the delight of the coaching staff and parents who were encouraged to watch from the stands.

Each heat was recorded on and played back to riders and coaching staff, giving them immediate and valuable feedback.

British Cycling managed to grab a few minutes with Olympic Talent Coach Tim Buckle to explain why the weekend plays such an important role for our next crop of sprinters

"The reason we put this event on is really because there are no open sprint youth races except the nationals. There are regional omniums that do include sprints but this is the only event that gives the riders chance to qualify then ride three-ups and match sprints. The coaching this weekend is perfect obviously for sprint specific riders but also for track endurance athletes who want to improve their race finishes and hone the skills that are associated with that. Another way we can look at this is like an end of year exam for the riders who have come through the Regional School of Racing programme, where they have learned the rules, the tactics, the skill elements and the physicality of the events and it allows them to put all that into practice. They can start aged thirteen at National School Racing but that really is about bike handling, albeit on a world class level, but when they get to this point it's about race preparation, real tactics and a more serious approach, this is all based around the youth A age group."

Tim was keen to point out the impact of having riders like John Paul, Matt Rotherham and Kian Emadi at the sessions:

"Having those guys here is great, they offer a level of impact that us as coaches are unable to provide because they are the people these kids here are aspiring to be. They have a level of understanding that is so far in front of where we are. I was working on a personal level with Kian, Helen (Scott) and Lewis (Oliva) when they were 13 years old and these guys are the first/second generation of really coached kids, not just their training plans but they have been shown how to race; communication is second nature to them because that's the way they have learned. They can pull a rider aside and ask the right questions and then advise them because they know how it feels.

Tim went on to describe the impact of technology and new training methods:

"It's all about body positions, nutrition, preparation and real time media is a massive help, we have iPads and video today which has had a real affect on the way we can coach. These guys are visual learners, we can talk till we are blue in the face but to play their race as they come off the track is a great teaching tool. There's a lot of teenage ego out there so to have a video to go along side what we are saying really cuts through the waffle."

We asked Tim how the future looks for The Sprintfest, which is now in its second year:

"It's all about body positions, nutrition, preparation and real time media is a massive help, we have iPads and video today which has had a real affect on the way we can coach."

Tim Buckle, British Cycling Olympic Talent Coach

"This is the second year and third event, we ran the first one here and then we had an outdoor one at Newcastle which a great event. We had a lot more time there and it wasn't so hectic because of the time limitations. I really believe we can take this event forward and it is crying out for someone to take it on and develop it to four events during the year. It costs a lot of money to run these events but because it is on the programme and we have so many people here volunteering we can run it but if it wasn't for that it would virtually be impossible to run."

Taking time out from a busy schedule of training and study, Matt Rotherham explained why these events are so important for the development of sprint riders and why he was more than willing to give up his weekend to help

"I was invited down here as a guest coach to pass on my knowledge to these riders. I have been fortunate over the years to be able to race thanks to my coaches so I thought it a great idea to pass on what I have learned to the younger riders and to solidify my learning. Tim asked me to help out which I thought was a great idea. I'm enjoying putting something back, when I was a youth rider we didn't have any specific sprint training or races. We had omnium races and a few small races dotted around but this is a big step forward to have specific sprint coaching.

"While I was learning we did have the DHL sprint school which helped a lot but the Sprintfest is a great environment in which to learn, the young riders can come here, learn and then take those skills into an event like a National Championship".

We asked Matt how the Sprintfest emphasised the importance of race day preparation:

"I learned from just really doing races. I just picked it up but you really don't want to be turning up at a major race not really knowing what's going on. This is the place to get things wrong and then correct them, there are guys here that are a bit lost but its why they are here, to learn. I helped out at the two Sprintfests last year and I could see the progression of the riders in a matter of hours so it shows these days do work."

Matt was encouraged by the talent that he saw on track in Manchester:

"There are a number of riders I haven't seen race before today and although some haven't got the tactics, yet, they have the speed and the power and there are others who haven't got the speed but are really switched on when it comes to tactics so I think by the end of the weekend the coaches will have a good number of riders that they might want to take a closer look at."

Finally, British Cycling got the lowdown on the weekend from Grace Garner, one of the riders invited to the event and, no stranger to winning races from sprints.

"We really don't get the chance to compete in sprint events during the year. Its usually only endurance and omnium so this is really the only opportunity we get to get together and ride sprint. We get a lot of help from the coaches and the riders who have race experience in sprints. We go up and 'do' our race then they sit down with us to discuss both the good points and the bad points and advise us how to improve. My technique has improved in such a short space of time, we don't usually get the chance to practice sprints but here we get advice on different tactics and the best way to race."