Future Olympic Stars Learning in Winter Training Camp
December 23, 2009 | by Larry Hickmott
While most cyclists wind down and look forward to a Christmas at home, the best young track cyclists from around Britain had their focus elsewhere recently as they 'competed' in a Great Britain Cycling Team coach led track racing weekend in Wales with a 'World Cup' theme.
A group of more than fifty young cyclists ranging in age from 14 to 18 years of age converged on the indoor Newport Velodrome for the three day ‘World Cup’ development weekend. The riders came from three main groups, the Olympic Development Programme (ODP, Juniors), the Olympic Talent Programme (OTP, Youth) and guest riders from both age groups. All the riders were provided with accommodation by the team in the Express by Holiday Inn in Newport and were looked after by coaches from both of the Great Britain Cycling Team programmes, ie, the ODP/OTP.
The coaches looking after the riders were Jon Norfolk (Sprint), Darren Tudor (Endurance ODP) and Matt Winston and Stuart Blunt (Talent Programme) with Olympic Talent Programme Performance manager Gary Coltman also helping out. The team also had the help of three volunteer carers under the guidance of GB carer, Angela Rickard.
Sprint coach for the camp, Jon Norfolk, chats to the Talent Team riders about the warmup.
Endurance coach for the ODP, Darren Tudor, explained that such camps are simply training camps with an element of racing to them which he feels are very important in the development process for these young riders.
He told me “the riders don’t get a lot of opportunity to race on a regular basis so these camps are a good chance for them to go through the processes for events like the team pursuit. The warm up, the start, the finishing and so on. When they ride other track open events, they may not get the opportunity to do events like the Team Pursuit so that’s why we need these camps.”
With over 50 youngsters looked after by the coaches, the riders had to be capable of looking after themselves as Darren explained. “When the riders come here, it’s their responsibility to prepare themselves and get the timing right. We’ll tell them for example, what time they are leaving the hotel in the morning, but it is up to them to make sure they are there ready to leave with all their kit for a day of racing.”
This camp was also an opportunity for Darren to see riders in the Olympic Talent Programme squad team because once the season starts in 2010, he will be off travelling with the Juniors whilst the Talent Programme riders likewise, will be off somewhere else. It was therefore, a good opportunity for Darren to see who is coming through the OTP and how they are progressing before the selection panel meet to decide on new riders for the ODP late in 2010.
Prior to racing, the riders gather for a meeting with the coaches.
After arriving on the Saturday evening, the night before the racing kicked off, the riders were brought together in a meeting room at the hotel where they were given a briefing by ODP endurance coach Darren Tudor. The three days of racing would give the riders an opportunity to not only show their ability on the track but also try new things in a race programme where there was no pressure to win. It was for the young cyclists, an opportunity to learn as well as get an insight into the pressures of racing over three days like the senior Great Britain riders do at Track World Cups.
Each day of the camp would see them all getting up bright and early for breakfast at 6.45 am before heading for the track in groups and a full day of racing. Upon arriving in the breakfast area on the first morning of racing, there was already a long line of riders queuing for breakfast, a sign of how keen they were to get on with the day.
On that first day, with the temperature outside being minus three degrees but with little sign of a frost in the darkness, the riders were put into groups and set off from the hotel for the short journey to the velodrome about half an hour away. I followed the female group with Matt Winston leading the way in the GB van and was impressed by how disciplined the riders were.
The sun had yet to rise when the riders arrived at the velodrome after a short ride from the hotel.
Once inside the velodrome building, preparations began in earnest as riders changed their kit and then turned their attentions to preparing their bikes, a process that was to be repeated each day. Tyres had to be pumped up to race pressure, handlebars changed for the event they were racing and gears also adjusted, all before they could start their warm-up. No pressure then!
Meanwhile, in the sprinter’s area, Jon Norfolk explained to his group the warm-up effort required for their events, breaking the routine down into set time pieces for the riders still learning about such things.
What was impressive, was how the riders, some as young as fourteen, were already well versed when it comes to the basics such as the warm-up effort. It is a core pre-race routine that many of them will repeat over and over and over again as they progress both in and outside of the GB team. This proficiency Matt Winston (Talent Programme coach) explained was down to the drills they do in the regional Talent Team groups prior to being selected for the Olympic Talent squad.
Day 1 Photo Album on Flickr
The three day event began with the Team Pursuit qualifiers where riders were racing for event ranking points with a handicap system in place to give the younger riders a chance against their older ODP rivals. The juniors were also asked to race on ‘spokies’ as well as smaller gears than normal as they went from their normal 92/93 inch gears to an 88 one.
For the ODP riders, this was the first coach led racing camp since the selection for the 2009/10 intake was made a few months ago. Being the off season for most of the riders, the three days proved to be physically as well as mentally demanding but in a relaxed environment where the riders were obviously enjoying meeting up with friends and getting together for a hit out on their bikes.
Talent Team riders listen to a briefing by Matt Winston
Each day was split up into two sessions and even after the racing had finished, the learning continued with video analysis back at the hotel provided by the English Institute of Sport’s Duncan Locke.
Whilst the results of the races may not have had any great significance for the riders or coaches in the long term, both were nevertheless pleased when many riders went inside their personal best times for the Individual Pursuit on the final day showing that both their recovery and form were in a good place with an important season ahead. The learning process at Newport was also an important stepping stone for them all. Here were many riders I have followed since they started racing at eight years of age and here they were still pursing their dream of being the next Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins or Victoria Pendleton.
During the three days of racing, the riders learnt many a lesson. Not just on the track but off the track as well. The need to be disciplined, organised and prepared so that once on the track, they were able to give each event their best shot and do themselves justice.
These skills are just one part of the growing up a cyclist must do to compete at the highest level. When surrounded by your friends at such a camp, it can be easy to slip out of competitor mode but the coaches were not waiting for anybody so the riders had to be on the ball so as to not to look foolish in front of their coaches and friends.
They had to learn to be independent and to think for themselves so that come a major competition in the future, they have all the skills needed to get to the event and do them, and the team, justice.
Undoubtedly, from this group of youngsters will come those who will go on to represent Great Britain at World Track Cups in the future and I am sure, this Great Britain team initiative will be just one of many that will have helped them realise their dreams of representing their country.
Guest at the camp, Hannah Barnes, used the opportunity to show her potential.
What the riders had to say about the camps:
A second year Junior and ODP rider, Welshman Sam Harrison made his presence felt during the three days and on the boards, looked to be one of, if not the strongest endurance male rider in the races.
He told me “these camps are really good because we don’t get much opportunity to race on the track with all the best riders from around the country. Here, we can get together with no pressure and just give 100 per cent as well as try new things. You also learn how to prepare for events and be independent. The camp here is good fun and helps you get fit so it’s all good”.
Familiar race face of Sam Harrison as he races flat out on the boards
Fun it may have been, and the riders certainly seemed to enjoy it, but it was very serious stuff on the boards. In the Team Pursuit for example, the team that Sam was part of, had never ridden together or done any Team Pursuit drills as a unit so the ‘20’ (4.20) they did at a time of year when few are on top of their game was a pleasing time for the Welshman.
“This year, we only went 20ish a couple of times before the Euros so it is looking good for next year and if we all train hard, I’m sure we’ll be able to do a fast time”.
Whilst Sam is a seasoned ODP rider, for West Midlander Joshua Papworth, the ODP is all new and it was his first camp as an ODP rider. He was clearly pleased to be involved with this development camp and the rider who also competes strongly in cyclo-cross said “I haven’t felt too bad out there. I do a track league down here once a week so I still have some track legs and it was good to refresh them.”
Josh gets his ODP track pack out to select a chain ring for the next race.
“It was fantastic to be selected for the ODP and is a milestone in my career so far. We’re all aiming to be professional riders and the ODP is a step on the ladder towards that goal. It has been a target for me to make this programme ever since I started.”
Like many who make it onto the ODP, Joshua was part of the Talent Team in previous years where he says he learnt a lot of the skills helpful now he is on the ODP. “When I was on the Talent Team and a camp was coming up, they would email you the kit list required and that helps now because we know what we need to bring and that means we’re able to be a more complete and professional bike rider.”
One of the younger riders at the camp was Lucy Garner, part of the Olympic Talent Team and one who is keen to make the ODP in 2010. “It was really good to race against the older girls and see how we compare” she told me during the camp. “We learn something new every camp especially when you race as much as we did here.”
Lucy, from the East Midlands, added that such camps are also important to her because there is no indoor track near her and because of that, she doesn’t get much track time and is keep to take every opportunity like the one in Newport.
Lucy Garner getting stuck in during the bunch races
In contrast to Lucy, a young lady I have watched racing since she was not even in double figures is European Team Pursuit Champion, Laura Trott. This is Laura’s second year as an Endurance rider on the ODP and prior to that, Laura was also part of the Sprint programme. An Olympic Omnium rider of the future perhaps?
Being a ‘senior’ figure in the camp, Laura felt right at home with all the riders and explained that she had done a similar camp in the last year and since then, done many many more during a successful year on the road and track.
Being a second year ODP rider, and one with European titles and medals to her name, Laura was aware she was a target for her rivals looking to get one over her. During the three days, Laura was at times beaten to the line by those rivals but she also showed glimpses of brilliance when she was able to time her runs in sprints perfectly and like any good professional, make winning look easy.
“I am feeling under pressure here because I know when people beat me they’ll be thinking ‘I can be European champion too’. It isn’t so bad though at this time of the year but I do feel old here as I have always been the youngest on these camps and it seems weird here!”
“During these camps, you learn things like how to ride and win a bunch race as well as try new things. For example, Darren (her coach) will tell you to attack with six to go which you wouldn’t do yourself because you feel like such a move will fail but you give it a go and see what happens.”
“Time management is also a big thing you learn on camp because you have to be at places bang on time and you also learn to be disciplined on the bike. When I came from the sprint programme, I’d be smashing my standing starts and I’ve been taught how to control it and also how to ride a Team Pursuit.”
“Being part of the ODP is great as it gives you a lot of experience you would not get any where else. They take you everywhere which is great and the chances of me going to the Europeans this year if I had not been on the ODP would have been slim.”
ODP Endurance coach Darren Tudor watches his riders in the Team Pursuit event
The year ahead
For both the Talent Team and ODP riders, the next 12 months are going to be very busy ones where they will mix their school work with trips abroad for cycling as well as camps here at home. Looking ahead for the ODP riders, camps here in the UK, a competition in Gent, as well as a lot of the UCI Nation Cup road races for Juniors are so far on the busy year long programme.
Darren Tudor explained that from now on, nations will need to compete in the Nation Cup events(male, road race) to qualify for the Junior World Championship road race which in 2011 will return to be part of the Elite World Road Championships programme.
The training camps planned for the ODP include one in February, May half term and in the run up to the Junior worlds, lots of track work at the end of July. The ODP endurance coach also added that he expects the Junior men to be competing in the National Road Race Series events when there isn’t a clash with their international commitments.
The Olympic Talent Programme riders will also be kept busy throughout the year with around one training camp a month as well as a few racing trips here in the UK and abroad. Olympic Talent Programme performance manager, Gary Coltman, explained that on top of the training camps for his 30 or so riders, they will also be expected to compete in the Regional Schools of Racing, a Talent Team activity.
“These will be spot on for what they need and that none of the riders are too good to compete in them. The manager and coaches are also looking for a couple of good stage races (for both the boys and girls) and have one in Belgium for the boys already on the planner. Two more events for mountain biking are also on the schedule as well as events for the Sprinters being looked at.
Gary also emphasised the need for regions to play a strong roll in giving young riders the opportunity to compete in events like the School Games (road), the Inter Regional Track Championships and the North West Youth Tour. This would give the riders, in and out of the Olympic Talent Programme, an opportunity to race at the highest level and show their talent in high level races.
From what was on show at Newport, the young British cyclists certainly are talented bike riders possessing skills that even senior riders these days don’t have. Such potential just needs to be nurtured and helped along so those who have the need to be winners in the mould of Chris Boardman, Bradley Wiggins, Nicole Cooke and Chris Hoy, will be winners when they fulfil their dreams in the coming years. Good luck to them all in achieving their goals.
Stuart Blunt (right) was another of the coaches helping the riders at the camp.
Sprinters battling it out in the keirin race