What makes an athlete?

What makes an athlete?

For a while now, cycling has seen multi discipline talents, with riders like Pauline Ferrand – Prevot, Marianne Vos and Elia Viviani competing across different disciplines, often switching multiple times a season, and with large amounts of success. Ferrand – Prevot and Vos have both been world champion on the road and cyclocross, with the former once holding the road, cyclocross and mountain bike world titles at the same time. Viviani meanwhile came from the track, winning many European and National titles, and now balances this with road racing. It is only in the last few years however that cycling has seen atheltes with backgrounds in other sports becoming successful in its professional ranks. In this article, I’ll be detailing examples of these sport switches, and delving into what made these athletes successful in the first place.

A name that immediately springs to mind for most people when sport switches are mentioned is Primoz Roglic. Roglic started off as a ski jumper, a hugely popular sport in Slovenia. He enjoyed success early on in his career, becoming junior world champion at age 17 in 2007, and regularly competed on the world cup circuit in the senior ranks, until a horrific crash in which he landed side first into the hill.

His first serious sporting endeavours also included Ice Hockey alongside his favoured Ski Jumping

Thankfully, he wasn’t injured, but it put him off ski jumping for good, and he took up cycling aged 21. Roglic’s case is rare; ski jumping is about explosivity, and timing, perhaps more akin to the big burst of power seen in a match sprint, rather than a monument or 3 week tour. But, clearly a natural athlete, endurance never troubled him, and it is now his explosivity that has garnered him many victories on the road. In an interview with Velonews.com, Roglic states that while the two sports are different, the discipline required to carry out “a lot of stretching, yoga, speed work and core training” has put him in good stead, adding that “those skills helped me as a cyclist”. Also, he often cites his mental capacity to focus and be able to take risks, saying “I didn’t fear Ski Jumping enough, so i crashed big”.

Another hugely talented athlete is Remco Evenepoel, skyrocketing to fame at the Innsbruck world junior championships in 2018, soloing off the front after having to gain three minutes on the bunch after a mechanical in the early part of the race, which other nations tried to take advantage of to put him out of contention. Only taking up cycling in 2017, he was a footballer, playing for the youth sides of big clubs PSV Eindhoven and RSC Anderlecht. He also made 6 appearances for the Belgian Youth Teams, scoring one goal in his short career.

Evenepoel (red) playing in a youth game for the Belgian national team

A great level of awareness, and the ability to react quickly, aided Evenepoel’s success on the road, quickly learning how to read a race, and make tactical decisions. Also, Evenepoel’s (and his family’s) dedication was nothing short of remarkable, getting up early every morning to drive the 200km journey to Arnhem, and back in the evening after a day of training. Therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise that he often cites his weakened mental state as the reason for leaving football, although this likely conditioned him to be able to cope with cycling’s psychological demands.

Whilst researching for this article, what stood out to me was the mental strength of the athletes, being able to overcome setbacks and find an alternative, where many would have given up. Also, I think this article highlights the importance of doing multiple sports in adolescence, as the transferable skills picked up are shown to create a multi faceted sportsperson, aiding success in any sport or area of life that one goes down.

These two sportsmen are just a handful of sporting crossovers, and shows that they are part of a majority, rather than a minority of successful athletes switching paths to glory.

Finding a Junior Team

As a first year junior, this is a process that remains fresh in my mind. It can seem daunting at first, but on the whole is relatively straightforward. The team I am riding for this year, as some of you may know, is Tofauti Everyone Active, an outfit based in Essex. In the rest of this article I will outline what to look for when finding a team, things to bear in mind and ultimately why I chose Tofauti Everyone Active.

The way that many junior teams will select their riders is by launching an application form, often through one of their various social media pages, so it is a good idea to follow many. This will also help to give you an idea of how the team works, and what kind of races they do. A team’s application form will usually consist of 4 or 5 pages, the first 1 or 2 are usually just admin, and possible questions are: Race results over the last two years, what disciplines you compete in, and your training schedule. Questions like this are designed to build up a picture of you as a bike rider, and how you will fit into the team. However, there are some potential
red flags to watch out for. Forms that have questions regarding power, weight and w/kg need to be carefully considered if this team is a good environment to be in. This is because it shows that the team manager either doesn’t pay much attention to youth cycling, so has no clue who can do what performance wise, or they have a backward knowledge f the sport, and think that the 4 best riders on Zwift will win every UCI race they enter. Regarding weight, your weight is not a problem, or an advantage over anyone, especially in the youth and junior ranks.
Another method of application is that teams may ask for CV, or palmares if you like, detailing your results, racing style and other qualities you may have. This was how Tofauti EA set about recruitment of riders for 2021. I prefer to see this style as it gives you a chance to express yourself freely, and include what they need to know about you, without putting pressure on you as a rider to answer anything you aren’t comfortable with.

Another gauge that I used to help choose a junior team was if I could see myself being friends with these people. often you will already know most riders that you end up in a team with, but it is different seeing them once a week for an hour, than to be doing 4 hour rides or lift sharing to faraway lands with them. Also, it does help if the other riders are in a similar geographic region to you, allowing you to gel as a team, which will be important during the season.

A major deciding factor was what opportunities can they give. If you are wanting to do cyclocross in Belgium, then there isn’t much point signing for a team that does Spanish road races.
Also, what financial/equipment support can they offer? Whilst it is rare anything will ever be free, receiving clothing, helmets and other things at discounted or cost price are certainly things to be grateful for. Personally, I was looking for a team that could offer a wealth of UCI invites on the road, whilst giving me the freedom to continue with track racing. I saw that TEA had received multiple invites in 2020, despite being a very new team, and saw this as a good sign. This season the team has been given invites to around 10 UCI races in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, and has over 20 sponsors on board.

Another thing to consider is how does the team coach it’s riders. Does it have a 1 on 1 fitness coach, or an older head that can offer advice? Neither type is better, but you should consider which is right for you. For me, I wasn’t really worried about having a coach to set me training every week, I more wanted people around me that I can bounce ideas off of about training, as I feel that I can learn more about myself this way. A support bubble of this kind doesn’t necessarily need to be from within the team either, like I often chat with a friend about what each of us are doing and why.

The last thing is the strength of the other riders on the team. You don’t want to be dropping everyone 20 mins into a team training, but equally you don’t want to be in a team with so many strong riders that you can’t get a look in for the big races.

If you have any questions, please ask. I can be found at @nathan44rd on all social media.

Ciao for now,

Nathan

Why 2020 was my most important year

Why 2020 was my most important year

Like many, my 2020 was mainly spent training, alone, with nothing to aim for in the near future. However, this did not mean that this was a wasted year in any way. Fundamentally, it gave me time to take a look at my life on and off the bike, and focus on improving myself as both an athlete and a person. In this article, I will focus on lockdown onwards, as apart from Icebreakers track omniums in Newport, or Casnewydd, there wasn’t really anything noteworthy occurring.

Icebreakers R1 (8th)

From a cycling perspective, I looked at many areas of the sport. From training to psychology, I experimented with my approach, as I had the time to make potential mistakes, or adapt to any positive changes.

My first focus was improving my weaknesses, the most significant one being my explosivity and raw power. The times before lockdown on the track, where I was struggling to get on the back of a team pursuit, was when it became apparent that this was a real issue for me. I would be left behind in the last lap of a scratch race, and could barely score in a points, so I knew to be able to improve any other area, I would have to first improve this. This period of time was important, as I learnt how to focus on one aspect of my training, without leaving the others behind, and also the importance of physical and mental recovery, as the required sessions were always maximal, often leaving fatigue in my legs the day after.

Another thing I learnt, is something that is actually very important, yet seemingly insignificant to many people, and that is the question of why. Why do I ride? You may think it odd that I never really knew the answer, but I had always been doing sports, so why had I stuck with cycling, and given up football a long time ago? I think it is the freedom, of being able to go anywhere I like, when I want (okay maybe not exactly synonymous with lockdowns). Riding throughout lockdown made me feel good about myself, as something that was a constant in my life, which is why I believe that my non sporty friends struggled with the social isolation. Riding throughout the spring and summer last year, and in the winter of 2020-21, made me feel in some way superior, as I could see things that non cyclists could not, like the area outside my village.

Enjoying life away from a bike 🙂

The last important thing that 2020 taught me was dealing with nerves and pressure. Very strange, in a year of no racing, but this was as a result of trying out for the Great Britain Cycling Team Junior Academy. After a long hiatus, this was a very stressful event. But, I found that training specifically and visualising the day were instrumental in reducing any nerves. As for the pressure side, I decided that there was none. A lot of pressure that youth riders feel comes from themselves. Parents often do not mind whether their child is first or last, as long as the child has fun, an outlook that my parents fortunately have. Youth riders generally don’t have sponsors to please or families to feed. I had a coach from within the pathway at the time, as I was on the Apprentice program, but he didn’t put pressure on me either, so all that was left was myself. My mindset was that I knew what I had done before, and if I didn’t succeed, it wouldn’t be game over for me. In my head, I had already done many Individual Pursuits and Kilos at Manchester Velodrome. Overall, I ended up enjoying the event, however I was not selected to be part of the Academy. Never mind.

A brief return to the Grass Track last summer

Ultimately, a situation is not about what you lose, which in this case was an entire season and my GCSE exams, but what you gain, which was a wealth of experience.

Ciao for now,

Nathan

Introduction

Hi, I am Nathan Hardy, a first year junior from Bedfordshire riding for Tofauti – Everyone Active (http://tofautieveryoneactive.com/). I have to decided to start this blog as a means to give an insight into the training, thoughts and feelings of a young, aspiring athlete. Expect regular updates on what I’m up to on here, hope you will enjoy hearing more of what I have to say!

I started cycling competitively around the age of 8 years old, just in a few local league cyclo-cross and mountain bike races. At this point I was also playing football, cricket, and doing triathlon, athletics, and cross-country running, which I will cover in more depth another post. It was after this that I joined my first club, Cycle Club Ashwell, a welcoming club based in North East Hertfordshire. That winter, I started to love cyclo-cross, and was competing regularly in Central and Eastern cyclo-cross League races (whichever was closer!). I also had been enjoying riding the grass track at club sessions, and would begin racing on that the summer after.

Baby Nathan at the crease(holding the bat), probably feeling like Kevin Pietersen!

My first real race season was as a 2nd year u10, in 2014. I enjoyed some success in grass track racing, and a fair amount less in road. Over the following seasons, I gained speed on the road and country, leading me to my 2nd year u14 season in 2018, gaining some good results nationally in cyclo-cross, the best being a 12th place at Ipswich National Trophy, and doing better on the road, coming away with 6th overall in the National Youth Circuit Series, and a 3rd at the National Championships in Scarborough.

My proudest moment in an Ashwell jersey (right)

It was during the 2018 season when I switched clubs to Welwyn Wheelers, leaving a few of my old friends from CCA behind. This gave me new opportunities to really step my game up, and hopefully lead to bigger and better things.

In 2019, I achieved some strong results as a first year, regularly being in the top 30 of national series races, and had come close a couple of times to a top 10 result, one being 11th on the 3rd stage of the Isle of Man Youth Tour. Highlights included racing the Manchester 6 Day Youth Event, partnering with my good friend Anthony Morris of VC Londres.

Racing at Manchester 6 day 2019 (green shorts, salmon shirt)

I will cover 2020 in another post, as I feel this is dragging on slightly, but thank you for taking the time to read this.

Ciao for now,

Nathan