2016 will see a shift in the way the Jayco World Tour Academy operates, with the brightest young stars in Australian cycling now to split their time between Belgium and Italy. With the season split into two, the first half will focus on the northern classics, with the remainder of the season building the traditional races for the climbers, like Tour l?Avenir. James Victor, World Tour Academy Head Coach, spoke to Peloton Cafe after Cycling Australia?s announcement of the change.
?I think for this first three months, and it is a bit of an experiment compared with what we?re used to doing, we?ll be trying to do as many race days as possible, within reason. That was the reason that they?ll then go home again after the block of racing, see family and friends and freshen up, their minds as much as their bodies. The second block will be some heavier racing towards the end of the year, the accommodation will be a little mixed between spending some time in Gavirate then spending some time time off racing then going to Livignio for another training block. So it will be a mixed bag for the second portion of the season but I think the gap will allow to freshen up and reassess a few things, and look at where they?re at in their own minds after a solid three month block. There will be challenges with that, but I think it?s a better scenario for the young guys coming over here. It?s not turning everything upside down, we?ll still be providing a well-supported environment and giving riders every opportunity, but it will present challenges as well.?
Those challenges are a key part of the experience that Victor wants his young charges to encounter. The road furniture, changeable weather and constant battle for position are all part and parcel of racing in the region and it will be a new experience for the young squad of riders to deal with.
?Over in Belgium, Netherlands and France those races are on wide open roads, there aren?t any continual circuits and it?s better to help our young riders learn to ride in the bunch and read the road in front of them and pick up a new range of skills. They?ll be a bit anxious in the first few races, but it will be about the guys that challenge themselves and look to develop those skills. You look at the pros, they don?t win Flanders or Liege-Bastogne the first time they turn up, they have to continually return to those races, and it?s probably four or five years before they have that confidence and belief to challenge for that result.?
One point that Victor kept on emphasising was the need for the riders to develop the resilience necessary to become fully-fledged professionals who can turn up and compete week-in week-out on the World Tour circuit.
?Experience is important, but physical and mental resilience is equally so. They?ll have purple patches where they?ll feel in great shape, barely feel like they?ve touched the pedals all day and get a top ten, and then next week they think that they?re going to go in with the same condition and they cop a hammering. A different type of race or a different style of rider they?re going up against can change as they go from country to country, so it?s important to build up that resilience to be able to cope with those different conditions at any given time. The weather (in Belgium- Ed), it won?t be atrocious, but it certainly won?t be favourable all the time. It?s about getting the guys outside their comfort level, if they want to go World Tour, whether it be for Grand Tours or chasing classics in Spring they need to understand different styles of racing.?
For Victor personally the challenge is to keep turning the young talents that he?s entrusted with into professional athletes. Not an easy task in the at times ruthless world of cycling, but the World Academy?s track record largely speaking for itself as it continues to produce top calibre alumni with Michael Matthews, Rohan Dennis and Caleb Ewan the biggest stars of recent years. Success is a double edged sword in this case though, with now every rider impatient to make the step up to the big stage, as Victor explains.
?What I?ve found challenging over the last five to six years is that as soon as one of the boys has done two years with us they think that they?re ready to turn World Tour. That transistion is becoming harder and harder, and the boys come to understand that, but only after they?ve gone World Tour. You hear snippets about some of the challenges once the turn first-year pro, not just the racing, but adapting to the lifestyle challenges. There?s a lot of independence and responsibility in a race career of hopefully ten to fifteen years and I think it?s best to get them over there as young as practicably possible (to the Academy) and get them experience. Some people forget that Rohan Dennis did four years in the Under 23s, and he?s probably made the smoothest transition of anyone in the past few years.?
It is a particularly young intake of riders this season, with all of them about to spend their first full season away from Australia racing in Europe, there is a lot of adapting to do. With the science of cycling increasingly dedicated towards the power output and the number produced, Victor makes sure that the mental dedication of the youngsters is also closely monitored.
?You definitely see changes in the first few months over there, the character of the guys and the ones that are prepared to show some leadership, steer the group and being mature about the reasons that they?re there. I ask the question ?What are you doing here?? sometimes. It?s taxpayer funded with Gerry Ryan also putting a lot of money into the program to support these guys. If they?re not progressing you need to get them to ask themselves if they are here for the right reasons.?
The goal of the World Tour Academy isn?t a complex one; develop riders to the point where they can ride at a World Tour level. Clearly everything that Victor plans for his young charges works towards that goal, and it will be interesting to see if this new experiment in Belgium will become a fixture in the preparation of the stars of Australian cycling for the future.
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