|Last Wednesday (4th September), a chat was organised with the riders of the Cycling Center in Ostend – Belgium. The chat was a super-hit and if you have missed it this time, we are looking into organizing another one the day before the Univest race, so come back to this site for updates!
A lot of questions have been asked in the chat and for the ones that missed their response (as I said...it was a super-hit so a very crowded chatroom!), I have passed on the questions to Bernard Moerman, manager of the Cycling Center and Director Sportif of the ABC-Aitos team who answered them as you can see here below. If you have any other specific questions, you can always contact Bernard himself at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are not completely aware of what the Cycling Center represents, you can also read our previous stories on it here: How it all began (22nd May) and A day at the races: Antwerpen – Tielen (15th August)
The Cycling Center has been going well this year with the riders getting
very good results. Can you tell us a bit about the races you participated in
this year and how the results were?
This season we did about 40 UCI-races and about 30 kermisses. It depends on what you mean by results. If you look at it pure ranking-wise then the beginning was not good and the second part of the season was good. If you look at it development-wise then we can say that we are super happy. All the guys went through a very rough first 3 months with lost of hard training weeks and only one race per week, then we had a break in June but from July on the results went up (as we had always said to the guys).
Can any of the races in Europe compare to the races in America?
Comparing racing in Europe to the US is difficult, Because I think we talk about a total different ball-game.
First of all the atmosphere. In the US racing is a happening. There are several races that day, masters, juniors, women, cat 3 and 2, Pro-1 races. All in one day. To what I have experienced in the US, it is more like a family happening. But don't get me wrong, I'm not underestimating it! I'ts just different. Here it is a dead-serious business. There is only one race and that is it. The competition is hard and cold-business-like.
Second the races itself are different. In the US, lots are crits on wide streets, that means you don't need to brake in the corners and the race is much shorter (40 - 50 miles). Here the race is always on narrow roads; that means that in every corner everybody slows down and accelerates after every corner. So it's one big interval for almost 3 hours because a Kermesse is 120 km (76 miles). The UCI-races are minimum 150 km (95 miles). Also in the US the top-field is much smaller (about the same 50 to 60 guys end up at the top place every time) here that top is maybe 3 to 400 so it is very hard to know all your opponents. That makes more attacks so harder racing.
Third the frequency of racing. In the US you need to travel way more and you have periods of lots of racing and periods of hardly any racing in your area. Here you can race pretty much daily from March till end of September. That all means that riders here do not have to peak so much as in the US. Also entrance-fees here are next to nothing compared with the US where racing costs you an arm and a leg.
Fourth the climate: for sure in Belgium. You have pretty much every race here with wind, rain, cobbles and false flats.
You are getting more and more awareness from the cycling community in Belgium and Europe. You are getting invited to a lot of Interclubs and stage races but you sometimes have to turn them down because you don't have enough riders. Do you have plans for expanding so you could go to more races?
This year we had 12 riders at the same time in our home, but we would like to expand to about 18-20 riders. If we have that amount, we will be able to form two teams if we are invited to several races.
Like recently for example: we were invited for Antwerpen-Tielen (UCI 1.12) on a Thursday, a stage race in Austria on Saturday and Sunday and another Interclub race on Tuesday in Wervik. That was a very heavy schedule considering it was a 14 hour drive to the race in Austria. The ones racing on Thursday couldn't go to Austria and the ones racing in Austria were probably going to be too tired from the race and the drive home so we had to send incomplete teams to those races: only 6 riders while we could have sent 8. If we would have at least 18 riders, we could do more races with a full team.
Do you have the space for that in your home?
If we take on more riders for the next season, we need to have a bigger house, true. We are working on all this.
There are several options, but one thing is for sure. We will always look to provide a 'home away from home'. That means the amount can not grow for ever. We need to be able to manage the good service and guidance we are providing now
What is your goal actually for the Cycling Center, where do you want to go?
The goal is easy: being the best school for (mainly) American amateur riders who are really committed to cycling so that they can become the best rider they can be and hopefully make it into the pro-ranks.
The focus is definitely on the "school", the education for becoming a professional cyclist, a good PR for the future sponsors and an ambassador for the Home-country. Results are of course important, but the improvement they make is for me the crucial factor at the CC.
Right now the CC gets know by lots of riders and by several pro-teams and high-level amateur-teams. I want to bring the CC-level there so that it becomes a kind of standard.
How do you choose which riders are entitled to spend a season at the cycling
center? Which qualities are you looking for? Does age matter?
This is a long procedure. It goes from a first questionnaire with tons of questions about all kinds of stuff, over looking into the resume of the last 2 to 3 years to talking to people who are involved in the development of the rider already (parents, trainers, friends, etc.) and ending up with checks by our network of people in the US.
Age matters in this way that the riders need to be between 20 and 28 to start here. That does not mean that I don't want to be in contact with riders who are younger or older. But out of experience we found out that this works the best. Don't forget that those guys need to live close together for quite a bit in a total different world.
About required qualities. Let's face it, if they would be super talents then they should have been selected by the Federation already and being at Noel’s place (Noel Dejonckheere – the house for USCF U23 in Izegem, Belgium). So riders who end up here did miss the first boat for any kind of reason (school, finances, not fully grown when regional camps where held, etc.). Required is a tremendous dose of determination and desire to work hard and to die 5 times per race. Having the capability to face reality and to be total honest with yourself and to accept that you can only learn and grow so much per day and week. Jealousy and lies brings you nowhere.
Also the ability of living together with other people on a smooth base is very important. The riders do not come over to become best friends but they need to live together for quite a bit of time.
Can he just email you that he's interested or does he need to go through other channels?
Yes, you can email us and then we start the full procedure like explained before.
I can imagine living in a house with 12 other individuals that you have just met isn't always that easy. Did the riders bond easily or did that take a lot of time? Are there many fights or difficulties?
It is not easy, but it is not so difficult either. In those 11 years, I think we kicked out 2 guys. I think that is a very good result, because after all you want to find 'winners'. And 'winners' are fighters. But again, at the start I explain what it is all about and I try to be as open and honest with all of them. After all, Ann and I live with the guys, so we live by the same rules. Of course there are those little issues now and then. But that is part of living in a community.
Like I said before not everybody becomes everybody’s best friend, no, but they all manage more then well to live together. After all they are all different: different family-back-ground, age, school-level, race-level, etc..
Everybody here knows why he is here so makes it happen that till now we never had fights or big difficulties. And when that will happen we will solve that for sure right away.
How long do the riders normally stay at the CC? What's the average time they are in Belgium? Are there options for a stay shorter than 3 months?
The 'backbone'-guys stay here a full-season (with a break in June when they or go back to the US or visit Europe)
Then there are 2 half-season-programs (March-April-May) and (July-August-September)
We are working on shorter summer-programs but to be honest I don't like it so much because it takes a least 4 to 6 weeks to get adjusted when it's your first time over here.
Is there a possibility of riding for the ABC-Aitos team but not live at the Cycling Center?
This questions shows the main misunderstanding of the whole program. The most important thing is the education, the guidance, the coaching in the Cycling Center. We see the ABC-Aitos-team only as a kind of weekly examination of what you 'learned' in the week or month before. To me, the ABC-team is just a part of the Program. So riders who think that I want them to ride for 'my team' are wrong. The selected riders are here because they want to learn more about themselves and racing and become a better rider and find their limits.
All this is done in our well-crafted progam which racing with our team is part of. After al,l lots of the UCI-race can only be done with 6 riders and I have minimum 12 that means that for every UCI-race some guys do it, some don't. Selections for those race are made regarding difficulty of the race, form of the rider, development of the rider, goal of the race, etc...
Our staff never guarantees any rider that he will do all the UCI-races. We only guarantee that we will do our very best to get the max out of the rider on a clean and medical proven and open way.
Of course, because of all the International racing we do it is the ABC-Aitos-team that gets the exposure, but the main thing is the CC. In a way the ABC-team is the result of the hard daily work in the CC.
What's the best type of training to do before going to Europe: motorpacing,
For all selected riders we can give personalized trainings schedules for the winter period. But as long as you have never been here it will be very difficult to understand why we want you to train a specific way. Like said before, we want the riders to build up towards the point that they can do 160 km in less then 4 hours. That means that they have to train miles, miles, miles and more miles.
Do the riders go to a professional team in Europe or America after the year
at the Cycling Center?
After one year, no. Again if they are so good then they wasted their time here. A normal period to get to the pro-ranks is about 2 to 3 years (Jeff Louder and Dany Spott got pro after 2 years in the amateur-ranks over here). You need to know that your body can only grow and adjust that much in a year. Also experience and stuff. It all takes time. It's all about climbing the ladder, step by step. And in a way it is never ending because when you get to the pro-level it is again step by step on a new steeper ladder.
When you started you planned to take only American riders, but this year, Nick White - Australian - was part of your team. How come you made an exception and is there any chance that more Australians/New Zealand/Canadian riders can participate in the program?
Let's say it is mainly Americans because out of experience. I learned that there is a huge difference in mentality between the riders. Don't forget that in the beginning we had riders from all over: Spain, Basque country (for them that is for sure different), Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Germany and Ireland.
So to make it easier for ourselves and the riders we did cut that down. But pretty much every year we have one none-American. Nick (2002, Australia), Craig Upton Smilie (2001, New Zealand), Niclas Ekstroem (2000, Sweden). Nicolas Coudray (1999, Switzerland), Inikay Barrenechea (1998, Basque Country), Tony Banks (1998, Australia) and Toshi Takamatshu (1997, Japan).
On our list for next season we have guys from Australia, South Africa, Canada and Mexico.
Is it difficult for the riders to fit in among the Europeans? In the diaries some have mentioned that especially in the beginning they were not accepted by the locals. Has that changed now?
In a way it doesn't have to do much with being an American. It’s like that everywhere. Everywhere you come you need to prove yourself. If a European basketball player comes to the US, the American players will not give their place on a plate to the new kid, no, he will have to fight for his place. And as soon he has shown that he is a real one, he will be in. That's the same in cycling. Lately Jed came up to me saying that now he gets approached by some riders who where jelling like crazy some months ago. Now they even call his name and start asking questions about all kinds of stuff. He asked me how that could happen. I told him that because of his development and his results they now respect him, it's as simple as that. Now our riders have their place in the peloton. They are now opponents, no longer obstacles. Every new rider has to go through that. Intimidation is part of the sport. (I don't think I am saying anything new here.)
Are the majority of the riders espoirs?
No, this year we only had 2, because living here for a full season is very hard when you are so young. Suffering like a beaten dog is not easy.
How does it work once you are selected? Can you tell us a bit about the year of a rider at the Cycling Center, like how does their program look like: a constant amount of races a week or does it work in different phases?
We start with a training camp in Arizona ending with Valley of the Sun. Then they come to the CC. First weeks are used for Bike-fit and medical tests and personal talks with our team-doctor. Then we start the personalized program. Depending on the individual level we work out a training and racing program that builds up towards May where we do several Stage-races. Then those who want can take a break in June. We start building it up again second half of June and work towards heavy duty stage-races in August and ending with Univest in the US. In the season, according to their level and development some riders get selected to race some races with the National Team.
Let's say that the first 3 months are mainly used to upgrade the level and that the second part is used to consolidate that level and gain experience in top-level races. In the beginning of the season they only race once a week. But I tell them at the start of the training camp in Arizona that towards the end of each period they come into a situation where they hope NOT to selected for some races because at that time everything hurts. This year we have guys who did about 35 UCI-races and about 20 kermesses (that means in 180 days, they raced about a little around every 3 days).
In a previous interview you explained that you worked together with Noel Dejonckheere for the U23 national team. How often do riders race for that team?
Depends on what Noel needs, this year his main selection had all the bad luck in the world. Sometimes the House in Izegem looked more like a Hospital.
It also depends on the level of our guys. We had guys in the CC who thought they would be selected all the time and they fell through and we had guys who did not even dream about it and who have done very well in several races with the National Team.
What is the cost for the rider to live at the Cycling Center? Does he need to pay rent and how much, does he need to pay you, the coach or anyone else for the help they get?
For 2003 a full-season program will cost between 3500 and 3900 US dollars, rent, quidance and coaching included. (The exact figure is not known yet because of on-going negotiations with sponsors).
Could you tell us something about your sponsors? Who they are and what they are supplying you with? Does every rider get a bike and other equipment for example when they get to the Cycling Center or do they have to supply it themselves?
This years we had Quattro Assi providing frames and forks, Aitos for the race-clothing, Sock Guy for the socks, Rudy Project for race-glasses, Smartwool for team-clothing and radio’s and the cash sponsors were Perskindol and ABC-Productions.
We cannot give everyone a frame and fork, only to the back-bone riders. The others have to bring their own material. Team clothing is of course for everyone.
The sponsors seem to be very happy as you mentioned on the site that they are renewing their commitment for another season. Do you need more sponsors?
Sure I need more sponsors. I have several invitations on my desk for nice and good races but I cannot go because we don’t have the money for them. Equipment is also sometimes a problem. For sure I need more cash but I also need more equipment.
You also told me that you wanted them to sponsor the school, not the team. Could you explain that a bit better as it is the key to the Cycling Center?
The only promise I make to the riders is also the only promise I can make to the sponsors. That promise is: we build out a program where we try to find out the limits of the riders. When the rider reaches a good level he will get results. So our only promise is the improvement.
Therefore I get a different kind of exposure so the sponsor needs to know that. But let's be honest; who can say that he gets 830,000 page-views on his website in little over 5 months? Talking about exposure.
As sponsor, being part of a development center like ours - isn't that a noble thing? I'm sure it is.
Is it possible for a group or an individual to donate money to the Cycling Center or a specific rider, to give him a kind of "scholarship" for a season of racing? If so, how would he do this? Who would he need to contact? Is there a minimum contribution to be a sponsor?
Well, if you donate to a specific rider, then you are his sponsor. But of course donations are welcome. I can tell I got some already. There is no minimum contribution, as long as it is reasonable. Those who want to do that can always contact me. And then all legal steps are taken. Here everything is official and clean.
One last question, Bernard. Looking at the coming month...you will be racing Univest soon. Have any of the riders done this race before and how does it compare to the racing in Europe?
Brian Adams, Pete Barlin and I think Jacob Fetty have done it before. Univest is the type of races we do in Europe all year. It is a UCI 1.6 and it has a very good field. It is a masterpiece set up by John Eustice. I can only hope more of that type of races will be organized in the US. That will make US-racing better.
Thank you Bernard for your time and good luck!
As mentioned before, if you have any questions, you can always contact Bernard or check out his website for more information.
Also thank you all the visitors in the chat, you were amazing and plentiful, and to the readers of the CC-diaries and interviews!
For the latest diaries of the ABC-Aitos riders, go check out the Cycling Center hub on the Daily Peloton.
Note to the readers: if you are interested in the future of those riders and want the Daily Peloton to keep track of them, you can always help as well by giving a donation to the website. For more information on that, please click here or on the “help the DP”-link on the right of the page. But don’t worry, the site will remain COMPLETELY FREE!! This is a completely voluntary contribution which will be greatly appreciated.