Though the UCI, or rather its President, is a constant target of often-justifiable criticism, it cannot be denied that cycling’s governing body has made positive contributions to the sport through its development programs. Cycling iQ looks at a relatively recent coaching initiative and speaks to a self-described UCI critic who is participating in the program
Images: Daniel Loy and WCC
WORLD CYCLING CENTRE BACKGROUNDER
In May 2002, the UCI moved its headquarters from Lausanne to a purpose-built location in Aigle, eight kilometres south of Lake Geneva’s easternmost point. Amidst the shiny infrastructure, the Centre Mondial du Cyclisme (World Cycling Centre) stood proud. Built as a development centre for cyclists and coaches from across the globe, the WCC began offering a Coach Development Programme (CDP) in 2010.
Formed in collaboration with British Cycling’s Development Director, John Mills, the CDP is intended to be a “high-level coach instruction programme,” according to the UCI, with an objective to “provide each continent and as many National Federations as possible with competent coaches who are capable of accompanying their riders to the highest level”. The course is split into three qualifications (following excerpt from the CDP guide):
UCI Level 1 Coaching Certificate
The Level 1 Coaching Certificate focuses on the foundations of coaching. The knowledge that is gained on this course is fundamental to ensuring coaching is appropriate for the riders. The programme covers the fundamentals of coaching Track and Road.
UCI Level 2 Coaching Certificate
The Level 2 Coaching Certificate moves on from the fundamentals learned at Level 1 and focuses on the components required to assist a rider when training for performance. You will be equipped with the skills and knowledge required to develop competitive riders in Track and Road.
UCI Coaching Diploma
The UCI Coaching Diploma is the highest coaching qualification and will require the coach to display excellent coaching skills across the spectrum of Track and Road.
Whilst the certificate-level courses are uniformly taught across the UCI’s five Continental Circuits, the eight-week Diploma can only be taken at the WCC. According to the UCI, 35 coaches from 27 countries have attended a course at the WCC.
MEET DANIEL LOY
Formerly a national-level road cyclist and bicycle shop owner, Singaporean Daniel Loy now oversees his country’s only UCI Continental road cycling squad, OCBC Singapore Cycling Team. Daniel arrived in Aigle in late March 2012 to tackle the UCI Coaching Diploma. Almost mid-way through the eight-week course, Cycling iQ caught up with Daniel to find out what it’s all about and whether the self-confessed cynic had developed any new opinions on the UCI since his arrival.
Let’s start with your background in cycling.
I was a regional-level competitive rider; never really good enough to ever dream of European glory. I cut my teeth on the Australian crit’ scenes of Sydney and Melbourne whilst pursuing my University Degree in Commerce at UNSW and Monash.
I started a bicycle shop straight out of Military Service and continued to train/race in a haphazard manner that exposed me to the bicycle industry and Europe with frequent trips to cycling’s birthplace; specializing in what I deemed I knew best: road bicycles and racing. I retired from competitive cycling at the end of 2009, having achieved a personal sporting milestone of representing Singapore at the 2009 South East Asian Games (SEA Games) and jumped straight into being OCBC’s team manager after (former manager) Daniel Plews departed to New Zealand on a PhD scholarship.
Can you explain the scope of your role within the OCBC Singapore Cycling Team?
OCBC Singapore Cycling Team was born in 2009 from a proposal within the Singapore Sports Council by one of its physiologists, Daniel Plews. I was named to be the team’s road captain and assistant team manager to help with the on the ground operations and direction of what would be a very young team; the inaugural team had an average age of 21 and I was the second oldest at 25. My role now is Team Principle. It is all-encompassing, from budget planning, to sponsor solicitation, rider choices and overall team vision management.
Is there enough talent within Singapore to support a future Pro Continental team?
Unfortunately or fortunately for us, we truly do not know. We’re very much in our infancy and if you notice, we’ve not gone out and blabbed about being the first Singaporean team to race in the Tour de France, etc, etc.
We do want to cement our UCI Continental status for at least three more years and build a solid roster – primarily Singaporeans, supplemented by a small core of experienced and good quality foreigners from SEA and the Oceania countries.
We’ll only ever consider Pro Continental status if at least a core of no less than five Singaporeans would be good enough to compete at a Pro Continental level in Europe. We’d be equally happy if we were a super-solid Continental team that is poached by WorldTour or good ProContinental teams – for our best talents that have outgrown our racing calendar – and continue to be a talent production line.
How many road cycling clubs, of a very high standard (similar to St Kilda Cycling Club in Melbourne), exist in Singapore?
Maybe four or five? Cannasia-Cannondale; Rev Sin; Cycleworx; ANZA Mavericks; Bike Labz
Why are you in Switzerland doing this course?
I’ve got a couple of reasons to be here; one is for personal development – it’s a diploma at the end of it – and secondly, it doesn’t hurt to network with the powers that be in the sport.
Is this funded by OCBC?
No. To be frank, I only signed up for this course the day before the closing date. The reason for that is several fold. This course was marketed quite late by the UCI to the Singapore National Cycling Federation. I’m the high-performance manager for Singapore Cycling and also Team Manager for OCBC. When I found out that nobody from Singapore had put themselves up for the course, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. My initial proposal was to pay for the entire course on my own accord. Firstly because the OCBC budget had been written up for the year and I don’t want to affect it; also, it’s a personal development so I have no idea how it’s going to help me contribute to the team at this stage.
INSIDE THE COACHING DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
What did it cost and what do you get for that?
It costs CHF8,000, which is inclusive of course fees, full board, accommodation and course activities. We’re put up at Mon Séjour, which is the only accommodation that the WCC uses. It’s like a hostel-style accommodation for athletes and coaches. We get three square meals a day; breakfast at the hostel, and lunch and dinner are served at the restaurant (Le Vélodrome restaurant) at the UCI.
Can you describe your surroundings and the standard of care that you’re being given?
We’re in the little town of Aigle, where the UCI is headquartered. It’s a small town of 9,000 people or so. It’s a great little place, quite quaint; it’s got a supermarket and whatever else you might need.
We’re housed in an old convent; a big sturdy building four stories high with a basement. If I’m not wrong, it has about 40 rooms. The coaches get ensuite rooms, so we don’t share a bathroom with everyone else. Its nice and spacious, we get our own private time. The only restriction is with internet; the wifi is cut off at 11:00pm every day so athletes get to sleep – or at least they try to restrict how much surfing they’re doing. I think it’s quite effective.
The people that take care of us here are the owners of this house. They are an elderly couple, Swiss, in their 60’s and they’ve been doing this for the past 10 years. I am led to believe that they kind of fell into this when the UCI set up their HQ here. I’m not entirely sure, but apparently this couple set up the property primarily to serve as the UCI’s lodging solution for visiting athletes, coaches, etc.
Where is Mon Séjour in relation to the WCC?
The WCC is about three kilometres away. Every day, we commute back and forth to the WCC on city bikes – we call them ‘shitty bikes’ – which were sponsored by BMC before but currently are sponsored by Felt. Nobody is allowed to keep their racing bikes or serious bikes here; everything is kept at the WCC. A few kilometres on a nice sunny day is perfect but the past week, where it’s been raining and three degrees in the morning, has been a little harsh! If we walk, it’s 25 minutes; so we just suffer the three kilometres. We have a nice little peloton going on the way to the centre so, yeah, we kind of draw straws for who is going to be on the front – it’s quite hilarious some mornings.
How many people are taking part in the course with you, and where are they from?
A grand total of five people! I’m led to believe there were originally eight applicants in total but, for various reasons – primarily visa problems – a couple of them couldn’t come.
We have Anthony Peden from AUS/NZ; he’s a former trackie who lives in Switzerland, so he’s the only coach that isn’t staying with us during the course. He’s apparently the personal coach of a famous MotoGP rider; he’s quite an interesting character in our class. We’ve got Ismail from Turkey; he’s 27 and is, or was, the head coach for the Turkish Paracycling team. The Turkish Cycling Federation sponsors his attendance here. Then we have Manop from Thailand; 49 years old. He’s currently the Thailand MTB/BMX head coach but, in taking this course which is specifically road and track, he’ll possibly go back to head up a coaching role in the national road program. Last, but not least we have a late entrant, Mohammed, from Egypt. He’s only arriving tomorrow after being able to clear his visa problems. Shockingly for us he’s got to catch up on all the past assignments we’ve done over the last two and a half weeks. He still chose to come in.
You’re almost three weeks into the eight-week programme (26 March to 18 May) – what are your initial impressions of the course?
I rate it highly so far; mainly because of the current co-ordinator, Keith Flory. He’s a good guy and a straight talker. The course is not clearly segregated so we kind of seamlessly move across the certificate levels, then finally to the diploma. It’s not meant to supersede, in my mind at least – or this is how it’s being sold – any of the established country’s level 3 courses; it’s meant to bring it together in a more holistic package.
It’s quite an open environment; Keith is more a facilitator than a teacher. We actually conduct all the sessions by ourselves. We are given the tools, and about 60% of the course is practical. Week eight is a pure assessment week.
What tests have you taken so far and when do you find out your results?
We actually have constant assessment that is clearly labelled and all aggregated at the end. I’ve done 5 out of 13 assignments so far. I believe I’ve been doing OK so far. It’s a big advantage for Anthony and myself that English is our first language. I’ve tried to help the others after course hours where I can. This same course is also being conducted in French and Spanish later this year.
What has been the biggest highlight so far?
Riding the UCI track. In Asia, we don’t have too many easily-accessible velodromes. The UCI has a 200-metre wooden velodrome; it’s beautiful. It has super-high banks and I was itching to get on it, because I’ve never ridden such high banks in my life. We’ve had two track sessions; each one three hours each, and it’s just been a joy for me. I really wish we could get the Singaporean government to build a track. The UCI has four public sessions a week, where anyone can register and use the track.
They have nice track bikes for the athletes but, for the coaches, we use some Pinarello Pista bikes that are 6-7 years old; I have to say the mechanics here do a wonderful job of maintaining them, so they’re not too bad.
Do you get to put hard questions to top management like Pat McQuaid or Alain Rumpf, or is that not really within the scope of your course?
Actually, I’ve only seen Pat McQuaid twice so far – even on his bike, surprisingly – as he travels a lot. I must say, I was a little shocked but, according to staff, he actually rides quite a bit. I’m sure if anyone heard me say that, they’d be laughing. We do get to talk face-to-face with the department heads within the UCI. Tomorrow, we are having a Q&A with Xavier (Dafflon) about rules and regulations; I’m really looking forward to asking some basic things like ‘why the hell do you still have the 6.8kg rule?’ and ‘why revise fairly meaningless rules to a “T” and not promote innovation from an equipment standpoint?’.
You’ve had some criticisms of the UCI previously. In the last three weeks, what have you seen that has altered or endowed the perception that you’ve held?
A lot of my preconceptions still hold true. My interpretation of the UCI, which is also formed through public opinion, is of a high-handed organization that makes rather ill-conceived decisions. You’d then be led to believe the staff at the UCI, in a sense, must be useless. After only two and a half weeks at the course, I can see the UCI is chock-full of some really passionate people who really know their shit; it seems like a very qualified bunch of guys at every level.
In the building, on any given day, you have multiple world champions, world cup winners etc, and a lot of those guys still head out and ride their bikes. They go for lunch – lunchtime is a nice two hours in Switzerland – rides and they still compete at amateur levels. I feel they really want to progress the sport internationally on many fronts. I’m led to believe there’s so much political red tape – not necessarily set by the UCI itself – that makes it difficult to make progress in a meaningful manner. I feel that a lot of their own staff are quite frustrated at some of the decisions they have to implement; the UCI’s stakeholders also restrict a lot of what they don’t do, or maybe do, against what is perceived as common sense.
They have instilled a very good culture here and given opportunities to kids from all over the world. The biggest thing the UCI is lacking at the moment is an effective PR campaign; they have been trying to revamp the website, but they don’t grasp it so well. So many good things happen here on a daily basis that should be put out into the media but, for some reason, they’re not. I think this really affects their image a lot. I’m not saying they should be revered but at the very least respected a lot more than they are.
I’m beginning to sound like a UCI PR rep myself! Seriously, I see the people here are trying really hard; I wouldn’t say they are working Asian hours, but they are working pretty damn hard by European standards. I have a lot of respect for a lot of the people here. It’s also the first time I’ve actually met the people that I’ve tried to make contact with. I say “try” because when I’m in Singapore and send an email, man, they don’t reply for ages. Now, when I see the workload they have, I understand why it takes a few days to respond. In general some of the preconceptions still stick, but I won’t elaborate what they are just yet – it’s too early.