UCI World Cycling Centre: a week dedicated para-cycling

Para-cyclists from the world over participated in a training camp at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland, last week.

Alongside the para-cycling camp, 14 people attended a course for National Classifiers, and anothereight followed a classification module as part of the UCI WCC’s Level 2 coaching certificate.

Fourteen athletes from nine countries spent six days improving their track skills on the velodrome of the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland. While some had already raced at international competitions, for others it was the first time on the track and a revelation.

Visually-impaired Kenyan Juliet Muema and her pilot Megan Ambasa have been riding together for two-and-a-half years, but had never set foot inside a velodrome before arriving in Switzerland for the training camp.

“Last year, we qualified for the Commonwealth Games but if we had gone, it would have been with zero training, zero experience,” explains Juliet Muema, who has already competed in the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup. “In Kenya, we go out on the main roads but the challenge is they are not well-equipped with bike lanes. The roads are scary!”

Her pilot continues: “We have learnt a lot this week and now we will be confident to go for it and try riding in track competitions.”

Their coach for the week, Canadian Stephen Burke, could not be prouder of the Kenyan tandem: “Megan is one of the most impressive young pilots I’ve ever seen. She’s been fearless. They are riding in the paceline now, and pulling on rotations. You would never believe they had been so green just a few days ago.”

His respect extends to all the athletes on his camp: “Half of them had never been on a track before. I would say they have all improved 200%. They have gone from being scared and concerned, to riding in an effective training group. Others, who had already participated in Asian Games or the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, have also improved two-fold.

“We have worked on skills and also done some high-demand training. They have been doing two track sessions a day. That is a great deal, so I have had to be careful of the athletes’ fatigue and stress levels. It has been a fantastic week. They have been supporting each other, rather than training as individual riders and nations. I’m really proud of that.”

The participants on the camp included two female tandems – from Kenya and Finland -, two male tandems – from Thailand and Panama – as well as C2-5 athletes from Estonia, the Philippines, Brazil, Iran and Ireland.

UCI Para-cycling Coordinator Todd Fraser said: “Our aim was to focus on development athletes, especially women, and those who do not have easily accessible facilities and necessary resources in their own countries to help their progression. We have already seen some of these athletes at major UCI events and hope to see more of them competing in the future.

“With the Paris 2024 Paralympics just 18 months away, we intend to organise more camps in the future.”

Training for National Classifiers

The same week, the UCI WCC also hosted a course for National Classifiers, who are responsible for classifying athletes into different sport classes according to the type and degree of their impairment. Organised for the first time at the UCI headquarters, the course saw the participation of 14 people from 11 countries.

Among them was the Czech Republic’s Jiří Ježek, who retired from international para-cycling competition in 2017 with six Paralympic titles and six UCI World titles to his name as well as four overall victories in the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup. A member of the inaugural UCI Athletes’ Commission from 2011 to 2013, he is now a volunteer member of the Czech Cycling Federation’s Para-cycling Commission.

The C4 classed athlete wants to use his background as a prosthetics technician and para-cyclist to help the classification process in his country: “We have a large community of national para-cyclists in the Czech Republic but no classifier dedicated specifically to para-cycling,” he explained. “Classification is a very important part of para-cycling and I really hope that some of the people on this course will step up to become International Classifiers in the future.”

Fascinated by the technical aspects of classification and the adaptations of bikes, he also thinks he will be helped by his 25 years as a competitive cyclist “to understand the classification process form the rider’s point of view.”

Three experts from the USA and Australia delivered the National Classification course, which included theory sessions couple with practical experience and observation of the athletes on the para-cycling training camp.

For the first time, coaches on the UCI WCC Level 2 coaching course (February 6-18) also followed a module focusing on classification.

Brief explanation of para-cycling sport classes

  • C – Cyclist: conventional bike with adaptations if necessary

  • T – Tricycle: three-wheeled bike

  • B – Visually impaired: tandem bicycle ridden with sighted pilot

  • H – Handbike

Each group is divided into different sport classes, with the lower the number indicating greater impairment.