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How a new testing protocol is finding cycling talent in unexpected places (video)

Susannah Osborne
23 Aug 2017

Director of the World Cycling Centre describes his global search for future stars & why he believes an African rider will soon win the Tour

Tegshbayar Batsaikhan is the current Junior UCI World Champion in the Scratch Race. Whether he will keep his crown in this week’s World Championships is hard to predict but rainbow jersey or not, he has already made an impact on the sport. The 18-year-old athlete entered last year’s race as the underdog; coming sixth in the semi-final he only just made the cut for the World Championship race.

But after a performance that surprised even his coaches, he proudly pulled on the rainbow jersey. What’s more surprising though, is that Tegshbayar, or Tegshy for short, is from Mongolia and that Mongolia has no history of track riding.

At the beginning of 2016 Tegshy was a complete track novice but after just five months spent training at the World Cycling Centre (WCC), he became one of the best riders of his age in the world.

And his rapid rise through the junior ranks of track cycling is testament to the efforts of one man and his team.

A former three-time keirin world champion Frédéric Magné won 16 World Championship and National Championship medals between 1987 and 2000.

Now, as the Director of the World Cycling Centre - the UCI’s elite coaching and training centre in Aigle, Switzerland - Magné is enjoying a different kind of success.

A modernist concrete building on the side of the E27 motorway, or the Autoroute du Rhône, the WCC houses a 200m track, a BMX racing track and the headquarters of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) - cycling’s world’s governing body.

Inside officials pore over rules and regulations, discipline teams and riders, and issue licences for races from the Tour de France to West Africa’s Tour de [Burkina] Faso.

But administration is far from Magné’s mind. For him, the WCC is part of his mission to uncover track and road cycling talent from all four corners of the globe.

For a sport whose heritage is rooted in the geography and traditions of Europe, this global approach to spotting talent is a departure.

It all hinges on a global testing protocol that can be used in Aigle but also around the world at the WCC’s four satellite centres in South Africa, Japan, India and Korea - where Tegshy’s raw talent was discovered.

By 2020, the UCI aims to have satellite centres in 10 different locations around the world.

A key part of the UCI’s strategy to grow cycling globally, these satellite centres provide an opportunity for aspiring young athletes, from diverse geographical locations, to showcase their talents on a level playing field.

At the opening of the latest centre in India, in May 2016, Magné’s enthusiasm for the project was evident.

'With a population of more than 1.25 billion, and a high use of bicycles in every-day life, India must be housing a great deal of untapped talent,' he said.

He goes on to say, 'The WCC is on a mission to develop, and so it’s very, very important that we have a globalised approach [to discovering talent].

'The world is our playground but to identify talent we need to have tools and tests that deliver the same results, whether a rider is in Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, Ukraine or Belarus.'

The test Magné refers to is the Power Profile Test. Designed in partnership with British company Wattbike it enables the WCC to assess and compare data from cyclists around the world.

The previous testing protocols we were using were time-consuming and not accurate says Alejandro Gonzalez Tablas, road coach at the WCC.

'To test 50 riders it took 50 hours of testing. We needed a test that would give the same results from anywhere,' he explains.

'So, alongside sports scientists at Wattbike, we developed a simple 6 second, 30 second 4-minute test. It takes around 30 minutes to do and uncovers all types of riders from true sprinters to endurance sprinters and endurance cyclists.'

It was this test that drew attention to Tegshy. On seeing his data, sent from the WCC satellite centre in Korea, the UCI worked with the Mongolian Cycling Federation to bring him to Switzerland for an extended period of training as a stagiaire.

They now support not only his coaching but also his accommodation and living costs.

Both Magné and Gonzalez Tablas are unequivocal in their support for global testing. They want to ensure that riders from all five continents can develop into world class athletes on the track, at the Olympic Games or in the Tour de France.

'Merhawi Kudas [Dimension Data] was one of the first riders to be tested. We’d heard about his talent and brought him to the UCI.

'The test confirmed that he had an immense talent.'

Since turning professional in 2014 Eritrean Kudas has ridden all three Grand Tours and at 21 was the youngest rider in the 2015 Tour de France.

For Magné discovering talent is an exciting proposition; as we speak he is about to get on a plane to Hong Kong to further his global mission. But if there is one continent that really excites him it’s Africa.

'In athletics Africa is still dominating in middle and long distance running but I don’t see why this can’t translate to cycling.

'It will take time and education, a cultural shift and resources but I’m sure that soon we will see someone from an African country wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.'

Riders discovered using the Power Test Protocol

Merhawi Kudus Ghebremedhin, Eritrea

Kudus and fans at the 2015 Tour de France. Photo: Offside

Merhawi Kudus Ghebremedhin was brought to the UCI and tested using the Power Test Protocol in 2013. Previous to testing he had won a stage of the 2012 Tour of Rwanda and gained sixth in the race’s General Classification.

Within months of arriving in Aigle he had signed for French UCI Professional Continental team Bretagne–Séché (now Fortuneo–Oscaro).

In 2014, he moved to MTN-Qhubeka which in 2016 became a UCI WorldTeam and was renamed Dimension Data for Qhubeka.

From the outset, the WCC identified him as a pure climber and he is tipped to be a Grand Tour contender. In 2014, in his second year as a professional, Kudas rode the Vuelta a España.

In 2015, at the age of 21, he was the youngest rider to take part in the Tour de France. In 2016 he rode both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

He is currently riding the 2017 Vuelta a Espana.

Agua Marina Espinola, Paraguay

Agua Marina Espinola at the World Cycling Centre. Photo: UCI

Agua Marina Espinola is the first Paraguayan cyclist to train at the UCI. She was detected by coaches after taking the Power Profile Test during a UCI training camp in Argentina and brought to the WCC for further testing.

She started riding at the age of 14 after asking a passing cyclist how she could learn to race a bicycle.

After being lent a bike she joined the UAA cycling team in her home city of Asunción. In her first race she was one of only two women in an otherwise all men, 70-strong peloton.

She is currently training for the UCI Road World Championships in Bergen, Norway, on 23rd September, where she aims to be the first cyclist from Paraguay to ever complete the race.

Deborah Herold, India

Deborah Herold was identified through a countrywide trial for children aged 14 to 17. She was one of 40 children chosen from an initial 120 candidates.

In 2015 she climbed to fourth place in the UCI Women Elite 500m Time Trial Ranking and in 2016 she became the first ever Indian woman to compete in the UCI Track Cycling World Championships.

Herold’s aim is to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Aged nine, she survived the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami by taking shelter on the roof of her house in the Andaman Islands.

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