Sunday, 8 July 2012

French Cycling - the hope is located in Besançon

Today we witnessed one of French cycling's hopes, Thibaut Pinot, claim the stage win on a very entertaining stage. Pinot happens to be the youngest rider in the tour this year only 22 years old. The stage brought fireworks as the broadcast started as the riders crossed the km 0, so the insane tempo and break away-attempts got caught on tape.

Besançon is one of my favourite cycling cities. It could be because its very French name fascinates me, but also due to the fact that I, since I started following the tour, have heard the name mentioned frequently enough to link the name to the tour. Tomorrow the tour will arrive in Besançon and the French media will guaranteed talk about French Cycling's hope.

However, French Cycling's hope is not a rider, it is located in Besançon.

The home of French Cycling's hope

Science meet sports - Australian Cycling and British Cycling lead the way
Down Under, the Australian Cycling had a new and interesting approach to sports performance. Sports in Australia was gathered under the umbrella of Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and later the Australian Sports Comission (ASC). Linking track performance to road, gathering the most promising riders and staff, basing the education and training on research, proved to be a recipe for good results. In addition to being a fun place to work, the emphasis was constantly on development of performance. The man who started this model related to cycling was Gary Sutton, head of AIS cycling. Together with Neil and Gary Stephens and Shayne Bannan, all lifelong friends and associates, the pace and direction for Australian Cycling was set. Shane Bannan became head of cycling at a later stage. 
All the buzz words now familiar with BC was used here, like "rider-centric", "technology based" and so forth.

The first initiative - the original

British Cycling is based on the Australian model. Back in the day, Shane Sutton, after his days as a rider, was Welsh cycling coach. He looked to his brother in the AIS for inspiration, used the same template and got a job at British Cycling (BC). Peter Keen, currently special advisor for performance at UK Sports, had developed sports science techniques in the UK and took them with him to BC. It's fair to say the adaption of the AIS plans and template proved valuable, as the two countries have been the leading nations on track ever since as well as bringing very good talent to the table in both track and road.

Essential in both AC and BC is government sport funding. No medals=less funding. With the medals come money, easy calculation.  

The second initiative - rider centric and based on research principles 

French Cycling is on the move 
As certain as the Spring sun will melt snow away, the French sports media will bring out the hopes of French Cycling. Over the years many have been called, but few have past the test consistently. Arguably, French Cycling has been carried on the shoulders of single riders and staffers, giants in cycling whose romantic stories from back in the day gets increasingly better every time they are told. Ideas on training, nutrition and physiology was poor and in many cases, missing. Norwegian pros have told stories from French teams as late as after the millennium where French riders only ate the inside of a baguette in fear of gaining weight. The coaches weighing the riders on a frequent basis and the only issue at hand is body weight and body fat. Not exactly scientific based and systematic approach, is it?

So while the Aussies and Brits had enjoyed the fruits of a scientific, systematic approach to training for years, the French still had focus on length and riders' weight. But, after many years of under development in both the coaching part as well as rider development, a welcomed change came.

The Université de Besançon has a faculty called UFR Staps de Besançon/L'Upfr Sports, regarded as one of the best coaching education there is. Science, nutrition and multidisciplinary activities all incorporated to give the coaches the best preparations possible. The Faculty claim to use "technology in order to be effective both in work and academics in the analysis, interpretation and understanding of sporting events." Names like Jean-Baptiste Quiclet (Saur-Sojasun), Frédéric Grappe (FDJ) and Anthony Perrin, are all recognized in the cycling community as excellent coaches.

In addition to this, Besançon also has a cycling "high school", where the country's most promising riders study and receives feedback from some of the finest coaches in France. Arguably the best amateur team in France, Club Cycliste Étupes, a team which also happens to be the recruiting base for Ag2r, originate from Besançon. Well known riders like Bodrogi, Calzati, Dessel and not surprisingly, today's winner Thibaut Pinot, all come from this team.

Despite suffering from being late to the party, the French coaching education in Besançon is scientific based and has a systematic approach to the important details necessary to put their riders on top of the resultlist.

Today's win by Pinot is another indication that the future for French Cycling is brighter than ever.

Pinot crossing the line happy and with hearing problems after Madiot's screaming

Downloaded here

The post is inspired by the book "Røff guide til Tour de France 2012" by Johan Kaggestad, own knowlegde and some very useful guidance by a friend.

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