Laura Kenny and Geraint Thomas are among the star riders who have stepped up to help British Cycling’s next generation during the coronavirus lockdown.
With racing wiped out due to the ongoing pandemic, riders in Great Britain’s academy, junior and foundation programs are dealing with great uncertainty at crucial points in their development.
But their coaches have been able to call on members of British Cycling’s golden generation to share virtual rides and give advice to young riders seeking help.
“When Laura Kenny comes on to speak to the junior girls, that is worth its weight in gold,” Tom Stanton, British Cycling performance pathway manager, told the PA news agency.
“She’s been phenomenal. She came on and talked about wanting to work in a place where everyone is about being the best we can.
“Afterwards, one of our up-and-coming riders emailed Monica (Eden, junior women’s endurance coach) and said, ‘That’s just cemented why I want to be a bike rider’.
“I could say this stuff until I’m blue in the face but for a rider like Laura to say it, that’s brilliant for us.”
Tour de France winner Thomas and his Team Ineos team-mate Luke Rowe have held online sessions with men’s academy riders, while Olympic champion Elinor Barker has joined Kenny in talking to youngsters on the women’s side.
Helen Scott, who rides as a pilot in the para-cycling programme, was among the first to volunteer as a mentor to anyone wanting to discuss the mental challenges of lockdown, and others have answered the call.
Tom Pidcock – a three-time world champion at youth levels in different disciplines – was roped in by his brother Joe, a rider in the academy, to take part in online races.
“You’ve got 16-year-old juniors talking to Tom Pidcock and he’s saying, ‘Blimey, lad, that’s a pretty good ride’,” Stanton said. “You get huge smiles from the boys and this is the stuff that will inspire them to go on.”
Setting up these sessions has been crucial for Stanton and his fellow coaches as they look to make up for the loss of racing.
“It is sad to lose that race experience and it will inevitably cause some challenges,” said Stanton, who oversees the three age groups in all six disciplines, including track, road, mountain biking and cross-country.
“But though racing is the expression of what we do, it’s not all we want to do.
“The pathway is about developing potential. They can’t ride in a velodrome, they can’t race, but there is still a lot we can do.”
The challenges Stanton talks about are not just for the riders. Race results are a key part of the evaluation process coaches carry out as they undergo the selection process at the end of the year.
All riders across the age groups must reapply each year and final decisions would usually be made by October, but Stanton expects that to be extended in some cases – perhaps until the new year – as coaches find other ways to make assessments.
Stanton must also brace for an expected funding hit to a youth system he describes as a “behemoth” – bigger than some nations’ full Olympic programmes – but he is confident in the road forward.
“In the pathway, we’re not looking for jam today, it’s about jam tomorrow and this is all work that pays off in five or six years’ time,” he said.
“You might have riders thinking life is over because they can’t get racing, but this is a speed bump, not a mountain. Rather than focus on what we can’t do, we focus on what we can.”