Verge Supports talented Topsport Vlaanderen Pro-Duo proteam
Topsport Vlaanderen - Pro-Duo : a team that nurtures young riders.
With an average age of just 20, Topsport Vlaanderen - Pro - Duo is a team that puts the accent on development. They may not rival the top teams in the rankings, but they have an important role in women’s cycling.
Their mission: “To identify young female cycling talent, support them and help them develop as athletes for road as well as track racing.”
Development team they may be, but in 2014 the young riders registered a total of 64 victories on the road and track, and 111 podium finishes. Kelly Druyts took the UCI World Championships Scratch title, while Nicky Degrendele won the European and World Junior titles in the Keirin. Between them the team won nearly all Belgium’s national titles on the track as well as the Elite and Junior road race titles. They have plenty to be proud of.
“It’s great for a development team,” points out Team Representative Christel Herremans. “We really are a development team and we start at the age of 17, giving them a chance to grow without any pressure.”
Emergence of champions
Former team riders who found their feet with Topsport Vlaanderen - Pro - Duo include big names such as 2003 road race World Champion Susanne Ljunskog, 2005 cyclo-cross World Champion Hanka Kupfernagel (GER) and, more recently, Emma Johansson and Jolien D’Hoore. You could say that the team is an excellent training ground.
“Once they feel it’s time to go, that’s no problem,” says Christel Herremans. “Having said that, some riders know how important it is to stay in a team with a very stable structure.”
Take the example of Kelly Druyts, who joined the formation at the age of 17.
Now, eight years later and armed with numerous national titles and a World Championship title, has remained faithful to the Belgian team, where her three younger sisters also ride.
“Our team functions like one big family. We have our ups and downs but we always try to learn from each situation."
"Our strength is that we know our weaknesses. We know what we can do, and we are aware of the things we shouldn’t even try.”
As one of the more experienced members of the team, she tries to help the young riders coming through: “As a young rider you need to learn a lot, not only about competition, but about life and so much more. With the team I was able to learn everything at my own pace. I had the chance to be in a team with a lot of experienced riders. Now I try to share my knowledge as much as possible. It’s important to instruct the young riders. They remind me of the time I was new in the elite peloton. It’s not easy.”
According to the team representative, Kelly Druyts is an excellent role model both on and off the bike: “She is a rider with a lot of respect for others. She appreciates our sponsors and staff, and sets an example for the younger riders who sometimes think everything comes easily. Kelly helps them keep their feet on the ground.”
Young riders but long history
Christel Herremans has been working on the development of women’s cycling for 20 years. A year after the launch by the Flemish Government of the men’s team Topsport Vlaanderen, she made an appointment with the politician Fons Leroy and asked why there was no women’s team.
She made her point, and the team was born.
“I used to be a rider and we were always alone. Nobody cared about us or was interested."
"I hoped that starting my own team would help make women’s cycling better.”
The team is supported by the Belgian Government, which pays the riders’ full-time or part-time salaries. This is a great asset, according to Herremans: “Our strength is being a team, having a stable structure, a guaranteed salary for the riders and permanent staff. We don’t make empty promises we can’t keep. What you see is what you get.”
They get quite a lot. Alongside the actual cycling, the team members benefit from media training, testing at the renowned Bakala Academy in Belgium, sessions with a sports psychologist and advice from a dietician.
Ambitions for 2015 and beyond
The 2015 season has started slowly for Topsport Vlaanderen - Pro - Duo to enable the track specialists to recover from their winter season. The ambition for the 2015 season is to go for national titles and ensure as many of the riders as possible qualify for the European Championships, the UCI World Championships and Rio 2016.
Even after 20 years, Herremans’ motivation is still intact: “I don’t want to give up what I have built over all these years. In the future I would like to have one or two foreign riders again. It will make our team stronger. I want to be on the top with this team. They have earned it.”
Her ambitions are shared by Kelly Druyts, who applauds not only the development of her own team, but of women’s cycling in general“The evolution cannot be denied. The world of women’s cycling has become much more professional."
"There are more female riders, more teams and more races. Even the media attention is starting to develop positively. But we’re not there yet. There’s still room for improvement.”
And the young riders from Topsport Vlaanderen-Pro-Duo fully intend being part of the continued improvement…