by Marcus Leach
British cycling is enjoying something of a golden era at present, the last six years have seen record Olympic medal hauls, as well as the first two British winners of the Tour de France. And with an exciting crop of young riders coming through the ranks the future is looking bright too.
Eager to learn more about what is being done to develop British cycling talent The Essential Cyclist caught up with Matt Cosgrove, Performance Director at Welsh Cycling,
What does your role entail? I have overall responsibility for Welsh Cycling’s performance programme and manage Welsh Cycling’s track team - Team USN.
What is your background and how did you end up in this position? I started off in elite sport by working as a physiologist providing sports science support to elite Welsh athletes and national teams across a range of sports. After 6 years in this role, I changed roles to take on the management of the sports science support service at Sport Wales. I left Sport Wales after 15 years to take up my current role of Performance Director at Welsh Cycling.
How do you identify potential talent? Talent identification is something that is carried out predominantly by the coaches. They look for a variety of factors including the obvious physical and technical abilities but equally important are the off the bike personal skills. These include factors such as commitment, application to training, being very organised and having the right lifestyle.
Once identified what is the process to helping them realise that potential? The two key factors are making sure that their training is well structured to maximise their development and educating them on how to look after themselves and be professional off the bike.
Are there certain qualities you are looking for in riders? Or can they vary depending on the individual? There are certain key qualities that our coaches look for. Things like bike handling skills, the ability to pedal smoothly and speed. No matter which discipline or event you are competing in it is ultimately speed that will win bike races.
Aside from time on the bike, what other training do the athletes do? Is there much gym work? Once athletes get up to junior level (16-18 years) they will start to incorporate strength and conditioning work into their programme. This is a combination of predominantly body weight exercises initially which will help them hold the correct position on the bike and make them more stable and less likely to pick up an injury. Stretching is also an important part of the riders programmes.
In terms of training on the bike, what would a typical week entail? This would vary significantly depending on the rider, the event (track, road, mountain bike, sprint, endurance) that they are competing in and the phase of training they are in which is dependent on the time of year. There are certain times of year when they will race three times a week so there is little time for training in between, it is more a case of recovery rides. A typical training week would be hard to identify.
How much, if any, emphasis is placed on the mental side of preparation? The mental side of cycling is huge. It is a very tough sport and the ability to hurt yourself and overcome adversity are two key attributes. Some riders are naturally very good at this and others less so. Many riders use mental preparation routines prior to races and they have access to a sport psychologist for mental skills training.
Is training periodised? Will you focus on specifics, such as sprinting, climbing? The training is periodised and the specifics depend on the discipline. A track sprinter for example will spend a lot of time working on strength and power while an endurance rider will have to work on their ability to climb, descend and race over multiple days as well as working on speed. The way that the cycling season is structured now the track season is predominantly winter based with road racing in the spring and summer. The riders programmes therefore have to be carefully planned to make sure they are getting sufficient recovery as well as achieving peak performance at the right times.
When preparing for a specific event, what processes do you go through with the athletes? The coaches will identify the specific demands of that event and ensure the riders are fully prepared for them. A local one day track race for example is much easier to prepare for than a race held over multiple days over the other side of the world. The former allows you to focus solely on the race whereas the latter brings in a lot of other factors such as travel fatigue, climate, different food etc.
What about post-race/event, is there a de-load period before training resumes again? Generally races take place most weeks so there is no real period of recovery until the end of a phase of training/competition or the end of the season.
You work with USN, how has that partnership helped the team develop? The partnership with USN has been invaluable to Welsh Cycling and to Team USN. Cycling places massive demands on the body and the nutrition advice from the guys at USN has been really useful and the products supplied have enabled our riders to perform to the best of their ability achieving medal winning performances on the world stage.
How bright is the future for Welsh cycling? Who should we be looking out for? We have a lot of talented youngsters coming through the system. The Commonwealth Games team includes a large number of riders in their late teens and early twenties which is very encouraging. We have developed programmes at the younger age groups to help us identify and nurture the next generation of successful Welsh cyclists so hopefully our success will continue.
To find out more about what supplements USN offer click here.