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The corona crisis also has a major impact on the Team Jumbo-Visma Academy. For example, in its first season, the development team of the Academy sees its race calendar drastically reduced. And during the school clinics, so far about five thousand students have been introduced to the project and the race bike, while that would have been around twenty thousand students without the crisis. Robbert de Groot, head of the program, said this in a conversation with the podcast ‘In het Wiel’ on Sunday during the Team Jumbo-Visma eRace.
“The project is more than just the development team. It is much more than that”, De Groot explained, while his riders successfully competed against the World Tour riders of Team Jumbo-Visma during the virtual race. “It seems simple. Put some riders together and give them the same bike and jersey. But of course, it is nothing like that. The Team Jumbo-Visma Academy aims to get more young people to pick up cycling and it tries to realise this in close collaboration with schools and cycling associations. Around this time last year, we started the project. It was a long-held desire of the team to start a development program”, De Groot said.
“We have a strong desire to let the young cyclists such as the juniors, the 15 and 16 year olds and the youth categories join us as well”, De Groot continued. “This is to boost the talent pool of license holders. We have noticed that the number of licensees has been declining for a long time. If that talent pool dries up, at some point you will have nothing to fish from. Then it becomes difficult to keep the development team and program for the long-term. We want to prevent this.”
The development team currently consists of thirteen riders. “We guide and train these guys over a longer period of time”, De Groot continued his story. “To see if any of these guys can make the step to our professional team. We got off to a good start this year with four wins: two by Olav Kooij in Croatia and the national titles by Finn Fisher-Black. The joint activities with the World Tour team are also paying off. You can see this in our eCompetition, in which these guys are not losing out on the professionals. That is very good to see, they also like it very much and it is very motivating.”
"It was a long-held desire of the team to start a development program."
De Groot: “Our plan is based on two pillars: training and growth. This means that the Academy includes an incentive program with schools, associations, the development team and, for a few, perhaps our World Tour team. This plan was devised from within our organisation in the best interest of Dutch cycling in general and not out of self-interest. The focus in our plan isn’t only on boys, but also on girls. We visit schools and we try to make them enthusiastic about cycling with the aim that they eventually join a cycling club in their area. It’s not all about road cycling. Our focus is on the entire sport: mountain biking, cyclocross, BMX, et cetera. The idea is that cycling will become popular again within the younger generation and that we will see some growth from people who are enthusiastic and want to start riding their bike.”
Important themes, such as the rising health costs, the increase in obesity among young people and the decrease in sports and bicycle participation among young people in the Netherlands, underpin the Academy, which can be considered a successor to the Rabobank Cycling Plan. But there are differences, De Groot emphasises in the conversation with In het Wiel. “In the Rabobank Cycling Plan at the time we had ‘thick tire races’ and the so-called RAP days. And everything in between. This is very similar to that. Though I think that the insights and knowledge we have now with regard to talent development have changed compared to then. So we give it a new boost and dimension. The goal remains the same: motivate young people to get on their bikes.”
Since the founding of the Team Jumbo-Visma Academy, clinics have been organised in collaboration with local cycling clubs at various secondary schools throughout the Netherlands for students aged fifteen and older. “In addition, we are working with a number of cycling clubs to develop a method to bring the general functioning of these clubs to a higher level”, De Groot said.
"This project is a long-term plan. Talent development is a long-term project. The social involvement of our loyal sponsors is so great that they see and want this project to succeed."
“This is all delayed due to the corona crisis, but the aim remains to get a lot of people on bicycles through our school project. We will continue to visit schools with our organisation as soon as this is possible again. We kind of take over their gym classes and give them a bicycle training instead. It actually happens in the same way as we do within the team now with the eCompetition and the workouts. We have now had about 5,000 youngsters on bicycles. That could have been twenty thousand without the corona crisis. That is a large group. We try to get a substantial part of them to join a cycling club. Our goal is to increase the number of members within the near future. That will take a while, but we want to contribute to that process in the upcoming years.”
Despite the corona crisis, De Groot sees a bright future. “This project is a long-term plan. That is really something that we have determined within our organisation. Talent development is a long-term project. You don’t train and acquire a top cyclist overnight. It takes a while. The social involvement of our loyal sponsors is so great that they see and want this project to succeed. Of course you hope that talented young riders develop faster than expected. But normally, when you talk about the talent development of 16 and 17-year-old boys and girls, it takes a few years before you see results in them stepping up to the professionals.”