As many as 18 Danish riders on the World Tour and 9 riders to start in the Tour de France 2019.
Danish cycling counts for 18 riders on the World Tour and 9 of them started the Tour de France in 2019.
Never before has Danish cycling had such a high level with so many strong riders who not only act as domestiques but influence the races and win major victories. While upcoming riders are waiting to take the next step on Danish and international continental and pro-continental teams.
What causes the boom of great young talents?
We’ve had a talk with the Danish Cycling Federation, Team ABC Junior and Magnus Cort, about what influence a Danish junior team, as Team ABC Junior, have for the talent development in Danish cycling.
The 'Bjarne Riis Effect' is not Enough
Former professional cyclists, and now commentator on TV2, Chris Anker Sørensen, attributes the ‘ Bjarne Riis effect’, that he started cycling back in the days. For him it was decisive, that a role model inspired him to start cycling.
With 18 role models at the highest level there should be a foundation for a golden future for Danish cycling in many years to come. But he also stresses the importance of long term talent work in clubs:
”An incredible good piece of work has been done in Denmark with the talents. The Danes have also been three steps ahead in the training methods. They are training more than, for example, Italian and Spanish riders, where there is not the same talent pool at all,” he says.
The long-term investment with the talented riders from the very first youth years is the cornerstone in the talent work for the Danish Cycling Federation.
”In general it is a question of very long term talent development, because riders peak late in their career” says Morten Anderson, Head of Communication in the Danish Cycling Federation.
The Development Starts in the Clubs During Their Youth
A long-term strategy focusing on the development of riders, where they doesn’t peak too early, requires that there is an established food chain, starting in the clubs while the riders are very young.
”Of course the biggest effort is done on the various teams in the everyday life. The Danish Cycling Federation provides a framework and recommendations, but there is no doubt about, that the fantastic evolution in the talent development is also due to an enormous effort in the clubs and at the teams,” says Morten Anderson.
Team ABC Junior, the junior team of Arbejdernes Bicycle Club (ABC), is a good example of one of those clubs, that is focused on the talent work with junior riders from early youth, so they get the best conditions to get all the way to a World Tour team. An exercise that requires the riders to stay motivated, and at the same time are tamed, so they don’t peak too early. A focal point for the Head of the Elite in the Danish Cycling Federation, Morten Bennekou, who is questioning short term ambitions:
” What can the Danish Cycling Federation do about it, if the riders are training too much at a too early age? What can the Danish Cycling Federation do about it, if the riders are focusing so much on their Powermeter, that it’s impossible for them to train with a normal, well-functioning Danish cycling club – where the retention in the cycling sport normally has its healthiest and strongest roots? What can the Danish Cycling Federation do if the riders are blindly focusing on short term goals? And what can they do about it, if the riders kill themselves in a mismatch on multiple disciplines? Well, we can do a lot! And we can start by doing what I am doing now – putting the discussions on the agenda. Just as we can have an official meaning. In the group of national coaches, we must hold each up to, that our ambitions do not become too short term, and that we are constantly focusing on the continuing step by step development,” writes Morten Bennekou in a blog post on the Danish Cycling Federation website.
Team ABC Junior Will Lead the Way With Strong Club Spirit
The cycling club ABC is in 2019 celebrating its 125th anniversary. Since the start April 14th 1894 ABC has cherished the welfare and social interaction of their members, who are licensed riders.
Since 2008, the club has been working intensively with talent development of the young riders. With a strong foundation that is based on the idea of a union, where everyone contributes to a holistic environment that is achieved through the elite’s involvement in the club’s activities like training, camps and trips in connection with national and international races, where members, of all ages and at all levels, participates.
”The club’s goal is to have licenced riders in all categories, but with a specific focus on the youth; U11-U17 (B&D), U19 (Junior) and the U23 part of the Elite Master (A/B category) where the goal is to be at national top level,” says Team ABC Junior’s manager, Anders Egehus and continues:
”The objective of the team is to develop riders riding as individual riders U11-U17 to ride as a team, including a better understanding of team dynamics and tactics. This is a focus during winter training camps and fine-tuned in season, when there is race experience to evaluate and learn from.”
A result of this work is 17-year-old Emil Scandorff Iwersen, who made his breakthrough in 2019 as first year junior by taking the overall victory in the UNO-X Junior Cup.
”Team ABC Junior is a team that allows me to develop as a rider. We learn to ride as a team and help each other, but it’s still possible to play your own chances in various races. It’s a team with a good moral and ”team spirit”, which gives results on the road. A team where everyone is equal,” says Emil Schandorff Iwersen and continues:
”I chose ABC because I could see, that they do things differently. The people behind the team are very committed to the team and the riders. The team has shown that you can reach the World Tour. Magnus Cort, for example, rode for ABC as a junior. He is now a professional and has won a stage in the world’s largest cycling race; Tour de France.”
The Danish junior champion in road cycling, Joshua Gudnitz, is also riding for TEAM ABC Junior, until he joins the continental team BHS Almeborg Bornholm for the 2020 season. Joshua talks about his experiences on TEAM ABC Junior:
”I’ve developed tremendously on this team. It’s a team which primary focus is to develop their riders and not just pick the best riders from other teams. It’s a very stable team, that teaches me to be a good rider – not only physically, but also tactically and mentally.”
Great Talent, Big Dreams
When Morten Bennekou from the Danish Cycling Federation points out the importance of a long-term strategy, it isn’t grabbed out of thin air. As he writes in his blog post:
”We can and must learn from the history. I have looked at the junior world champions from 2002 to 2016. And their stories after the Junior World Championships. 9 of the 15 junior world champions is now on the World Tour. The rest did not make it. 5 of the 15 riders have won World Tour races. The rest has not.”
In other words, it is very important to help the riders think long term, and take it one step at a time, if you don’t want them to top their career as juniors.
”We assess that many riders have the level to move on to a continental team, which is the next step. Some riders can also reach an even higher level, but everyone is at some point in their life, where a lot of things happen and they evolve fast,” says on Anders Egehus.
The riders seem to accept the approach. Joshua Gudnitz says:
”I see myself as a professional in 5 years, but I’m not in a hurry. I have a tremendous support, and I feel no pressure of going faster than I can keep up to. I’m going to be a senior next year, and I feel, that I will have the time and support I need on my new team BHS Almeborg Bornholm.”
Depending on the Danish Club Culture
Since a team like Team ABC Junior is not a professional venture with big investors that keeps the wheels turning, the team is heavily dependent on the club culture – the many volunteers, who is honoured to spend endless hours each week in helping the team.
“The management of the team consists of two leaders, Mathis and Patrick, and an administrative support in myself. It is Mathis and Patrick who is responsible for all the decisions in regards to performance. An important component is, that no parents are directly involved in the team. In addition to this, we utilize expertise and knowledge from other members of ABC. All efforts and activities are voluntary and unpaid,” explains Anders Egehus, there is an active rider in ABC himself, whose son Frederik is also riding on Team ABC Junior.
All the riders have a personal trainer. Either someone they’ve chosen for themselves or someone provided by the team. In general, the team is trying to make the team ”parental free”.
This approach is resource intensive, but necessary for the survival of the food chain of talents. That’s why it’s so important, that we cherish the existence of the clubs, otherwise an important link is wiped out. A food chain, in the case ABC alone has developed several great riders throughout history, where Magnus Cort is probably the most famous among the Danish cycling fans.
Magnus Cort states the importance of ABC in the development of his career:
”Team ABC Junior was my first team, and also the first year I rode with a focus on road cycling. I have therefore gained a lot of knowledge and experience from the team. They’ve certainly taught me a lot. There were some great people around the team, that affected that I kept my coach, Kristoffer G. Nielsen, when I became senior.”
A Food Chain Under Pressure
With both Emil Scholorff Iwersen and Joshua Gudnitz in the top of the Danish junior cycling it appears that the food chain is intact and continues to provide excellent riders. But it is a food chain based on voluntariness and enthusiasts. But when the club’s important revenue stream, the small races around the country, are put under an enormous pressure by large commercial organizations, which organizes huge events with thousands of participants, the economy of the clubs are staggering. That’s why sponsors like United Cycling is supporting Team ABC Junior.
Without the clubs, there’s no culture, no food chain and no Danes on the World Tour in 10 years.
About Team ABC Junior
Team ABC Junior is the cycling club Arbejdernes Bicykle Club’s elite venture, which consists of riders in the age group 17 to 19 years. Arbejdernes Bicykle Club is founded April 14th 1894 and is from Brønshøj north of Copenhagen. The team has been very dominant in the Danish UNO-X Cup in the 2019 season with overall victory for Emil Schandorff Iwersen, second place for Joshua Amos Gudnitz, who also became Danish champion, and with 5 riders in the top-10. The team is sponsored by United Cycling with Argon 18 bikes.
Text and Photos: Peter Ebro / United Cycling