The track coach of the World Cycling Centre (WCC) is retiring at the end of the London Games. A former track and road Champion, and having coached in France for nearly thirty years, he looks back on his two years spent at the WCC.
What lessons are to be drawn from the performances of the trainees of the World Cycling Centre at the London Olympics?
The results are mixed. They are excellent for the older athletes like Victoria Pendleton (two gold medals) and Guo Shuang (two silver medals and one bronze). Among our current trainees, Lisandra Guerra produced a good performance. In the Individual Sprint, she moved up from 10th place in Beijing to 7th this year. She even nearly qualified for the semi-final. Bernard Esterhuizen did well too with an 11th place in the Individual Sprint, in a tough context. Our South-Corean athletes, on the other hand, were less successful. They found it hard to sustain the pressure, and were not in sync with the event. Just like tactics, the psychology of the athlete is subject to a lot of variations.
You are however satisfied with the preparation of the trainees. Can you tell us why?
They were ready physically. I noticed a very careful preparation on their part and a strong will to succeed. We didnâ€™t win a medal but the goal of getting the athletes to progress toward the highest level was attained.
These were your seventh Olympic Gamesâ€¦
When I went to Mexico in 1968, I was barely 20 years old and I was impressed by the atmosphere of concentration, and the intermixing with very famous personalities of track cycling, such as Daniel Morelon and Pierre Trentin [Jacky Mourioux finished 6th in the Team Pursuit â€“ Ed.]. The events were not broadcast on television as now, and we experienced a different kind of pressure than that of todayâ€™s athletes. I went back to the Games, in 1984, as a mechanic for the French team. In 1988, I began my career as a coach, first of all of the women, then the juniors, and finally the endurance group.
Why did you agree to work at the World Cycling Centre over these last two years?
When I was contacted in Summer 2010, I could have exercised my right to retirement. But this new function was a very interesting assignment. One of the WCC activities consisted of identifying young talents with whom you could then work. And I had for a long time been in charge of this activity with the French Cycling Federation, and it was actually within this framework that I met FrĂ©dĂ©ric MagnĂ©, the current Director, who as a Cadet was showing good potential on the track!
You have also worked as a coach on several continents. Is this a vocation?
From the 80s, the French Federation had assigned me to do training in China, Venezuela and Cameroon. However, very often the adventure only lasted about ten days, and then I had to train the national coaches rather than the athletes. The situation is therefore very different at the Centre. At the WCC, you have the time and the necessary tools to work. Itâ€™s a fantastic place for athletes and coaches to express themselves.
What do you like about the WCC concept?
The idea of helping athletes progress under optimum conditions. The trainees are totally dedicated to their training and gather everyday in the same location. You donâ€™t waste any energy negotiating with their respective teams. Once they are in Aigle with us, a close relationship is established and the work is intense and of high quality.
Are these unusual working conditions?
Yes, I must admit that in my whole career I have never worked in such excellent conditions.
Not all the trainees are at a level where they could get an Olympic gold medal.
Itâ€™s one of the principles at the World Cycling Centre: we donâ€™t work with the best world riders but with the best riders who need us. Our goal is to raise the level of each one of them. On this point we are satisfied. Last winter we managed to qualify for the Games all those (men and women) who were expected to compete! We couldnâ€™t afford to get it wrong. And we held on together.
You competed three times in the Tour de France but you are better known for your successes on the track, in particular in the Six Days. Were you a track cyclist committed to road racing ?
It was rather the opposite. I was labelled â€śtrack cyclistâ€ť but frankly I preferred road cycling. When my team manager enlisted me for the Tour de France for the first time, in 1973, it was a moment of pure happiness. As a coach, on the other hand, I preferred to work on the track. Itâ€™s the only place where you can permanently keep an eye on your athlete, accompany him every minute, make her stop to begin again more successively, and progressively correct every detail. Sometimes, it only takes a small movement of the rider, a slight variation in position, and the coach knows exactly what is happening. This is the type of relationship that I like, and what I experienced again for two years at the WCC, even if with a bit of English and a few words in Spanish it was not always possible to make myself understood in developing the most sophisticated tactics.
And what are you going to do now?
Gardening and going on bike rides. I will continue to follow the results of the competitions. I am still passionate about this sport!
Photo: Jacky Mourioux and Lisandra Guerra, Cuba's stagiaire.