The skiers in the Swiss Alps were more than a little surprised to see Ulises and Isiaka on their bikes. â€śWe were skidding on the climb,â€ť chuckles Ulises. â€śGoing down, we couldnâ€™t feel our hands or our feet due to the cold.â€ť Isiaka adds: â€śIt was the first time Iâ€™d seen snow.â€ť Unsurprisingly, the training session turned into a snowball fight between the two young riders.
However it is inside the World Cycling Centre (WCC), in the warmth of the velodrome and the gym, where the athletes have been training since arriving in Aigle at the beginning of February.
â€śThis year, the Centre is taking in the road trainees a month earlier than usual,â€ť explains Jean-Jacques Henry, coach and sports director. â€śThis means that the riders can already undertake specific strength work that they do not benefit from at home.â€ť
For the moment, only Isiaka Cisse (CĂ´te dâ€™Ivoire) and Ulises Castillo (Mexico) have joined the WCC quarters. The rest of the 2013 group should arrive between now and Spring, depending on their individual competition schedules and the agreements with their National Federations.
Isiaka, 22, may have lost 30 degrees when he left his country, but he has found more favourable training conditions. â€śAt home, I donâ€™t ride as well as I do here,â€ť he said.
After going back to the CĂ´te dâ€™Ivoire in October, Isiaka had a monthâ€™s rest and spent two weeks with his family before returning to competition in the UCI Africa Tour: Tour du Faso and the Continental Championships (9th in the road race and 12th in the time trial), followed by the Tropicale Amissa Bongo- Tour du Gabon (7th overall) in January.
â€śI obtained these good results because I learned a lot in 2012 at the World Cycling Centre. Thatâ€™s why I wanted to come back as early as possible this year. I want to keep progressing.
As for Ulises Castillo, he did not race this winter. After a two-week rest he started with some jogging, gym and then cycling along the flat and windy seaside roads of Los Mochis-Sinala.
â€śI could have ridden at home in February, but the WCC coaches proposed that I come back earlier and itâ€™s a good idea,â€ť he said. â€śI finished last season very tired. Now my training schedule is monitored from the beginning to the end of the year.
When the roads freeze over around Aigle, Ulises enjoys riding on the WCC velodrome. It reminds him of his Pan-American Juniors title in the Madison. On the other hand, Isiaka had never ventured onto a velodrome. But he is looking forward to the experience, and maybe also to discovering the art of cross-country skiing.
From February 13th to 22nd, the two trainees will train in the sun in Salamanque, Spain, hometown of their coach Alejandro Gonzalez. The return to competition in Europe is planned for March 3rd in France: the Prix du Printemps, in MontbĂ©liard.
Isiaka and Ulises will then aim for the U23 UCI Nations Cup and, why not, entry into professional cycling in 2014. Their winter at the WCC should help them in that quest.