Peloton Watch
  Nicky Degrendele makes step up at Coupe de France Fenioux as she continues development  
  June 3rd 2016  
  Nicky Degrendele. Photo: Union Cycliste Internationale
  After claiming the junior World and European keirin titles in 2014, Nicky Degrendele made the immediate step up to the elite ranks in the 2014/15 season. Overnight Degrendele went from racing riders within a two year age group to World and Olympic Championships with more than a decade of experience on the young sprinter.

Degrendele raced all three World Cups in the 2014/15 season and then the 2015 World Championships but the difficulty of the challenge left her mentally and physically drained. The decision was made by the Royal Belgian Cycling League (Belgian Cycling Federation) for her to not contest the 2015/16 season in order to continue her development at UCI events and better prepare her to race at the highest level.

"It was very hard to accept that I wasn't good enough and I never wanted to feel that ever way again," explained Degrendele of the decision at the time but with an additional year of experience in her legs she now realises the decision has likely helped her development giving her a goal to chase to return.

Three weeks spent at the UCI World Cycling Centre in April is an experience that has helped Degrendele continue her development with a new perspective. In her first UCI competition of 2016 at the Coupe de France Fenioux, her 200m flying lap time of 11.284, was only marginally slower than her PB of 11.269, set at altitude in Guadalajara. Before finishing third in the keirin at the same event behind Hyejin Lee and Katy Marchant and ahead of Sandie Clair, Virginie Cueff, Lisandra Guerra and Tania Calvo.

With a renewed confidence Degrendele turns her attention to racing at Cottbus, Germany the first two weekends of June, a track she has had considerable success at as a junior. With a field including multiple world champion Kristina Vogel, junior world champion Emma Hinze and the national teams of France, New Zealand, Colombia and Italy it is certain to be another test for the 19 year old.

How did you first start cycling and how old were you?

I first started real track cycling in November 2011. I was 15 when I did my first track races and I knew pretty soon that I was not made for the endurance disciplines. I had already done one or two road races but I didn't like it at all. Shortly after, my dad took me to the track and I loved it from the beginning.

Junior world champion in the keirin in 2014 looking back what does it mean to you?

I have never been outspoken about being a World Champion as a junior. I always said 'the real stuff is when you can get those titles as an elite'. But if I look back now it is kind of a big thing. I had never realised that I was a world champion, the world's best in that discipline and I will probably never realise it but it does give me a good feeling now. It is a feeling that I want to relive again somewhere in the future.

Competed in all three World Cups in the 2014/15 season and then raced at the elite world championships in 2015 how did you find the step up from junior racing? What was the biggest challenge?

I had done all three World Cups and I think it was a very hard step going from junior to an elite. I went from being among the best girls of the world to one of the worst. After that season I felt really weak (mentally and physically). It was mentally very hard to realise that I had to work ten times as hard as I did when I was a junior, even if it would just get me through qualifications. Everyone told me that the first two years as an elite were to learn and to gain power and experience but I wanted more. More of everything!

Made the decision to focus on gaining more experience and didn't race during any of the 2015/16 World Cups do you feel that decision has better prepared you for racing at the top of the sport?

I did not make the decision not to race the World Cups last winter, my federation did. I wasn't good enough to qualify for sprint or keirin so they decided not to take me. At that moment I was very disappointed about not going because I always thought races like that helped me gain experience and speed. I was disappointed that not only I had to stay home and watch everything from a distance but also that I had been a world champion as a junior and I didn't even qualify for races with the elite women.

Right now I do think that it might have been better not to do the World Cups. It gave me a goal again. It was very hard to accept that I wasn't good enough and I never wanted to feel that ever way again.

Qualified in 11.284 at Coupe de France Fenioux just outside your PB from Guadalajara at altitude were you happy with the time?

I was very surprised with that time, surprised and happy, riding so close to my PB at sea level. The preparation hadn't been the best (because of an injury and a stay in the hospital in February) and I went to Paris being ill. I had been training hard for the past few months to gain my power and speed again and it was a great test before Euros in July.

Finished seventh racing against some of the best in the world how did the racing go for you?

I have never been very good in sprint so that made me pretty happy about the racing. At the beginning of the day I didn't even think I was going to get through to quarterfinals and the moment I did, I wanted more. I wanted to get to semis but I guess it's just a matter of hard work and patience to get where I want to be.

Backed up with third in the keirin what did it mean finishing on the podium in such a strong field?

The keirin has always been my favourite discipline. The speed gives you such an adrenaline boost that it keeps you going. I was surprised that I was the only girl under 20 years that made it into the top six. Going home with a third place was even better.

Coupe de France Fenioux Piste was your first UCI event of the 2016/17 season are you happy with where you are at heading in to next few months?

Yes, I am satisfied with the progress I have done over the past three months. Getting good results on the second race I did in six months was motivational. I am aiming for selection for Under 23 European Championships in July and I hope that I showed my coaches that I am worth selecting. It's still five and a half weeks to go to Euros and hopefully I can convince my federation to take me there.

Next up you are racing at Cottbus the first two weekends of June what are your ambitions there?

With a lot of stuff going on at school I just want to gain as much experience and power as I can. If I get that and I get good results I will be even happier but the results are extra. The main goal is gaining power, speed and a selection for Under 23 Euros.

You have had success at Cottbus before particularly as a junior how do you find racing on an outdoor track compared to indoor?

Lots of that depends on the track and most of all, the weather. I hate racing on an outdoor track if it's cold and rainy and windy but it's part of the preparation. Outdoor, concrete tracks make you gain a lot of power and I have done those races for over four years now but if I got to choose the races over one season, it would always be inside on a wooden track.

You have been training at the UCI World Cycling Centre this year how important has then been in your ongoing development?

I was in Aigle for three weeks in April and I think it was one of the best experiences I've had in a few years. It was good for me to be away from my track and to train in another environment. It was a mental boost being over there and to only concentrate on training, sleeping, resting and healthy eating. It was very much routine but I guess that's what I needed. For the first time in five years I felt like I was in the right place. I felt calm and peaceful only having to do those four aspects and to not constantly rush over to places like I always do in Belgium.
 © 2016