Espoir Education Program
Imagine you have aerobic talent and a nice collection of junior trophies sitting proud on the shelf beside the TV. You are committed, and not overly fussed on homework, as your hands would rather be holding a copy of Procycling than Advanced Algebra. You dream of being a professional cyclist.
This is a super ambition. A life choice of depth and determination, that no matter how far down the line your talent takes you- towards your goal of winning Milan-San Remo, key life skills of hard work, organisation and self motivation must be developed and surpassed, before a single one of those trophies are collected.
Like all dreams, reality can be a tough integration. To succeed even partially in our wonderful sport, demands total dedication. A young cyclist must devote the years where his friends are at university or learning a trade, to the saddle; learning and perfecting the art of riding a bicycle.. fast.
There are well over 100,000 young riders with this dream all over the world, but there is only one Peter Segan, two Quintanas and a very few hundred earning a wage to honour the sacrifice that warrants the commitment. The elation of the club race win feeds dreams, of crossing a line with a million watching- rather than just your mum.
A problem occurs with these dreams of the 100,000. Regardless of the growth in the sport, there is only a limited availability of jobs for the aspirational. As of 2015 there are 1050 professionals including WorldTour Teams and ProContinental. And about 2600 cyclist riding at Continental level. Of these, I have been informed that well under half, are getting paid a living wage.
Therein emerges the problem- young riders are putting everything into their dreams of becoming a professional cyclist, because it takes total commitment. Total commitment. In the vast majority of cases, when it doesn’t work out- What is a 24 year old to do when it doesn’t end in a wage?
Speaking to a young rider who had recently finished his cycling career, I was amazed at the depth of knowledge obtained in the 6 years since leaving school. A life in the peloton had taught him and matured him with honour. I heard him speak familiar phrases from his mentor, converse at length about the human energy systems and stand with confidence infant of crowded room, unfazed. Super skills gained from a life in the saddle, but he would stand empty in the pile in a job hunt.
Rather than leave eduction completely, in the long, long evenings a young rider has in a development team there is loads of opportunity to learn and gain some qualifications and experience that will stand to the rider once the wheels stop turning. These don’t need to be academic drudgery, but ‘Blended learning’ where the athlete can use experience gained in the saddle and using online assignments, relate that knowledge to a dedicated learning structure.
In initial talks where I proposed the possibility of an Espoir Education Program, Garrett Duffy of DKIT, (A progressive third level education establishment) and Kevin Howard, a Senior Lecturer, who also has a talented, cyclist son, were not only keen, but open and willing on the idea. DKIT could create an accredited, distance learning course, with zero entry requirements. Each season- 7 months, a rider could study to pass a structured level of knowledge, split into practical, mentor/coach assessment and online written test. Each year the young athlete would learn gain specific knowledge about how his body is working and the business around him, making him a better rider.
After a foundation year, 3 seasons, 3 levels of an accredited qualification earned, a rider would have attained enough for university entrance or to fill the qualification and experience section on a job application. 5 years, One single hour in the evening, not lost on twitter, a young rider could hang up his wheels with a full qualification and a future.
Teams that sign a rider for their lung capacity, employ doctors to look after their short term health, I think they should also have an interest in their long term future after the end of a cycling career.
The study courses in physical therapy or coaching, mechanics or biology, travelling or languages, would not only improve the riders base knowledge of their own body- but coupled with the experience gained during a period as a full time rider, build a foundation for life, post cycling, successful or not.
The course fee could be around €1,000 per rider, per level and could be sponsored by federations, teams, Velon, UCI, CPA or the market place, but is essential for our sport to offer a duty of care to it’s next generation. The UCI should back a compulsory enrolment in an education system for all young riders. Colm Connelly, an e-learning specialist at DKIT was open and encouraging. The basic bones of the course are already available through modules taught in their Undergraduate courses. Existing modules in their Sports, medical, arts and computing departments could be combined. It would be a matter of assimilating them into a package beneficial to the rider to provide a future pathway. As the course would be distance learning it would be open to ALL young riders globally, regardless of nationality or language.
A talented rider is only a bad crash or illness away from a blank future. This education program would not only give hope, but direction and stability to a riders future.
Garrett Duffy was confident that DKIT could have the course in place for 2017.
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