An interview with Bart Brentjens, team manager of Team CST Sandd Bafang about the postponement of the Olympic Games and the current situation in the professional MTB sport.
Your actual goal was Tokyo 2020, what work stands behind this goal?
Bart Brentjens: The Team has an ultimate goal every 4 years (from Olympic Games to Olympic Games). For this year that was to win a medal at Tokyo. This means there has been a long term plan behind it, working with riders and sponsors of the team together in order to reach this ultimate goal. Every year we have been working with smaller goals to reach eventually Tokyo qualification with our riders. Afterwards we focus on the process working towards the Olympic Race.
We have had the test race last year with some of our riders. This includes, collecting material for the track for our tire sponsor CST, checking out accommodation and logistics and record the official Olympic track. Very important information for the riders that were not able to go to the test event, but might have a chance for qualification. Also 2020 season planning towards this race for every rider for the 2020 season in cooperation with their trainers, communciation plan and special material for the 2020 Tokyo race is part of the preparation.
What does the lockdown mean for your plans? What needs to be changed and rescheduled now?
Bart Brentjens: We were right on track for 2020. Team training camp in south africa and first races were done in February and March. Sebastian Fini was in the US for some races, Yana Belomoina did some races in Spain and we had a team at the Cape Epic when the lockdown quickly came over the world and races were cancelled. No US races for Fini and no Cape Epic for the team. Yana travelled just in time from Spain to Slovenia, when the border closed the day after they passed Italy.
First action for the team was to get everybody home safely. Second care was the health of everybody. Mariske Strauss was tested positive for Covid19, but luckily had mild symptoms. When we heard from UCI that the lockdown for cycling events was up to July 1st, we knew we had to re-arrange the whole season. This includes the agreements with our riders and sponsors. Now or aim is to transfer 2020 to 2021 and hope that 2021 will not be too much influenced with the pandemic. We have worked hard with the current team and sponsors up to Tokyo2020, so we do our utmost best to get this team and group of sponsors together to Tokyo 2020(1).
Althought we have made a good new raceplan, every week there are some changes. We keep this in the back of our minds. But we need to have a plan and try to stick to that as much as possible.
Is there is also something positive with the move to 2021 for the Olympics?
Bart Brentjens: We think it is already positive that they did not cancel the event,yet. We are very happy that it is postponed and not cancelled. For some of our young riders the postponement can be positive, they will grow stronger every year and they have more change to qualify. It can also be good to have more time for development with some sponsors.
What are your new goals for 2020?
Bart Brentjens: Our new goals for 2020 are to keep everybody healthy in the first place. We will have a strong focus on the 4 Worldcups and the World Championships. But we also want to do as many races as possible and even try new events like Swiss Epic and the SIGMA Challenge.
How will this season differ from previous years?
Bart Brentjens: The timing is different. We will have World Cups in October, which are normally beginning in September. We will not be able to ride a full worldcup schedule, but we are lucky to have 4 World Cup races. Besides that, the planning for the riders will be different. They have had a break in a time when there is normally full time racing. They will need to prepare again in another time of the year.
What did the training look like during the lockdown?
Bart Brenjens: Our riders have done their basic training and some of them did a lot of races on Zwift, to keep the race spirit and speed. For Mariske it was more difficult because she was not allowed to train outside, so she did a lot of indoor training.
What’s the biggest challenge for the full and late race calender 2020, also with regards to the preparations for 2021?
Bart Brentjens: The biggest challenge is to be in good shape at the right timing. But that is like every season. Probably the weather conditions will be different and more challenging. Regarding preparations for 2021, it is necessary to take a good rest before preps start again for 2021.
Training in the Netherlands vs. South Africa, what’s the difference?
Bart: We have done a small training camp in the Netherlands with 5 of our riders. Mariske Strauss was not allowed to fly to Europe at that moment and Martins Blums was on altitude training in preparation for the Latvian National Championships (which he won!). It was good to see each other live and not over Zoom meetings. We talked over the upcoming restart of the race calendar, checked material and met some sponsors. You can not compare SA to Netherlands, but the training conditions in Watersley (south of netherlands) are very good and the weather was nice.