2020 has been a challenging one and the situations faced during the past year have been unique and a tough hurdle to jump. However, now that the year is almost in the books, we wanted to look back to, not only the what but also the how our 2020 season went down.
Our 2020 in numbers.
30 Racing Days (80 in 2019)
5 different countries (10 in 2019)
3 Stage Races (10 in 2019)
11 Race Wins (28 in 2019)
49 Top 10 (109 in 2019)
7 UCI Wins (18 in 2019)
3 Graduated Riders (6 in 2019)
We can not classify 2020 as a typical racing season. A regular U23 racing season includes at least 50-60 high-level racing days, but unfortunately for most riders, last season was ‘poor’ with only 15-30 racing days.
The riders managed to race at the beginning of the season for only 2-3 weeks and then due to the Covid-19, a long period of 4-5 months without races followed. The most important U23 races were canceled and we faced an unprecedented situation.
In this very delicate category, where the main goal is the progressive development of the young riders, the lack of the most important races and all the uncertainty about their future affected them a lot, both at their performance and psychological levels.
It was very demanding for our Performance Staff to keep the riders motivated and convince them to keep working hard for an unsecured racing future but in the end, was worth the effort on both sides and the performance results were positive.
We started our season with the typical medical checks and lab tests to evaluate initially our rider’s physical condition and performance. After the riders spent the first training weeks in their home countries, in January we organized our first training camp in Greece. Our goals were to bring the riders together, build that teamwork spirit, and add enough training volume to their legs.
Once the camp was done, some riders stayed in Greece to make the most of the terrain and weather while others decided to head back home for some weeks. In mid-February, we had our second training camp were the goals this time around were the quality and intensity of training in order to bring the riders at the first races in very good shape.
Before our team got on with the road racing season, we already had our first major success. Our Corbin Strong claimed the World Points Race title in the track championships in Berlin with a stellar performance, just one day after taking New Zealand’s flag all the way to the second spot on the podium in the Team Pursuit. Shortly after that, all the work done during the training camp paid off with a flying start of our road season. Our opener, Ster van Zwolle, featured our first win of the season in the likes of David Dekker, who also won in Dorpenomloop Rucphen a week later after placing third in Le Samyn. However, David was not the only rider that got out of the training camp in fine form. Jordi Meeus was a key player to the two early-season wins while winning himself as well in Wanzele Koerse (with Jesper Rasch in third). The high-level of the team was exemplified in the Dorpenomloop Rucphen win, as we took the lead of the race as a unit, sticking to our plan and delivering the designated sprinter to the win.
However, shortly after that, the Covid-19 pandemic hit our sport, which forced us to reinvent ourselves before we could be back on the road. That led to the creation of the SEG eRacing Academy which featured a tailor-made program for our talents on Zwift, which was followed by the U23 SEG eRacing Series, which hosted the first-ever U23 eRacing stage race.
Next to creating our own competition, we aslo joined forces with Tacx to create the SEG Performance Challange. It consisted on tackling three world-famous climbs like the Puig Major, the Galibier and the Alpe d’Huez. It was aimed to everyone, but with a special reward towards U23 riders, as our coaches analyzed the best-performing files in order to pick one winner who could one of our training camps.
The comeback to the road racing scene was done in a similar style as our season opener. After the first taste in our partner’s race, GP Vermarc, and a week-long training camp in the Limburg area in which we were joined by SEG Performance Challenge winner, Matthijs Loman, we went back to winning ways at Czech Tour. Jordi Meeus won back-to-back sprint stages against a WorldTour field and claimed the points jersey, while Marco Frigo showed his potential by climbing by the best in the closing stage. The great shape and success of our riders at the beginning of the second part of the season, caught the eye of the national coaches and five of our talents were called up by their national teams for the U23 European Championships in Plouay. Daan Hoole took eighth in the TT while Jordi Meeus proved himself as one of the fastest sprinters in the bunch, but it only accounted for seventh in the day as the breakaway stayed ahead.
It was Jordi Meeus again who scored a stage win at the Giro d’Italia U23 after coming close to the win in two stages before that, and shortly after it was Wessel Krul who claimed the win in the opening stage of the Ronde de l’Isard and wore the first leader’s jersey. We kept the streak going all the way until the end of the season, with Stan van Tricht winning the third round of the Arden Challenge as well as the GP Neerijs, the latter just one day after helping teammate Jordi Meeus, claiming the U23 Belgian National title.
All in all, we scored 11 wins in just 30 racing days throughout 2020.
Training guidance and eRacing
It was a very difficult and insecure period not only because nobody could say when the racing season would start but also because it was impossible for some riders to train outdoors (as our U23 Italian champion Marco Frigo) or with others riders. Keeping the riders trained and motivated in order to continue their performance development was a big challenge for our Performance Staff. We tried to keep in touch with weekly Zoom meetings and educational scientific webinars not only to enforce their knowledge but also to keep them motivated and the team spirit high. Training wise we had all the time to build a long cycle with all the necessary points with the goal to continue their development. An effective addition in combination with outdoor training was the virtual races (like the above-mentioned Tacx Performance Challenge and SEG eRacing U23 Series) which gave our riders some extra racing intensity and kept their ‘hunger’ and motivation high.
These events were an alternative type of competition with high intensities and they played an important role in maintaining some important physical characteristics at a high level. Most of the eRaces last 30-60 minutes are very intense and have the same characteristics as a short criterium/circuit race or a climbing finish. They are also a safe way for our riders to compete and work as teammates, implementing tactics and strategies like they would in real life races.
At the end of this cycle, which was built with several training blocks, we planned field tests to evaluate again their performance and the results were very positive.
Finally, a few days before the re-start of the racing season in August, we scheduled a training camp in Limburg with the goal to bring the riders together and give them the final tune-up. There we finalized the preparations with different types of training sessions, including some efforts in the short steep climbs of the area as well as TTT training.
We know that performing well in an organization like ours will catch the eye of the top teams in the sport. And that’s what David Dekker and Jordi Meeus experienced, as both riders will be racing at WorldTour level next year with Jumbo Visma and Bora-Hansgrohe respectively. Both sprinters joined Thymen Arensman, who left the Academy at the end of June to Team Sunweb, as our three graduates of the 2020 class.
However, the WorldTour teams do not only have eyes for our riders, they are also following closely our staff. Aike Visbeek joined our program as Academy Director in early 2020 but such an incredible season despite all the setbacks in terms of racing and calendar, brought some attention. That’s why, Intermarché Wanty Gobert, showed interest in bringing him onboard as they kick off their WorldTour journey in 2021.