Posted by Editor on 12/15/15
Last week, former Canadian champion and Olympian Zach Bell announced that he was launching the Parcours Institute, which would help younger road riders make the transition to the pro ranks. [see Daily News, December 9th - Zach Bell Founds Parcours Cycling for Pro Rider Certification]
We have now had a chance to talk with Zach about his new venture.
2013 National Road Champion
Canadian Cyclist: So, my first question is: What is Parcours?
Zach Bell: Basically, Parcours is a new way of looking at preparing for professional cycling. In the past you have had a lot of resources available to athletes that are centered around exercise physiology and and developing the wattage numbers you need to get to the professional ranks. That's great, and a huge and important piece of the puzzle, but the sport has been taken to a new level, and it requires a lot of other things.
For example, social media is a big part [of being a professional athlete] now, and there's complexities around the anti-doping process, how you foster a sponsorship relationship, and how that relationship changes from when you are in a grassroots position to when you move to a professional team, and what the expectations are of you as an athlete.
Parcours is basically a way of giving athletes all the pieces they can possibly have up front, before they enter the pro teams. So that when they do enter the pro teams, they aren't spending time learning about how to be a pro, and they can just go about being an excellent pro and an asset to their team.
2008 Beijing Olympics
CC: What made you decide to launch Parcours?
ZB: Throughout my career I was surrounded by a lot of professional athletes that had come through the sport the same way as I had, which involved being introduced to cycling through a second sport or had made their way through the club system. We had always had these conversations around how there were all these pieces that aren't being taught; particularly later in my career.
We were seeing these young athletes coming in that had the numbers [wattage], but they didn't have the other pieces, so they were really talented young guys and women who were washing out of teams who should have been able to excel, but couldn't because they didn't have the other skills that the teams needed, so they weren't enough of an asset.
I thought that was ridiculous; if somebody had the physiology and the ability, then these things shouldn't hold them back. So, I had conversations with a number of people and then this past year I began working on it because, you know, it's too important for the sport, particularly here in North America where it's struggling in terms of sponsorship and in terms of longevity. I think there needs to be a professionalism of the sport from the bottom up, and I think this is the way to do it.
CC: You are working with a number of teams; so is this program more of a partnership with the teams where they send new members, or do you expect to see athletes sign up of their own volition?
ZB: It's both. I think our focus in the long term is to have athletes come in before they get into the professional ranks, but right now there are a group of young athletes who have just recently signed with pro teams and may benefit from this.
I think in the long term we would like to see the majority of athletes moving to teams having these skills, and not needing the program once they are already signed. There has been a lot of interest from the teams; potentially having some of their athletes run through the program because it makes their [the team's] life easier. And that's why they are part of the partnership, because they want to see more professional athletes as part of their programs; that they have a more professional way about them.
CC: Your first program begins in late February, running about 10 days and with a cost of $4,000 [U.S.]. What does and doesn't it include?
ZB: First of all, it's actually five weeks - three sessions of 10 days. That's all included in the $4,000, the entire program. That's a pretty significant chunk of time, considering that most training camps are $2,000 a week in the U.S. We're trying to offer something that is available for young athletes.
If you are going to invest money going down south, to Tucson or California, you're probably going to invest two, to two and half thousand dollars in that trip anyway, so why not invest into something that's going to give you a certification and a credential that will allow you to be more recognized by professional teams in North America, that will give you another leg up in your steps towards being a pro.
What else is included in that is the housing; everybody in team-based type housing, and all the education-based pieces. All the support we are going to have on-site. Everything but the food, but we are going to create a strategy with athletes so it's not going to be going out to get your own restaurant food, so they can eat the way they would at home, although it will be prescribed a bit by our nutrition consultant.
So, it's almost everything included for the five weeks.
CC: Is it an actual training camp, with riding as well as the classroom type of stuff?
ZB: It's a balance. There's still going to be a very major training component; we are trying to set ourselves up in a situation where the camps will support the spring training, so what you would normally be doing when you went south is what you would be doing at these camps - a lot of base miles in the first phase, structured training around certain technical aspects in the second phase, and in the third phase set up towards a taper.
The training is going to be designed to prepare athletes to be ready for that Redlands [California races] time. Within the training there are going to be a lot of technical drills around things that you need to have when you are racing in a pack, using the caravan ... things that you don't encounter as an amateur. So there will be drills that are complementary with the training, so you learn on the bike as well. The difference is that we are going to be very organized around how we structure the other time outside of that, so athletes can get the most out of their time being there.
CC: How many athletes are you going to take?
ZB: Our target for the February camp is 16 in total, so we would like to have 8 men and 8 women; we want to have a balanced program. We will also have a mechanic and soigneur course, which will run in tandem with the athletes. It will have some of the better people in North America; John Adams [soigneur with Cannondale-Garmin, previously Spidertech] and Rick Barrow [mechanic with Spidertech, Optum, national team] are both excellent and are designing the courses for the staff training. Those will have two of each [soigneurs and mechanics], so 20 people total.
CC: And the cost is the same for those programs?
ZB: Yes. If people submit their application before December 23rd, then the early bird pricing for every package is $4,000. All of them provide the support and accommodation. The mechanics will have to bring a toolkit, and the soigneur possibly a table, but that's about it.
CC: Are there minimum criteria that people have to meet before they are accepted?
ZB: There are criteria; what we are trying to do is find athletes and staffers that are keen to participate - that's a big part of it - but mechanics need to have a basic shop proficiency; they have mechanical skills but not the experience of working with a pro team, for example. Because a lot of their training will be adjusting to that role, rather then the technical skills of, say, putting brake pads on or truing a wheel.
For the soigneurs they should have some training in massage therapy and post therapy techniques. Again, it's going to be getting them familiar with their role within the team.
For athletes, it's on a case-by-case basis. We are expecting they will loosely be between 18 to 25; we want young athletes that are a little bit new to the sport but have raced their way up to Cat. 2 level, so they're going to be able to handle the training load. That's going to be our primary concern.
If they are athletes coming across from another sport, and they have demonstrated the physiology based on testing then we might consider them. We want people that are taking it seriously and are trying to make that last step. So, we are talking riders who are maybe provincial team, or are heading towards the NextGen program, something like that.
CC: What's the interest been so far?
ZB: So far there has been some good interest. It's not the sort of thing you launch and then people phone the next day and put down a down payment!
But we've had some applications through already, and we've had a lot of interest around it from teams and associations. I think there are conversations that are happening on both sides of the border with state and provincial organizations, as well as the national organizations are interested.
We are really focussed on the pro side of things and we have the interest from them. We are trying to deliver athletes to the pro teams and this certification is one-of-a-kind. It is recognized by the pro teams, like a BMW certification would be recognized in the auto industry.
CC: So are the pro teams some of the ones sending you athletes?
ZB: Some are doing that. They're all playing with the idea right now. It's a bit of a learning curve, because there is a lot of information here. I think we'll have some athletes from some of the pro teams this year. Most of the [teams] we've aligned with have done a really good job of developing athletes in general, but there is always more room, especially for some of the smaller, younger teams, for us to help them.
A team like the Holowesko or the Axeon team, obviously they have their ducks in a row - which is a reason we want to align with them, because they've done such a good job. But not everyone gets a chance to be on those teams right away, so we are trying to provide an opportunity for those other athletes that may be right on the doorstep, that maybe got turned away and were told 'maybe you aren't quite ready'. This might be the way to get ready.
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