Meet Martijn: bridging science and practice
As a coach of our cycling team AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step, it's my pleasure to share my story about my role within the team and the philosophy that guides my approach as a coach.
I became involved with the cycling team through a direct connection with Natascha and, indirectly, the team itself, providing advice on training and testing. My background as a sports scientist at Bakala Academy in Leuven has always fascinated me. While theory was intriguing, the translation of theory into practice intrigued me even more. When the opportunity arose to work as a coach, I didn't hesitate for long. Finally, I could bridge the gap between science and practice, an area I believe still holds much untapped potential.
In my role as a coach within our cycling team, my primary responsibilities and tasks are diverse. My main task is guiding 10 female riders within the team. I also provide advice to other riders when necessary. Furthermore, I play a vital role in collaborating with the team management, especially in areas like season scheduling and race periodization. Additionally, due to my background as a scientist, I'm in charge of overseeing the use of performance-enhancing supplements.
Collaboration is key to success in my role as a coach. Although I set the training plan, input from others is crucial. This includes the race calendar and team goals from the management, medical guidance from the team doctor, and nutrition advice from a sports dietitian. Scheduling regular meetings with riders, team management, and the doctor is essential to ensure a multidisciplinary approach. I believe this approach extracts the best from both the riders and the team.
My coaching philosophy and approach have evolved over the years. While it's too extensive to detail here, some core principles guide me. One principle is that a 'happy athlete equals a happy coach.' I also place great importance on a holistic approach, viewing everything as a whole rather than separate parts. I consider mental aspects as crucial as, if not more important than, physical aspects. Looking back on my approach over the years, I take pride in always centering the athlete, giving them control, introducing structure into the training process, and maintaining constant communication.
In preparation for important races or the season, I attempt to divide training into different phases, each with its own focus. This includes a phase where general training units take precedence, followed by a period where specific race-related training units are prioritized. The cycle concludes with a period where training load is reduced. The duration of each phase depends on the season's timing. For instance, during the winter season, the initial general preparation phase is significantly longer than when building up to the national championships during the race season.
Handling the individual needs and goals of riders, given their varying levels of experience and skills, is a complex task. As emphasized earlier, the athlete always remains central. We work from their current situation and the attributes required for their target races. A thoughtful plan is crafted based on their level, skills, and objectives. These plans are continually adjusted based on progress in training, race performances, and ongoing discussions.
As a coach in a cycling team, I face specific challenges. The biggest challenge lies in the myriad factors influencing a rider's process and performance. Therefore, communication is vital, and I pay great attention to meticulously monitoring this aspect.
The most rewarding aspect of my role as a coach is undoubtedly the smile on a rider's face when she achieves her personal goals. Systematically working towards these goals and overcoming obstacles together is an ongoing challenge, but it provides a deep sense of satisfaction when success is achieved.
Throughout my time as a coach, I've experienced several highlights and memorable moments. Personal achievements at the Dutch Championships in Elspeet or the European Championships on the VAM-berg are among my highlights. Equally, I can always relish coaching someone to their personal best time trial in events like the Baloise Ladies Tour or Simac Ladies Tour. I must admit that these moments evoked emotions in me, more than I ever expected. What makes these highlights special for me is not just the success itself but particularly the process leading up to it.
My goals and ambitions as a coach within the team for the future are centered on the continuous development of individual riders and the team as a whole, with a focus on physiological progress. I strive for riders to keep improving on various fronts. My primary goal is to translate scientific insights into practice, even when these two worlds sometimes clash.
My typical workday as a coach varies and is not bound by fixed hours. I believe that as a coach, you should always be available for your riders, at least 95% of the time. A standard day usually consists of three parts. In the morning, from 8 to 12 o'clock, I work on training plans, discuss schedules, and have contact with riders about their training. Then, I make time for a sporting activity or relaxation. In the afternoon, from 3 p.m. until around 8 p.m., I review the day's training and have discussions with riders, especially those who train in the morning or are still attending school.
To keep my knowledge and skills as a coach up-to-date and stay informed about the latest developments in cycling, I read at least one scientific article daily, which I access through the internet with the advantage of having access to existing literature due to my work at KU Leuven. Additionally, I attend at least two or three conferences annually on topics related to cycling. Lastly, my most significant source of information is the Exercise Physiology research group at KU Leuven, which is exclusively focused on research and often possesses information before it becomes public knowledge.
Outside my role as a coach, I have a passion for Italy, where I enjoy the Italian cuisine, preferably with a Gin-Tonic on a charming terrace. Furthermore, I find it enjoyable to occasionally visit a motor racing circuit as a welcome diversion from the world of cycling.