12 Nov, 2014

Cycling Career On Track


With big wins in Malaysia and Italy and having twice represented South Africa at the Junior World Championships, 18-year-old Joshua Buchel’s professional cycling career is looking good. Modern Cyclist chatted to this confident young cyclist about his life ambitions and found a young man with two feet firmly on the pedals.

“I am willing to sacrifice my entire life to become a pro cyclist.”

While he said this, Joshua oozed the sort of confidence and self-belief that you only see in successful people 10 years his senior.

“But I also know that I am not a leader,” he said, “because I don’t have the strength to be a leader like Louis Meintjies. Instead, I know and understand that I’ll be a worker.”

And it’s exactly here where Joshua’s major stumbling block lies.

“I can say that most of the junior level cyclists in South Africa now are workers. We are all good racers and good riders but none of us are leaders. So, for us to be noticed as workers for the top teams, it is difficult. How do you show a team that you are strong and can sit at the front of the bunch for hundreds of kilometres and not pop?”

But Joshua is a young cyclist with a plan.

“The only way to get a sponsor or a team to look at you is to win,” he said confidently, “and that is why I’ve actually gone onto the track.”

Even workers can win on the track, according to Joshua.

“On the track, there is always a chance to win. You can show your strength on the track and if teams see that you really are one of the top riders, then they would be happy to try you out on the road,” he explained.

When Joshua sends his CV to teams, he said that the first thing they want to know are the details of his track racing.

“They want to first find out my track times and what I can do on the track, even if they are looking at me for their road team,” he explained.

When Joshua joined Italian-based Feralpi, the first races he rode were on the track. Feralpi is a feeder team for Astana, which is the professional continental team that Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France champion, rides for.

“My very first race for them was on the track but unfortunately I crashed out, which was a real pity. But then they put me into a time trial, and I finished ninth. They were happy with that and then entered me into the Lombardian Regional Championships, which I was able to win,” he recalled.

Joshua cited the example of BMC’s Tejay van Garderen’s career, which started on the track, as someone who he would like to emulate.

“Tejay van Garderen won the individual pursuit at the World Junior Track Championships held in Bellville in 2002, and now he is a top road athlete,” he cited.

Tejay was the Best Young Rider (white jersey) in the 2012 Tour de France and won the Tour of California in 2013, and is considered to be one of the best riders in the pro continental peloton at the moment.

“In fact,” expanded Joshua, “90% of the professional road cycling peloton comes from the track. So I’m pretty much following in the footsteps of the great Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggens, Geraint Thomas who all did what I plan to do. And it worked for them, so why can’t it work for me?”

Joshua took the opportunity to air his view of track cycling in South Africa.

“Track cycling isn’t big in South Africa, simply because we don’t have enough velodromes. But it would be nice if more juniors could get themselves onto the track,” he explained.

By forming a good quality track team pursuit, Joshua believes that “they would become very close” and would get to know each other very well.

“Team pursuit is all about knowing your team mates, knowing the guy in front of you and knowing the guy behind you and, when this team transfers to the road, they’d really be a good road team,” he explained.

And his goals?

“There is nothing I want more than to be able to start the Paris Roubaix. That is everything I’m aiming for. That is my top goal. And maybe I’ll get there, and maybe I won’t, but I guess it is all up to training,” he said.

This pupil from St John’s College, Houghton, will ride in this year’s Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge and then focus on his matric examinations. At the beginning of next year, he plans to go over to Europe again and hopefully race for Feralpi in Italy, before moving to the United States.

“Although it isn’t finalised yet,” he explained, “I’m hopefully going to Mid-Western State University, or MSU [Wichita Falls, Texas], and it’s all because of my track cycling that I’m going there.”

While at MSU, Joshua hopes to concentrate on the Omnium event and hopes to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil. According to Wikipedia, the Omnium consists of six events including a one lap flying start time trial, a five kilometre scratch race, an elimination race – known as “the devil” – a four kilometre individual pursuit, a 15 kilometre points race and a one kilometre time trial. The winner is determined by the places each rider achieves converted into points and the rider with the fewest points wins the Omnium.

“I’ll also ask to be on their road team and I’ve already been told that should I go there, they’ll want to see if I can get onto a cyclocross bike too,” he said.

But how did this career begin?

“When I was 12, I was a really big kid. In fact, I weighed the same then as I weigh now and naturally played rugby. Then one day my dad said ‘enough’, and put me onto a tandem. We started cycling once a week and my dad has told me the first ride was a route of six kilometres and I cried the whole way!”

For the next two or three months, Joshua cried every day they were on the bike. Eventually, his dad Mark told him the cycling would continue until Argus.

“And after the Argus, my dad said I could give up, so I worked really hard for a year of training and I then did the Argus with him,” he said, “in fact, it was really cool because a photograph was taken of us and this was put into a magazine.”

True to his word, Mark then told Joshua that he could now do anything he wanted.

“I wanted to try singles, and I borrowed my mother’s ‘olden day’ Trek 1000 and rode that until I was under 16. My dad then made me another promise which was if I could beat him, he’d buy me my own bike. I eventually beat him, and he bought me my first bike for that year’s 94.7,” he recalled.

Cycling is so important to Joshua that he believes that he has to have a girlfriend that also cycles.

“I first met Michaela [Oliver] when we went to the Junior World Track Cycling Championships in Glasgow and she was also on our team. But because I flew all the way to Glasgow to race and to show the world that I know how to ride a bike properly, and certainly not to get a girlfriend, I only got to know her properly when we returned,” he stated.

Michaela and Joshua have since been “dating” for almost two years, however, this did not slow down Joshua’s cycling career at all. During August 2014, Joshua was part of a seven athlete squad that represented South Africa at the 2014 UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championships in Seoul, South Korea.

“Going to the world champs is what every cyclist goes for. There is nothing faster than being at the world champs. And there is nothing harder. At the end of the day, just to stand at that start line, wearing your South African colours, is a really spectacular feeling,” he said.

Joshua was part of the endurance squad, which also included Stefan de Bod, Waylin Young and Graeme Ockhuis.

“We rode a very good team pursuit, but unfortunately we just missed out on the South African record,” he explained, “but we can still compete, but we can’t win so that is difficult, and it keeps us aware and tells us that we do need to train harder. We do need to get faster and that is why we go overseas.”

Joshua competed in the team pursuit, the individual pursuit, the Madison and the Omnium in South Korea. In all he rode in nine events, a huge achievement for someone of his age and experience levels, considering that he has only competed “seriously” for the last three years. And that is what you get when you’re prepared to sacrifice your life.