We interview young star of the keirin, current World Champion Nicky Degrendele from Belgium.
As Six Days kicks off in Ghent, Belgium this week – it makes perfect sense!
You are so young, yet already so successful; when and how did you start?
I started on track at the end of 2011. I had done 2 races on the road earlier that year. In my first race girls crashed in front of me and so I crashed as well, breaking my elbow; resulting in me never doing road racing again! Track on the other hand, I did like. In October I started training with some kind of “learning how to ride the track” group and only 3 months later I became u/17 Belgian champion in the sprint -> that was the start of my career. Then I got invited to train with the national junior team and started doing European sprint and keirin races. It all went very fast!
You broke through straight into the elite ranks, what has been your secret to success?
There’s not really a secret to success, I just did my own thing. My first year as an elite was really hard and there was a brief moment I thought of stopping because I wasn’t winning. In December of 2015, the Belgian federation and I made the decision to work towards a bigger and better goal, and they sent me off to the WCC in Switzerland for me to grow as a rider again.
How does it feel to be world champion?
I had a very hard time believing that I was actually the world champion. It is something you work towards but what do you do when you become a world champion? I took me a while but I do know that I want to be on that top step again and I want to wear the jersey longer! For now, I’m enjoying it, and not pressuring myself in to anything yet.
You come from the mecca of cycling and home to some of the greatest cyclist of all time, Belgium, What is track sprinting like there?
Track sprinting is completely the opposite end to road cycling based on popularity. We had a few good sprinters a long time ago, and it may have been a bit more popular then, but sadly the attention hasn’t been as big for track as it is for the road. The current track group, myself included, are doing a great job trying to get more attention to track. For example: Jolien D’hoore’s Olympic bronze medal, and last year’s world title in Madison with Lotte Kopecky, Kenny Deketele and Robbe Ghys with their European Madison title, and me with the Keirin world title all have helped.
Are there any young sprinters coming through the ranks who could join you for the team sprint in 2020?
I think that for the 2020 Olympics it’s best for me to focus just on sprint and Keirin as I am the only woman on track in my country. If there is a potential rider then there is a possibility we can work towards 2024 Paris Olympics.
Your favourite event is the keirin, why do you like it so much?
Keirin requires speed, skill, tactics and guts. I love everything about it. There’s not really a specific reason, I just love it!
You also spent some time racing the Japanese professional keirin, how was that?
Japan was a great experience. Looking back I had a fantastic time. I met a lot of great people, got to know a whole different culture and got to race keirins. The country was amazing and beautiful, a lot different to Belgium. It wasn’t only good as an athlete, but also as a person. Being away from home for that long was a challenge because it’s not just a 10 hour drive with the car to go home if you miss your family, it’s the other side of the planet so you can’t just go back and forth for a little visit. Looking back now I wish I enjoyed it even more with less distraction! If I’d have the opportunity to go back, I definitely would!
Tell us something that we wouldn’t know about you?
I’m very much of a family person, I love to be around people and to get to know new people yet I can also be by myself for a while, and I love to discover new places. I’m currently in Gstaad, Switzerland having a coffee & answering this email! You can definitely find me at the ocean, a pool or a lake in summer. If I could I’d go snowboarding every winter. I’m an animal lover, that awkward person that will always pet the dogs first before introducing myself to someone. When I’m struggling with something I prefer to go walking by the ocean with the dogs or I call my mum, my sister or my bestfriends.
Where do you get your motivation from:
My motivation comes from what I have achieved in the past few years of racing. To me it means there is so much more for me to accomplish and that I want to do it. I love racing, I love the focus of it and the feeling it gives me. That moment on the start line of “now is the moment to bring what you have been training for!”
What is a typical training day for you?
It may vary to what training is on schedule that day. I usually have my first alarm at about 7am to eventually get out of bed at 7:30am or 7:45am, I’m a snoozer & I can’t help it! I have breakfast in my room or at the WCC at 8am. Gym training starts at 9:30am to 11am or 11:30am, and lunch at 12. Then there’s time for a little sit down after lunch, mainly movie time or catch up with family. Roller warm up and track session starts from 2pm to 5pm, dinner at 6pm and then I’m off after that.
What are your goals for the future?
It’s obvious that I want to be ready by worlds to defend my rainbow stripes “stripey” jersey. That’s the main goal for this season! Then it’s to Tokyo 2020.
What are your plans leading up to your defence of your title next year, and towards Tokyo 2020?
The next 4 World cups are on my program. Basically it will be training, training and training!!
Do you have any advice for other sprinters out there?
I would say to enjoy it! If it makes you happy and you enjoy it, keep doing it as long as you’re able to.
Interview by Matthew de Freitas
Co-founder and director at BLS