Five Dutch sprinters squeezed in a van: Life behind the glamour of the Track Champions League

Now in its second year, the competition takes riders back to their early racing days

The four Track Champions League classification leaders on the podium in Mallorca
Mark Stewart, Jennifer Valente, Shanne Braspenninckx and Harrie Lavreysen in Mallorca.
(Image credit: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix)

On Thursday, Dutch duo Harrie Lavreysen and Shanne Braspennincx dialled into a UCI Track Champions League press conference from a lay-by. 

The two sprint league leaders sat shoulder-to-shoulder, cheerily answering questions from the world's media. Out of shot, Olympic gold medalist Jeffrey Hoogland waited patiently behind the steering wheel. 

For the Dutch sprinters, the competition brings with it a month-long road trip; five friends making their own way around Europe, from Mallorca to London, via Berlin and Paris. 

There are no chauffeurs, no lavished team trucks. Riders are left to fend for themselves at the Track Champions League, a series fought between individuals, rather than national federations. 

“We’re doing it as one team and we just help each other out,” said 11-time world champion Lavreysen. “We don’t have any coaches or staff with us.” 

Inside the track centre, the race bears a glitzy, showbiz sheen. But don’t be fooled by the expensive, dazzling lights, the competition is as old school as they come. 

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Mark Stewart, who won the scratch race at last weekend’s first round in Mallorca. With no team entourage, the Scotsman continued, all 72 athletes involved share just two mechanics between them.

“I think when you’re at the velodrome, it definitely helps create a sort of community atmosphere between the riders,” he said. “You feel like you’re kind of all in this together because I guess we’re putting on a show, aren’t we? It’s not the World Champs. It’s not the Olympics. This is entertainment.”

Racing in his competition debut, Stewart is travelling with his fiancée, New Zealander Emma Cumming, who is also on the event’s start list. “I feel like this is probably the most fun I’ll have riding a bike,” the British Madison champion said. 

“It almost feels like a really weird honeymoon of sorts. Four European cities over four weekends and racing our bikes. That’s probably the most exciting part of the whole series for me, doing it with Emma.”

For Olympic omnium champion Jennifer Valente, the series feels like a return to the early days of her career. “You’re changing your own gear, pumping your tyres, building and unbuilding your bike,” she said. 

“The first night [in Mallorca] felt a little bit like going to a local race because I was just there on my own, you know, carrying spare wheels, a bike, two track sacks, a backpack and water all in the velodrome all in one go.

“That kind of reminds me of going to the national championships when I was 17 or 18, and just kind of being there and self-sufficient.”

On Saturday, Lavreysen, Braspenninckx, Stewart and Valente will go into the event’s second round as the four classification leaders. 

“The goal is simply to be consistent and race your best in each individual race,” said Valente, "and if that ends up on top of the leaderboard, then that’s great.”

Coverage from Saturday’s racing inside the Berlin Velodrome starts at 17:30 GMT on Eurosport, GCN+ and Discovery+. 

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