RIDERS Q&A: Alana Castrique
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become apparent that some riders are struggling with motivation. Obviously, this is due to various different reasons and affecting people in different ways... whether it's the uncertainty of contracts for next year, not having the opportunities to race and showcase themselves this year, or just lacking the inspiration to get into some kit and out for a pedal. Because of this, we have decided to speak to some of the people we know to provide a small insight into their lives at this current time.
Hopefully, these regular (ish) Q&A's will provide you with not only that small bit of extra motivation, but an insight into the professional cycling scene and perhaps even some role models to look up to. We will be talking to an array of people... from ex-pro's, professional and semi-professional men and women cyclists as well as people who have worked in the cycling industry such as team managers, coaches, DS's etc to provide a unique and different outlook on things and provide an insight as to what it takes to get to the top level.
This weeks Q&A will be with U23 Belgian champion Alana Castrique - the girlfriend of Cobbled Coaching Coach Arne De Groote. She is a young (21 years) Belgian professional racing cyclist, who currently rides for UCI Women's Continental Team Lotto–Soudal Ladies.
Can you tell the readers a bit about you and where you are from? My name is Alana Castrique and I'm 21. I live in Ploegsteert, Belgium and race for Lotto-Soudal Ladies Team.
How have you found racing at a professional level? It’s very nice to get paid for your passion. But the nicest thing about the professional level is that I get nice equipment. I really realise that you are competing on a high level, because you get to work with physiotherapists, psychologists, trainers, etc… I love travelling and thanks to racing at this level, I’m able to see a lot of the world.
What is your favourite race on your calendar and is there one race that you have always wanted to do but never had the opportunity?
I really love races on cobblestones, at this moment my favourite race is the Le Samyn des Dames. As a kid, I already won the “Mini Paris-Roubaix", so I’m looking forward to ride the first edition of this race at the pro level. It will be probably my favourite race after that experience. The race I want to ride the most is Paris-Roubaix, more likely the 1st edition, but I would love to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen as well.
You have raced all over the world, what was your favourite country to race in? How would you describe cycling cultures in other countries compared to cycling in Belgium?
Norway, I was there for the World Championships 2017. It really depends on which country, but in Norway, cycling is more like one big holiday. From my experience the sport lives the most in Norway, followed by Belgium and France.
You race for Lotto Soudal Ladies Team, they have both men’s, women and U23, how does it feel to be part of something that supports all levels of cycling?
It feels good to be part of a team with structure, that wants to develop women, men and U23 cyclists. It also opens my eyes to see the big differences between men and women cycling.
How did it feel to represent Belgium? From the moment that you get the email/phone call, to crossing the finish line….
It’s always nice to represent your country at big events. It brings a bit of stress with it, but it’s always a nice adventure. It gives me extra confidence to keep working for my goals. In the races it’s not really different to other races for me. I want to give my best in every race I start.
Who are you racing for in 2021 and what are your goals and ambitions?
I will be riding my 4th year for Lotto-Soudal Ladies Team, my first goals are the Northern Classics (depending of the Covid-19 situation).
What kind of rider would you describe yourself as?
I describe myself more as a time trialist and classic rider, with still a lot of growing potential in my sprints.
How do you feel about the development of women’s cycling?
It’s going better and better every year, more attention, more races on television and there are a lot of people who keep watching the women races too. I hope it keeps evolving this way, and that one day, women cycling comes to the same level in every possible way, tennis is the right example for that. Every possible step that can be taken to make women cycling more attractive is a step that should be taken.
How important do you think development is? There is not really a specific category for U23 riders, do you think this affects who is at the top level in the long term?
I don’t really think it affects the people on top, but I do think it would be handful for a lot of U23 riders to have a category in between. For some riders this step is too big and they get demotivated because they can’t finish a race anymore. The biggest issue about self-development are the low price-moneys and wages. This makes U23-riders think it’s not worth to keep on cycling on a high level. So they put their studies in the 1st place and keep cycling as a hobby. They don’t develop themselves in cycling and they don’t get the 100% potential out of themselves. Due to this, a lot of talents get lost.
Why do you think that so many talented riders come out of the Netherlands? What do you think they do that other countries don’t…?
They ride as a team, they work together, they train together, and they push each other to higher levels. The national team of The Netherlands organises much more training camps. I think the government supports more their athletes. The best riders come from The Netherlands, so children have a lot of different women to look up to. This motivates young girls to start cycling.
Overall, women's cycling is just more popular in The Netherlands.
How is your diet? Does it differ between in and out of season? Is this something you struggle with?
Not really, out season I eat what I want to eat. Of course you have to keep it between the lines. This is not a big struggle. When a goal comes closer, I really eat healthy and no “bad things” as chocolate or fries.
How do you find motivation for those extra hard rides on rainy days, when you would rather stay in bed?
I don’t really ride outside on rainy days. In the winter I train on the MTB or on track (when it’s possible). But mostly I go for roller sessions when it rains, because I’m really susceptible for colds. During the roller sessions I put a really good motivational remix on that keeps me going.
What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
That I should wear arch supports. I struggled over 4 years with a knee injury that comes and goes. Now we finally found the problem.
What is your favourite training session?
Interval sessions where I have to go all-out on a hill and training sessions where I can hurt my boyfriend ;-)
What is your favourite cycling memory?
When I was 12, I became 2 time regional champion in the time trial and road race and I BEAT ALL THE BOYS!
What advice would you give a rider who was aspiring to be where you are?
Don’t ever let your studies/work down. It’s very important to have a plan B. When cycling doesn’t work out as you hoped it to work out, you still have something to fall back on. Cycling is also a mind-game, you have to surround yourself with good people that support you. Don’t give up during hard/difficult times, because in cycling there are more downs than ups. Keep working hard, and do it for yourself.
Do you see social media as a good or bad thing?
When you’re doing good, people are there for you and everyone is your friend. But in bad times, social media can be a really bad thing. Sometimes people can write hard things down. You are in a bad period and instead of supporting you like in the good times, they write things that can hurt you.
Can you see any problems in cycling these days?
These days the biggest problem in my eyes is that some team directors, use their powerful position, to abuse their riders. Also, there is still a big difference between men and women cycling, but that is slowly going to the right direction.
Alana has spoken about an array of points and issues within the cycling world... from injury to education to abuse of power and we think it is so important that people feel confident enough to talk about these things. Combining studies and professional cycling can be difficult, but it will always be worth it in the end. It takes a strong willed - motivated character to do it, and that is definitely what this girl is. Already 4 years with Lotto Soudal and only 21 years old... we can't wait to support and see her progress up the ranks in professional cycling.
Photo: Joerie De Connick Photography