As fans of cycling know already, for the next few days, all eyes are turning to Perth, which hosts the 2016 Gran Fondo World Championships organised by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). An international celebration of the sport of competitive cycling where amateurs and professionals alike compete to be crowned the World Champion and receive the coveted rainbow jersey, the event will bring cyclists from across the globe to Perth, in order to race the world-class courses on 1 and 4 September, 2016. The UCI Gran Fondo World Series is a set of 14 World Championship Races, organised throughout the world, from which are selected the athletes who will take part in the World Finals, provided they finish among the top 25 per cent of this category. It is a World Championship for Amateurs, which allows for any athlete carrying their respective cycling union card to take part, along with professional athletes.
Among the participants in Perth, one Greek name stands out: Loukas Katapodis.
Greek champion of Individual Time Trial (ITT) for two years in a row, Katopodis has been participating in bicycle racing since 1986, having raced with the Greek National Team 200 times. In 2009 he competed in the Masters category, continuing his remarkable path. He recently finished first in the three-day Bike Giro di Rodi which was part of the 2016 Rhodos Challenge. In Perth, he will take part in both the ITT, and the 156km race, taking place on 1 and 4 September, respectively. Before embarking on this journey, the Greek cycling master shared his story with Neos Kosmos.
What do you hope to achieve in the 2016 Gran Fondo Championships?
My goal is to manage to finish among the top six of the Finals, thus claiming one of the top three medals.
In what other events have you recently participated?
I won the Greek cup this year, as well as the Greek championship. Also the International Tour of Cyprus, and three World Cup races.
What does preparation for such an event include?
Preparation starts about a year before the World Finals. Practically, this means that I started getting ready for Perth a few days after last year’s World Championship in Denmark. Training is very demanding; it includes doing 600-700km per week, which amounts to 25-30 hours. On top of that, you spend more time cross training or in the gym. I usually try to train in areas with significant differences in height. The climate also plays a role to the rhythm and intensity of training.
What are the needs of an athlete who participates in such an event?
You need to have some people around to support you during the race, and provide for food and water. You also need someone along to inspect the route of the race. In Perth, the distance run will be 154km and for the ITT it is 20km. It is crucial for the athlete to know the route, before the race.
Do you have support from the Hellenic Cycling Federation?
The World Championships are part of the Hellenic Federation’s program of events, given that it is part of the UCI activities. However, due to its limited funding it cannot provide financial support to this mission. I am the only Greek athlete coming to Australia to take part in such an important race, and I had to seek private funding in order to cover for my expenses.
How would you describe your personal route in competitive cycling?
Ever since I started cycling, in 1986, I became part of the Greek National Team, gaining significant distinctions. It has not been an easy path. I had to overcome various setbacks, some related to exhaustion, or to mechanical problems, or even injuries and falls. I would always try to analyse what happened, in order to focus on the positive side of it, using it as an experience for the future, leaving the negative behind.
What does it mean to take part in bicycle racing in Greece today?
Cycling in Greece blossomed during the previous decade, in which we saw many achievements taking place. Unfortunately, lack of programming from the part of the State in addition to the financial crisis that has hit Greece for the last five years, leaves little room for the sport to develop.
Why would you suggest people take on cycling?
Cycling can be one of the best sports for all ages, as it enables you to enjoy nature without putting strain on your joints. It greatly improves the athlete’s aerobic capacity and effectively regulates metabolism. At the same time it fosters discipline to the athlete’s body and mindset.
Have you been to Australia before?
It is my first time to Australia and even that was only made possible in the last minute, due to financial strains. I’ve heard a lot of praise for the Greek Australians and I would like to have them on my side, so that I could get the moral boost needed in order to compete with strength and motivation; my secret urge is for the Greek anthem to be heard in this event.