Alan Banaszek is only 19-years old, but has already shined on the professional stage. He’s mental approach is unique for such a young rider, as he always shows up at the start with the winning mindset and is not afraid of anyone. We talked to European Junior Champion from 2015 about his first year as a pro.
First year in U23 category for you is in the books. How was it – as hard as you had predicted?
Honestly I didn’t analyze it that way. As a junior I was competing against top riders in my category in the world championships, European championships in which I took gold or in the Nations Cup races. Because of that the step up to the professional peloton was not that overwhelming. I did similar preparation for the season as other teammates and I trained almost the same way as they did.
You claimed you first U23 victory quite early, as you won the stage at Carpathian Couriers Race. Tell us about it.
We really wanted to do well in this race. We knew what we want to achieve and we knew that stage 1 suits me perfectly. My teammates did an outstanding job of leading me out and I just finished off their work. The atmosphere on the team was great, because the day after my win, Michał Paluta did the same. We could go back home from the race satisfied.
During Mazovia Tour you would often finish in the top 5. What do you think prevented you from taking a win?
Lack of experience and I was not at my peak at that time. Initially I was not selected as the team leader for the race, but stage 1 didn’t play out the way we had planned and we had to change our strategy. We couldn’t find each other in the finale and since I was positioned in the front I decided to go for it. It resulted in 3rd place. On the next stages I finished 5th twice and eventually I completed the whole race in 6th place overall.
At the beginning of the season you stressed, that your main goal are the world championships in Qatar.
Yes, that was the race that I was aiming at. Everything was subordinated to it and to be at my best shape in the middle of October. I think that 10th place is not a bad result, although I believe I can do much better. I was poorly positioned for the sprint, but my legs were strong. It was a lesson for me and I gained a lot of experience that day. Maybe it was for the better. If I finished higher I wouldn’t have learnt anything and I wouldn’t have been aware of the mistakes I make.
You need to create your own luck. The more experience I gain the more luck I will have. Sprint is all about the routine and you have to do things automatically.
How did you prepare for the worlds and how did you manage to wait with your top shape so long into the season?
For some time I didn’t do high intensity training, so I don’t peak too early. In August I went to Zieleniec for a long training camp and afterwards I would polish my form by racing and doing specialized training. I knew what I had to work on and I focused on that.
I make my training plan by myself, with the help of my dad, who also used to race. We talk a lot about the data collected during my rides, my sensations and we analyze it. I learnt a lot when I was racing in younger categories. My dad would often consult my coaches and pick their brains.
I think that I know my body quite well and I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I know what kind of training stimulus I need. I am also aware that at some point I will have to start working with a personal coach. That is necessary to make another step in my development.
Where does you winning mindset come from? You don’t want to finish in the top 10, but you always aim higher.
After winning the European Junior Championships I became even more hungry for winning. Because of that victory high expectations occurred towards me, but it doesn’t bother me. I always approach every race with an open mindset – whatever happens, happens. I will put up the fight and we will see how it goes. I know my abilities and I know what I am capable of.
You have few races under your belt in which you competed against best professional riders. In HC German Sparkassen Münsterland Giro you finished 6th.
I like that race a lot. The course and the weather conditions suited me, although if it was more windy, I could have done even better. I felt strong, as it was only two weeks to the world championships. The finale favored classic specialists. With 10 kilometers to go the peloton consisted of around 150 riders, but in the end a small group was battling for the podium. By finishing with the strongest I showcased my sprint skills and also my abilities to perform in classic races.
Even though I’m quite good in bunch sprints, I don’t want to label myself as a sprinter. We will see where my cycling path will take me. Belgian one-day events, such as Ronde van Vlaanderen, are something that I think I could be good at one day.
After the worlds you took part in one more race, Abu Dhabi Tour. You had the opportunity to race against the top sprinters. For a rider that young, finishing alongside such names as Cavendish, Viviani or Nizzolo must be a great feeling.
Honestly I don’t pay attention to who am I sprinting next to. I just want to be first at the line. I have enormous respect for every rider in the bunch and riders like Mark Cavendish are people that I look up to, but it’s not a reason to give them more space in the sprint or something. We are all racing to win and this is how I approach cycling. I am a fighter and if I stood at the start thinking about taking a picture with another rider and not thinking how I am going to beat him, then I would lose the race before it even starts.
I think that my father has had big influence on my mental preparation. He is my mentor, my teacher and he taught me that I shouldn’t be scared and the only way to win is to take risk.
Which races are you aiming at in 2017?
I want to be valuable for the team in every race that I’m taking part in and if I get a chance to deliver good result I will do everything I can to take advantage of it.
I really want to do well in the world championships in Norway. I believe the course is good for me. It includes cobblestone sections and it should rain, which would work on my favor. It also features steep climb, but I think that if I’m well prepared I will be able to hold on with the best.
World championships on track is also something that I keep in mind. I would like to be a part of the pursuit team. It is very young and has huge potential to win big in the future.