Last Sunday was a day to remember for local cycling fans, as they gathered at the Tseung Kwan O velodrome to watch the Hong Kong national team compete in the UCI Track Cycling World Cup.
While home favourites like Sarah Lee Wai-sze and Ceci Lee Sze-wing stole the show, spectators couldn’t help but notice another skilled elite rider: Harrie Lavreysen of the Netherlands.
It was hard for the crowd to take their eyes off Lavreysen when he entered the track in the men’s sprint race, as the 22-year-old was wearing the distinctive rainbow jersey that signified his position as the reigning world champion.
Lavreysen lived up to that title at the Hong Kong leg of the series – where he won his first ever international medals – defeating fellow Dutch rider Jeffrey Hoogland 2-0 in the best-of-three finals.
Speaking to Young Post after the race, Lavreysen admitted the sprint had been the toughest of the season, as he’d been feeling unwell earlier that morning.
Still, he managed to remain undefeated all the way through the preliminary and knock-out rounds to win his third straight gold of the season, which only kicked off a month ago.
“This is my last world cup before the World Championships in February. I’ve gained enough points for the Olympic ranking, so I can finally go home and take a one-week break,” he said.
Lavreysen is one of the youngest track cycling champions in the world, but what makes him even more exceptional was his fairytale run to success.
The Dutch rider only began his professional career in track cycling in 2015. Before that, he had been an up-and-coming BMX rider since the age of six, topping the podium at the national and European championships on several occasions.
However, BMX is known to be one of the most dangerous Olympic events, and the talented rider suffered from serious shoulder injuries which got worse over time.
Eventually, he had to undergo four surgeries to fix both shoulders, which had been dislocated many times in brutal crashes.
Although the injuries were not life-threatening, he knew his body could not take any more severe injuries.
With a heavy heart, Lavreysen, who was 18 at the time, decided to end his BMX career. But because he was not ready to completely abandon his life on wheels, the then teenager hopped on a track bike instead.
“It was so weird to go from being a BMX pro to an amateur track cyclist,” Lavreysen recalled. “I didn’t know what I was doing and I felt really stupid.”
He had a rough time in the beginning, having to adjust to an entirely different cycling discipline. But thanks to the bike skills and fitness he acquired from years of BMX training, together with the support of the Netherlands national team, he quickly found his feet.
His favourite events are the sprint and keirin, because both races require not only speed and stamina, but also good tactics.
Lavreysen described the process of drawing up a game plan with his team as “scientific work”, because he believes the team’s success – currently ranked no. 1 in the world in the men’s team sprint – comes from trial and error.
“We always work on the details to get better and experiment with new techniques,” he said.
“I also enjoy thinking about the tactics for sprint and keirin; that’s where I find my passion for track cycling,” he added.
Within just four years, Lavreysen has already climbed to the top of the world. Reflecting on the most crucial moments in his career, the Dutchman says each World Championships he has taken part in has become a milestone. The rider mentions in particular his maiden appearance on the world stage in Hong Kong, where he earned those first international elite track cycling medals at the Worlds held in the city in 2017.
“Before winning the two silver medals in Hong Kong, I hadn’t won anything. That was how my career took off. From there, it just got better and better,” he said.
And what comes next for the decorated cyclist? He hopes to repeat his victory in the men’s sprint at the World Championships in Berlin, Germany, so that he can shine on another big stage – the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“After a rest, we will make a grand plan for the Worlds: I want to join both the individual and team sprint event at the Olympics.” Given his record, we’re pretty sure that will happen.