Bakala Academy plans elite centre for sport research and training at KU Leuven
Final preparations are underway for the construction of an ultramodern sports performance research and testing centre on KU Leuven’s University Sport Centre campus. The new centre is an initiative of the Bakala Academy, which was recently founded by Pro Cycling Holding and KU Leuven. It is envisioned as a world-class academy for innovation in sports, with particular emphasis on endurance sports such as cycling and triathlon.
For Professor Peter Hespel, who heads the Research and Testing Department at Bakala Academy, the centre is a dream come true: "For the last ten years, our Elite Sport Coaching and Support Centre within the Faculty of Kinesiology and Rehabilitation Sciences has built a strong reputation in providing guidance for top athletes, including the Omega Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team managed by Patrick Lefevere. He brought us into contact with Zdenek Bakala of Pro Cycling Holding, Bakala Academy’s lead investor and namesake."
"We now want to go a step further and offer top athletes every available form of testing and support, all grounded in scientific knowledge. The aim, of course, is to improve performance. The centre will specialise in cycling and triathlon, but we also want to broaden research to include other endurance sports, such as running. Additionally, we want to become an important focus point for talent detection and the development of young cyclists."
Sky is the limit
Construction will begin in June. "Facilities for endurance testing, body composition, aerodynamics, pedalling technique and bike positioning will be located on the ground floor,” says Hespel. “The top floor will have a 'high-altitude centre' – a low-oxygen unit with six guest rooms and ample living and recreation space in a simulated high-altitude environment. Top athletes will be able to stay there for a few weeks and simulate a cycling stage at an altitude of 4,000 metres. The exposure to hypoxic air helps stimulate the production of red blood cells and athletes won’t have to go abroad to train."
First and foremost, the centre is intended as a research and coaching centre for elite athletes seeking to improve their training strategies and performance, but recreational athletes will benefit from the facility as well, explains Hespel. “We want to be able to share our expertise with a wide range of clients, including recreational athletes preparing for a competition of some kind, be it the Tour of Flanders for cyclists or the Brussels 20K for runners. For us, this collaboration is very positive: we have worked with Flanders' elite athletes for some time, but now we will be able to operate at an international level."
Zdenek Bakala is also enthusiastic: “I am very pleased that we have been able to join with KU Leuven and develop what will be a magnificent sports research facility where Professor Hespel and his team will be able to pursue their pioneering work with professional athletes. Our objective is to create an academy of excellence to promote research and development and high-level education in cycling performance, as well as contribute to the development of sports within an international, cultural and economic perspective. The Academy’s work will be inspired by research and innovation,” Mr. Bakala said.