School's in for Sascha
Joining a team with a social conscience meant Sascha Bondarenko didn’t have to choose between his passions.
Cyclist Sascha Bondarenko’s last race was just days ago and already he is sweating over his next challenge. Elite sport can be cut-throat and his membership of the Drapac EF Cannondale Holistic Development team hinges on results.
But for Sascha, an ACU student, his athletic prowess isn’t all his cycling team is interested in. What makes this team unique is that academic performance weighs just as heavily as race results.
Competing on the UCI Continental Circuit, just one tier below the professional world tour, Drapac riders are contracted based on the belief that “athletes are worth more than the medal hanging around their neck.”
“All endeavours should be viewed through a lens of social responsibility and sustainability,” team founder Michael Drapac said. “It is vital that developing cyclists also reach their potential off the bike to grow the foundations for success away from the sport.”
A holistic approach to elite sport
Embracing such a mission is a rare and refreshing philosophy in a sport that has, in the past, been centred on a ‘win at all costs’ approach.
Drapac recruitment is regarded as a scholarship for holistic development. In addition to the pursuit of success on two wheels, their riders must also be engaged in tertiary undergraduate degrees or a recognised industry apprenticeship.
“They made it very clear that, while it’s performance based, riding can’t overshadow study,” Sascha said. “The academic average across the team is a distinction so the standard is set pretty high.
Sascha and Australian cycling teammates at the 2018 World University Games in Portugal.
“The whole environment around the team supports that. If there are assignments or exams due, that takes priority over racing. Only a handful of people can make it in pro cycling. It’s a slim chance, so you have to have a backup.”
Sascha ticks every box on the Drapac checklist. The former triathlete is studying for a double degree in exercise science and business administration at ACU. He is also a member of ACU’s Elite Athlete and Performer Program which provides timetabling and other assistance for student athletes to help them in their quest for sporting and academic excellence.
Without such support, he would be unable to commit to the Continental tour that costs riders up to $12,000 for a six-week stint in Europe.
A late discovered passion
Sascha was a late convert to road cycling after competing in triathlon for most of his teenage years. He was part of Triathlon Victoria’s development program before relocating to Brisbane where he trained under Queensland state performance coach Warwick Dalziel.
Racing in Asia and Europe indicated Sascha was on track for a professional career in triathlon, but he was floored by chronic fatigue syndrome, forcing him to return to Melbourne and the support of his family.
“I wasn’t sure if I could compete at that level again, so I started riding just to get healthy,” he said.
That was four years ago. It was not long before Sascha tested his ability on the national road series and he is now back in training after racing at the 2018 World University Cycling Championship in Braga, Portugal, in August.
Lessons learnt riding with the Drapac team in Europe – Sascha was knocked unconscious in a race fall in Belgium – have encouraged the 24-year-old to continue his development as a cyclist.
“With cycling there’s so much to learn. It’s so tactical,” he said. “You can be the strongest rider in the field but finish last if you’re not smart. It’s a whole new game.”
Sascha Bondarenko is a member of ACU’s Elite Athlete and Performer Program. Keen to explore your study options? View our courses.