The Bakala Academy is the result of a long cooperation between KUL and the Omega Pharma Quick-Step Pro Cycling team owned by, among others, Czech businessman Zdenek Bakala, the main investor whose name was given to the centre. Since 2000, the team of Flemish cycling hero Tom Boonen and current world time-trial champion Tony Martin has been a client at the current centre for sports advice in Leuven that will be absorbed by the new Bakala Academy.
But the doors of the new centre will be open to all cycling teams and endurance athletes. At the research and test centre, there will be ultramodern facilities for triathletes, runners, rowers and kayakers, who will be able to receive advice on training, nutrition and aerodynamics.
“With the scientific expertise of the KUL, our academy should be internationally at the head of the pack of sport performance centres,” says Peter Hespel, sport physiologist and professor of the faculty of kinesiology and rehabilitation sciences. He will lead the research and test centre.
The know-how at Leuven will also benefit recreational athletes, who are welcome to come for guidance during their preparation for events such as the Tour of Flanders for cycle tourists or a marathon. “Just like the new technology developed for Formula 1 racing improves the cars we all drive around with,” says Hespel.
On the second floor of the Bakala Academy, above the research and test centre, athletes will be able to live and train for weeks at a simulated altitude of up to 4,000 metres. In the altitude centre, athletes are exposed to oxygen-poor air, which causes the body to produce more red blood cells, greatly impacting oxygen consumption and physical capacity. The centre has six guest rooms, plus recreational spaces like a sauna and fitness room.
The ambition of the Bakala Academy is to become an expertise centre with a reputation worldwide. “We want to organise annual international congresses on sports science to position ourselves as a global authority,” says Hespel. “Instead of just admiring institutions such as the Milan Lab of football club AC Milan and the renowned Australian Institute of Sport, we should also strive to make these top sport centres look up to us.”
He also hopes to discover cycling talent beyond the Belgian borders. “African countries, for example, are famous for their long-distance runners, but there must also be many talented African cyclists. An enormous world power such as China is a largely unexplored but promising market as well.”
The Bakala Academy will occupy around 1,000 square metres at KUL’s University Sport Centre in the Leuven district of Heverlee.