If you’re not already familiar with them, allow us to introduce you to Merel and Laura Smulders. The Dutch sisters are the biggest thing in BMX right now, currently sitting at number one and ten in the world rankings, and recently joined the Wattbiker tribe.
Laura Smulders started riding BMX when she was six years old, after watching a race with her dad and brother. “I always liked being outside, playing sports and being with friends. [When I tried BMX] I just fell in love with it, I guess,” she says. “I just love everything about it. The speed, the adrenaline, the big jumps.”
After many years of hard work, Laura’s training paid off when she picked up a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Her career skyrocketed after that with a few European Championship titles before becoming world number one, but little sister Merel has always been hot on her heels.
“In 2004 I joined Laura [on a training session] and I loved it. After a month of riding, I took on my first ever World Championships in Valkenswaard. I love competing, it’s such a big adrenaline rush.”
A family affair
“Our family has always been very involved,” says Merel. “When we started our parents travelled pretty much everywhere with us. Dad’s our team manager, but mum gets too nervous to watch us race!”
Competing against your sibling might cause a few arguments at the dinner table, but the girls take it all within their stride and are quick to support each other.
“I think it’s very special to have my little sister racing BMX at such a high level,” Laura answers. “It’s cool to have her with me on any trip we make. But I don’t want to get beaten by her, so it pushes me to be a better racer,” she adds.
Merel agrees. “I really like having Laura as a training partner. One day I’d like to beat her, sooner rather than later of course,” she laughs, “but I think it’s awesome to be at the top level of sport and share it with your sister.”
Training with the Wattbike
The girls both enjoy sessions on the Wattbike as part of their training. “It’s a really good training tool, and it’s great for tracking our improvements over the year. In the winter we use it for endurance and recovery rides, and throughout the rest of the year, we do sprints to check our power output,” Laura states.
“With the Wattbike I try to get better numbers every time. On the BMX track - it depends on what kind of session we have - but I just like to be really smooth and effective around the track, and really fast out of the gate, so then I’ll look at times. I just love to improve myself in every aspect we train and put that together on my BMX bike and be a faster racer,” adds Laura.
BMX training differs considerably to training for a road race. “BMX is a sprint sport. It’s really short, mostly around 35 seconds of going all out. A real power explosion,” Merel notes. “But we have to be able to perform them multiple times a day, with approximately 30-minute breaks in between. You want to be able to be 100% recovered for the next effort. So we want our power output as high as possible, but also want to be able to get that same peak power output 6 to 8 times with a 30min break.
“To prepare for the full laps on the track before the season starts, we also use the Wattbike when the weather is not letting us outside. We do interval sprints to try and imitate a full lap on the track.”
Combined with hours spent strength training in the gym, the Wattbike helps the sisters transfer power to the BMX, and nail those all-important explosive starts out of the gate.
So what's next for the sisters, and indeed the sport itself?
“We have just had our World Championships so currently we are having a week off. Next week we are going back into training for the last two World Cup weekends in the USA and Argentina. It’s also exactly a year to the Olympics in Tokyo, so we are currently planning our training leading up to Japan next year, so we can make sure we’re in the best shape possible!” says Merel.
As BMX has surged in popularity, the Tokyo events schedule has grown. “We think it’s really cool they are having BMX Freestyle make its debut at the Tokyo Olympics. It’s been around for a long time, and they are getting more serious with their approach to their sport too. We saw the same thing happen in our sport since making our debut in 2008, and look where we are now. The sport has grown a lot, and we hope it will see a positive impact!”
The main goal for the year ahead? Merel is quick to answer. “Being the best we can be and improving ourselves in every way we can. The big dream is to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Games, together, of course!”
Want to train like a champion? Try your hand at one of Laura and Merel’s sprint workouts: