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Unsung heroes: Alena Amialiusik on swapping gymnastics for cycling, growing up in Belarus

Alena Amialiusik is one of the most respected domestiques in the women's peloton, but she has winning credentials with world and European titles.

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This article is part of a series on VeloNews, highlighting some of the unsung heroes of the women’s peloton. 

Alena Amialiusik knows the precise date she began her cycling journey, June 1, 2001.

She was 12 when she was given a chance to try out a bike during a celebration organized for Children’s Day in her native Belarus.

Amialiusik enjoyed gymnastics as a child, but the local teacher had left and she was ready for a new sport. She’d seen other children riding their bikes and she jumped at the opportunity to do the same.

“For four years I was doing rhythmic gymnastics. In Belarus, we have a program for children in sports schools, and you can do gymnastics, cycling, athletics, or whatever. The gymnastics place was not far away from cycling school,” Amialiusik told VeloNews.

Also read: Unsung heroes: Janneke Ensing on her love of food, becoming a nutritionist, retirement

“I was so interested in it, and I thought I would like to ride these bikes. I’m from a little town and my gymnastics teacher left our town so we didn’t have anybody else and the gymnastics group closed. I went to athletics, and I was running, but then there was this town competition where all sports were competing, and the cycling coach had seen me. He asked me ‘would you like to try the bike?’ I said of course and he said to come back the next day. So the next day came, and it was June 1, 2001.”

Amialiusik’s passion for cycling was well and truly lit on that day and she has not looked back, becoming one of the most respected domestiques in the women’s peloton. While she spends a lot of her time working for others, she has winning credentials and she is a former European road race champion, a world team time trial champion and she has won multiple national titles in the road race and time trial.

It is her team time trial title from 2018 in Innsbruck that holds a really special place in her heart, not least because she was almost not able to do it.

“For me, it’s very special because on August 7, I had surgery on my shoulder and I was not to go outside on the road for six weeks but in time of six weeks for my surgery we won the world championship [the TTT was held on September 23],” Amialiusik said.

“Three days after surgery, I jumped on the rollers and was training twice per day. I was selected for the world championships and it was very special for me. I had so much pain that I had tears in my eyes before but then it was just happiness, so I will remember this moment forever.”

Growing up and taking chances

The journey from nascent bike rider to world champion was not a simple one for Amialiusik and her quick return from injury is a demonstration of the grit and determination she built up in her adolescence.

Like many teenagers in Belarus, Amialiusik was given the choice to continue in a regular school or go to a sports school. Despite some concerns from her parents that her education would take a hit, she chose the sporting option and she moved more than 100 kilometers from her small town at just 15 years old.

“I could go home to visit my parents once per week. I think it makes you become more mature and more responsible for yourself because you have to think about yourself alone because your parents are quite far away and you need to take some responsibility,” Amialiusik said.

“At the beginning, it was hard to not see your family and to do everything by yourself. But now I know that it’s helped me so much to be a better professional cyclist, a better athlete, and a better person in general. Because all these situations create a good, hard character. I can survive many things.”

Road cycling is becoming more popular in Belarus, but there were few opportunities to shine for Amialiusik when she was growing up. However, her promise was enough that she earned selection for the European and world championships as a junior and U23 rider, putting her in the crosshairs of larger European teams.

Italian squad BePink gave her the big break she needed to kickstart her professional career in 2012 and she relocated herself from Belarus to Italy. During her three years with the team, she fell in love with the country and she decided to stay put when Canyon-SRAM’s Ronny Lauke signed her in 2015.

“We had a team house not far away from Bergamo,” she said. “When I signed with Ronnie Lauke, I decided to go to move to a different place, but I wanted to stay in Italy because, in past three years, I fell in love with Italy and Lake Iseo, and it is 50 kilometers from the place where I was staying before.”

“I enjoy every ride because there are so many roads which I can choose. I never get bored because I can do long climbs, then I can do flat, then I can do short and steep climbs. I’m always trying to find different destinations.”

Living in an area with such a beautiful backdrop allows Amialiusik to indulge in one of her hobbies when she has the chance, photography. During the 2020 pandemic lockdowns, she decided to take a course to develop her skills and now she’s using them to create some memories for herself and her family’s future generations.

“I like to do pictures of nature because I live in such a beautiful place, and I like to walk in town something beautiful but these pictures I think nobody can see [them because they are] only for me,” she said.

“Maybe I can show them later on to my children and my nephews to see where I have been. I’m doing like photo books because now it’s so easy to do them online and make your own. At the end of the season, do some photo books. It’s a good memory.”

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