Two wheels good, two skis better – the parallels between ski and cy – Roller
Mention cycling and winter in the same breath, and cold, wet memories flood your mind. Thank God for the turbo trainer, you might even notice. We have all dreamed of a long Alpine or Pyrenean ascent when the outside temperature is in double digits, the sky is blue and the daylight hours can be counted on both hands. But, despite the hope that we can, we cannot move on seasons.
However, dozens of professional cyclists are change the way they approach such mountainous terrain when winter sets in. While they usually ascend from the valley floor, it is now they who ski from the peaks, sculpting elegant lines in the blank white canvas. Same place, different sports.
Parallels between cycling and skiing have existed for decades, far from being limited to races taking advantage of ski resorts to reach the top. Some of the best bike riders had a background in skiing: three-time French university alpine skiing champion Jeannie Longo won 13 world road and track championships after switching to cycling, while teenage downhill and freestyle skier Greg LeMond won three editions of the Tour de France.
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The world of two-wheelers must also several key technological advances for winter sports. Revolutionary looking pedals, Lycra shorts, the concept behind aero handlebars and the current trend for wide and wide cycling glasses – all borrowed or copied from the ski.
In the 80s and 90s, some teams have organized winter training camps on the snow, using the slopes for exercise and team bonding. It has become increasingly rare: fearing injury, the best runners in the sport were urged to simply ride a bicycle. Maybe you put on a pair of running shoes a few times in the fall, but that’s it. Skis? Just high quality carbon fiber wasted in dangerous sport.
However, over the past decade, mentalities have changed. Inspired by the desire to break the monotony of winter training and the major assets of physical condition, the number of professional cyclists skiing has, if we allow ourselves the pun, snowball.
Tom Pidcock skies, snowboards and goes on family vacations to the Alps and Pyrenees most winters. His rival Mathieu van der Poel is also taking a ski vacation in Switzerland after the cyclo-cross season. But most cyclists turn to endurance disciplines, like cross-country skiing and ski touring, where the skier does all the work.
Marcus Burghardt, the domestic veteran of Bora-hansgrohe, tried ski touring for the first time in 2007. “It was Christmas and we climbed a local mountain, me with borrowed equipment,” he recalls fondly. . “My boots were way too big, my skis old, I was slipping, but I knew there were top beers and traditional Bavarian food. It was unbelievable. I loved being in real nature and it was so peaceful. I knew I wanted to do more.
He now owns seven pairs of skiss: “When I started, there were only a few in the peloton, maybe four or five. Now, for sure, you will find 40 or 50 in the WorldTour peloton doing ski touring. In Bora, I know ten of us.
Meanwhile, in their ranks, Jumbo-Visma alone has ex-slalom competitor Anna Henderson, former cross-country skier Sepp Kuss and, of course, Primož Roglič, former ski jumper and current winner of the Vuelta a España. Then there’s Trek-Segafredo’s Quinn Simmons, who finished third at the 2017 World Junior Ski Mountaineering Championships.
Several leading development teams across Europe and North America are actively interested in skiers, with the aim of encouraging the most talented to embark on a career on two wheels instead. “To be successful in cycling, you need to have good endurance values, such as VO2 max, tremendous efficiency and a big engine,” says Dan Lorang, head trainer at Bora-hansgrohe. “You also need technical skills in the peloton and the ability to descend with confidence. If you find a cross-country skier who brings all that, it makes sense to to put them on a bike and see how they behave.
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All forms of skiing are used as a reliable and reliable form of talent identification, not just endurance disciplines. “Alpine skiers don’t have the same endurance, but they bring coordination, a quick reaction time, that feeling of speed, a lot of relevant technical aspects,” explains Lorang. “You can use those skills and train them too. We need to look around and keep the door open for talent from different sports. “
Rally Cycling pro teen Magnus Sheffield, who broke the world junior individual pursuit record in 2020, competed in alpine skiing ahead of cycling. “Alpine taught me a lot about preparing and memorizing lessons,” he says. “Now when I do a time trial I remember every turn. I know very early on where everything is and that mental preparation gives you so much free space. This is a big advantage.
“I don’t know of any cyclist who has gone skiing, but I have a lot of friends who have done the opposite. he adds. “You can see the correlation.”
A pass coach of Sheffield and fellow American prospect Quinn Simmons on the LAX junior team in the United States, ex-pro cyclist Roy Knickman is well aware of crossbreeding potential: “What we are seeing are kids who are ski racers who use the bike for their dry terrain, who don’t train to ski and who are proving exceptional on a bike,” he said. “The trend is for a lot of exceptional talent from ski racing: downhill, slalom, moguls. When there is an athlete who catches our attention, or who is recommended to us, and has ski training, it is a yes from us because we have not yet seen someone from that background which was not special.
The next wave of skier-cyclists is approaching. Just four weeks after finishing second at the vertical racing ski mountaineering world championships in March, rookie cyclist Anton Palzer has joined Bora-hansgrohe, with German team manager Ralph Denk citing his exceptional VO2 max numbers. Elsewhere, Norwegian cross-country star Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, winner of three Olympic gold medals and six-time world champion, will join Norwegian second division team Uno-X in 2022 and Italian team Androni Giocattoli Sidermec have signed the cross of Spain. Winter Olympian country Martí Vigo del Arco.
Svein Tuft (Image: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)
Few athletes are better positioned to benefit from their experiences of both sports than Canada’s Svein Tuft. Before spending more than a decade in the pro peloton, he grew up on two skis. “There’s no question in my mind that teams should be looking at this form of talent identification,” he said. “As difficult as cycling at a certain level, what could be a more difficult sport? Cross-country skiing and ski touring at altitude. You incorporate every muscle, every part of the heart system, and I don’t think you can build a motor in a better way than cross-country skiers.
Although skiing was largely banned by teams in the 2000s, the former Orica-GreenEdge rider was able to convince his employers of the benefits. “One of the best seasons of my life was 2008 and that winter I barely touched my bike,” he says. “I did cross-country skiing and off-piste for three months. My time trial that year was one of my best ever and it was no surprise why.
There hasn’t always been such acceptance, and even encouragement, to ski in the wild. When Marcus Burghardt turned professional with T-Mobile [in 2004], it was not allowed. “It was written in the contract and there was no way to change your mind,” he said. “But then attitudes changed a bit and the teams became more open about it, realizing that there was room for different activities. “
The teams were also appeased by a greater awareness of the risk in snowy terrain of their charges. Professional cyclists, including Burghardt, have taken avalanche safety courses at their own expense. Many cyclists go on ski tours on incoming tracks or terrain, where the danger is lower.
Of course, two weeks cycling in Mallorca or Gran Canaria in January is more beneficial for a professional cyclist, but if a runner lives near the mountains – and it is rare to find one who does not live there – incorporate skiing into their winter programme makes as much sense as a hobbyist buying a winter bike; it’s not a prerequisite, but it’s so much better to do it. There is also the added benefit that skiing can give runners training at altitude.
Andorra-based Bahrain-Victorious rider Jack Haig said: “I went skiing four days the week before my first race of 2020, the Volta a Valenciana. I will be going at least three or four days a week during the winter months. It’s less daylight and cold, so I’m going to do two hours of turbo in the morning and three of ski mountaineering after. I’m going to recruit the same muscles as on the bike, so that makes sense.
Haig loves to ski and that gives him another option when it rains hard. Burghardt agrees: “It’s all about relaxation for me. It is the perfect way to be outside, there is no traffic, it is quiet and you can enjoy nature. It trains my body, but it helps me cope with a busy and stressful schedule.
So, what future for the flirtation of cycling with skiing? The big difference is to open the minds of coaches, managers and runners; that skiing is accepted as a mine of potential cycling talent in the traditional cycling world, rather than the odd skier who comes and goes to switch to cycling and excel.
Sure, we must not forget that almost all professional cyclists come to the WorldTour by traditional racing bike routes and not much else. But cycling will continue to spot winter sports, recruit them and no doubt become more and more intertwined.
Now, whenever it is difficult or undesirable for the cyclist to reach a ski resort by bike due to outdoor conditions, he has an even better solution than a virtual card on Zwift.
Two good wheels, two better skis are from Rouleur Issue 105, available for purchase here