Roadie meets roadie as former professional road cycling great Magnus ‘Big Maggy’ Bäckstedt goes on a sit down with Phil Jones, Managing Director of Brother UK – over a coffee and a slice of cake, naturally.
Before we get into that, we’ve heard the café Phil and Magnus stopped at took unusually high orders of flat whites after their mammoth catch up, so you’ll need time to get up to speed. Did you read about our support of The Tour this year? That’s the Pearl Izumi Tour Series, Aviva Women’s Tour and Tour of Britain.
As well as being the official results, print and imaging partner of all three events, we’ve been doing some serious social media-ing and even given out a trophy or two at the Pearl Izumi Tour Series. Even Jon Mould, who set a new event record of 11 individual wins, tweeted he wished he’d got his hands on one of our 10 shiny Brother Fastest Lap trophies.
All caught up now? Back to the one-on-one. Phil and Magnus talk switching sports at elite level, the Tour de France, making it happen at Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Britain.
PJ – Phil Jones
MB – Magnus Bäckstedt
PJ - We all know you as a professional road cyclist and commentator but you actually started out as a skier and competed nationally. It seems to be becoming more common for athletes to move from one sport to another at elite level – Emma Pooley’s move from cycling to endurance running, and back again, springs to mind - why the switch for you? Would you say aspects are the same in any sport?
MB – My parents were downhill skiers, so I hit the slopes when I was very young. From the age of three, in fact! I was about 12 when a good friend of mine suggested I take up cycling to complement my downhill skiing, and I did both for a long time. There was no conscious decision to focus on one sport though. I had a big crash on my skis and was going really well on the bike so I knew it was time to go for that.
Going back to Emma Pooley, and other athletes who make a switch in their sporting careers, all I can say is this - if you’re an exceptional athlete in one sport, it’s more than likely you’ll be just as good in another. You have the talent, commitment and understand what it takes to apply yourself.
PJ – We’re on the tail end of the road season now, but we have to talk about the Tour de France. In your view, was there a particular revelation or did the jerseys go to the riders you’d expect? Would you say Froome is one of the most successful stage-racing riders in the recent era? Is it all about the data to win a Grand Tour in this modern era or are we missing the sheer capability of riders like Merckx?
MB – For me, there were no big shocks when it came to the jerseys. Some might argue Adam Yates’s performance was a bit of a revelation, but I wouldn’t say so. He’s a Yates and it was going to happen to him or his brother sooner or later. Brits are doing amazingly on the road.
Chris Froome is right up there with the stage-racing greats, there’s no doubt about that. There are only a few riders capable of doing what he has done. He’s won a number of stage races but it will be interesting to see how well he prepares himself for the next one.
Who knows what Merckx could have done if he’d had access to the data riders have at their fingertips nowadays. But data or not, one has to be meticulous when it comes to preparation. When you’re an extremely talented rider to start off with, like Froome, and have that mix of raw talent and are able to use applications available to you, you will end up with the best results. Chris and Team Sky are at the forefront of that.
PJ - Speaking about the Tour de France, we also have to talk about your achievements in the race. You were riding with GAN in 1998 when you won the 19th stage between La Chaux-de-Fonds and Autun if I remember correctly. How did you make it happen?
MB – It was a morning breakaway and I was in a group of 13. There were some fast sprinters in the mix so I knew I had to play the game right. We kept on working for the last 25km – boy did we work – then that group of 13 went down to four. I sat back on the back of four man group until the time was right and just went. It wasn’t easy, but I had the legs.
PJ - You won Paris-Roubaix in 2004, one of the hardest of the one day Classics. What specific preparation did you undertake for this race in terms of technical equipment and race strategy?
MB – I’d been taking a few calculated gambles, but I was well into the season so knew what to use. My tyres, my frame – everything had come together by then. I was on 27mm or 28mm tyres and everyone was calling me crazy! It worked for me and paid off in a big way.
PJ - What elements of your training over the years would you say could be replicated by weekend riders?
MB – One thing that will take you massively forward is threshold interval training. It should be the bread and butter. You should aim to maintain somewhere between 80% and 90% of your power output for 20 minutes, then take a rest.
PJ - You’re now coaching a team of younger riders, what’s your thinking behind this project?
MB – I want to give them as much of my experience as I can. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some incredible coaches in the past and gained some knowledge on the technical side of things, so it’s about passing that on. I think it’s important to know what’s on the other side of the Channel too. Not everyone is going to turn pro, but life experiences will stand them in good stead in whatever they do in life.
PJ - You’ve been hit with a few injuries/periods of ill health over the last couple of years. How have you coped and what’s your advice for others facing the same thing?
MB – It’s a problem we all face at some time in life and it’s easy to focus on the negatives. Digging yourself into a hole and thinking about how long it will take you to get better is very easy to do. It took me a while to figure this out, but the downtime is a good opportunity to focus on other aspects of your life. Making sure things are 100% means you’ll be more efficient after your injury.
PJ - You’ve raced the Tour of Britain and you’ve been a commentator since 2013. It’s the biggest race of the year in the UK. Would you say it’s one of your favourite domestic races of the season?
MB – I have a soft spot for the Tour of Britain as that’s how I finished my career. It’s the one race where all the big teams come over so it’s definitely my favourite. There’s such a feel-good factor in the country when it’s on too.
PJ - There were only three spots up for grabs at this year’s Tour of Britain to British UCI Continental teams after Owain Doull’s podium place last year secured a place for Team Wiggins in 2016. We kicked off our sponsorship of The Tour at the Pearl Izumi Tour Series a few months ago and were really blown away by the talent. What gave teams wanting those final places the edge?
MB – It’s how you race, which you races you take part in abroad and how you perform. Performance is a huge thing. It’s not just about participating, but doing well.
PJ - You’ve raced, coached and now do triathlons. What’s next for you?
MB – I raced my last triathlon at the end of last season. My focus is now purely on helping to develop young riders – 15 and 16 year-olds. The plan is to give them four solid years of experience in Europe for them to move onto the bigger teams by the time they get to U23 level.
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