Having left behind a successful career, Swiss cross-country mountain biker Christoph Sauser spoke about his cycling story, achievements and Sakarya 2020.
How is retirement going after a successful 20-year cycling career?
Christoph Sauser: I’m retired, but I keep working. Moreover, I continue cycling and compete for the Specialized Racing Team. In a sense, I’m still on the road. In addition to cycling, I’m trying to explore new abilities and embark upon new experiences. I’m also getting into the coffee business. I went to Colombia, the first country that comes to mind for coffee, and I have made very good contacts for my new occupation. I’m trying to learn the tricks of the trade and how to make really good coffee. Yet this new endeavour is not exactly what makes me happy. What makes me really happy is that I can still ride.
Going back to the beginning, can we hear about how you first started cycling?
Christoph Sauser: When I was a child, I used to go to school with my bike. Moreover, I grew up in a family that loves sports. I have been involved in various sports such as roller hockey, soccer, wrestling and skiing. At the time, the bike was only a means of transportation. When I was 13, when I got my first mountain bike, it wasn’t difficult to adapt. When I found out about the idea of off-road and my potential in downhill, I was very excited. Since I had been engaged in competitive sports for a long time, it was natural for me to think and wonder about mountain bikes in this sense. In 1991, there was a big mountain bike race called Grand Raid Cristalp in Switzerland. It seemed pretty fun for my first mountain bike race. I was very excited by the experience of going on a beautiful journey in the Alps with many racers. Encouraged by a friend, I applied for a racing license and started racing in the 1993 season as a member of the Parkpre team. Everything went perfectly that year. As a matter of fact, I continued the next five years of my career with the same team. Another dream of mine came true in 1998 when I signed a contract with the international Diamondback team. That year I also won the U23 European Championship. Following this success, I received an offer at the end of the season from Volvo-Cannondale, the world’s number one team. We did great things with this team until 2003. Then, as you know, I got retired.
Since you have witnessed the developments in mountain biking over many years, how do you evaluate the change in terms of both the bikers and the equipment?
Christoph Sauser: There has been a significant change. The bicycle industry is quite innovative; therefore, it constantly develops or produces something new. Rim width, brakes, bike weight, larger handlebars... Everything has changed. For years, I competed on aluminium bicycles using aluminium equipment. At that time, it was thought to be the best, but now almost everything is carbon because of the light weight of the material. Moreover, while racers used triple chain ring combinations in the past, now they are racing with one front gear and 12 rear gears. Of course, the equipment has changed with the athletes.
Your expertise in mountain biking is undoubtedly marathons. What do you think are the most important criteria for marathon success?
Christoph Sauser: First of all, marathons are long and challenging; sometimes you have to climb almost 4 or 5 kilometres. Above all, this requires good mental and physical strength. You must also know your race course. Depending on the course, you need to decide upon your speed and technique. Of course, good technique and motivation are also very important.
Did you ever compete in a race in Turkey during your career?
Christoph Sauser: Yes, I did. I competed at the Tour of Cappadocia, a part of the UCI Europe Tour. It was a truly beautiful and special place. It still holds a special place in my memories. In terms of sport, it remains one of the most unforgettable races of my career. It was a place with a very special culture, but it was very hot and we had a really hard race.
As you know, the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships will take place in Sakarya, Turkey. What does a world championship mean for a cyclist?
Christoph Sauser: First of all, it is a major success. The meaning of that championship jersey is very special. It is certainly a huge motivation.
You’ve won the world championship three times in marathons and two times in cross country. What does a world championship mean for a professional cyclist?
Christoph Sauser: It changes everything; but even if I was a world champion only once, I would still like to make sure that I had a good race. Being a world champion is of course very important; it is very valuable to receive that title and recognition.
What are your thoughts on the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships, which will take place in Sakarya?
Christoph Sauser: I’ve never been to Sakarya before, but it seems like a good choice for the world championship. Sakarya is a very convenient area for cycling. It is also a big, developing city. I’m sure that this will be a great event. It will be an interesting championship on a challenging course.
As an experienced athlete who has seen many world championships; what constitutes a really good world championship?
Christoph Sauser: First of all, it’s essential that the teams and cyclists are welcomed. This is always forgotten, but it’s a point worth considering. A warm welcome creates a pleasant impression for the participants who come to a place they don’t know. In addition, advertising and promotion should be done well. The organization should be fun and meet expectations. Of course, another necessity is a well-held podium ceremony and a good host. The audience is also critical. A bustling atmosphere and a good ambiance are a must for these events.
What would you recommend to Turkish athletes who start mountain biking or want to start mountain biking?
Christoph Sauser: First of all, the most important thing is to be consistent and keep continuity. At first, you will make a lot of mistakes and maybe even want to quit. But it’s important that you continue without putting too much pressure on yourself. You should keep in mind that this isn’t a profession, but a passion. Expecting to be perfect is the biggest mistake. For example, I was engaged in many sports at a very young age and started cycling later on. I made many mistakes and learned a lot from them. You have to make mistakes. You should go over your weaknesses and not hesitate to make mistakes.