Cycling, a lifetime of dedication

“It never gets easier – it only gets faster”

As young children we are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and the common answers usually come back as teachers, firemen, policemen, doctors. But for a select group of the population who excel in athletic endeavors, the answer might come back “Professional cyclist!” and thereby sets in motion a lifetime of dedication to time on the bike.

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For Team KATUSHA ALPECIN’S Alexander Kristoff and Marco Haller, the decision to go with cycling came in high school. Kristoff was 16 years old and Marco was near the same when he chose to go to a sport-high school.

“At that point I was still playing ice hockey in wintertime, but the school forced me to make a choice and since I was more successful on my bike, I chose that path,” said Marco Haller, adding that “My mum was kind of worried. She was very keen that I enjoy the very best education and bring home the best marks from school. She ended up seeing this as a good compromise.”

“At that point I was still playing ice hockey in wintertime, but the school forced me to make a choice and since I was more successful on my bike, I chose that path”

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Dedication and support from the family is key to the early success of these young professionals. “It was no problem for me in regards to support from my family,” said Alexander Kristoff. “My step-dad was my coach!” Stein Ørn still works with Alex and is part of the team coaching staff as well.

“It was no problem for me in regards to support from my family,” said Alexander Kristoff. “My step-dad was my coach!”

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Marco Haller’s dad, too, was on board right from the start: “From my dad’s point of view there was really only one question – which sport would I make my money from? He didn’t actually care which sport, but he loved seeing me compete. I guess I was a rather annoying kid if I didn’t have several hours of sport each day. So, in the end, he was the guy who drove me from the alpine-skiing slope to the bike race to the football pitch in the afternoons. Then ice hockey might have been early the next morning!”

Playing sports for fun is one thing, but training to be a professional is entirely different and as young men Alex and Marco had to make decisions and set priorities along the way. “For sure I had some hard times, especially when I had to decide between sports or going out with friends. I gave up spending time with friends, but on the other side of that, I also made many friends through cycling,” said Kristoff.

"I gave up spending time with friends, but on the other side of that, I also made many friends through cycling”

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Serious training and the discipline required is a learned skill, especially for a young teenage male who is success driven. “There are moments when you suffer, for sure. You question if all the sacrifices are worth it. However, as soon as you get a result or reach a goal, it gives you fuel to train and suffer all over again,” said Haller. He added, “In truth, I did not give up too much to become a cyclist. I was always in sports clubs from a very young age, and all of my friends were, too. I will say I do miss is having a proper holiday, a long one, ideally two weeks. With the cycling season going longer and longer, and then team camps, there is literally no time to chill out. You are always under tension. Maybe this is one negative aspect – being an athlete 365 days a year.”

“There are moments when you suffer, for sure. You question if all the sacrifices are worth it. However, as soon as you get a result or reach a goal, it gives you fuel to train and suffer all over again”

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Spurred on by success, once a career gets rolling along things might be easier if you are a winning rider. Alexander Kristoff has scores of wins, and rides as a team leader and protected rider for sprint stages in every race he takes part in. Regrets for him only come in the unanswered questions about what he could have done differently in a race he did not win. But what if your role is one of support – how do you reap the rewards of the sport?

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“I think mentally you need to be a tough guy as a cyclist, especially when you are not a regular winner,” explains Marco Haller. “A rider like me, a support rider for the most part, sees no success for 95% of the year, minimum. There is always a guy who can make you suffer and you are basically never the guy who can make others suffer. That’s the cruel side of cycling. It never gets easier – it only gets faster. But really I don’t think anyone is ever in his comfort zone at Carrefour de l’Arbre at Roubaix, not even when you lead the race. Well, maybe then! We are all masochists, aren’t we?” asks Haller.

"That’s the cruel side of cycling. It never gets easier – it only gets faster"

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A professional career always has to end at some point, and life will take another direction from then on, but knowing when to stop is difficult for many who really know nothing except sport. Kristoff at age 29 feels he has much more time to race, saying, “I hope I can keep a decent level for 8 more years.” Haller is younger at 26 and can’t put a number on the table: “It is not an easy question, but in many ways, it is easy to explain – as long as sacrifices, desire and being competitive keep a good balance, I will keep riding.”

"As long as sacrifices, desire and being competitive keep a good balance, I will keep riding”

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And afterwards? Alexander Kristoff, married with two small children, hopes life after a cycling career will be a new chapter. “I hope I can spend time with my family doing nice holidays, doing stuff I like! And for a job I hope I can buy some apartments and rent them out.” Marco Haller isn‘t ready to look down that road, “Oh gosh, I have so many ideas of what I could do after cycling, but let’s hope I do not have to decide before the next ten years!”

"I have so many ideas of what I could do after cycling, but let’s hope I do not have to decide before the next ten years!”

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Photo credit: JoJo Harper