September 20, 2017

Nino Schurter

(info about Nino Schurter)

Sky is the limit for the mountain biker

Thomas Kieller

Photo 1 – Copyright Martin Bissig

Photo 2 – Copyright Armin M. Küstenbrück

Nino Schurter: Taking a turn on a dry dirt trail.

It’s in the small town of Tersnaus in the east of Switzerland, a peaceful and mountainous place, that Nino discovered outdoor activities. There, he developed in his youth the necessary abilities for his favorite sport. Well, we know that mountain bike racing is demanding physically and mentally. Power, coordination and endurance of the athlete are requested in the different sections of a race whether it’s on flat ground, an ascent or going downhill. Indeed, Nino perfected over time his physical conditioning and the technical aspects of cross-country cycling. He did it by pushing back constantly his personal limits. His Olympic path shows his determination and progression. After a bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing and a silver one in London where he was beaten by just one second, he rolled up his sleeves and worked more. Motivated, he reached his main objective by winning the great honor of his discipline in Rio de Janeiro. His sportive accomplishments do not stop there. Six-time champion of the world and seven-time national champion, he knows quite well the required effort to give in order to reach success. For him, planning his training is primary. This way, he can arrive ready the day of the competition. In a sport where you have to push back your limits, we can see clearly that Nino is passionate about it. When he rides in a race, he does it without holding back.

The written interview was done September 6, 2017.

Training of a cross-country cyclist

Thomas Kieller: What are the key physical elements that are required to be a good cross-country cyclist?

Nino Schurter: It’s a combination of endurance and power. The races which are lasting 90 minutes or less require power as much as endurance. The second element becomes more and more important as the race lasts longer.

Thomas: In training, what do you do to develop your endurance?

Nino: I do long rides with my mountain bike or with a road bike. In the winter, I mix it up with some cross country or backcountry skiing. Running is another thing I do frequently, but never over one hour per session.

Thomas: Obviously, you trained a lot on trails, but do you train in a gymnasium for the power aspect and what do you do there?

Nino: I do some powerlifting in order to develop maximum power and strength. I also do a circuit training which is more important. The circuit was designed by my coach Nicolas Siegenthaler specifically for me and the activity I do in mountain biking. It’s a course that contains different 60 second power sessions for core, legs and arms which are interrupted by 20 second balance and coordination sessions. It’s very intense and simulates in a way a cross-country race. When you are in a race, uphill you use power, downhill you have to recover from the power output but you still need your coordination and balance.

Thomas: Yes, we can see that in cross-country racing there are several downhill parts which are hazardous and where you have to be fluid on your bike. So, what type of exercises do you do for balance?

Nino: I mix all kinds of different stabilization and balance sessions into my circuit training. The more diverse is the better. Also those exercises are unique in a way so I don’t get bored while training.

Thomas: Of course, you want to avoid falling, but as we know it can happen in a race. Is there a way that you can prepare yourself physically for that?

Nino: Well, it’s better to prepare not to fall. I have crashed very rarely, but I can say it happens. If so, it’s because I’m not enough focused. I was lucky so far to never have a severe crash in my whole career. I was never injured nor had a broken bone! Let’s cross fingers it stays that way.

From the Swiss Alps

Thomas: Could you tell me where did you grow up?

Nino: I grew up in Tersnaus, a very tiny mountain town in the Swiss Alps with less than 50 people living there.

Thomas: Did you spend a lot of time doing activities and sports outside? And when did you decide to become a mountain biker?

Nino: Outside activities was my thing since I’m a kid. I started racing with skiing. On the other hand, I did my first mountain bike race at the age of seven years old. I liked it but I was not fixed on this sport yet. However, when I was around 17 years old, I started to dream about becoming a professional mountain biker. Then, I decided to go for it at 19 years old.

Thomas: Does your background help you develop your skill for climbing? And do you like to train in the mountains?

Nino: Sure. Growing up in the middle of the Swiss mountains helped me. I had to climb wherever I went. Also, it’s where I live now and it’s what I love to do.

Thomas: In cross-country racing, obviously you have to be good overall. However, is the climbing ability an important part in a race in comparison to the other qualities required?

Nino: To compete at the highest level you have to be strong in all aspects. If you are weak at one, it is where you leave room to be attacked by your competitors. Climbing is one important thing in racing. Our climbs are usually not longer than four minutes. So, the climbs that we do required a lot of power and stability too. It is even more important with the shorter climbs which go up to 30 seconds.

Nino Schurter: A victory in 2016 at Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic.

Olympic experience

Thomas: There was a progression in your results at the Olympic Games: bronze in Beijing, China (2008), silver in London, United Kingdom (2012) where you were beaten in the sprint by the Czech Jaroslav Kulhavy by one second. Was it difficult to accept that lost and did that push you to train more for the upcoming years?

Nino: It all had to turn out that way. I’m looking back at this and I’m thankful it went that way. I was the favorite in London and yes it was hard to miss the gold medal by just a second, but it showed me what I had to do for Rio. I had to keep working hard in all aspects and never feel too secure until I cross the finish line. This experience helped me to get in my best shape ever for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Thomas: The Rio Olympic race in 2016 was quite challenging physically for many competitors. Again, you had a challenge from Kulhavy, but this time you triumph over him by 50 seconds. To achieve this and the way you did it, was it the achievement of all the hard training you have done?

Nino: I would say it’s more the achievement of my whole career. After Beijing, I worked hard for four years because I wanted to win the gold in London, and as we know it happened eight years later, meaning in Rio. It’s kind of a happy ending to the story. Concerning me, to have done it this far, it’s a much larger story than just hard training. I was really on top of my game in all aspects: experience, fitness, skills, mentally and last but not least with my equipment. In order to get it this far, I had great help from my family, my coach, my team (SCOTT-SRAM) and the Swiss national team helped me in Rio with their great support.

Thomas: Thank you Nino.