Svein Tuft (Pro Cyclist) in depth Q&A
He was the oldest rider at this years (2017) Giro and he’s been a professional cyclist for over 15yrs. He has just become the national Canadian TT champion, first ever to record 10 x TT national wins. He has a different background to most in the professional cycling world, read his story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/sports/othersports/08cycling.html
Svein approaches his sport and job with a health first focus , performance second. Very few pro athletes (or amatuer) do this these days. What some don’t realise is that looking after your health properly will actually lead to an improved performance. The advantages are that you will feel better and live longer. The disadvantages are that it takes time, sacrifice and simplifying the complexity. It also takes what I term “Skin in the Game”. You need to feel it first hand, experience and learn from it and ultimately suffer but adapt to it. Myself and Svien held a training camp last year that followed these principles with the object being to show endurance athletes how to use this approach.
Svien’s ways of doing things aren’t plucked out of the air either. During his cycling career he has studied all about nutrition, training and how the body and mind works. He follows many of the top scientists , doctors and academics that I do myself. So he’s in it and he believes in it.
Here are some insights into what he thinks and how he goes about things.
1. How do you start your day during a stage tour such as the Giro?
Generally I like to get out in nature and the sun asap. If there’s an
ocean near by then I make the effort to get there. This is my optimal
reset in a stage race.
2. How would that have differed from a stage tour morning e.g. TdF
you did several years ago ?
The biggest difference was that I didn’t know the difference. It’s
taken some years for the benefits of this approach to living to take
action. But I’ll tell you, when you feel it, it’s very addictive.
3. Do riders eat a plate of pasta 3hrs before the race and then load
up on baguettes with nutella? Or why do you think that they do and what
would your typical pre race breakfast look like?
Some do. At a certain point in a Grand tour you’re just trying to get
the energy in. It can be tricky because most of the time the 1st
options are the sugary simple carbs. I try my best to balance that.
Good fats through coconut oil, avocado and eggs are the best options
and teams are providing these things more and more as riders are
demanding of them.
4. How do you fuel during a 5hr endurance training ride versus a 5hr
stage race of the Giro? And if different, why?
There can be a big difference between the 2. A 5 hour stage in the
mountains of a Grand tour around stage 18 can get tricky. Your body is
at its limit and at this point of the game you are just trying to
absorb as much food as your body will allow. Whereas training at your
home you can really control the nutrition. Sometimes while out touring
I might not eat for the 1st 4hours. Obviously the intensity is totally
different but I will say a big part of the carbohydrate demand for
cyclists in racing has a lot to do with the brain demanding simple
fuel. Racing is so different from what you can try to replicate in
training. A big part of that energy demand is caused by the stress of
being in a bunch and making a million tiny decisions in split seconds
the brain is in full gas mode.
5. ~There is still a lot of talk about race boxes and riders using
painkillers, anti-inflammtories etc. Is this happening widespread?
Do you use them and if not, why do you think most riders do?
These things are crutches for a lot of riders who feel they need to add
things when they think their body is not capable. I think the reason
these things are still around is because of the placebo effect. Until we
can break that mentality I don’t see it stopping. In my opinion, a 22
year old who feels it’s necessary to take painkillers and anti
inflammatories to get through the day should really reassess how he’s
going to be feeling when he’s 40!!!! Not a fan!
6. There are lots of gadgets and devices that athletes can use for
recovery these days. what are your key strategies and ways of
mitigating the damage and stress to the body during a stage tour?
Ha!! I’m constantly trying to get gadgets and electronics out of my
life. To the point where screens and the blue light emitted from them I
find extremely annoying. I think humans are pretty amazing and invent
some incredible devices. But what I’ve come to learn over these years is
that we will never Trump mother nature. Nature provides us with
everything we need for recovery. The Earth, cold creeks, sunlight,
magnetism, oxygen rich forests, salt mineral dense oceans, plants and
animals to name a few. I’ve been down a lot of recovery rabbit holes, but
nothing comes close to the simplicity nature offers.
7. You don’t have a website, or twitter account, or facebook
account, or instagram account……. is this because you are
anti-social or do you have other reasons?
Ha!! As I’ve stated above, I’m trying to get as far away from those
things as possible! I think these types of social media have developed
quicker than our primitive brains can adapt. When I look around today
out in the world, people are obsessed and somewhat zombie like as they
scroll through their feeds of useless information. I also think the
hardrives in our brains are only capable of retaining so much
information. These attention grabbing platforms just seem to rob you of
living a healthy productive life and unfortunately for many, sending
them into the dark holes of depression.
8. Is pro cycling putting the health of the riders first or is the
focus always on performance and what are some of the things you have
done to maintain your wellness?
I think this is getting much better. I think the teams are really
starting to look at the big picture. Instead of turning riders out every
1 or 2 years if they don’t perform. Teams are working with those riders
to get more of a holistic approach to helping those riders achieve what
the team originally saw in them. This is positive news. In such a
performance and result based environment I don’t think it’s a super easy
decision for cash strapped teams. But it’s the only way. As for myself,
I was lucky. I always saw cycling as a small part of my life and I never
wanted to sacrifice my long term health for the sake of being a good
cyclist. So I looked outside of the box and began to alter my
environment to offset the stress and damage that life at the
professional sporting level can cause. So, in a sense I tried my best to
balance. When I’m home, it’s all about grounding back to my reality and
when I’m leaving it’s about mentally preparing and accepting what I’m
getting myself into.
9. Given your years of training and competing, and with you just
signing another 1yr contract with Orica, what do you think are the
key points that need to be addressed in terms of athlete support and
development on the pro tour circuit?
There’s a lot of work to be done. As I mentioned before there has been
some great steps forward. It’s a very long process to make change in an
old school mentality such as cycling. If I had my way I would be
headhunting younger riders who have a very open mind. I would sign
riders to 3-5 year contracts. There would be many different activities
for training than just cycling. There would be a team base camp in the
mountains (a place to get re connected). Nutrition for riders would be a
priority. Running the team with the lowest carbon footprint possible.
Teach riders why pharmaceuticals are hurting them instead of helping.
Training camps would be more orientated towards managing in a group
achieving success in real life situations (not go kart racing) There
would be more staff variety, like a psychologist who stays with the team
at all times. Proper nutritionists! Functional movement specialists and
maybe just a crazy guru who’s there to keep everyone in check. I could
go on and on.
10. If you were given the chance to manage a team in a grand tour,
to optimize performance but also health, what would be your ideal
day from pre race to bedtime?
Ideal days are when you can get on the bike feeling like you haven’t
just raced 10 days in a row and can go to sleep with ease in the
evening. I get these days at the age of 40 and I chalk it up to this.
The mornings where I can get in the sea, feel full sunlight on my body,
Barefoot and feeling the earth below me. I’ll go through a movement
routine and work the kinks out of the body. I’ll do some different
breathing techniques to take the stress out of the diaphragm. Then off
to brekky where our A1 chef Nicky has the nutrition aspect covered
perfectly. To be able to race without getting caught up in the stress
that’s usually self imposed. After the stage when you get to hotel, I’ll
take a walk and find my morning place for the following day. Walk a bit
barefoot. Recount the day. What went right, and wrong. Back for massage.
Good dins again with Nicky followed by another walk, hopefully to see
the sunset. I’m a big believer in getting that red orange light in your
eye before bedtime. That’s It, pretty much an ideal day for me on tour.
Oh! One last thing, nothing beats a good dip in an ice cold creek In the
mountains, this trumps all ice baths!!!