In a world where we are constantly chasing every little performance benefit, optimizing your sleep…
Last month, Stefan Bissegger took his first WorldTour win after his incredible performance in the stage 3 time trial at Paris-Nice. To say the win took people by surprise might be an understatement. But if you’ve followed the under-23 racing scene over the past couple of years, you would have noticed the 23-year-old Swiss ace quietly made his way up the ranks. Notably, he took a brilliant second place finish at the under-23 World Championships in 2019 and a stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir in 2019 (also thought of as the U23 Tour de France).
Before he was winning stages at some of pro cycling’s biggest races, Stefan was pushing a bike around in his driveway, racing in local road races around his hometown of Weinfelden in northeastern Switzerland and going out on rides on the weekends with his friends. After Gent-Wevelgem, Stefan gave us an even closer look inside his cycling story.
“I must have been three or four years old when I first started riding,” said Stefan. “The first actual memory I have of riding my bike without the training wheels was from when I crashed into a wall and broke my teeth. I think that was on the first day of riding my bike actually. I’ve broken my teeth a few times since then but not on my bike so I’m still keeping my fingers crossed,” he said, chuckling.
But even after a rocky start, Stefan quickly fell in love with the sport.
“I’ve always been really into sports. I was always playing a lot of soccer at the club in my town and one day, I just said ‘why not try out some bike racing?’ There wasn’t a real special reason I was drawn to cycling, except for the fact that I just liked it when I was young,” said Stefan. “I love cycling because when you are riding you feel free. When you’re outside, you have nice scenery in the mountains or anywhere really, away from traffic, away from the stress you can just shut your head off and go easy. Have some minutes for yourself and just enjoy riding your bike.”
The story of how he got his start in racing is nearly just as remarkable as the story of when he first picked up a bike although in this case, it has a positive (and less painful) ending.
“There was a race close to where I lived and it even passed the village I was raised in,” recalled Stefan. “My parents and I decided when I was probably nine or ten years old that I should sign up for that race because I really liked riding my bike. After we signed up, this guy who was the organizer of the race called my parents and said, ‘okay he can race but he can’t ride the bike he has right now.’ He said I should have a real road bike and from then on we could always go to him to loan one of his bikes, because he had a lot of bikes and a cycling school close by. The man that helped me then was Marcello Albasini and he is still my coach today. I started racing with one of his bikes and if I remember correctly that race already went pretty well. I think I finished first actually. It worked out I guess!”
As for his penchant for the individual timed events, Stefan said that this too came naturally to him.
“I’ve always been pretty good at time trialing. I think I won the first time trial I ever did. I’ve always been able to pace myself really well and as I did it more, it just got better and better with all the position changes on the bike and stuff like that.”
And despite his talent and passion for the sport, the path to his first professional contract wasn’t always smooth and steady.
“I nearly stopped bike racing when I was fifteen or sixteen years old,” he recounted. “I actually decided to skip my first year as an under 15 age group rider because I was the only one in my region and I was always training alone and it just wasn’t as fun anymore. But then another guy started riding in the region and I started to have fun again. We were able to do some bigger rides together and, from that point on everything came together pretty quickly. I was getting better and better and moving up from the youth categories. Now that guy that I was riding with back then is one of my best friends and we even did our apprenticeship together as bike mechanics in the same shop. He’s still riding at the Continental level and we still do a lot of riding and other things together.”
After signing his first professional contract with the team last year, the agreement was always that he would be able to focus on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where he was set to compete with the Swiss team pursuit squad on the track before joining EF Education–NIPPO on the road. But with the postponement of the Olympics, Stefan jumped head first into road racing and immediately started to make an impact finishing fifth on the first stage of the BinckBank Tour and then third at the time trial. He hasn’t stopped progressing and has continued to focus on the road while also maintaining his skills on the track and is still planning on going to the Olympics later this year.
“The special thing to me about track cycling is the speed,” said Bissegger. “In the team pursuit the average speed is 65 kilometers per hour and that’s from a standing start. So when we’re up to speed, we’re hitting 70 kilometers an hour and that’s while we are just 10 centimeter from the front wheel of the rider in front of you. I love the feeling of when you hit the banks of the track and you’re flying around the corners. You can really feel the pressure on your shoulders and your arms from the g-forces. I also love that for the team to do well, everything has to workout perfectly, if not the team breaks up. There is something about the perfection and details that I really love.”
Most of our Sport Directors will automatically describe Stefan as being precise in everything that he does. Maybe not so surprising then that a Swiss rider would fall in love with a discipline that demands attention to detail and constant strive for perfection.
Now, a few months later, Stefan is still focusing on road racing and perfecting his craft at the Belgian Cobbled Classics where he is set to start in the Tour of Flanders this weekend, while still keeping the Olympics top of mind when he can.
“Now my focus is on roadracing first, because the way I see it is if I’m in good shape on the road, I will also be fast on the track,” said Stefan. “I definitely want to learn as much as possible this year because there’s still a lot I have to learn to get close to victory in the classics. I like learning and for sure the engine has to get a bit bigger as well because the stage races are way harder here than at the U23 stage races. Another big goal for me is of course the Tour de Swiss time trial, because it passes in front of my home this year.”
If the first 10 months of Stefan Bissegger’s professional career are any indication for what’s ahead, the sky’s the limit. One thing we know for certain though, is that he will make the most of it.