Marlen Reusser is the best and most successful Swiss female cyclist. In our interview the Bern native reveals how she is preparing for the Tour de Suisse. The 31-year-old talks about her extraordinary career, her goals and her many talents and why she became a vegetarian.
The interview was conducted by Fabian Ruch on behalf of Bank WIR, Premium Partner of the Tour de Suisse. . Header image: Getty Images
What does the Tour de Suisse mean to you?
Marlen Reusser: A lot, it’s a highlight for me this year. I’m really looking forward to it. In 2023 the Tour de Suisse will be part of the Women’s World Tour for the first time, which means it’s in the highest category. This also means that the standard of competition will be even better.
What are your goals at the Tour de Suisse Women?
I want to win the Time Trial. And I want to be in the running for the overall win. I think I can achieve that because I’ve already had strong results in several Tours. And a victory at the Tour de Suisse would be a very special moment in my career. But the decisive factor is health, as I have unfortunately had to experience recently.
«The decisive factor is health»
How did you recover from your various injuries and illnesses?
It was a very difficult second half of 2022. I suffered a concussion in June, then later a hand injury, I had Covid and several bouts of flu. My condition was not ideal for months and when I finally recovered in winter 2023, a persistent case of bronchitis struck me at the altitude training camp. Despite it all I had a relatively stable build-up of form and in February I still competed on the track in the team pursuit.
At the end of March you won the classic Ghent-Wevelgem with ease and once again demonstrated that you’re one of the best female cyclists in the world. How do you see your role in the Dutch team SD Worx?
You never really know where you stand at the beginning of the season. If you ride successfully, it removes the doubts and shows that you are on the right track. We have a very strong team, it has been number one in the ranking for years, and I am certainly one of the four leaders. Because we are a stand-alone women’s team, people don’t know our name as well as they do others who also have men’s teams. I have freedom, I can play to my strengths and also try something on my own.
Who are the other top cyclists in your team?
This year with Lorena Wiebes we have the strongest sprinter in cycling, she has already won a lot of races. That changes the dynamics and our race strategy. We ride aggressively and now, thanks to Lorena Wiebes, we also have the possibility to take the victory when it comes to a sprint. Lotte Kopecky is a superstar in her home country Belgium, absolutely everyone knows her. And finally, Demi Vollering from the Netherlands is also one of our leaders, because she is very strong in one-day races as well as in Tours. By the way, she lives in Basel and could be at the Tour de Suisse.
«We ride aggressively»
How far in advance does the team decide which cyclists will take part in each race?
There is a general season plan. Adjustments are made, however, depending on form and injuries.
In which aspects do you personally have the greatest potential for growth?
Primarily in terms of race tactics. I could make even better decisions and ride smarter strategically. When I watch races on TV, I always know what I would do in the situation. But when I’m on the road it’s often not easy, for example, to find the right time for an attack. And I could certainly get more out of short, sharp climbs.
Bank WIR sponsors the mountain prize classification at the Tour de Suisse. How do you assess your climbing skills?
I think long, hard mountain stages are really cool. One of my strengths is riding at high speed over long distances and, if they are constant climbs, I can make full use of my ability. It is often said that you are at a disadvantage in the mountains if you are tall and heavy. I don’t necessarily see it that way, because I’m quite tall myself at 1.80 m, and I’m still a pretty good climber. Here, too, it can be very decisive how you plan a climb and whether you manage to find the right moment for an attack.
«I think long, hard mountain stages are really cool»
What influence does the Tour de Suisse route have on your preparation?
If you want to be among the front runners in a race like the Tour de Suisse, you have to be top in all areas. It’s clear that I’m considered a time trial specialist, but as I said, I can also keep up and make my mark in the mountains. Before a stage if we see that there are favourable sections to push the pace, then we definitely set up a plan of attack. The best preparation is to compete in as many high level races as possible, but also to take the time to rest and recover.
You are a doctor, were a politician with the Greens, have been a vegetarian since childhood, are regarded as intelligent and interesting. How important is this image to you?
I can’t change what other people want to think about me. Of course I’m happy when my image is positive. But people like to embellish this story of the supposed child prodigy. It is important to me that I make all decisions with full conviction. In the end, it’s not about having as many diplomas as possible, but about living your life the way you want to and how it is right for you. And whether someone is intelligent or not is not defined by whether they have studied or not.
10 years ago, what did you think your life would be like in 2023?
At that time I was in the middle of my medical studies and had no idea what I would be doing in a few years. I am a person who lives very much in the here and now. I was already politically active as a teenager and probably couldn’t have imagined that one day I would be flying around on a plane for a living, as I do now as a professional cyclist. By the way, I am not as rigid as people sometimes describe me.
What do you mean?
Well, there are aspects of my life that have led the media to paint a certain picture of me. I would face a dilemma every day if I were to live radically according to my principles. It is important to make decisions that you can stand behind. One example is the environment, which is going to the dogs if humanity continues the way it is. I will always advocate for improving the framework conditions and for us to think and live more ecologically. But it would be wrong to be too militant and point the finger at others.
How much courage did it take to give up an exciting, well-paid job as a doctor a few years ago to become a professional cyclist?
Money has never been and will never be a basis for me to decide to do or not do something. I am not naive because I know that you need money to live a decent life. But following only financial considerations is rarely a recipe for happiness. It is much better to live out your passions, to pursue your interests and to follow your dreams.
You are popular with sponsors as an advertising medium and very successful as a professional cyclist. How satisfied are you with your life and your income?
I am able to pursue my passion and that is important to me. And I can now make a good living from it.
How do you see the development of women’s sport in general?
Things are moving forward. But we shouldn’t look at sport in isolation. It is fundamental that women get the respect they deserve in all areas and that they are treated equally. Unfortunately, the situation in cycling is still such that men get much more of the attention. For women there is often a lack of exposure, which is why female cyclists are less well known.
«For women there is often a lack of exposure»
You started competitive sports very late. Do you sometimes think what would have been possible if you had trained when you were young?
No, that’s not how I operate. It’s just right how everything has developed in my life. And I still have a few more good and enjoyable years left in cycling. Next year there’s the Olympic Games in Paris, which will hopefully be a great experience.
You grew up on a farm in a rural area. How much did that influence you?
I still live in Hindelbank, that’s my home. But of course I also became a vegetarian because I unfortunately saw how animals are sometimes kept on many rural farms. For me, it has nothing to do with lifestyle that I eat consciously, respectfully and vegetarian.
And what will you be doing in 10 years?
You would like to hear that I will be a doctor and politician then, wouldn’t you? (smiles) As I said, I live in the present. When I see what has changed in my life over the past 10 years, it is very difficult to make a prediction today about what will be in 2033. I would like to find a balance in life then, too. Anything is possible, I have no shortage of interests.