The 20-year-old neo-professional Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) is currently in the fast lane – now the Bernese is about to take part in his first Tour de Suisse.
21 June 2009 was a historic day for cycling. At that time Fabian Cancellara won the final time trial in Berne, leader Tadej Valjavec took off the leader’s jersey and was celebrated by the fans as the last Swiss overall winner of the Tour de Suisse.
Among the spectators at the time was Marc Hirschi, ten years old, who lives in Ittigen like Cancellara and is a big fan of the Swiss cycling star. He used to play football and came to cycling through his father. At first he competed in mountain bike races, but he dreamed of competing on the road. At the age of 14 he finally got his first racing bike and was able to follow in the footsteps of his idol. “When I started cycling and stood at the edge of the track, Fabian was in his prime. He inspired me enormously, and I tried to emulate him and end up with the pros,” says Hirschi today.
3646 days later…
The 20-year-old has achieved this goal. On 15 June 2019, 3646 days after Cancellara’s triumph, the Bernese rider will start his first Tour de Suisse in Langnau, just over 30 kilometres from his home town. The anticipation is huge, says Marc Hirschi, “and has been since February, when I learned that I would be allowed to do the tour this year”.
For the young professional from the Sunweb team, the Swiss National Tour is one of the big highlights of the season. In the last few weeks, since the end of the spring classics, he has been preparing himself specifically for them in order to achieve his goal: “I want to be in top form as much as possible and show myself from my best side. The Tour de Suisse is the race that I watched live at the side of the track as a child. Now I’m in it myself, it’s a dream come true.”
There will be further milestones in these days in June, which the likeable and calm Bernese will reach, after having already shone in the beginning of his first professional year. In the Basque Country and in Belgium he has already made it into the top ten of a race three times. His team offered him for the monuments Milan-Sanremo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which is unusual for a neo-professional. “I was also surprised that I was allowed to drive these two races, but it is all the more beautiful because it shows the trust the team has in me,” says Hirschi. “Yes, I’m pleased with my start.”
Every race a highlight
The months February to April were intensive for the 20-year-old, he also took part in many one-day races and had to get used to the professional air. The biggest difference is the length of the races, he says, where he can improve, especially on the monuments, if you ride 260 kilometres and are in the saddle for more than seven hours. Mentally, however, the past months were easy to process, “because every race is somehow a new highlight”.
Of course the job of a professional cyclist is tough, often the riders have to torture themselves. But Marc Hirschi can still enjoy his new phase of life. Instead of the anonymity of the U23, the Bernese suddenly rides along on the very big stage. He is a team mate of a star like Tom Dumoulin, the winner of the Giro d’Italia 2017. “In the beginning it was very special and surreal, because it happened one after the other,” the 20-year-old explains his new environment. “But you get used to it – and in the race even the professionals are just people. It’s faster, but it’s still a bicycle race.”
In the German team he was quickly and well received, the older professionals help the younger ones, try to integrate them into the team. In terms of acceptance, it was perhaps helpful that Marc Hirschi became U23 World Champion in Innsbruck last September and showed his enormous potential. He says: “At the beginning there’s certainly a bonus, but in the end the first few races count, then you’re measured against them.”
“I’m gonna try something”
At the moment Hirschi still plays a helping role at Sunweb and has to get used to the fact that the races are more controlled compared to the U23 and it is now much more a team sport, where the aim is to bring the leader as fresh as possible into the final, while in the U23 category the races are more open tactics. Marc Hirschi is regarded as one of the greatest Swiss talents, has very good instincts and the ability to read the race. These attributes ensure that even as a young neo-professional he could land a coup among the established stars at any time. Why not the Tour de Suisse? In the second stage, the circuit with start and finish in Langnau?
“If the team tactics allow it and I get the chance, I will certainly try something,” he says with a smile. “But the level is really high at the Tour, it takes place shortly before the Tour de France, many riders will be in top form. It’s going to be difficult, but if it works, of course it would be extremely nice.”
His idol Fabian Cancellara celebrated his first of ultimately eleven stage victories in his first Tour de Suisse outing in 2003, when he won the prologue in Egerkingen. It would be presumptuous to expect a similar feat from Marc Hirschi. But the goal is clear: the Bernese company wants to shine in the international spotlight in the coming years. At the moment he sees his strengths in the classic stages, those that are tough but not extremely difficult and where often a smaller group reaches the finish together and instinct and tactics are important in the final. Who knows, maybe he will show it in these days in June 2019.
Text: Andy Maschek, photos: ©Team Sunweb/Cor Vos, Jerome Prevost