After the Swiss Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) won the yellow leader’s jersey in the team time trial and defended it over 3 stages, the Thurgau native won the final individual time trial in Bellinzona in an impressive way.
Tour de Suisse: Stefan, what an incredible Tour de Suisse must have been for you last year? Like after the perfect script, right?
Stefan Küng: I don’t think it could have gone better; with the victory in the team time trial, my days in yellow and how Richie Porte defended the overall victory – and of course with my victory in the final time trial in Bellinzona.
I think if it could have been planned in advance, it would have been like this!
TdS: Your former team mate Michi Schär told us about the preparations for a team time trial. But how do you prepare for an individual time trial?
SK: In individual time trials, most of the work takes place at home, alone. One tries to simulate the time trial in training under conditions that are as similar as possible in order to get a feeling for the specific time trial, both for the legs and the head. You shouldn’t have to constantly look at the power meter during the race, but know and feel what’s going on.
TdS: How important is it to know the course of an individual time trial?
SK: This is a decisive factor; the shorter the time trial, the more important is knowledge of the track. You have to know exactly which curve you can take with which risk, how to approach the curves and how much speedyou have to take out of each curve.
It is also important to know how to plan the route and where to set your intermediate destinations.
TdS: So do you have a small home advantage at the opening time trial this year?
SK: Clear. (laughs)
I will certainly be looking at the track soon on site in Langnau to be able to simulate it ideally in training.
TdS: What are the most important qualities that a driver must have to win in a race against the clock?
SK: You must be able to torture yourself enormously.
Many racers have the ability to “bite” into the wheel of the car in front of them like a pit bull. In a time trial you don’t have this possibility, you are all alone on the wide road and have to push yourself nonstop and never let up.
TdS: How do you motivate yourself to go to the limit and suffer during the monotonous time trial trainings?
SK: After all, cycling is nice – but in the trainings that really hurt, you need to think about your goals. Keep the goal in mind and be aware of why you are doing all this to yourself. These thoughts then help to hold out for one minute longer and to drive one more unit – it is exactly these hard trainings that can make the difference in the race.
TdS: In the run-up to the time trial at the European Championships last summer, you said that you would only be among the top favourites over longer time trial distances in 2-3 years. Does it really make such a big difference whether a time trial is 15km or 45km long?
SK: Yes, it makes a difference whether you are on the road for 15 minutes or an hour. It is a process to find this rhythm. It is also a physical issue; when you are young, you may not have the substance to succeed over the long distance. This comes with age when you have had several good seasons.
Maybe I haven’t been able to prepare myself optimally for a long time trial in the past and invested enough time for it.
TdS: So you have the Olympic time trial 2020 as your big goal?
SK: Yes, definitely. Tokyo 2020 has long been high on my agenda.
Actually, since I missed Rio because of the fall.
TdS: How difficult were the constant Cancellara comparisons at the beginning of your career?
SK: They certainly did not pass me without leaving a trace. There was a time when I was pushing myself as well. In retrospect, I know it’s stupid to compare yourself to someone like him.
But in situations like at the Swiss Championships, I said to myself the night before; you have to beat Cancellara, this is your last chance. With such a mindset it can’t be good, you drive much too cramped. This certainly had its influence, which is why I finally fell heavily.
Meanwhile I know that I have to go my own way and I have already celebrated some nice successes and I plan to add some more.
TdS: How does it actually feel to ride through the homeland in the yellow jersey of the leader?
SK: It is a very special feeling. Last year the starting weekend in Frauenfeld was still in my home country. As a Swiss driver in yellow, you can already tell that all the spectators are calling your name. I hope to experience and enjoy this feeling again this year.
TdS: Since the new season you are after all the years in the Swiss-American Team BMC with the French Equipe Groupama-FDJ. How different is the philosophy of the French?
SK:The team exists already for more than 20 years and the atmosphere is very familiar.
For a driver like me, who expects a lot from himself and puts a lot of pressure on himself, such a team is ideal. Here I am offered everything and I get all the support I need – without excessive pressure.
TdS: After all, you will be starting again in June at the Tour de Suisse.
For which of the two time trials do you think you have a better chance?
SK:The best thing would be to win them both – and I will prepare myself for that.
The opening time trial is special because you get the chance to conquer the yellow jersey there. You can prepare yourself optimally and specifically, because you come from a long training phase.
At the second time trial in Goms it looks a bit different. The decisive factor will be how well I got through the whole Tour de Suisse and over the mountains. I will certainly have the chance to take it easy in the second half to have some grains left for the second time trial.
Last year in Bellinzona it worked out well.
So the goal is clear!(laughs)
TdS: We wish you every success and look forward to seeing you at the start of the Tour de Suisse in June.