Q & A with Svein Tuft on the end of his career and his future in gravel bike guiding

On eventually coming back to Canada, potential gravel trips in the Kootenays and watching Hugo Houle crush it at the Arctic Tour of Norway

August 20th, 2019 by | Posted in News | Tags:

Svein Tuft’s final season as a professional road cyclist is winding down. The Canadian legend with 11 Canadian individual time trial titles and two road championship wins has raced across the world with Garmin-Slipstream, Spidertech, Mitchelton-Scott and finally Rally-UHC. Over the course of his career he’s worn the pink jersey at the Giro and earned a silver medal in the world championships ITT. After the final stage of the Arctic Race of Norway, Canadian Cycling caught up with Tuft to speak about the end of his career and what the future holds for the 42-year-old from Langley, B.C..

Svein Tuft leads Rally-UHC at the Arctic Tour of Norway. Photo: Gautier Demouveaux | ASO

Aaron S. Lee: How did you find the Arctic Race of Norway?

Svein Tuft: It’s been a race I always wanted to do before I ended my career. Last year I was planning on retiring and I thought I’d never go up here and do this race but here we are.

What pulled you back for another year?

It was a tough decision because I really wrapped my head around retiring. I had two ex-teammates that I really enjoyed riding with who had put together a program full of North Americans and it’s the one place for North Americans to get the experience over in Europe. It was one of those things that at first I was like, ‘no, no, no, no hire a young guy who is keen and wants to do all these races’ but the more I wrapped my head around it I thought these young guys will need some guidance in Europe. I also had to look at it from my perspective coming from the WorldTour, racing a couple of Grand Tours per year that it was going to be tricky a transition from going full gas to nothing so it’s been a really enjoyable process. The racing isn’t any easier. The work is just as hard but it’s just been a bit different.

I’ve always thought of you as in the Jens Voigt mould. He retired at 42 and you are 42. Is that something you’ve thought about at all or have you heard that parallel?

For the longest time age wasn’t something I thought about until about halfway through last year. After I got through the Giro, it was the first time I noticed my body and physiology was different. Not necessarily in a bad way but just noticed some things were different. I didn’t recover the same. I’ve always been lucky in the sense of injuries and recurring things but it was the first time that things weren’t quite as easy . For the longest time I had been living like a kid going from race to race and enjoying that part of life. But it’s like with everything in life, there’s a life span to it and you burn enough bullets and your body just starts to tell you. It hasn’t been anything drastic or negative, it’s just a nagging thing that’s like, ‘OK, I am not as good as I was and training intensely isn’t as easy as it was.’

I think of Mitchelton-Scott and their success this year at the Tour de France. With you being there, Christian Meier being there and the way that program evolved. 2019 being the end, you must be proud of what you did with the team.

There was no way that I would have had the career I had without those guys. They created a place for guys like me. They let guys like me be the way I am instead of trying to mould us into their program. When you have someone like Matt White giving you the program and helping you out and backing you it makes all the difference. I was talking to my friend Hugo [Houle] about this. When those sort of people start to believe in you. When you have that backing you can do so much more as a rider.

What can you say about Hugo’s performance yesterday? Basically, Alexey should credit his win on what Hugo did yesterday.

Massive and also today he was in the breakaway. The first day he was working. This is the thing I try to relate back home to Canada. People don’t understand the type of rider Hugo is. They look at results and base everything off of results. For me, you have to realize the type of work Hugo has done to be where he is on Astana, the role he has. This is what it takes to do that. He is next level. People don’t realize how well he is climbing. He is a first-class super domestique and that’s why a team like Astana have him.

Photo: Pauline Ballet | ASO

What about another Canadian guy who you are quite familiar with who is doing quite well over at the Tour of Utah, James Piccoli?

Another guy who has been showing that he is hands down the best in North America and he has to have a chance in Europe. I raced last year at the Tour de Beauce with James when he won. For me it was so cool to be a part of that because I could see that clearly. It was super fun but also I just saw the talent. It’s one thing to have talent, it’s another to have that drive that can push you to the next level.

You want to get more involved in the federation. Is that on the bike role or off the bike role?

I want to keep biking until I die. It’s going to be all over, we are in no rush but we miss Canada and we are slowly going to make our way there. In the meantime, I am going to guide gravel tours, but I would love to keep working with Kevin Field. We go back to the Symmetrics days. We go back to 2004. I love what he’s doing.

Talk to me about the gravel tours. Do you have some ideas where it’s going to be? What some of the destinations are? 

Right now that’s not super clear. I would go anywhere in the world. I like being with people and doing epic trips. I don’t want this to be your average trip. I want this to be something you remember for the rest of your life. I have loops that I do back home that for me, these places blow my mind. For example, from my house in Andorra you climb over a pass 2,300 m into Spain and drop down a gravel road. Go up the next valley. Hike a bike up over a 2,400 m pass at the end of a gravel road into France and descent. You do some trail and gravel. It’s just stuff that you would normally have no access to but with those bikes you can do everything.

Is there a spot in Canada that mirrors that?

Oh for sure. I think of the Kootenays where there’s a ton of forestry roads and big passes and epic loops that you can do. Canada is a different beast because there are less roads. The terrain is wilder. You are talking grizzly bear and black bear country. It’s different. In Europe, you have no worries of that kind of stuff. I am open to everything. For me, I love seeing people who are excited to be doing what they are doing and to me, that’s a big part of life.

When you said you were excited about adventures, could this involve some mountain climbing going back to your youth?

To this day I still climb a lot. If people are up for that, yeah for sure. If people are interested, I’d love to be involved.

Photo: Gautier Demouveaux | ASO

Looking back, is there one moment in your career that really stands out?

There are so many. When I really think about it, I think of the Giro [pink jersey]. I was with my friends. At the end of October I am taking these guys on a gravel tour for three days as a retirement party slash thing we all just love to do. I was with those guys the day we won the TTT on my birthday in the pink jersey. Stuff like that I didn’t plan for and I never expected to happen in my career and it was truly a gift from those guys cause anyone of us could have had it.

What’s left on your schedule this year?

In a couple of weeks, I do the Tour Poitou which is a nice hard four-day stage race in France and then I am super happy for my final races to be Quebec and Montreal. So obviously it’s a dream scenario. They are super hard races but that’s pretty nice.

Aaron S. Lee is a pro cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and contributor to Canadian Cycling Magazine.