Swiss Army Knife

Swiss Army Knife #417

This story originally appeared in the September/October issue of BIKE.

THE FOURTH-BIGGEST ROAD STAGE RACE IN THE WORLD, THE Tour de Suisse, is one of two warm-ups for the Tour de France. Its grueling mountain passes prepare the world’s best roadies for the steep stages of the TDF. This year’s start list included 2012 TDF winner Bradley Wiggins, time-trialist Fabian Cancellara, sprinters like Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish and one mountain biker with a sweet tail-whip. In only his second professional road race, Swiss cross-country racer Nino Schurter held his own, launching an attack, sprinting to two Top-10 finishes and earning Stage 3’s most active rider award.

It was just the challenge the three-time XC World Champion was looking for this year. Once he got approval from the UCI–the sport’s governing body–and Swiss Cycling, Schurter announced he’d race the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de Suisse for the Orica-GreenEdge pro tour team. During the queen stage of the Tour de Romandie in May, Schurter was the only member of his team to stay in the lead group. In both tours, Schurter finished better than half the field. Despite missing the World Cup stop in Cairns, he’s still laser-focused on defending his world title.?

“It’s something different,” says Schurter. “I’m learning a lot and really enjoying it. It’s not my main focus, it’s just a nice new experience.”

At 28, Schurter has earned almost every accolade available in XC racing. In addition to the three World Champion titles, he’s won three overall World Cup titles. He has a silver medal from the 2012 Olympic Games in London and a bronze medal from the Beijing Olympics. And don’t forget the six Swiss Mountain Bike National Champion titles and four European Champion titles. But Schurter’s versatility is almost more impressive than his results.?“He really likes to ride his bike, no matter if it’s an enduro bike, a hardtail or even a dirt bike on a pumptrack,” says Swiss enduro rider Lukas Anrig, Schurter’s friend and former teammate on the Swiss junior national team. “It’s a challenge to follow him on an XC bike. Even when we ride enduro bikes in the fall, I have to watch out. And if he does an enduro race, it’s no surprise if he ends up on a podium.”

Schurter entered the final round of the Enduro World Series in Finale Ligure, Italy, last year, finishing mid-pack. He plans to race it again this year.

And he was probably the only spandex-wearing European bike racer to attend Rampage in Virgin, Utah, last fall. He checked out the contest’s big lines and rode nearby trails with fellow World Champion Brian Lopes.
“He was trying to drop me the whole time,” says Lopes. “We were riding on a mesa, so it was up and down–he was sprinting out of every corner. Right from the get-go, he was pinning it. I was super impressed with how well he handled his bike. And he has great style.”

Thomas Frischknecht says Schurter’s versatility stems from equal parts talent and passion.

“He’s good at everything on two wheels,” says the Scott-Odlo MTB Racing Team manager. “He would be successful at motocross racing if that was the sport he chose.”

Growing up in the heart of the Swiss Alps helped. So did having a father who coached the Swiss national downhill team.

“It was perfect terrain to ride a mountain bike,” says Schurter. “You can ride for hours in really technical stuff.”
Schurter eventually became known as the ‘Rock Garden King’ by attacking the notorious rock section of the World Cup course in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where he’s won two World Cups and a World Championship. He even powered through that section this year on a flat. Schurter also has a gift for going all out, early on.

“He can really start out at a high pace and make people suffer,” says Steve Blick, sports marketing manager at Oakley, which sponsors Schurter. “He has an ability to go so hard and fast uphill that he destroys people.”

“You really can’t have a strategy,” says Schurter. “Mountain biking is so physical, sometimes the tactic is to just ride as hard as you can.”

In May, Schurter took his first World Cup win on a full-suspension bike in Nové Mesto, Czech Republic. He’s now one of the few World Cup riders who switches between full-suspension and hardtail bikes. And his 2012 win in Pietermaritzburg on 27.5-inch wheels helped kick off the 650b revolution.

It was Frischknecht who first toyed with the wheel size. He raced the 2004 Athens Olympics on 27.5-inch wheels. “It was too early to pursue it any further,” says Frischknecht. “We picked it up again in 2011 and started the London Olympic bike project on 27.5-inch wheels with an adjusted frame.”?

Full of tight corners, the track in Lon- don wasn’t suited to 29-inch wheels. Neither were the small frames of Scott’s top two riders, Schurter and Florian Vogel (5’ 8” and 5’ 9”, respectively). Both liked the larger wheels but could never find the perfect bike position.

?“At the beginning, the project was really competition-oriented,” says Scott’s senior marketing manager Lionel Girardin. “It was an idea to solve a problem for our riders, but we knew it wasn’t specific to two people.” Once Schurter proved the merits of 650b, Scott anted up on the wheel size, updating all of its trail, enduro and XC bikes with them and selling to the mainstream. Now, says Girardin, “There’s no going back. The 27.5 train is gone and the guys who jumped first are in a good position.”

On a constant quest for the ultimate setup, Schurter is particular about his equipment. He likes his handlebars low compared to his saddle height–his 100-millimeter Ritchey road stem is mounted at -17 degrees with no spacers. His tubulars are handmade by Dugast and glued to a special rim. Holding only 23.2 PSI, the super-lightweight system offers low rolling resistance, comfort and more traction. The gluing process takes 24 hours, so Schurter needs a wheelset for each width and tread.

“It’s not that useful for riding, be- cause you can’t fix a flat, but in races it’s the perfect thing,” he says.
When it comes to training, it’s quality over quantity. “Less is more,” says Frischknecht. “The total amount of training in hours is not an impressive number. He puts in high-quality, specific training and makes sure to recover well in between sessions.”

Schurter usually spends about half his training time on the road, but this year, with two stage races on the schedule, he ramped it up. But he says it’s impossible to participate in both disciplines at the highest level simultaneously. Lucky for the sport, Schurter’s main focus is still mountain biking. He also needs time to do things like ski tour, wake surf and get married, which he did in June to his girlfriend of 10 years.

The one title missing from Schurter’s illustrious career is Olympic gold medalist. In November, he’s heading to Rio to scout the terrain and trails that in two years just might complete one of the most comprehensive cycling résumés in history.

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  • One of the best . Schurter is adding his name to the elite fraternity of world class pros who are consumate mt. bikers . John Tomac immediately comes to mind but so many pros are great at all aspects of the sport ( Kir Vories, Hans Rey, Brian Lopes, etc, ect…..) I hope it becomes a tradition among the top level riders as a point of pride to be well rounded bikers . The bikes are becomeing more specialized but it’s no coincidence that the top selling bikes and the most reported form of racing is enduro because it embraces the whole adventure that is mountain biking .

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