Interview - Stefan Küng about confidence, nationalities and photography
Dec 19 2017 01:59 pm CET

Interview - Stefan Küng about confidence, nationalities and photography
Interview - Stefan Küng about confidence, nationalities and photography
Photo of Stefan Küng © Mary Cárdenas / CyclingPub.com

CyclingPub.com had an opportunity to speak with Stefan Küng, Swiss time trial prodigy and White Jersey holder during the 2017 Tour de France, during the BMC Racing Team training camp in Denia, Spain.

The 2017 season was one of two faces for the rider, with his performance and win in the Tour de Romandie forming a clear turning point in not only the year, but maybe his career as a whole.

It's a rainy day in Spain when we meet with the tall, seemingly soft-natured rider at a hotel near the famous Costa Blanca.

How has your off-season been?

I had a great off-season. I was in New Zealand for seven weeks. First a bit of holiday and then training as I took my bike with me. I was able to train quite well there. The weather was really good. So I was ready for the camp and ready to get things going again.

You had a bit of a difficult year in 2016 but 2017 was a lot better. How do you look back on the season?

It's been a difficult time but I have the impression that it kind of turned around since this year's Tour of Romandie. I got a lot of confidence from this victory. From then on it just went upwards and I was able to produce good showings on the races with first a good placement in the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France, and the win in the BinckBank Tour and then the Tour of Britain. So in general I'm pretty happy with the season and I think I took a good step forward.

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Stefan Küng (BMC Racing Team)

You also got to wear the leader's jersey a few times, in Switzerland and in the BinckBank Tour. How was that for you?

That was a nice feeling. Especially in Switzerland, my home race. It was the first time I was able to ride there as I missed the previous editions due to sickness and crashes. I was second on the prologue so I was a little disappointed to miss out on the leader's jersey but the next day - unfortunately because of a crash - I was able to take the jersey. It was a really nice day. We rode into Bern, the capital of Switzerland. I had friends and family there. It was really cool and I will remember it for a long time. It was one of my childhood dreams coming true. And I tasted the blood, so I want more of this and I hope it's not the last time I wore the leader's jersey in Switzerland or in another stage race.

In the Tour de France you missed Yellow by five seconds but you did get to wear the White Jersey. That must still have been special.

To be honest, it was more of a disappointment at first. You only get a few chances to ever wear a Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France and the prologue this year suited me well so it would have been a perfect occasion to win it. To lose by five seconds, it's not a lot. So at first you're more disappointed about these five seconds than happy about this consolation prize, the White Jersey. Looking back, it's the first Tour de France I ever did, it was nice to be second and to have worn the White Jersey. But at second, you're the first loser in cycling. I will try to do it better next time.

Fortunately you still have a lot of time for that! What would you say was your absolute highlight this year?

The victory in the Tour of Romandie because it was a bit of a turn around. I struggled a lot in the beginning of the season with the confidence on my bike. I kept thinking about what could happen, such as the possibility of crashing. Then in Romandie, the prologue took place in rainy conditions and I couldn't go to the limit as I was too scared. But then when I won there, it showed me again that there is no reason why I shouldn't be able to win races. To become a professional you have to be a good bike rider. To win races you have to be an outstandingly good bike rider. You must have done something right in the past to do so well and that's what I had to remember. I'm not a bad bike handler just because I crashed hard a few times. Crashes just happen, especially if you go for the limit. That was good, a turn around, and from then on I could really look forward and not wonder 'what if'.

This will already be your fourth season at BMC. It must suit you well then?

Exactly. It's going quite fast. I'm only 24 years old. But I really like it and the team has a lot of trust in me. They always believed in me and they were always supportive. They didn't push me either, telling me I had to race. As soon I was ready, I was able to race. Last year for example, my first race after the crash was the Eneco Tour. They have a huge amount of confidence in me if they put me back on the road in a WorldTour race. So they know you're doing things well at home, even when they're not supervising you. That has also been the case this year. They put me on the list for the Tour de France at the beginning of the season. I just did my thing. My performance in the races wasn't always good but they always kept confidence in me. Especially as a young rider, if you get pushed around you may wonder what you're doing wrong or should be done better. At this team I really feel at home and I am improving a lot. They provide me with the support I need and that is great.

Do you already know a bit about your plans for 2018?

It's going to be quite similar to this year, nearly copy-paste. There is no surprise that I will focus even more on the classics this year. Last year I struggled a bit mechanically and had some minor crashes in Flanders and Roubaix. I think, with my qualities, I can play an important role in the final for Greg (Van Avermaet). Maybe in a smaller race when he's not there I can even go for a result myself. I just want to prove for myself that I can do it. Then the Tour de Suisse, which is always a big goal for me. The Tour de Romandie and then we'll see. The plan is to do the Tour but many things can happen until then.

Then a different kind of question. You also have the Liechtenstein nationality. How did that happen?

My grandmother is from Liechtenstein. My mother had the citizenship as well and it got passed on to her children. I even raced for Liechtenstein at the Games for Small European Countries. Switzerland is not part of this federation so I was allowed to race. It was a great opportunity because even though I never lived in Liechtenstein, I have a strong relationship with this country. Some aunts and uncles of mine live there and through these races I made some good friends in Liechtenstein, whom I still go to visit a few times a year. I once even had personalized cycling shoes from my sponsor with the Liechtenstein crown, of the prince, as well as the Swiss cross. Even though I'm racing for Switzerland I'm proud to be a citizen of Liechtenstein as well.

Would you consider representing them again at such an event?

If the time allows it, sure. It doesn't conflict with what I do for Switzerland. I don't break any rules or betray Switzerland. Not at all. I was really proud to represent Liechtenstein and even won a Gold medal at the time trial. It's not that you can just switch and represent Liechtenstein one year and Switzerland the next. Maybe I would if I could. But I grew up in Switzerland and was supported by the national federation along the way so I guess I will keep riding for Switzerland in the future.

You are one of the tallest riders in the peloton. Does that give you any disadvantages, either on or off the bike?

Off the bike, it's the struggles that you have in normal life. Especially at races, you don't often get beds of two meters but rather 1.80, so your feet overshoot. As a rider I would say that the main disadvantage is that you have to get over the hills. When you're 1.90 and your specialty is time trialing and classics, then you're a heavy rider. I'm 80 kilos and to get over the climbs can be tough. But then I have an advantage when going downhill and on the flat. In the end you can't choose but I think it's really cool about cycling that everyone has a chance. When I look at myself or Richie (Porte) or Michael Schär, there is a big range of what a bike rider can do. I'll just focus on what I'm good at and otherwise Bradley Wiggins shows that even at 1.90 you can win the Tour.

I also noticed that you seem to be into photography?

I'm really into exploring in general. That's also what I did in my off-season in New Zealand. It's just so beautiful. And as a bike rider you're not chained to an office or a chair so you can really go out every day on your bike and taking pictures is just framing a memory. I will never be able to capture the moment but I can capture a memory and when I see the picture I will remember what happened there. We have some good photographers working for the team so I have some good material to work with. As a bike rider you're given nice images, especially if you do well. Then doing your photo album and stuff like that is nice.

Does it happen a lot that you see a beautiful landscape during a race and decide that you just have to go back there?

Definitely. For example, I was really impressed by Britain in the Tour of Britain three years ago because I hardly knew England or Great Britain. I had just been to London but that doesn't represent the whole country. And France. Before doing the Tour de France I thought it would maybe not be the most beautiful country on earth but in the Tour, especially in a stage that went through the Dordogne, it's a beautiful landscape. When you're on the bike and it's a bit of an easier day you're able to enjoy it and for sure it gives you ideas for holidays. When I did the Giro it taught me that Italy is such a beautiful country and so diverse. Then the year after we went to the Amalfi coast for some holidays with my girlfriend. I think it's cool that we get to explore a bit of the world as cycling becomes more globalized. I will try to keep doing that.

Last question. What is the main thing you dream to achieve in your career?

I really want to win Paris-Roubaix. That's a big dream of mine. I would also like to wear the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France once. The best way to do so would be by winning a stage. These are my dreams and dreams can turn into goals quite quickly. One is already a goal and the other one maybe in the future. Maybe not this year but you never know how it goes. Suddenly you might be up there and you have to be ready to grab your chance.

By Jonathan Roorda
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STEFAN KÜNG
BMC RACING TEAM





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