Catching Up With UAE’s Sven Erik Bystrøm
Rider Interview: Every couple of years we catch-up with Norwegian rider Sven Erik Bystrøm. Back in 2015 he was the Under 23 World champion and starting his pro career with Katusha. Two years later, still with Katusha (-Alpecin), we heard how things were going. Now he rides for UAE Team Emirates, what has changed and what about the future?
Bystrøm and Kristoff ready for 2020
Our man in Spain, Alastair Hamilton, caught up with the ex-World champion at the UAE Team Emirates pre-season training camp.
PEZ: There were a few changes in the team last year, how was that for you?
Sven Erik Bystrøm: I found it good, especially the team staff, for the good I think. For me personally, I felt like I made an extra step during the long hard races, like in the classics, and I could perform better at the end of the races. Yeah, nutrition wise it’s better and I think we managed to train better. So, yeah, it was a change for the better I would say.
PEZ: Do you still live in Norway, and do you never think of moving?
I still live in Norway, and no, I don’t think about moving. I have a life there in Stavanger, my wife has her job there, we are expecting a kid in late April and we have our families. Yeah, I like it and training wise it’s a really good pace, I would say. People are always thinking, like: ‘Norway! How do you live there it’s crazy cold and blah, blah blah.’ Actually in November you can train really well in Stavanger, it’s on the western coast and the climate is more or less like Belgium, from the sea there is almost no snow. So in January, February and March, we do a lot of traveling anyway, so I’m home for a week, maybe, and then you can go on the rollers if it’s really bad weather, normally we can go out on the road all year round.
On the attack in the Tour de Suisse with Katusha
PEZ: It looked like you left Katusha at the right time?
Yeah, I was happy when I was in Katusha, but I feel sorry because Katusha was great team and seeing them last year and also the year before struggling for results, and also now they actually folded, well merged in with Israel. But there was incredibly nice staff and the riders were good, so I feel sorry about them, but my time in Katusha was only positive. Then when I left for this team and was watching it from the outside, it going down, it was sad.
PEZ: Talking of the changes at UAE, maybe in the first year the team was just finding its way?
I think so, because when I joined this team it felt like a pure Italian team. Everybody spoke Italian, was difficult to me to understand everybody and to fall in with their philosophy, and everything about nutrition and training. There was nice people there, but I think last year’s change was for the better and more international. More international and more modern thinking about training and nutrition. I think this part has changed in the last 10 years, before it was all about being light, now it’s more about having the right amount of power and your correct weight, not necessarily the lightest body weight.
Bystrøm, Gianetti and Kristoff
PEZ: You obviously train with a power meter, but what about when you race, do you look at it much?
I look at the power meter, but in the races, I don’t like to, I just use it as a guideline not to go too hard sometimes. But it’s more interesting to analyse after, I would say after the race.
PEZ: What is your personal aim for next year?
My goal is to keep developing into being just a better rider, you know, get my capacity better. For sure I want to take my opportunity, when I get it. Mostly I’m a teammate, working for others, but there’s always some stages and some races where you have your own opportunity. I guess I want to take that opportunity and prove that I can still win bike races.
Back in 2015 with Katusha
PEZ: Are you still on the same/similar program to Alexander Kristoff?
Yeah, I’ll actually have a little bit different program from him because I started in Australia and the UAE Tour, and he’s doing to the Giro and I’m not, coz I’m having the birth of my first child during this period, so it’s better to stay home. The team supports me with that, so that’s good. It can be a tricky situation. Anyway, my program is more or less the same, like Alex from Paris-Nice and into the Classics. So we do Paris-Nice and the classics together and after we have a divided program, but yeah.
PEZ: Would you ride the Ardennes Classics?
No. I did Amstel and Flèche one time with Katusha, I liked these races, but doing a full Classic program starting from UAE, Paris-Nice all cobbles Classics, it’s a lot, and all the way to Roubaix. So maybe in the future, they should suit my character, especially Amstel and Flèche I think. I want to try these races more in the future.
27, still time
PEZ: How old are you now?
Twenty-seven, I still have time.
PEZ: They used to say a riders prime was at 28, but riders seem to get younger and younger.
I think the younger rider is getting better than before. But still, I think in some races like in the Classics, you still need the experience and routine. If you look at races like Flanders and Roubaix, you never seen the really young guys performing there. You need to know the roads, you need the experience and everything.
PEZ: You rode your first Tour in 2019, what was that like?
I liked it. The Tour is something special, obviously the biggest race, it’s madness, but yeah, I really enjoyed it. For sure we were hoping for better results within the team, and I was hoping to perform a little bit better myself also. I felt my condition was good, but a little bit of bad luck. The other riders weren’t really in good condition at that moment. It’s not easy to perform well there. But overall, I’m happy I did it and I take all the experience I got with me for next year.
PEZ: Will you ride the Tour in 2020?
I’m on the list, but still we will have a selection. They have some riders on the long list and they will take the best possible team. I hope to be there.
PEZ: The 2019 Worlds in Yorkshire were terrible?
There was some crazy conditions.
Racing at home in Stavanger
PEZ: It should have suited somebody from Norway being cold and wet.
Yeah, actually I was happy with how it was. The conditions were horrible. But I think I managed to dress well because I was not super cold. I think the Munsterland Giro three days after and I was way more cold in that race than in the worlds. That race was much shorter at 190K. I felt good in the worlds considering the conditions. I think in these conditions I would mention that having a disc brake bike is a big advantage because we didn’t. So, for the braking and all the corners and all that, it’s in a race like that you really see the difference between disc brake and rim brake.
PEZ: So you are convinced that discs are better?
I’m convinced that I could have ridden better in that race with discs, but it’s easy to say afterwards. Especially in those kinds of weather conditions you need them. If you can break later, you can you can start the descent, more at the back and you can move to the front, you know, I had to start at the front and then I was at the back. So I had to make all that back on the climbs and use a lot of more energy.
In the mountains
PEZ: I just don’t like the look of them.
From the historical point of view rim brakes look better. I agree with you, aesthetically it’s better with rim brakes.
PEZ: I changed my mind about Zwift.
It is a really smart program. I use it sometimes, but I feel if you do need to train on rollers because of the weather conditions or whatever, your time goes so much faster when you have something to look at with the Zwift. Normally I just do maximum one hour, because it’s boring, but I did three hours on Zwift and it was like one hour. The time went fast.
Winning the Worlds in 2014
PEZ: You’re an old guy now.
PEZ: How do you see the young riders? There are a lot of them, like Remco, Pogacar, Van der Poel…
Actually, I think it’s a good sign for the sport of cycling that the younger guys do better because I think there is less doping in sports and you see the younger guys, they can go really well. They can start and do one professional season and they can start winning from the first one. I think it’s a really good sign and that shows that cycling has changed a little bit from the past for the better.
PEZ: Is that why there’s a gap between guys like, say Van Avermaet and then to the young guys. Do you think that is because of doping?
Not the only reason, maybe it’s one of the reasons, but I think also that teams now encourage the young rider to go for the results in the first season. I remember in my first professional season, maybe I was a bit too loyal to the team. So I was like, “I’m a new young guy. I have a lot of respect for the older riders and I want to help them first, then maybe try to win later”. But maybe now it’s changed a little bit and they want the young guys to go for it, you know. It’s interesting, actually, because the respect within the peloton is like…. Okay, I didn’t ride 10 or 15 years ago, but people told me that it was more like in a bunch sprint, there was a code of conduct. You don’t push the World champion if you’re a young guy. Now it’s; everybody against everybody.
Off-road in Bretagne
PEZ: I remember talking to riders ten years ago, and they were saying ‘kids today, they didn’t have any respect’. Now that seems normal.
For sure if you can think about it as a lack of respect for older riders, but still I think it’s for the better. It’s a competition. It’s still a race and it shouldn’t be these unwritten rules that you need to rely on.
PEZ: When I interviewed you years ago you mentioned Roubaix and Flanders, how do you feel about them now?
They are still really big goals for me, huge races. I really love the atmosphere there. I believe also in the next year, I can do well in those races. I was going good into the final last year. I believe I can do even better this year. So I can be there both as a helper for Alex (Kristoff), if he needs me, but also if the chance is there to go for it, you know, why not? You see riders like Bettiol winning Flanders. He was not one of the favourites. Politt in Roubaix. Mads Pedersen wining the Worlds. So I think if you keep believing that everything is possible, I think the time will come, hopefully for me as well.
PEZ: So are they still your favourite races?
Yeah, they are. I’d rather win the Ronde van Vlaanderen than the Olympics, for me. It’s a bigger race. It has so much history, it’s madness and I absolutely love the culture of that race. It’s a really, really cool race.
On the Roubaix cobbles
Down Under 2020