What's Cool In Road Cycling

Magnus Backstedt: Back To Action

PEZ readers have long been fans of Magnus Backstedt, one of the most accessible and ‘real’ men of the pro peloton. He always finds time to tap us into the often closed world of professional bike racing, and we talked to him recently about the 2008 season and his year with Garmin-Chipotle.

– Reported by Guy Wilson-Roberts

It was a dull and rainy day in Vancouver when we talked to Magnus Backstedt at his home in Wales. The sort of November day when only the toughest and most dedicated of riders consider heading out on their bikes. Still, it was not hard to imagine Backstedt – winner of Paris-Roubaix in 2004, a certified Classics hard man – putting in his training miles in the Welsh rain, over the ‘gelltyd ‘(hills) and through the ‘cymoedd’ (valleys).

“We’ve had a stint of really good weather, actually,” Backstedt explained when asked about local conditions. “In terms of training, it’s been absolutely brilliant.

“I’ve had a rest day today for the first time in three weeks,” he added.

Magnus’ season got off to a rough start with a broken collarbone in Qatar in January.

Injury, Rest, Rebound
It has been a tough year for Backstedt. It started with a broken collarbone at the Tour of Qatar, another addition to a long list of injuries. Then there were mechanical problems –broken wheels – that spoiled his chances at Paris-Roubaix.

Then came the Tour. On stage 7, into Aurillac, Backstedt missed the time cut by just four minutes after his legs literally just stopped working. Clearly he had a big problem and this was, unfortunately, the start of a long period of recovery. PEZ was naturally keen to find out how he was doing.

“I would say I’m at 100% right now,” Backstedt was pleased to announce. “It’s been a long road to get myself sorted. I needed to have a proper break to rest up. I haven’t had a proper break when I haven’t been injured or sick in 3 seasons. When you’re injured, you never rest properly. It’s been good physically and mentally for me to rest up.”

Following his exit from the Tour, though, there was an initial period where Backstedt was searching for answers as to why he could not sustain long efforts on the bike. The initial prognosis was too much lactic acid building up in his body.

“The reasons I had problems clearing lactic acid is that the acid levels in my blood were way too high,” he explained. “This was due to a stomach bug I picked up at the Giro that wrecked the lining in my small intestine. When this happens your body just absorbs everything, but only about 50% of the nutrition from any food. I wasn’t able to clear the lactic acid and had no energy stores whatsoever.

“In the stage at the Tour when I missed the time cut, I was feeling absolutely brilliant for the first fifty kilometres; basically, three kilometres after that I was legless – I could hardly turn the pedals over.”

It did not take too long after the Tour to find the problem, fortunately.

“Generally, if you rest up, the lining of your small intestine takes two-three months to heal up,” Backstedt explained to PEZ. “We were able to speed up the process with the team’s doctors. By the Tour of Britain, I felt like my old self and the power was back. It was the perfect time to end the season before the start of winter training.”

Backstedt was super strong at the Tour of Britain.

For Backstedt, looking forward, he sounded positive going into the winter and starting to think about goals for next year.

“I’m feeling very confident,” he said. “The training for the last couple of weeks has been much better than I expected and even my power output has been higher than when I stopped the season. Everything is looking like I’m back to my old self. Fingers crossed that I keep in one piece and keep healthy.”

Backstedt enjoys his time on the track.

Backstedt has had his fair share of injuries – including a nasty shoulder repair in 2006 that required a metal plate, which was finally removed in February last year. But he has always seemed philosophical about his injuries and the risks of cycling, with the slogan ‘pain heals’ included on his website. PEZ was interested how he held up during this recent problem.

Backstedt takes the win at the Swedish National Championships in 2007 in Liquigas colors.

“It’s been easier this time, actually,” he said. “I’ve had a team behind me that backed me up 100% all the time. They found people who could help me. And my teammates, we’re such a close group: when I broke my collarbone in Qatar, everyone sent me messages for a quick recovery. That included riders, masseurs, mechanics, even owners and sponsors; it’s clearly a very positive thing.”

Maggy takes the podium moments after winning the ’08 Giro’s opening stage.

It’s A ‘Team’
As PEZ readers know, Backstedt rode for Liquigas for three years from 2005 through 2007. For this year he joined Jonathan Vaughters’ Slipstream team, later to become Garmin-Chipotle. Given that Vaughters spoke extensively about creating a more supportive team environment, PEZ was interested in Backstedt’s impressions if it had been a more close-knit team.

“Definitely,” he told us. “I like the way that the team works, as well. We’re always looking for that extra little thing that can make a difference, whether it’s the wind tunnel, or anything on the bike. Anything that can add 0.1% is actually worth looking at – if you find ten of them it makes a bigger difference. It’s really nice to have a team that strives forward all the time and really supports the riders as well.”

Garmin certainly has a number of ‘characters’ in the team. PEZ was interested in Backstedt’s view on our assessment of the duality of the team, which projects a certain freedom for individuals but is also deadly serious in its racing.

“That’s a very good assessment,” he said. “It’s a team where we’re allowed to expose our individuality, encouraged to do so. At the same time, we work incredibly hard. I think if you’re allowed to be yourself and have fun when you’re out with the team, your work effort increases dramatically. If you’re happy, you put in that extra effort. Everything goes hand-in-hand. I take my hat off to Jonathan, who created a team atmosphere from the first minute we met last year in Boulder and through the whole season – it’s been brilliant.”

Backstedt has said before on PEZ that he favours the New Zealand haka, the traditional Maori war dance performed most famously by the All Blacks rugby team, as extra motivation before a race. PEZ wondered if Backstedt knew team mate Julian Dean very well before they both joined Garmin and if the Kiwi rider had taught Backstedt a good haka technique.

“I knew Julian from back when we both started out as professionals,” Backstedt explained. “He was one of those guys I’ve been rubbing shoulders with for a few years now, like most of the seasoned professionals on the team. I’m a bit of a fan of the haka; I’ve seen a lot of them, as I’m a rugby fan and go to watch the games in Cardiff all the time. So I do know the haka and we did share a few moments through the season, sharing ipods with the haka as the last track.”

Springtime In France
While Backstedt has been able to enjoy some good Welsh training weather and spend time at home with his wife and two daughters, the next two months will be a busy schedule with the 2009 team presentation in Boulder at the end of November, then a family holiday, before two weeks in the south of France for some long winter miles. After that, it will be time to start a new season and PEZ asked Backstedt what his goals were for 2009.

Flanders isn’t a warm-up race for many people. It is for Backstedt.

“Is there more than one?” he replied. “For me it’s always the second Sunday in April. Paris-Roubaix is the day I live for and next year will be no different. I’ll definitely approach that with everything I can.

“I’m playing with the idea of maybe cutting out the Grand Tours and focussing on one-day races and smaller stage races. But it’ll be a case of sitting down with Jonathan and Matt White and working out the season.”

Backstedt won Paris-Roubaix in 2004 with an incredible ride that was a cliffhanger right up until the velodrome. PEZ was interested in his love for the race, given how tough the race is physically but also the capricious role that fate can play in determining the victor.

“It’s a little bit of a love-hate relationship,” he explained. “But when it’s like that, the love is a little bit stronger. It’s always very passionate – I absolutely love it. But at the same time, well, like this year, I felt perfect for the first 150 kilometres but then my dreams went down the drain due to my wheels breaking. Stuff like that is always going to be difficult to cope with.

“But what goes around comes around, you know; a few years ago when I won, Johan Museeuw punctured with 10 kilometres to go. Maybe that was my bit of luck. I still hope that I would’ve been able to win it anyway, but it would’ve been more difficult with Johan there. I had my luck, so I’ve got to have my bad luck, too.”

While it was a tough year for Backstedt, his team enjoyed many successes. Cycling, though, continued to grapple with doping and this year again saw several high-profile cases. With Garmin one of the leaders on the road to a cleaner sport, PEZ wanted to know if Backstedt was optimistic about the future.

“At the same time it hurts me every time someone gets caught, but that’s one less guy out there doing it,” he told PEZ. “I hope that we can continue forward to a clean sport. We’re doing everything we can to provide a clean sport from our team’s point of view.”

Coffee Talk
Backstedt seems to have little time to think about some of the bigger issues, though, as his coffee business has just secured franchises in the US and Sweden, which will soon make it easier for buyers, particularly in North America, to secure some of his ‘Magnus Maximus – Coffee for Champions’ coffee beans.

“The coffee will be available in America shortly,” he said. “It will be distributed from the US as well, which will cut out a lot of costs.”

All the proceeds from his coffee sales go towards a new project that Backstedt has with his manager, Martin McCrossan, based around supporting Swedish cycling team Cyclesport.se, which hopes to field a Continental-level squad in the near future.

“We’re trying to make a big impact for next year to help these guys out,” Backstedt explained. “It’s a stepping stone we want to try to make for them. We’re looking to try to bring one or two American riders onto this team for 2010. Coffee sales in America will directly benefit American riders; we could actually fund one or two guys to come to Europe. The more coffee we sell, the more riders we can support.”

Backstedt was clearly enthused about this project and expected to see the US franchise up and running soon. McCrossan told PEZ that they hoped to have the production and distribution, which will be based in Bend, Oregon, ready to go by the end of November.

Backstedt promised that all details would be revealed in due course on his website www.magnusbackstedt.com. If the dark and damp weather continues as it has been so far this month, we’re certainly going to need plenty of good coffee.

A big thanks to Magnus for his time talking to PEZ. We can hardly wait for the second Sunday in April either!

• PEZ will be live and in person at the Team Garmin-Chipotle H30 launch this Saturday in Boulder – stay tuned for more!

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