You’re often called the “rock star of cycling”. How does that make you feel?
Well, I’m a cyclist not a musician, and I don’t feel like a rock star. But this nickname also reflects how much people appreciate my achievements, so that means it’s fine by me. At the end of the day, all I want to do is compete in races and, if possible, win them. And the fact that – aside from cycling – I don’t take everything deadly seriously certainly helps me. At the same time, I have to lead a much more disciplined life than a rock star!
The explosive propulsion of your sprints is really impressive. What do you consider to be your other strengths?
I’d say that I’m able to concentrate well just at the right time. And I love my job. Most people spend their working day sitting in offices and can only do sport before or after work, whereas I get to do my favourite sport during my work time. What could be better than that?
Mental strength is crucial nowadays, including for cyclists. Do you have a mental coach?
I’m my own best mental coach because no one understands me better than I understand myself. In principle, it’s very simple: you need a good balance between your physique and your psyche. If I don’t feel great physically, then my mind isn’t in good shape either. Basically, I think that whether we win or lose is ultimately decided in our minds.
How do you prepare yourself mentally for a race?
When I was young, I used to be really nervous before my races. Then I won the first ones, but that made me feel even more anxious, so I decided to change my outlook. To boost my mental strength, I defined what was most important to me in life at the time, i.e. that my friends and family were fine and healthy. After all, whether I win or lose a race, in the evening I’m still the same person. You can win lots of races and still be unhappy; it’s all a question of your outlook on life. Unfortunately, many people aren’t happy with what they have.
Your father, Lubomir, is an important person in your life.
Yes, he often comes to my races. I think I spend more time with him than with anyone else. And it really moved me to see just how over the moon he was when I won the fifth stage of the Tour de France in 2019. Someone posted a video online showing my father going even crazier than me.
The world tour season runs from mid-January to the end of October. How do you manage to recharge your batteries during your short breaks?
My days are pretty busy. During tour season I travel from one race to the next, which doesn’t leave much spare time. Some days I only get five minutes to myself, but during those five minutes I completely switch off. The most important thing for me by far is getting enough sleep. To keep a sense of balance, I also find it extremely important to do things other than sport, especially spending time with my son Marlon (born in October 2017). I’m so incredibly happy when I hold him in my arms.
Do you do any recreational sport?
Well, I used to go snowboarding and do a lot of cross-country and downhill skiing, but now I only get to do this outside of the racing season. I do try to find time to hop on my mountain bike every now and then because it’s fun and it helps me to improve my balance on my road bike. For many young athletes, mountain-biking is the first step towards road cycling – that’s how I got into it too.
You live in Monaco…
Yes, where rock legends like Ringo Starr live just around the corner. You can also bump into Lewis Hamilton while doing your shopping. But the most important thing for me is that I have ideal training conditions all the time, including during the winter months. There are also great flight connections to and from Nice airport, which is located nearby.
How many kilometres do you cycle per year?
It depends, but I always clock up over 30,000 kilometres per year.
You’re also known for your great culinary skills. Do you sometimes cook for the whole team?
Yes, I paid them to say great things about me (laughs). No, seriously, cooking is a great hobby of mine. It helps me to relax. I’m pretty good at whipping up pasta dishes. I’m interested in cooking because a healthy and targeted diet is absolutely crucial for top athletes. Having said that, I’m not a big fan of shopping for ingredients.
What’s the basic idea behind the cookbook that you created together with BORA?
For my BORA 10 | 10 Edition, I came up with 10 recipes that take no longer than 10 minutes to prepare and 10 minutes to cook. The dishes are ideal for athletes because they are rich in protein, which makes them perfect for regeneration.
What do you have in common with your team sponsor BORA?
The fact that if you want to get close to perfection and be on top of your game, you have to keep evolving and do your own thing. I’m also fascinated by the firm founder Willi Bruckbauer’s courage to completely rethink and redesign a technical solution. He has made kitchen vapour extraction so flexible that we even have our very own BORA system installed in the kitchen of our team truck.
Where do you see yourself sportswise in five years’ time?
Ideally, I’d like to spend the rest of my career riding for the BORA – hansgrohe team. It’s just perfect for me, the atmosphere is great, and there’s no reason to contemplate changing for a second.
And what about your goals for the 2020 season?
I’m going to compete in the Giro d’Italia for the first time. Italy always has a special place in my heart, because it’s where I won my first World Champion title back in 2008. I think all professionals dream of taking part in the Corsa Rosa at some point, and for me, the time has finally come this year. I’m particularly looking forward to the first stages in Hungary, because it’s not far from my home country (Slovakia), so lots of my fans are bound to be there. In addition, another green jersey from the Tour de France would go nicely in my collection.
What’s your motto in life?
Follow your dream, believe in yourself and be grateful for what you have.
Text: MARTIN FRAAS
Photo: SAM BARKER & BETTINIPHOTO