IAM Cycling's Matthias Brändle shot onto the front pages of the cycling press at a speed of 51.85 Km/H on October 30th 2014 when he loosed off the first round in the post-Jens Voigt Hour Record war. Although not a household name in the UK up until that point, the watchful were more than aware of the firepower Matthias possessed after back-to-back stage victories in the 2014 Tour of Britain, especially as one of those victories was claimed against Alex Dowsett, the same Essex lad who has since gone on to take the Hour Record Matthias had previously held. A portent to future 'Battles Royale' between the two on the road and against the clock at the highest of levels, perhaps..?
Matthias' career, throughout his youth and on into the professional ranks, has benefitted from the guiding hand of Ex-Pro Christian Pauger, owner of the Pro-Cycle shop in Bregenz and, naturally, DS of the shop team. I caught up with both for a chat just after Matthias has debuted in and finished his first Tour de France.
Always Riding - When did you first start working with Matthias and what was it about him that made him stand out as a talented rider?
CP - Since 2004, when he was 14 years old. When I met him he was a mountainbiker, then I managed to persuade him to switch to the road. I recognised his talent by the way he sat on a bike and the way he rode. He has a lot of fighting spirit - he had it then and he has it now. I call it 'The Eye of the Tiger'. Not everyone has that. Matthias always wanted to win. His debut on the road was the U17 individual TT Austrian championships. He won the title and surprised the road racing scene in Austria. From then on things went continually uphill.
Always Riding - Was he a good rider to coach or did you have to work on correcting bad habits?
CP - He turned pro at 18, but before that he had to overcome a few difficult years in puberty. But he was always successful in the youth and junior ranks, and also did well at and finished school (in Bregenz). Even these days Matthias doesn't live an ascetic lifestyle - he enjoys the occasional glass of good wine or a tasty meal and doesn't count the calories. But when it matters he gets to the startline at his fighting weight!
Always Riding - What are your feelings now you see Matthias riding in the biggest races and to have the Hour Record on his pal mares?
CP - I'm extremely proud of him, Matthias is like a son to me. He always visits me when he's in the country, and we usually make important decisions together, or we discuss them. I've always believed in him and supported him. I'm firmly convinced that his big time is yet to come: Hour record and Tour de France participation - those were just the start.
Always Riding - Do you have any upcoming riders who we should watch out for?
CP - I am supporting Melanie Amann, an 18 year old Austrian junior rider, who has just won the Austrian ITT championships. She is participating at the European Olympic Junior games. Her brother Dominik (16) is also progressing bit by bit, he's also riding for Pro Cycle Team Bregenz. I'm currently also very active in Triathlon (I am the named sponsor for ProCycle TriTeams Dornbirn) because my son Leon Pauger (16) is in the Austrian National Youth team. He is already competing internationally and wants to turn pro. One of his role models is Matthias Brändle, who has shown that that's possible for an Austrian. Sometimes they train together and Leon is always grateful for the cycling tips he gets from Matthias. Matthias was voted Austrian Cyclist of the Year and Vorarlberg's Sportsperson of the Year in 2014. He likes to pass on his experiences to young riders, and I think he's the motivator and role model for all up-and-coming athletes in our region.
Always Riding - Everyone knows you for the Hour Record, but you first came to the attention of us here in the UK when you rode so aggressively in the 2014 Tour of Britain- how was that? Do you enjoy the tight and twisty lanes of the UK?
MB - I have very good memories of Great Britain. It really strengthened me mentally as a person also gave me the confidence I need for the Hour Record. As a result of the narrow roads and the constant undulations the Tour of Britain is predestined for breakaway riders, and very difficult for a team to control. In retrospect I probably should have tried to go for a hattrick - 3 stages in a row - but when the group went I thought the group wouldn't stay away again that day.
Always Riding - Your specialty appears to be racing against the clock with many great TT results, not least the Hour and your Tour de France prologue result, but you are also a rider who is not afraid to attack and commit to a break; Which type of racing is your favourite- the break or against the clock?
MB - You have to distinguish a bit here -between different types of TTs- I love prologue and smaller time trials. I still need to work on the long time trials. So far that's only worked once for me, at the Hour Record. Of course I also like stages where I can attack. I love to ride ahead of the bunch and make the days hard for the bunch. On good days a stage win pops out of it...
Always Riding - What was tougher; the Hour or the three weeks of the Tour? Can you even compare?
MB - They are hard to compare. Luckily a body always forgets how hard it really was quite quickly. Pain is temporary. During the Hour Record I went to my outer limits. I had great spectators and they helped me during the hardest phases of the race. Thank you to my fans! The Tour was different. You fight for much longer, but can simply never give up...during the second week it was a battle against the nearly 40 degree heat and during the third week against the mountains. It was a tough battle, but reaching the finish line in Paris was all the more beautiful because of it.
Always Riding - Your prologue ride was a dream start to your first tour- were you confident of that result? What where your first impressions of the Tour?
MB - I already believed that I might be able to cause a surprise. I beat Rohan Dennis in Belgium in a prologue four weeks before, and was third at the Tour de Suisse, so it didn't come as a surprise to me. I even think that if it had been a little bit cooler and with a few more corners I would have been able to ride for the win. The level at the Tour is extremely high. Every rider is extremely motivated and all the teams exert pressure, but it's not the hardest bike race in the world for nothing!
Always Riding - What about the other side of the Tour, the hard moments- what was your toughest day?
MB - For me personally quite clearly stage 19. After the start it went up the mountain for 15km, then briefly flat after the descent, and then 25km uphill again. After the descent another 17 unhill, and all of that with a cut off time of 30 minutes. We had to make a real effort in the Grupetto to make the timeout.
Always Riding - What image or story are you going to take away from the Tour as one that sticks in your mind from your first Tour de France?
MB - The moment we arrived in Paris. We rode under the Eiffel Tower, all the roads were closed, we got cheered on like big stars, and all of that after 3 weeks of suffering. That was very special. But also the atmosphere throughout the whole Tour. During hard moments in training I will think about how many people would like to pin a start number on their backs and experience that..
Always Riding - There is one race that seems to be your destiny now in my mind.. the World Championship Time Trial; Is this something you have in your sights as a target this year or further down the line?
MB - I think that will come a bit soon for me to able to ride for the win, but I will try to steadily improve. The TT is not my only priority though, maybe I can do something in the road race..
Always Riding - I’m thinking you may be able to ski! Do your get out on the slopes and trails during winter- maybe down the Streif or on the biathlon range? Which type of skiing do you prefer? Who is your favourite alpine/ snow sports star?
MB - Yes, winter-sports are very popular in Austria, I stood on skis for the first time as a little boy at the age of four. As children we went to the ski resorts very often - up on the lift and down on skis. I still enjoy that, and every now and then I manage to fit in a trip to the slopes. For training prefer the Touring skis. To climb up high up onto a mountain with skis and then enjoy the ski down. That's great training!
Always Riding - So, Let's finish with asking, out of all of the delicious Austrian food you can enjoy in the mountains, what is your favourite 'berg hutte' meal to keep you going out on the snow trails?
MB - Definitely A 'Brettljausen' -That's a platter with bacon, cheese & bread :)