Interview with Kjell Carlström, IAM Cycling Team


A week ago I chatted with Kjell Carlström and we decided to meet in Turku. I’ve been fortunate to get to know this former Team Sky professional cyclist currently working as Directeur Sportif (DS) for the Swiss IAM Cycling Team. Kjell has also been motivating and coaching me in my training and because of that I have been able to develop as a cyclist, both mentally and physically. So as you all know, it is always great to meet such people, this time was no exception. Also, talking with people who share the same interest, hours easily feels like minutes. I of course was eager to hear everything about the switch from a professional cyclist to a directeur sportif and all the latest about the team.

Q: What were the highs and lows from the first year, season 2013:

A:  Well there was a lot happening during 2013, but definitely the big disappointments of the year were the fact that IAM Cycling was left out from both Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. But thinking about those now a year later, they really wouldn’t have fit in our program for the year, and maybe it was better the way it turned out. Of course also bad luck for some of our riders such as Löfkvist was unfortunate.

Looking at the good things, there are many of them. We got a really good start in Qatar with Martin Elmiger battling for stage win on stage 1, finishing second on that stage. Of course Martin had a superb year and we were really pleased with the progress he made, and especially he was a really solid rider all year. Of course Bayern Rundfahrt was a good race for us with Stefan Denifl winning the mountains jersey, Heinrich Haussler winning stage 5 and the whole team performing really well and having both Martin Elmiger (9) and Marcel Wyss (7) at the GC top 10 and winning the team classification. We had a good year, but this year, we want to win even more.

Q: So what about your own ambitions or goals for the coming year?

A: I always wanted to win a grand tour. Before as a cyclist, and now as a DS. And even if we did have a good first year, I want to strive to be even better and do things better and more efficient as ever before. There is a lot to do, and that’s why I like this job. You can never be completely ready or done with what you do. It’s about the whole process. We’ve implemented the Fustra training method, and we’ve been really happy with that. Many riders have added this method to their routine, and we do see results as well. And sure, we do have some new things coming up…

At this point he gave me that laugh, you know when you have a secret you know will make a difference and sure, will be revealed at some point because it will end up in good results.

Let’s see what that is, it will be big, he continued laughing.

I realized it would be meaningless to even try to know what that is. So I didn’t ask more, just laughed along. We’ll see…

Q: What are the differences of being a pro cyclist and working together with pro cyclists?

A: It’s a totally different point of view that you have. As a DS you really need to be able to think in wider paths, you need to be able to think about the cyclists, things as a whole. When you plan or execute, you need to be able to see the whole picture from all angles. What seems logical for a cyclist might not be logical in the big picture, and sometimes it is hard to communicate that. At IAM Cycling, we try to talk and listen to our guys as much as possible, yea we do talk a lot.

Q: Goals and important dates for this season, which cyclist do you expect to step up and how is the team built up?

A: We have some important races we want to target with certain riders. The whole season expectations will be a mix of individual races and grand tour ambitions. The main goal is to be on the Tour this year, to win at least one stage, have the yellow jersey or have at least one rider in the top ten GC. We target to have at least one of these happening on the Tour, of course we are glad to nail them all! We have several riders who are able to target these goals. It’s are a huge advantage for us since we have a strong team with many good riders this year.

Of course we also want to win a classic in the spring, and we all know the biggest one is Paris-Roubaix. We have a really good mixture of riders for the first half of the classics and this gives us possibilities for building a great strategy in order to win. We have for instance Chavanel and Haussler, both really experienced and strong riders. Reichebach and Pelucchi have both good sprinting capabilities; we expect them to show up as well. Frank and Wyss both are able to step up this season too; we really have a wide range of cyclists who can, on a good day, win any race. Of course Löfkvist have all the possibilities to ride really well. He was really unlucky last year, we just need to change that and he can really have a successful year, he has made some great improvements lately. And Elmiger, huge year for him. He proved he can perform and this year he has some great targets where he really can win, and we really do believe this can be his big year. As a whole I see many of our riders to step up this year and reach a solid performance on high level.

It is also important that we don’t classify our young riders at a too early stage. Everyone needs to get opportunities to show what they can do and what they are best at doing. Too many become domestiques because they are classified as domestiques at an early stage. We don’t want to do that.

Q: Any comments on the Tour de France 2013 and what do you expect from the Tour de France 2014?

A: Well, the 2013, I expected Team Sky to perform and Froome to win, I had no doubt about it. For me it didn’t kill the interest in the tour, but maybe it didn’t offer the greatest excitement. It seemed that many teams had given up already before the race started. And the Alp d´Huez stage showed us all that even the Team Sky riders can be beaten, they’re humans as well.

For the 2014 edition of the Tour, Froome is of course the favorite. But it will be more interesting, because I don’t think Team Sky will be as dominant this year. Will be interesting to see how the Schlecks, Contador, Nibali and Rodriguez can do. There are many strong riders and teams such as Garmin and BMC. And maybe someone else as well…

Again a laugh from Carlström, I think he just mentioned IAM here.

The media pressure on Team Sky is huge, and it might affect how they ride and put a really hard pressure on all the riders there.

Q: What do you think about your former team and roommate Chris Froome?

A: He is a great guy, really down to earth and I wish him all the best of luck of course. During the time I spent with him, I really don’t have one bad word to say about him. Well in the beginning, before becoming a big name and grand tour winner, he really struggled with keeping his head with him when cycling. It was often just full speed and all out efforts instead of thinking of race tactics. But once he got that part in shape, well the rest is history as we know.

Q: So what is your relation to cycling today, do you still ride your bike and do you sometimes think it would be great to be racing?

A: I do ride, but not much these days, maybe less than 1000 km a year. Yet another laugh by Kjell. Well it would be great to race to win, but when I think about the amount of training it would mean, no I don’t want to get back there anymore.

It could be great to be able to go back 15 years, and try to do things differently. Not of course that I regret the things I’ve done, but I think it could have been of great importance to be able to believe in myself even more. That could have changed many things for me as a professional cyclist.

Suddenly the lights blinked. I realized the restaurant was closing and it was already 10 pm. I also realized I’d forgotten about my food and that there was still plenty of food left on the plate. Hours really can be minutes.

I will try to follow more closely on the IAM Cycling Team progress this year, and every time I have the possibility I try to catch up with Kjell to hear the insiders from races if possible. So stay tuned!



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