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Interview with Marko Vauhkonen - Suomen Kilpapyöräily ry

Interview with Marko Vauhkonen – Suomen Kilpapyöräily ry


As some of you might remember I wrote about the Finnish cycling project that aims at lifting our road cycling future to a whole new level. We have a strong history in endurance sports such as cross country skiing and running, but in cycling we've never been able to reach a level such as our Scandinavian neighbors Sweden, Norway and Denmark has. One could blame it on the weather conditions, but that doesn't make sense since our neighbors have the same conditions.

I’m really happy and at the same time super excited about this new project that will hopefully have a huge impact in our cycling culture and finally help our young talents to reach the top elite in cycling. Suomen Kilpapyöräily ry (freely translated Finnish Cycle Racing association) was founded by 27 members not just anybody, but by the cycling elite in Finland including such names as current professional cyclist Jussi Veikkanen former professionals Charly Wegelius (directeur sportif, Team Garmin Sharp) and Kjell Carlström (directeur sportif, IAM Cycling Team) who are both still involved in the professional cycling today.

Just last week I had the opportunity to meet one of the founding members of Suomen Kilpapyöräily ry., Marko Vauhkonen. Marko has a strong background in cycling, as one of his best personal achievements as a cyclist he mention the year 1984 and the Nordic championships (track) where he took a bronze medal. He has a strong background in international cycling as well, having experienced both European and world championships in both road- and track cycling.

Marko Vauhkonen - Suomen Kilpapyöräily ry.

I was really excited to meet him. Since I hadn't heard a lot about the project, but I knew there were many really big names behind it, I knew it would be big. We took a coffee and sat down, I thought it would be an hour, but I guess it took more than two and a half hours at the end. I guess when you have two cycling freaks talking about cycling, you shouldn't assume such things.

The 27 names behind the project are:

Juho Suikkari, Kimmo Kananen, Kjell Carlström, Jari Vanninen, Peter Selin, Patrick Wackström, Sixten Wackström, Marko Vauhkonen, Mika Hämäläinen, Kimmo Karhu, Oscar Stenström, Tauno Hietala, Peter Klimscheffskij, Vesa Rauttu, Pertti Linna, Jouni Hakala, Joona Laukka, Jussi Veikkanen, Harri Hedgren, Veikko Sinisalo, Juha Poutiainen, Kari Myllymäki, Vesa Mattila, Jukka Heinikainen, Christian Selin, Charley Wegelius and Jyrki Tujunen.

Many of you recognize some or most of of these names for sure. So after a "short" introduction of presenting myself to Marko and vice versa, I was eager to know how and why this project got started? It was easy for Marko to answer this question.

“For years we've seen many of our young talented riders struggle to get to the top, and there has been none or little support for these talented young riders. Last autumn I got a phone call from Juho Suikkari and together we decided that this trend can’t continue, we need to do something in order to bring cycling to a level where it deserves to be in this country. And with the current resources and investments, we knew it would be next to impossible to do so. So we decided to act, and more or less, that was the start for this project. Of course it took us a couple of days to send out invitations to a first ever meeting, but we were efficient and in just a few months we had started a project, made clear plans and started our work.”

It struck me how fast everything was built up. This of course is just a sign of how passionate these guys are about cycling and about their will to really do something important and big for cycling. At this point I was eager to know more and tried to take in all information possible.

Q: What are the main goals for the project?

“We want to look at this, not just as a single thing that will take our youth quickly to the top, but as a complete learning experience for our young riders. We have a clear mission to build sustainable, competitive and healthy youth. Money should not be an obstacle for anyone and our mission is to help, support and advice young riders how to be independent and help them gain international experience, which is such a crucial component in being successful.

Cycling races were won by individual efforts back in the 1930’s, but today you win and lose as a team.

All of us involved, we have a strong knowledge in the world of cycling all the way from the early -80’s, and we want to share that experience with our youngsters. We really want to emphasize the fact that cycling is a team sport more than anything else. We want our riders to really feel and internalize that what you give to the team, you’ll have back doubled. A team is as strong as its weakest link. Cycling races were won by individual efforts back in the 1930’s, but today you win and lose as a team.

And it’s not just about cycling, we of course want to prepare the youngsters for a life at the top, but also prepare them for a life after cycling, because we all know there is one. At some point the youngsters will grow older and hopefully they will be role models for the next generation of cyclists. It’s a complete package. Besides this we of course want to encourage everyone to ride their bikes and raise awareness about the sport itself. What also needs to be said, we are not competing with any national cycling clubs or the national cycling association in Finland (Suomen Pyöräilyunioni), we are here to support the youth together with the other clubs and the national association.”

All of that makes sense, right? Think about being a young rider and having a team like that behind you, supporting, sharing thoughts and advice with you. Being together with your role models and having them support you must be a “dream come true” for any athlete.

Q: What can you tell us about the support and visibility of the campaign so far?

“We’ve had a great start visibility-wise. Both Facebook and Twitter have attracted many followers without any big marketing so far. For social media we also have many great things to come when the season starts. We will also have some “visibility” in TV, and some stories will be shared along the cycling broadcasts for instance on Finnish Eurosport. We also have some great sponsors already with us, for instance Solvalla training centre (Solvalla idrottsinstitut - Solvallan urheiluopisto) where we also had our first training camp.”

So at this point, having the backgrounds I really wanted to know more about the cyclists, the team the first training camp, well everything. I tried to hold myself together.

Q: About the team, can you tell us more about the age group, what type of riders you have selected and how is the selection done?

“So a project life-cycle is 4 years and the target age group is 15-18 year old riders. We want to keep the “doors open” for everyone. For this year’s team we've been looking at last year’s results and gathered the cyclists who had the best results in their respective age groups. We will be competing with a 6 “man” strong team in each competition and we have 3 in reserve for each race. We do not classify or categorize our riders, we select them to each race separately and have a rotation on the lineups. We go into every race with a mentality that we can win that race, we give 110 % each time we are competing, as a team and on an individual level. If we see that there are other talented guys outside of our group who are improving and racing well, we keep our doors open for them of course. At that age there are huge differences in how the boys develop, some might develop at an early age, some might show their talent years later. That's why I say we keep our doors open, and that's the only way to go. “

Q: In social media we saw a couple of weeks ago pictures and some stories from your first training camp. How was it, what was the agenda and how would you sum up the training camp?

“Honestly, I’d say it was as good as a training camp can be. No, actually it was even better. It was one of the best training camps I've seen and experienced content-wise in my life. Probably it was so rich in content that the youngsters weren't able to assimilate everything, but if they were able to memorize 30 % of what was said, they already took a great leap forward as cyclists. Besides great lectures and support by Kimmo Kananen, Kjell Carlström and Charly Wegelius, we had an individual bike fit for the guys, surprisingly all had to make some adjustments in their positioning on the bike.

Inspecting the proper positioning (picture from: https://www.facebook.com/pyorailynousuun)

Inspecting the proper positioning (picture from: https://www.facebook.com/pyorailynousuun)

We also had the opportunity to have Jani Paju with us, who introduced Fustra to the guys. Fustra has been a success in many countries and is also used by the top elite as a way to improve especially your core strength. In cycling, Fustra is used for instance by IAM Cycling Team.

Time to Fustra! (picture from https://www.facebook.com/pyorailynousuun)

Time to Fustra! (picture from https://www.facebook.com/pyorailynousuun)

We also focused on activities that were not related to cycling where the focus was on building team spirit. And I think we nailed that as well, better than expected.

First training camp at Solvalla (picture taken from https://www.facebook.com/pyorailynousuun)

First training camp at Solvalla (picture taken from https://www.facebook.com/pyorailynousuun)

The lectures were interesting and practical and our days were filled with action. Basically we got up at 7 AM and had a full schedule until 22 PM. We learnt how to get a bottle from the team car properly, safe and efficiently. We also went through how to take advantage of bad situations such as punctures. As Wegelius pointed out several times, no panic, use your brains!”

Lecture by Wegelius (picture from: https://www.facebook.com/pyorailynousuun)

Lecture by Wegelius (picture from: https://www.facebook.com/pyorailynousuun)

As a final question I wanted to know when we’ll see a Finn on the podium, either in a spring Classics race or on a grand tour. Marko didn't need to think for long.

“ 2016, Mikko Paajanen. He has had a really good off season this year, and according to his own words he has never been in as good shape as he is now. I’m confident he will be the next big Finnish cyclist.”

And so, two and a half hours later we realized it was already pretty late. Time goes by so fast when you talk about cycling. I’m really excited to follow this project, and having heard many details I cannot yet reveal here, I’m looking forward to a year in cycling I've never experienced before. It was also really great to meet Marko, such a great person! I will be reporting about the project as it progresses so stay tuned! We will see the new team compete for the first in Finland in Turku, April 26th and 27th. So stay tuned for updates, there will be some great news, I promise you that!



Working on my February legs

It has been a pretty busy week. It began with easy training, a business trip to Stockholm and then rounding up with an FTP test, Winter Olympic Games start and beginning of the Tour of Qatar. 

Last Sunday I took a spin outside, probably the hardest outdoor workout this winter. It had been snowing a lot and since the temperature was around zero degrees, it was hard to keep the bike straight. In the worst places, uphill with loads of loose snow my speed was around 5 km/h and my heartbeat was around 180 bpm. With every pedal-stroke the rear wheel just kept spinning and the bike was wildly sliding from side to side. And that ride was supposed to be an easy aerobic day...

On Monday I took an easy recovery spin, and then I had to rest for two days because of a trip to Stockholm.

Morning glory

A must pay visit to Bianchi Café&Cycles

Stockholm by night

Back in Turku

And it was time for my favorite pastry, Runebergstårta!

On Friday I had the second FTP test for this year. I was not too confident going into the training. My goal was to raise the FTP value with at least 10 watts, and honestly this time the test felt much harder than before. Having given it my all, I actually ended up with +14 watts, a huge surprise. Having lost 2 kg's weight this year, I actually already nailed my off season W/kg record, which feels good having trained less than I would have wanted to. 

On Friday the Winter Olympic Games also finally begun, the Olympics are always a spectacle I love to watch. After the opening ceremony I rewarded myself with Friday-Sauna.

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On Sunday the Tour of Qatar started, and what a start. Great breakaway effort by IAM Cycling Team once again, and I'm really excited to see what the team will be able to show during this tour!

Watching Tour of Qatar while training

On Sunday we also saw Enni Rukajärvi take the first Finnish medal in Women's Slopestyle. Great silver medal, hopefully one of many to come. 

Next week I really need to improve my training. Even if I had a couple of weeks with too few hours, I'm glad to see I'm improving and also glad I've been able to reduce my weight without losing muscles. The goal is to still lose some 5 kg's before summer.

Sunday breakfast

A month or so and we are out on our road-bikes!?

Wrapping up first month of Road Cycling-14

January is the month when we get that small distant taste of a new road cycling season with The Tour Down Under and pro cycling teams showing up new gear and team colors. For me January often is an indicator of what the upcoming year might bring. The first FTP tests, weight reduction in order to even further work on the W/kg ratio and really starting to build for the upcoming road cycling season. 

Ice hockey and trainer seemed to be the agenda for January training

Last year I had a pretty good start, and looking at statistics this year I haven't been doing as much. No gym so far, managed to do some core training and qualitative training on the trainer and also outdoors, so cycling wise I think I'm still ahead, and I feel that as well in the legs. Looking at the previous FTP test, that also indicates I'm on a good way and in head of last year's numbers.

Food was another theme, especially eating smarter

There are several other great news in road cycling during January. IAM Cycling Team has been invited as a wildcard to the Tour de France 2014, Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné. Even if they didn't got the invitation to the Giro d'Italia 2014, the dream of making two grand tours still live since IAM Cycling team looks forward to hit the Vuelta as well this year. You can read the whole article here. These invitations are also in line with the expectations that Kjell Carlström mentioned in an interview with him earlier in January

January has also brought some great news for Finnish road cycling. The project "Suomen Pyöräily Nousuun" has advanced and now the "Suomen Kilpapyöräily Ry" will continue to work on the first ever attempt to really bring together our promising youth and bring them to the top of professional road cycling. Behind this movement are great names such as Kjell Carlström and Charly Wegelius. One could say, a new era in Finnish road cycling has begun. Read more about it by following Suomen Pyöräily Nousuun Facebook page.

Kjell and Charlie teaching our youth! (picture from  Suomen Pyöräily Nousuun facebook page )

Kjell and Charlie teaching our youth! (picture from Suomen Pyöräily Nousuun facebook page)

I will let you know more about this project as it progresses.


Enjoy your weekends!