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The Swiss ’cross contingent is here.
One of the most recent whips that Swiss Cycling’s Timon Ruegg and Kevin Kuhn pulled attracted more attention than usual. It was Sunday, 29th November 2020 at the first round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Tabor, where on the first lap, Kuhn and Timon’s grin-inducing aerial antics were televised just metres in front of Wout Van Aert.
“As soon as I saw that jump, I said, let’s imagine leading the race and we can send it to the moon,” 24-year-old Ruegg gives his trademark grin from ear to ear. It’s a look that we are very familiar with —after all, he’s represented Swiss Cycling every year since 2013. The 3-times national champion and one of the world’s best ’cross riders is always happy. And it’s probably because he’s making a living doing his favourite pastime.
There’s a science that says your perception of exhaustion is reduced by being happy, no matter how high pressure the situation, or how fatigued you’re feeling. For Kuhn and Ruegg, two of the young Swiss ’cross contingent that are closing the gap on the Belgo-Dutch dominance of cyclocross, these whips are what make them happy and keep them performing at their best.
We catch up with the two young Swiss guns, who have been shaking up the status quo with mud-splattered grins on their faces to find out how their whips translate so well in watts and how they’ve navigated a discipline that already has some very clear favourites.
After Kuhn’s overall victory in the U23 World Cup in 2019/2020 and as the pair now begin to break into the top 10 on the elite stage, their underdog status as Swiss riders isn’t something that fazes them. “Kevin is becoming a bonafide Belgian, he’s one of them now!” laughs Ruegg, referring to Kuhn’s decision to sign for a Belgian team at the start of 2020. Despite having adopted the homeland of cyclocross, West Flanders, as his new home (and the hopes of a nation on his shoulders), Kuhn is modest about his ambitions: “I was ready for a change. I knew that I needed to base myself here to compete with the best. Belgium is where all the races are this season and I barely have to travel now. The set-up is great and all the mechanics help a lot.”
The pair met while riding for a MTB development team as juniors, going on to represent Swiss Cycling season after season. Kuhn explains: “We’ve developed alongside each other and learned so much over the years. Now that we’re racing for different teams at the World Cups, it’s different and we’re learning from the others that are ahead of us in the races. It’s only by putting ourselves into these races against guys with such speed that we’ll learn to get faster.” Ruegg nods empathetically, clearly motivated to throw himself into situations where winning isn’t everything. “We’re at the level where we can already beat a lot of the top Belgian and Dutch riders, but there’s still a core at the front of the races who have an edge.”
Kuhn looks momentarily put-out, as if to refute Ruegg’s point: “But we’re both still young riders, so we’ve got a lot to develop still.”
While world-class cyclocross in the women’s field is diversifying with the stars and stripes of USA Cycling able to consistently challenge the Belgian and Dutch teams, the men’s field still largely remains a two-nation procession. The Swiss are always next in line, there or thereabouts. But as high-level racing grows across our small nation with the growth of the EKZ Cross Tour, we’re witnessing the emergence of hugely talented and hungry riders with the ’cross skills to put the Helvetica cross at the front of the pack.
When they head to the European or World Championships, these friends roll back comfortably to old times. “Putting on the Swiss Jersey is a big deal, but one there’s two sides to it: in one sense, you know it’s a big race when you’re racing for the Swiss team so there’s added pressure. But on the other hand, you’re in an environment that makes you feel comfortable — we get to room with each other and have fun,” explains Kuhn, prompting another laugh from Ruegg: “Rooming with your friend and talking about where to whip is a good way to take the pressure off.”
So, as we watch Swiss Cycling’s hot talents move through the ranks, we’re hoping to see whips feature more prominently in future races.