Saturday, December 12, 2009

Interview with Pia Sundstedt

To start off with could you tell us a little about yourself? What do you do, how old are you,who do you race for etc? Not many people know about you in North America so you need to really fill them in please.

My name is Pia Sundstedt 34 years old. I was born in Kokkola, Finland, a town approximately 300km south of the arctic circle. Not really a place where you think people are cycling. In fact I grew up on cross country skis. That was the most convenient way to get to school and from school back home. All spare time was spent on the skis, imitating the successful cross country skiers and ski jumpers of the nation.

Kokkola also happens to be a ‘cycling region’. A few good cyclist during decades has kept the ‘cycling spirit’ up in town. The club I represent, Gamlakarleby if, has a cross country skiing, biathlon, track and field, orienteering and cycling section. As a member I automatically wanted to try all sports. I got my first road bike 1989 from the club. That is when I knew cycling is ‘the thing’ I want to do.

1. What got you started into mountain biking?

It was a coincidence. I was professional on the road from 1996-2002, in the Netherlands, Italy, Canada (intersports) and Norway. I ended my career and finished my studies in political sciences at Åbo Akademi University in Finland.

In 2005 I moved to Germany and was looking for a job. I found a job as a ‘Tour guide’ in Black forest, southwest of Germany. People wanting to spend a different kind of vacation can join this kind of planned tours both with mtb and road cycle. This work kept me in shape;-)

In summer I took part in a mtb marathon in Willingen. I won the race and the woman in second place was the current leader of the marathon world cup. That surprised me and I phoned the Finnish cycling union. I needed a licence. 3 weeks later I won the European championships in mtb marathon. That is when my mountain bike career began.

2. How old were you when you first learned to ride a bike?

I think I was much better in cross country skiing as riding a bike. I was using a bike with 3 wheels for quite a long I think. I think I learned to ride a bike the summer I turned 5, but I am not sure J

3. What was your first bicycle?

I have had many bikes, but my first race bicycle was an orange coloured Crescent from the club. I was proud. And the bicycle was so fast with those thin tires.

4. What was your first race, and how did you do?

My first race was in 1989 and it was a time trial. I won that race.

5. I know you have done stage races in the past because I have seen results of your races. Which races have you done, and when a partner was required who was your partner?

I have done many stage races. On the road I did Tour de France 3 times and Giro d’Italia 4 times, just to mention the 2 most known ones…

In mtb my first experience of a stage race was Cape Epic in South Africa. In Europe I have done Trans Germany and Trans Alp.

My partner has always been Alison Sydor. A great rider! She has so much experience. I think we also make a good team. It is important to know each others weaknesses and strengths. Only then you can be successful as a team.

6. What do you enjoy most about mountain biking?

I like being out in the nature, feel the silence and reach places where you normally never go

7. Which do you prefer a hard tail, or full suspension?

I prefer a hard tail I think one reason for that is my road background where a stiff frame/bike always was of importance.

8. What do you do for offseason training?

I like the off season because I can do all kind of sports. In wintertime I do a lot of cross country skiing. No wonder, I grew up on skis, it is just part of me.

I also run, swim, I do core stability training. Also in summertime I try not only to cycle. I think it is not good to have a too monotone training.

9. What is your prerace meal?

I do carbo-loading before the race. Usually potatoes and pasta.

10. What are your greatest accomplishments?

On the road: World cup in Montreal and Obermebrach, SUI 1st and overall 2nd in 2000. Olympic games in Sydney 21st.

3 stage wins at Giro d’Italia

MTB: European Champion marathon 2005.

World cup marathon winner 2006, 2007, 2008.

World championships marathon bronze medal 2007 and 2008

11. Where has racing taken to you in the world? What other countries have you been to?

I have seen so many countries. I think it is impossible for me to start and make a list of all the countries. Would need an entire day for it. I was road professional in the Netherlands, Italy, Canada and Norway. With the teams we took part in races all over the world.

12. Where would you like to race that you haven't raced at yet?

Olympic games in London

13. What would your dream vacation be?

Sailing around the world

14. I have also heard that you are successful ski racing.. Could you tell us about that?

I took part in my first race when I was 5 years old. I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was in the village where my grandmother lives. I wore a red skiing suit and the biggest concern was how to ski the right track. I did not want to go the wrong way, because that would mean loosing time. So my mother promised to follow me in a safe distance and shout to me if I was going the wrong way. I won the race, but at the price giving ceremony I was so shy that I did hardly got up and fetch my prize, a silver spoon. That spoon has today a special place among my world cup trophies.

I continued racing in skiing until I was 18. That is when I chose to concentrate only on cycling.

I still use cross country skiing as training and the last years I have been taking part in Europe’s biggest long distance races.

15. What would be your toughest race you have ever been in?

There are many races that have been both mentally and physically very though. It is hard to mention one single race. In mtb marathons the race distances are so long. There you have many ups and downs and you have to learn how to keep your emotions under control so that your performance doesn’t get affected.

If I do have to mention one race, it was definitely my first mtb stage race, Cape Epic in 2008. There were moments I just wanted to give up, but the great support from my partner Alison made me survive the adventure.

16. What other accomplishments do you hope to achieve in skiing and racing bikes?

Skiing is just for fun. I have no ambitions and it is in cycling that I have my goals and dreams. I have won the XCM World cup jersey and the XCM European champion jersey. The only jersey that still is missing is the XCM world champion jersey. This dream keeps me going.

17. Did you have any mentors, or older siblings that you looked up to when growing up? (as in someone giving you inspiration?)

My coach Tom Andtbacka is a very important person. He thought me everything about training. He helped me a lot to reach this level and to stay on this level.

18. Do you have a five year plan, or ten year plan, or anything like that?

I remember the plan we made 1994. For 2000 we painted the Olympic rings. That became reality.

Now I don’t have any plans. I think it is good to have 5 and 10 year plans as a young athlete. You can’t reach the top at once. An endurance athlete needs years and years of training.

Now I only pick the fruits of all the training I have done the last 20 years.

19. For the young people reading this do you have any advice for them? Like as in training or life style they should follow to be successful at XC racing or skiing?

There is no short cut if you want to reach the top. It requires a lot of work and many years of training. Its an honest occupation, compared to many other jobs. You have talent, you train, you are strong, you win.

Still young athletes should not forget that sport is built on a very weak ground. An injury can destroy almost the existent of an athlete if there is no security to fall down on. That can for example be the possibility to study or to already have a profession.

20. Have you ever thought about doing some stage races in North America like as in the TransRockies, BC Bike Race etc with Alison Sydor?

For sure, Alison still has to show me her training area

21. Do you have a pre race ritual? (like as in meals, music etc?)

I always have the racing gear put out on a chair the evening before. I don’t want to have any kind of stress in the morning. I am then very concentrated and have my thoughts already in the race and in different scenarios what can happen during the race.

22. Racing bikes what do you think your strong points are, and what are you weaknesses?

My strengths are definitely climbing. As an ex roadie my technical skills are not the best ones, but I am working on it.

23. What drives you to get up in the morning and go on epic rides?

It is a lifestyle. I can’t live without sports.

24. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Nothing. I have had good and bad moments, but from everything you can learn

25. Have you seen any good movies lately?

I like the movies from Aki Kaurismäki. His movies are very special, but explains very well the Finnish society.

On behalf of everyone that reads this blog and myself, I would like to thank Pia for taking the time to do this interview. It has been a pleasure indeed.

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