Interview- Bjorn Thurau
Talking about racing in Germany, his famous father and his new role in a British team
Words: Cycling Legends
Photos: Andy Jones
Bjorn Thurau is a young man with lots of miles in his legs and lots of experience in his head. He’s been racing at top-level since 2012 when he joined the French team Europcar and immediately slotted into a vital role, bossing the front of races for hours on end to help his team.
It’s a vital role in pro cycling, and Thurau is perfectly suited to it. He’s very strong and very tall, six feet four inches (1 metre 94), and he can ride over any terrain. Flat cobbles, rolling hills or big mountains, Thurau does them all. He did the same job with Bora-Argon in 2015, Wanty-Groupe Gobert in 2016 and with Kuwait-Cartuch.es last year, but Thurau can shape races too, something he’ll get more opportunity to do with his new team Holdsworth Pro Racing in 2018.
“If I’m light I can climb,” he says, an understatement for a guy who won the mountains titles of the 2013 Tour of Luxembourg and the 2015 Tour of Switzerland. And his last result in 2017, third overall in the Tour of Qinghai Lake, was in another super hilly race.
Holdsworth Pro Racing is a brand new British UCI Continental team, started from scratch in late November 2017. Thurau, with his strength experience and studied professionalism, will play a vital role in it. “It’s exciting. I want to improve myself, as I have tried to do every year, but I also want to help with the project. Holdsworth Pro Racing is a new team, everything is starting from the beginning, and I think I can help the team develop and teach younger riders what to do,” he says.
Thurau has watched British cycling grow, and seen its success. “The British teams have a good reputation, and I have seen how big the interest is for cycling in the UK by watching the TV when the Tour de France came to England in 2014, and by watching the Tour de Yorkshire. I also experienced it myself when I raced in the Tour of Britain in 2016. The racing is good in Britain and the crowds are huge,” he says.
It’s a contrast to his native country’s recent relationship with cycling. Germany fell out with the sport when a number of high-profile German cyclists were caught up in doping scandals, notably their cycling super-star Jan Ullrich, who’d been a national hero. German TV stopped showing races, the media lost interest, and top-level road racing in the country suffered. Interest is returning now, and it’s growing.
“John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel have all done very well, they’ve won lots of races and that has helped interest in cycling return in Germany. There’s more coverage on the TV now, but Germany needs a Tour de France contender for interest to get back to what it was,” he says.
Talk German Tour contenders with Bjorn Thurau and you inevitably talk about his father, Dietrich, who created a cycling sensation in 1977, when he made his Tour de France debut at the age of 23. Thurau senior not only won the prologue time trial that year, he took the yellow jersey into Germany, where it caused a wave of cycling mania. He then held the race lead for two weeks, won a total of five stages and finished fifth overall, winning the white jersey for the best young rider. Thurau won the Giro d’Italia prologue the following year, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1979 before focussing on six-day racing, where he guaranteed full houses in the prestigious German six-days, and was paid accordingly.
Bjorn is as relaxed with questions about his dad as he is about everything. In interviews when he was younger he spoke of their differences, how his dad would be more stressed than him at little races. Now, with a little more perspective perhaps, he prefers to focus the advantages of a father who genuinely knew what he was talking about.
“My father knew cycling, so when we were at races together he could tell me what to do, and of course it was always the right advice. Everybody listens to their father, but mine was right when he spoke about cycling. He knew what he was doing,” Thurau says.
It’s probably helped take pressure off Bjorn that Dietrich is more interested in tennis nowadays, and Bjorn’s younger brother Urs is a tennis player. “My father prefers tennis to cycling now, and he accepts that cycling has changed, that the teams are different and there have to be more support riders in teams now. It's a role I’ve been happy to play, but my father didn’t always understand why I rode like I did for others,” he says.
Dietrich and Bjorn Thurau had different starts to their cycling careers. Dietrich’s first team, TI Raleigh was packed with alpha-male winners. Even those more comfortable in a support role, the Dutch rider Henk Lubberding being a prime example, could still win big races.
Top-level road racing is more specialised now, and teams need more support riders, so rock- solid support riders like Bjorn Thurau are valued. Neither do teams need to be packed with alpha-male up and at ‘em types. They need more measured riders with deep strength and experience. Bjorn Thurau is that kind of rider, and he will play a key role in steadying Holdsworth Pro Racing and driving the team in the right direction, helping the young riders learn, and the youngest find their feet. And he’ll do it all with the laid-back light touch that has become his trademark. He can win too, if the chance arises. “I hope we can have fun and success,” he says, summarising his hopes for 2018 and the challenge of a new role in a very new team.