Tipped for great things long before the start of the 2015 season – his first in the World Tour – Stefan Küng wasted no time in showing the huge talent he possesses, needing just a couple of race days to take the maiden victory of his career after a huge solo attack in the Volta Limburg Classic. That was the first of the three wins he got last season, the cherry on the top of the cake being the team time trial World Championships in Richmond, where BMC put on a convincing and impressive performance which netted them their first gold medal in the discipline.
Still, it wasn’t just all roses for the 22-year old Swiss rider, who had to overcome an illness in the Spring, followed by a serious injury which sidelined him for three months, until late August. But, despite these setbacks, Stefan Küng remained upbeat and kept his composure, while making some significant improvement on both road and track, two disciplines he will combine next season, when he hopes to enjoy other solid rides and memorable victories that will serve as a confirmation of his unlimited potential.
– Stefan, what expectations did you have going into the 2015 season?
I wanted to learn a lot, to find my place in pro cycling and to take a chance if I had one, in order to win a race. Another goal was to do well in time trials. In the end it was an up-and-down season, I had quite a few highlights, but there were also some unfortunate moments, as the crash in the Giro d’Italia, where I broke a vertebra, and a time when I was sick for a long period.
– Exactly two months after making your pro debut, you won the Volta Limburg Classic. How was that day?
It was pretty amazing. Before the Track World Championships I did only the Dubai Tour, and then, after the track, I got sick and I was sidelined for a long time. Afterwards, I came back, but I didn’t know where I was. So I raced the Three Days of De Panne, then the team asked me if I want to do another race, I said yes and went to do a recon of the parcours. On the race day it was raining, we had some tough conditions, but I enjoyed one of my best days ever on a bike, I could do whatever I wanted and when I had the opportunity, I decided to attack. With 5 kilometers to go I still had 45 seconds in hand and that’s when I realized I was going to win the race. It was crazy to win in that manner, in just my ninth day of racing on the road. Absolutely unbelievable!
– A couple of weeks later, in the Tour de Romandie, came your maiden World Tour victory.
I remember waking up that day and having the felling that’s going to happen. In my head it was only how I’m going to win that stage, not if. I checked the parcours, noticed that in the last 50 kilometers there was a strong tailwind, so I decided to go in the break. I attacked from it maybe a little bit early, with about 25 kilometers to go, but I was very confident I can do it and never looked back. It was amazing to win at home, in Switzerland. And, just as Volta Limburg Classic, also that win came in rainy conditions.
– Last year, in our previous interview, you told me that your dream is to win Paris-Roubaix one day. In 2015 you got to race it for the first time. How was that experience?
I feel in love with this race, it’s really special, even though it’s hard to tell what makes it so special. It was a big thing for me to ride it, because I was sick and we didn’t really know if I was fit for it, but then I got selected for it and I really learnt a lot. Coming in I thought that maybe I can be in the front until the end or maybe play an important role, but then I saw it’s really something else. You need to know the race, to have experience and I learnt that Roubaix just gives you what you get. I definitely want to come back there and win the race even more now than I did before doing it. I’m looking forward to that.
– In addition to this, you also got to make your Grand Tour debut. How did you find the Giro d’Italia?
The Giro is truly amazing. The people in Italy love this race and are all behind it. First week of the Giro was really hard, also the other riders, with much more experience, said it was one of the hardest first week of a Grand Tour they ever did. What I took out of the race is that for me things become easy day by day. The longer as it goes, the better I am. Things were really good, I was looking forward to the time trial and then I crashed, and although at first I didn’t think it was something too serious, the exams showed that I have a broken vertebra and I was sidelined for three months. Still, despite this, I want to come back to the Giro d’Italia, because it’s a very nice race.
– Then, in September, you enjoyed a great moment, as you were part of the BMC team that won the world time trial title.
It was a very important day for the team and it came as proof of how strong we are. To make the selection out of a longlist that included 11 riders was something big, and I was really motivated. As I have a track background in the team pursuit it really suits me, and even though I didn’t have my best day, we still got the gold medal. To be in my first pro year on the top step of the World Championships was something really incredible.
– Speaking of the track, what did it mean for you to win World and European pursuit titles, especially as you were the first rider to do so in the same season?
To have these performance was something very special. At the World Championships I was in good shape, but I can’t say that I was at 100%. Still, I went into the final against Jack Bobridge and I really wanted to win, I didn’t think for a moment of the silver medal. Then, the European Championships took place in Switzerland, on a velodrome mainly sponsored by Andy Rihs, where we train very often. The arena was packed, the race was broadcast on Swiss television and I knew I had to win, because everybody, myself included, was expecting this. My goal was to get under the 4:15 mark, which is kind of special in the pursuit and I netted the seventh fastest time in history. To get the gold medal in front of the home crowd was one of the best moments of my life.
– This past season you showed your versatility in stage races and Classics alike. Do you feel that you can focus on both?
My future lies in the Classics. I’m young now, I have to choose one thing and so I’m going for the Classics. We’ll see if something changes in the future, but right now I want get good results in the one-day races.
– What’s your calendar for 2016?
This season is a very important for me, as I will also do the Olympics on the track. We have to find the perfect balance between track and road, so I don’t get too much fatigue. On the track I will race the World Championships and the Olympic Games, while on the road I will probably have the same calendar as in 2015, with the Classics and maybe the Giro d’Italia.
– And what do you hope to achieve?
Last year I won two races, so I think I have to win at least two races again. For sure, I want some victories and to improve more, that’s always my goal. I want to do good at the Olympic Games, and if the team will be in top shape there, I’m sure we can do something special.
* This interview was conducted during BMC’s training camp in Spain, a couple of weeks ago. In the meantime, Stefan Küng was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus and had to stop his preparations for 2016. Although the illness is not worrisome and he already showed some signs of improvements, the infection requires a minimum of few weeks’ rest, so it remains to be seen when Stefan will resume his training and return to racing.