From sold-out shows to survival skills: The unexpected things pros are doing this off-season

Whether it's running marathons, climbing mountains, or catching fish, cyclists find all sorts of ways to keep themselves entertained off the bike

Clock13:09, Thursday 16th November 2023
Geraint Thomas, Lotte Kopecky and Michal Kwiatkowski have been doing more than just relaxing this off-season

© Instagram / @geraintthomas86, @lottekopecky, @kwiato

Geraint Thomas, Lotte Kopecky and Michal Kwiatkowski have been doing more than just relaxing this off-season

The off-season. It’s meant to be the time when riders get a break from training and get a chance to unwind before preparation for the next season begins.

With the modern racing season stretching out across most of the year, the time allocated for an actual 'off-season' for professional cyclists is getting shorter and shorter, but there’s still a precious few weeks where the pros can do things like go on holiday, eat food they normally wouldn’t, and drink a few beers with friends and family.

Or at least, that’s what we expect professional athletes to do with their time off.

Every winter, though, a handful of riders defy our expectations by getting up to some slightly less typical activities. Whether it’s big athletic challenges – the total opposite of a rest period – or just downright weird things, it’s clear that not everyone wants a simple, relaxing holiday.

With most riders getting back into training now towards the end of November, here are 10 of the less predictable things we’ve spotted pros getting up to during their autumn break.

Live podcast tours – Geraint Thomas

Despite just finishing a busy and turbulent season, which included a near miss at the Giro d’Italia and a gruelling Vuelta a España, Geraint Thomas hasn’t opted for a relaxing fortnight on the beach.

Instead, the Ineos Grenadier-turned-podcaster used his short break to squeeze in a mini live tour for his popular Geraint Thomas Cycling Club podcast, alongside journalist Tom Fordyce. He also made appearances at Rouleur Live and the LeBlanq cycling experience in Ibiza, in what was more like a celebrity press tour than an off-season.

Read more: Geraint Thomas Cycling Trust set to get 5,000 children on bikes by 2028

Obviously most of these shows are for the audiences’ eyes and ears only, but one odd moment did emerge on social media: Thomas being slapped in the face with a tortilla by Welsh rugby international George North.

If you’re a rival who’s already back on the bike and training for 2024, you’ve surely got to take some solace from the fact that one of your competitors is instead spending his off-season doing fairly silly activities.

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Ice hockey and fancy dress – Lidl-Trek

The annual Lidl-Trek visit to the US and the Trek headquarters always delivers some fun, and this year was no different. As well as the now-expected ice hockey sessions for the riders (Toms Skujiņš always gets enthusiastically involved, as a big hockey fan), the Trek riders also headed to the team HQ in Waterloo to coincide with the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup. What caught our eye, though, was the very enthusiastic fancy dress that the team fully committed to whilst spending a day in the mud.

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Our favourite has to be Elynor Bäckstedt’s unicorn, which quickly became mud-sodden, though Ilaria Sanguineti’s Grinch costume has to be appreciated – if a little early for Christmas?

Probably more at home in the Lidl-Trek hockey kit, Skujiņš’ outfit was hard to decipher: patterned onesie, big gold chain, multiple hats? But either way, the American team always know how to have fun, with off-season activities that are worth shortening family holidays for.

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The outfits and fervent support must have worked, because Lidl-Trek rider Thibau Nys won the elite men’s race, marking his first World Cup win at pro level. Having the Grinch cheering you on every lap now counts as a marginal gain, confirmed.

Read more: Thibau Nys wins his first World Cup in Waterloo

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – Valentin Madouas

After a long season, racking up thousands of kilometres of riding and training, most riders like to take their short window off the bike to rest, relax and recuperate before training for next year begins. But not all riders.

Valentin Madouas is definitely not in that ‘most’ bracket, as he used his off period to climb Mount Kilimanjaro – yes, as in, the fourth highest peak on Earth, a huge challenge.

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At 5,895m above sea level, Kilimanjaro puts even the highest Grand Tour mountains to shame, and it’s estimated that only a little over a third of climbers who attempt it actually complete it. Madouas undertook the challenge with his partner, and it reportedly took them a week to get to the top. They succeeded in their ascent and reached the snow-capped finish line to stand at the highest point in Africa.

It may not have been a relaxing week off the bike, but we’re sure it was a rewarding one, and another example of how athletes are driven by achievement.

Running a marathon – Michał Kwiatkowski

Another rider taking the ‘off’ out of ‘off-season’ was Michał Kwiatkowski, who used his time off the bike to run the New York City Marathon with his wife Agata. We’ve not been aware of Kwiatkowski’s running exploits during the season - unlike those of Cameron Wurf, Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert - but the Pole must have been putting some training in, as he chalked up a time of 4:11:34.

A fellow cyclist, Freddy Ovett, also raced the New York Marathon, putting down a serious time of 2:37:18. Still, as a former runner and son of Olympian Steve Ovett, we don’t think Ovett’s time should cause Kwiatkowski to feel too disappointed about being beaten.

Kwiatkowski and his wife also ran the Warsaw Independence race, a shorter distance at only 10km, but still, it seems they’ve caught the running bug. Maybe we’ll see him joining his teammate Wurf in some post-race long runs next season?

Read more: Michał Kwiatkowski and Freddy Ovett complete New York Marathon

Side career as an illustrator – Christine Majerus

As well as being a loyal domestique at SD Worx, a cyclo-cross rider, and one of Luxembourg’s most successful cyclists of all time, Christine Majerus also somehow finds time to pursue a side project as an artist and illustrator. Last season, Majerus sat out the ‘cross season and used the time to illustrate a whole children’s book, which she sold for Christmas.

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This road off-season, Majerus is making a return to the ‘cross circuit – she even announced her schedule with an illustration – but has still made time for her artistic pursuits, posting new drawings on Instagram and hinting at a new and exciting project. Is another book in the works?

Many riders have written or co-written biographies, but few can claim to have illustrated a whole book, as well as being one of the world’s most respected domestiques. If the off-season means more chances to see Majerus’ work, then we only wish it was longer!

Lots of golf (and a professional golf photo shoot?) – Mathieu van der Poel

As the reigning cyclo-cross world champion, you might expect Mathieu van der Poel to be, perhaps, riding some cyclo-cross this autumn, but not yet. Having put an end to his elongated road season, he’s turned to the important things in his off-season: golf.

Admittedly, golf is a fairly popular sport among cyclists – perhaps the slow pace is a nice contrast to the high-octane world of the racing peloton – but Van der Poel seems to have really leaned into his golfing, proclaiming himself ‘addicted to the game’ in an Instagram caption accompanying what appears to be a professional-level photo shoot at the golf course.

As a multiple Monument winner and current double world champion, Van der Poel can pretty much get away with whatever he wants, but hiring someone to come and take photos of you golfing is a bit of an odd one even for him. But hey, his methods clearly work.

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Sea fishing and survival skills – Lotte Kopecky and Valerie Jenaer

Lotte Kopecky’s snaps and videos from her recent holiday with friend and track cyclist Valerie Jenaer look normal enough to start with – beach, swimming, fun – but then something slightly out of the ordinary happens. Jenaer emerges from the sea holding a wriggling fish, seemingly caught with her bare hands. First of all, impressive, second of all, why?

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The video only gets more unpredictable, with Lotte Kopecky descaling the fish, painting dirt on her cheeks Lord of the Flies style, and then wielding a knife and lighting a fire which suggests that, even though we didn’t see it, they possibly did gut and cook that fish.

It is impressive, and shows a much more rugged side to Kopecky, who in recent weeks has seemed distinctly glamorous, having spent most of the off-season picking up various awards and fancy ceremonies. But still, we thought this was a holiday, not an episode of Survivor.

Being honoured at football games – Mischa Bredewold and Annemiek van Vleuten

In the Netherlands, cycling is of course a huge sport, but so is the world’s most universal sport, football. To celebrate their achievements this year, Annemiek van Vleuten and Mischa Bredewold were invited along to FC Utrecht this season to be honoured as special guests, alongside Olympic sprinter Dafne Schippers and water polo player Sarah Buis.

With Van Vleuten’s two Grand Tour victories and Bredewold’s European title, there was plenty to congratulate the pair for, and it’s a testament to the level of women’s sport in the Netherlands that the pair made an appearance at the men’s game.

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Another football frequenter is Tao Geoghegan Hart, who, despite not getting a guard of honour when he went to watch Arsenal, did get to see his partner Lotte Wubben-Moy score her fifth goal for the team as his off-season allowed him to attend their League Cup clash against Bristol City.

Getting up to all sorts with Rigoberto Urán – Wout van Aert

As many will have seen all over social media, Wout van Aert has spent a chunk of his time off in Colombia as the pro guest at Rigoberto Urán’s Giro del Rigo. Every year, Urán invites a fellow pro to his race – last year it was Tadej Pogačar – and the trip always looks entertaining. Obviously, the Colombian’s gran fondo was the main event, but Van Aert has been up to all sorts off the bike, too.

It’s hard to say which of the duo’s activities was the most unexpected. The awkward dancing at the race gala was, perhaps, predictable – do any pros actually have moves? Or maybe the group viewing party of the latest episode of the telenovela about Urán’s life, something we’re almost positive Van Aert could not understand a word of.

Our favourite part, though, was the pampering day that Van Aert and Urán were treated to. Face masks, hair cuts, probably some head massages thrown in there.

That’s how to spend an off-season, isn’t it? Forget a spa day with your wife or a holiday with your young family, get a pore-cleansing charcoal facial with Rigoberto Urán. This must be why Van Aert is putting off his cyclo-cross season; he had much better things to be doing.

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Are there any more rogue off-season activities we've missed? How do you like to pass the time off the bike in the winter? Let us know in the comments!

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