Thomas Litscher has been a regular guest in Cyprus since 2009, using the island as a training base to prepare for the season ahead which last year saw his greatest success so far, the Bronze Medal at the World Championships in Cairns, Australia.
The Swissman, riding for the jb Brunex Felt team, returns to compete at the Afxentia stage race on 22nd February, to train in the sun ahead of the World Cup opener "so that it hurts properly".
Thomas Litscher is a friendly person and always happy to discuss his plans and his results. On receiving our text message with a request for an interview, he called back promptly, from the saddle. He was training at his home near Lake Constance, snow falling from the sky and slowly snaking up the pass before entering into an intense interval session.
We asked why he responded to our message during his training, he laughed and explained: "It distracts me from the weather“. No wonder that he is already looking forward to the sun of Cyprus!
Thomas, the cross-country season is about to begin. How are you and how has the training gone so far?
I've weathered the winter well so far and trained well. But I'm glad that warm weather training and racing starts soon in Cyprus. This helps me to better focus on what it's all about.
From the 22nd to the 25th of February you race the Afxentia stage race. That's two weeks before the first World Cup race in South Africa. Does this mean you are already in good shape?
Sure, the first World Cup is very early this year. Everyone wants to be in shape already. But from experience I know that if I'm in shape too early, then it does not work well towards the end of the season. And we have the World Championships in Switzerland which is a big focus. It is not so easy to find the right balance, but I think after my visit to Cyprus it will be fine.
Will Afxentia therefore be an important part of your build up to the World Cup?
Every race means for me ’all out’. We arrive earlier, so we can still train well in the warmth before the racing begins so on the stages I can then really race hard and feel the hurt.
Can this sort of preparation not be simulated in training?
If you have opponents, then it works differently, then you can push harder and get even more out of yourself.
How do you expect your form to be at the World Cup in Stellenbosch?
From what I've heard, the track is technically very demanding there. I think that could suit me. Of course, the goal is to get in the front, but everyone wants that. Top 10, Top 15, is still a great result in the World Cup, that's what I'm aiming for.
Do you think as the World Championship Bronze Medalist you will be one of the favourites?
[Litscher laughs] Everyone thinks that if you are third in the World Champs then you have to stay ahead of the game. But many factors have to come together. Of course, the goal is to repeat that, but you have to work towards it, everything has to be right. I have a new bike from Felt that feels good in training, but racing is something else again.
Did that Bronze not change your expectations?
I would say that my confidence has increased. It is good to know that such a big result is possible if everything fits perfectly on the day.
Your compatriot, Nino Schurter, won all World Cup races in 2017 and has become World Champion again. Is he still beatable?
Nino is just human too. His season was really great in 2017, but now a new season is starting. I think at the end of May you can draw some conclusions. But I do not feel like the first competitor of Nino. There's Jaroslav Kulhavy, the French, my Swiss colleagues. I want to stay grounded with my expectations.
Back to what's next. You can already be called a regular guest in Cyprus – what’s the attraction?
Yes. Since 2009 I have come to Cyprus. I feel good on the island. For me, this is a great opportunity to train well and ride a demanding race at Afxentia. Three days plus a prologue, I think that's a great attraction.
Enough warming up, it's time for Litscher to start his intervals. There is no oxygen left to talk. We say goodbye and wish him good luck - until we meet again next week in Cyprus.
Dates of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup 2018
22nd to 25th of February Afxentia Stage Race (SHC)
3rd of March Amathous (C1)