Bruno Diethelm (59) has been coaching the National Team of the World's most successful cross-country specialists for six years and was recently voted third in the Swiss ‘Coach of the Year’ awards. His Swiss junior riders regularly come to Cyprus to take part in the Afxentia stage race. In this interview, the humble man reveals why he comes to the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, what a national coach does and tries to explain what makes the Swiss dominant in the cross-country discipline.
Bruno Diethelm, you came third in the award for the Swiss Coach of the Year, behind a football and an ice hockey coach. What does that mean to you?
For me, this is a nice recognition for the mountain bike sport and in general cycling in Switzerland. It’s great that the sport was so well perceived. Of course this was also connected to the worlds in Lenzerheide with its massive crowd. I'm not happy because of me, but because of the sport.
So you see it less as an award for yourself and more as a recognition for the sport?
In sports so many people are responsible, including the association that gives us a platform and it’s Swiss Cycling who started the World Cup initiative in Switzerland. I, who stands there a bit and looks, do not matter so much.
That's a bit of understatement, Mr Diethelm! As for "watching and standing around", what is it that actually makes a National Team MTB coach?
From the outside I believe this role is perceived as someone who has a nice life, drives to the races, has no stress, no workload and is paid!
And how is it actually?
It's the same (laughs)! No, my advantage is that I am allowed to live my passion. A big part of my job is planning, preparing, organizing. I have to keep my eyes and ears open for the riders and for developments. I have to look at which inputs can be brought in, so that we can keep a lead.
The young Swiss riders open their season in Cyprus at the end of February. What are your goals for the juniors there?
Sometimes the boys come and say, “yes, that's cool, we fly Cyprus to score UCI points!”.
I tell them that as much as I want to be kind, the level is pretty high there! Besides, the Afxentia stage race is a different format, not a cross-country. For the boys it's about learning about such things. Step by step and day by day analysis, to improve to the next day. From Cyprus they should take home a backpack with things they have learned.
What else makes the Cyprus Sunshine Cup an ideal mountain bike destination for you this season?
Hopefully good weather, challenging terrain, a mental challenge.
Has that worked so far in the years before?
Yes… sometimes we had hoped that a better result would jump out, but overall yes. That's why we keep coming back.
Do you like the island yourself?
Last year we stayed one day longer and had the opportunity to see some more of the island. I was impressed by the different faces the island presents. So original on one side and so modern on the other. I think it's cool to be there. We can just fly there from Basel.
The Swiss ‘lead’ in cross-country that you have mentioned: Where does it come from?
Switzerland is not very big but we have a large performance density, both in women and men. As soon as a certain volume is there and riders can handle each other, can push each other, then it moves forward. You can see it in cyclocross in Belgium and Holland. You have to fight that you have a position, so you have to be ready for the challenge.
To get this far, the role models like Thomas Frischknecht and Christoph Sauser (both World Champions and Olympic medalists) were certainly important, right?
It has developed. In the time with Ralph Näf (first half of the 2000s) there was a group of young riders who suddenly managed to achieve good results in World Cup races. Some were even more unknown in public and that became a motivation: it showed perspective on what is actually possible.
Do you have any special programs in Switzerland?
There are more and more opportunities, for example, to get an afternoon off for training and/or to attend specific sports schools. But I do not necessarily see that as an advantage. The will to fight for the goals is crucial. A very good culture has emerged.
Is there a know-how transfer between the athletes from different teams?
Certainly. For example, feedback on tyres. Maybe not in detail with the top athletes, but the knowledge and insight are basically given. In the autumn we had a meeting with the team bosses and a presentation was given on the whole test and it was shown what options the teams have to use. This is manageable even without investing a lot of money.
Is that part of the Swiss secret?
Yes, for me it's the openness they have with each other. That's impressive. Before the Olympic Games in Rio we had a meeting with the Olympic squad, 15 athletes plus physios and mechanics.
We had a German speaker, Jonathan Briefs, who calls himself a communication and humour consultant and has also worked with Austrian ski jumpers. He was with us for two days. For him it was unbelievably impressive how open we are to each other. That was not the case with the ski jumpers. I see that as part of the Swiss success, that you pass on knowledge.
Surely there are also borders between the competitors?
Surely they exist, everything is not told. Nevertheless, there is an openness.
Bruno, thanks for the words. Looking forward to meet you on Cyprus.
Bruno Diethelm was born in 1959 and lives in Thun (Diethelm: "the most beautiful city in Switzerland").
Originally he was a mechanic and was actively involved in road racing.
In 1993 he founded the Parkpre team, which included, among others, Christoph Sauser at the beginning of his career. Diethelm went through several courses as a coach/trainer, but also in massage in order to help his athletes further.
Diethelm also ran the Athleticum team for several years and was active in the German team SKS-MiG for two years.
For the 2012 World Cup he became Swiss National Coach. Three years ago, he completed his training as a professional coach in Magglingen.
Find more on https://www.activatecyprus.com/en/home