From gravel racing to buying Pogačar’s Tour de France-winning bike: Formula 1 star Valtteri Bottas’ love affair with cycling

Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas is a world-class athlete and a bit sporty too. Apart from the training sessions required of a race car driver, he also enjoys participating in a variety of sports. Plus, he’s naturally athletic, highly competitive, and likely would have been successful in a number of different disciplines.

Growing up in the outdoor sports paradise near Lahti, Finland, he skis, snowboards and snowmobiles in the winter and enjoys racing and playing on bikes of all kinds in the warmer months. As a good Finn, he also played ice hockey for about ten years in his youth before motor racing took up most of his time. Hockey remains his second love although cycling may be tied for second.

Cycling Weekly was recently able to hang out with the Alfa-Romeo rider in his home region during a bike-packed mid-season break on the Formula 1 calendar which resumes this Sunday at the Belgian Grand Prix.

It’s been a busy week at home for Bottas, who organized and competed in his annual charity duathlon, while hosting meetings and participating in a test event for the FNLD GRVL, a gravel event he co-founded, and this will take place in June 2023.

Riding alongside Bottas was not only a chance to see the beauty and fantastic trails of the southern Finnish lake district, it was also a chance to meet Valtteri Bottas, the cyclist, who is not certainly not outdone outside of a car either.

Valterri Bottas, the cyclist

Valtteri Bottas and Tiffany Cromwell

Valterri Bottas and professional cyclist Tiffany Cromwell

(Image credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Bottas told me he knew he was going to be a racing driver from the age of six, when he started karting. He then did everything to make it happen, from finding sponsors to support his karting career to studying auto mechanics in school. Yet his interests were never singular. His free time was often spent outdoors and bicycles have always been part of his life.

“The bikes were still there,” he said. “Road, mountain and, now, gravel – I like to ride it all.”

And it was apparent. Riding gravel bikes around Lahti, Bottas looked very comfortable on his bike and took every opportunity to hop over roots or get some air on the more MTB trails.

When motor racing became more serious and eventually his profession, bikes became a training tool as well as an escape from the monotony of gym workouts.

If you’re not deep into the world of Formula 1, it’s hard to appreciate how fit these guys are and how hard they train physically.

“Oh, it’s like a 90-10 split of training and fitness versus driving,” Bottas explained. “[The driving] is very limited. There are pre-season tests and otherwise it’s just during races and simulators.

Formula 1 cars can reach speeds of up to 360 kilometers per hour (or 223.6 mph). Handling these cars at these dizzying speeds requires an incredible amount of strength, focus, reaction speed and endurance to withstand the G-forces. An event can last up to two hours with G-forces equal to those of airplanes. hunt. These races push the rider’s body and mind to the absolute limit, which is why peak physical fitness is essential. In fact, Formula 1 drivers are considered some of the fittest athletes in the world.

To resist G-forces and manage the car, drivers need pure muscle strength in their neck – to hold up their head, which is the only unattached body part -, in their trunk and in their legs while having the endurance at the last lap after lap after lap. Drivers also maintain an average heart rate of 170 bpm or higher for the duration of the race, which is why cardiovascular conditioning plays such an important role in their training.

And then there is the heat. Temperatures inside the car’s cockpit reach well over 40 degrees Celsius, and drivers also wear thick, flame-retardant racing suits and full-face helmets.

“Temperature [in the car] becomes quite high. I normally lose 2-3 pounds of fluids,” Bottas said.

The conclusion of everything drivers spend a lot time in the gym. Cardio work, on the other hand, most often takes the form of running or cycling.

Before meeting his girlfriend, professional cyclist Tiffany Cromwell, Bottas ran quite a bit. Everything is bicycle these days.

The week of the SBT GRVL event in Colorado, USA in August, Bottas covered an impressive 400 kilometers of gravel. This following week in Finland was about 300 kilometers.

The gravitation to cycling for conditioning was a combination of fun and aging, Bottas shared.

“I’m getting older and had knee problems sometimes,” he said. “But now that I’ve got more interested in cycling, it’s kind of addictive. To keep fit and be competitive, you have to do a lot more.

And he’s sure he’s competitive.

At the 2021 SBT GRVL, he beat some 500 runners in the 64-mile race to finish in fifth place overall and third in his age group. At the Belgian Waffle Ride San Marcos last May he took second place in the 72 kilometer event and, returning to the SBT GRVL earlier this month, he narrowly missed out on the overall podium, finishing fourth overall and first in his age group in the 64-mile course.

In the second race of the FNLD GRVL test event, Bottas was supposed to shrink for his duathlon the following day. But when he and Cromwell got to the front, our little group became rather quiet, unable to talk while keeping up the pace.

“Is that his tapered rhythm?” I asked Cromwell on the way to take a turn in front.

“Apparently,” Cromwell growled back.

When asked if they were competitive with each other, Bottas replied that they rarely are.

“Maybe for the Duathlon on Sunday, but normally we don’t compete,” Bottas said.

It was Cromwell who won that Sunday, finishing two minutes ahead of Bottas in the Duathlon. American gravel professional Alexey Vermeulen won the overall, crossing the line around 10 minutes ahead of Bottas.

FNLD GRVL test event in Lahti.  Photos by Thomas Maheux

The Grail of Valtteri Bottas Canyon

(Image credit: Thomas Maheux)

The bike chosen by Valtteri Bottas

There’s hardly any similarity between bike and car racing, Bottas said. Perhaps the only similarities are in the way it searches for the lines in high-speed corners or downhill on technical terrain.

That, and a fix with tire pressure.

Bottas says he doesn’t care much about bike gear. He took on Cromwell’s bike sponsor and now rides a Canyon Grail with a SRAM Red XPLR AXS groupset and a Zipp 303 tubeless wheelset wrapped in G40 gravel tires.

What interests him most, he said, motioning me to take a closer look at his front wheel, is the Quarq Tyrewiz sitting on his tire valve.

The Quarq TyreWiz is a small device that monitors your tire pressure and sends updates to your bike computer or smartphone.

For the curious: Bottas is 1.73 meters tall and weighs around 70 kilograms. His tire pressure for a day of riding on fast, relatively smooth gravel was 38 PSI.

Valtteri Bottas at the Women's Tour de France

Valtteri Bottas at the Women’s Tour de France

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Valterri Bottas, the cycling fan

Bottas didn’t know much about bike racing and women’s cycling in particular before he met Cromwell, but he’s definitely a fan now.

“Since meeting Tiff, I definitely have a different view of the sport now, and learned that it’s very competitive and, I think, underrated. It was really interesting to get into it. “, Bottas told me when I met him. on the sidelines of the Tour de France Women in July.

“They’re all top athletes and they’ve dedicated their lives to sport, and it’s always nice to follow top athletes.”

Bottas was often spotted at Cromwell’s events, taking pictures and even performing caretaker duties handing out bottles in the feeding area.

And more than just a casual cycling fan, Bottas even owns a piece of cycling history: Tadej Pogačar’s 2021 Tour de France bike.

“There was a charity auction in Monaco, and there was Pogačar’s bike which he used in a few stages of the Tour. He signed it, and I have his shirt too,” Bottas shared. with us in May.

Between trips to the Women’s Tour de France, Colorado and Finland, it seems Bottas spent the summer on or around the bikes rather than in the gym or behind a simulator. Will this have an impact on his performance when racing returns this weekend in Belgium?

“It may have impacted his rest, but he’s been doing exercises and he knows what he’s doing,” a Bottas staffer told me.

Many professional athletes will have a contractual clause that will prevent them from participating in other sports or activities that could lead to injury. Bottas meanwhile loves to push himself on gravel and mountain biking, on skis or even a snowboard.

“He’s gonna do it anyway, so might as well allow him,” the staffer joked. “They draw the line on the really dangerous stuff.”

That is to say, we won’t be seeing Bottas doing bullfighting or base jumping anytime soon, but it looks like Bottas could become a regular at gravel racing, whenever his schedule allows.

About Todd Wurtsbach

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