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Side by side

2018 UCI Road World Championships

Side by side

Meet pro cyclists Christina and Kathrin Schweinberger 

Text: Eva Schwienbacher, Picture: Stefan Voitl

They love doing everything together, even if in many cases it would be easier alone. We sat down for a chat with Christina and Kathrin Schweinberger, twins and pro cyclists from the town of Jenbach.

Kathrin Schweinberger dismounts her blue carbon roadbike and turns around, her eyes darting back and forth as she searches for her sister Christina in the throng of pedestrians strolling along the bank of the Inn river in Kufstein. “She was behind me just a minute ago,” says Kathrin. Just as she is about to set off again in search of her sister, Christina swings around the corner. “Sorry,” she laughs, “all of a sudden you weren’t there any more.” 

The scene is typical of the relationship between Kathrin and Christina. Kathrin has always been just that little big quicker than her twin sister. That was the case when the two competed in ski races and Kathrin had already packed her skis into the car while Christina was still sorting out her gloves. “We are both normally on time, but Kathrin is just a little bit quicker than me. I don’t know how she does it,” smiles Christina. Another difference between them is their appearance – despite the fact they are twins, Christina and Kathrin look no more similar than ‘normal’ sisters.

“Austrian riders who want to make it to the top in cycling have to go abroad.” Kathrin Schweinberger

The two pro cyclists from the town of Jenbach in Tirol park their bikes in the shady garden of a café on the banks of the river and settle down on one of the couches inside. The 21-year-old sisters are back in Austria for three weeks visiting friends and family. In 2017 they both signed contracts with the new UCI team Health Mate – Cyclelive based in Belgium. “Austrian riders who want to make it to the top in cycling have to go abroad,” explains Kathrin. Abroad means either to Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands, where women’s cycling enjoys a higher status.  

Training on the farm

Christina and Kathrin grew up in rural surroundings above the town of Jenbach in the east of Tirol. Their parents run a dairy farm with many cows on an area of land which is very steep. Much of the work has to be done by hand. “My mum always says that scything the grass and collecting the hay is good training for us,” says Christina with a smile. The farm is remote and the closest neighbours far away – ideal conditions for the two sisters to rest and recover after tough races and training rides.

When talking to the sisters it quickly becomes apparent how important family is to them. That was one of the reasons why eight years ago they decided to pursue careers in cycling rather than skiing. In order to become successful skiers they would have had to attend a special boarding school away from home. Instead, they joined the Radclub Tirol in summer 2010. Until then cycling had only been a good way of staying fit over the summer. Things soon changed, however, when they took part in their first race. “When we started out we were getting beaten left right and centre. Slowly but surely we started to have a bit of success, which then motivated us to push even harder and achieve even more,” says Kathrin. Both sisters explain that when they set their minds to something then they do it “properly”. Back then they were just 14 years old.

Roadbike riding was completely new to their family. Of course they knew about the Tour de France, but above and beyond that nobody really knew much about the sport, explains Christina. Despite this lack of knowledge, their parents were committed to supporting them as much as possible. Without their help it would have been financially impossible for them to find their feet in the world of road cycling. Their mother, who used to work as a ski instructor, was also pleased with her daughters’ decision to swap a winter sport for a summer sport.

Christina und Kathrin Schweinberger (v.l.) fahren heuer erstmals für ein belgisches Frauenrennradteam.

Both have big ambitions: Kathrin (left) and Christina want to become professional cyclists. 

© Stefan Voitl

Every beginning ... is difficult

Their first races were in the Under 15 category, when they spent a lot of time riding with the Austrian national team. This enabled them to gain valuable experience competing abroad where the pace was faster and the peloton was larger than in regional races in Austria. The next step was racing with the Juniors. In 2013 Kathrin was selected to compete in the UCI Road World Championships in Florence, while in 2014 Christina followed in her footsteps by riding at the UCI Road World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain. Both were forced to abandon the race early after falling.

The sisters also had to overcome a number of health problems during this period. In 2014 Katharina developed glandular fever and Christina suffered from a myocardial inflammation. Both the illnesses remained undetected for a number of months and they continued to train, albeit with little success.

Too much training

Once they had recovered from their respective conditions they made the classic rookie mistake of training too hard. In the winter season 2015/2016 they rode 30 hours a week in order to be ready for the upcoming season. “It wasn’t enough for us to run up the mountain once or twice – it had to be three or four times,” the sisters explain. They spent a lot of time ski touring in the mountains and riding on the indoor turbo trainer. During this period Christina also worked 40 hours a week in a chemical laboratory and was getting ready to take her final exam as a lab technician. In order to combine training, work and revision she would get up almost every day at 3:30am. “We wanted to be good and put ourselves under huge pressure.” When the sisters failed to notice any improvement in performance despite the many hours of training, they knew that they were doing something wrong.  

“That was just stupid,” they both say three years later. Today they are able to laugh at their mistakes and have learned to listen to their bodies and do whatever they feel like doing. “Of course we have a training plan and certain goals, but these days we know that rest and recovery are an essential part of successful training,” says Kathrin. She draws up their endurance training plan herself in order to avoid overtraining. Both sisters are also supported by the Olympiazentrum Innsbruck, where they complete their strength training sessions.

Going from a duo to a team

After changing their training regime Kathrin and Christina began to reap the rewards. In 2016/2017 they rode for Team Stuttgart, a professional women’s cycling team based in Germany. It was during this period that they learned just how much cycling is a team sport where different riders must take on different roles. Instead of focussing on results, it is just as much about helping out the other riders in your team. “Until then we had only really paid attention to each other and nobody else.”

In their early years of racing Kathrin and Christina saw themselves as a duo. They would look after each other in races and help each other as much as possible. If one of them had a good result and the other didn’t, the more successful sister would console the other. At the same time, they admit that being competitor and best friends isn’t always easy. “Sometimes it would be easier if you could just focus on yourself,” they both agree. Even today they worry for each other’s safety when they hear that there has been a crash. And yet, they cannot imagine going separate ways – despite the fact that on the bike they have different strengths and are therefore not able to share everything.

“Sometimes it would be easier if you could just focus on yourself.” Christina und Kathrin Schweinberger

The road to Belgium

Last year they set their sights on joining a women’s cycling team competing in the UCI Women’s WorldTour. They contacted numerous UCI teams and, after lots of rejection letters, finally received a positive response from a new team being set up in Belgium. Together they decided to take a step into the unknown. 

Since then a lot has changed. The environment and level of service is more professional – there is a team masseur, a team doctor and a mechanic – and when they are in Belgium they live in a house they share with their 14 teammates from nine different countries. Importantly, the team pays for their equipment and travel costs. However, unlike in men’s cycling, women’s cycling currently has no minimum wage set by cycling’s world governing body, the UCI. While the sisters still have their eyes firmly set on the goal of turning professional, at the same time they remain realistic: “As a female rider is almost impossible make a living in professional cycling.“

This year they have had a number of successes. Kathrin won a stage of the Tour of Uppsala in Sweden, while Christina won the road race at the Austrian National Championships. Both dream of lining up in Kufstein for the Women’s Elite Road Race on 29 September, but with just three starting places up for grabs they are realistic about their chances. Kathrin is currently a strong sprinter, while Christina is a talented all-rounder. However, the courses which will feature at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck-Tirol are designed to suit good climbers. “There’s no chance of us both riding the World Championships,” admits Christina, “but I hope at least Kathrin gets the call.” That way, she says, at least one of them could experience the feeling of riding at a home World Championships – and the other can share in her sister’s excitement.

Kathrin and Christina Schweinberger, born on 29 October 1996 in Jenbach, began their cycling careers with the Radclub Tirol. In 2017 they rode for Team Stuttgart. This year for the first time they are riding for the new Belgian team Health Mate – Cyclelive. Kathrin is studying at the University of Innsbruck to become a maths and geography teacher and is one minute older than her twin sister Christina, who is a qualified chemical lab technician and is currently completing her A levels at night school in order to start studying at university next year. Kathrin is a multiple winner of the road race and individual time trial at the Austrian National Championships (2012, 2013 and 2014) and this year won both a stage and a jersey at the Tour of Uppsala in Sweden. Christina has won the hillclimb competition at the Austrian National Championships (2014), celebrated several successes on the track and this year won the road race at the Austrian National Championships.

Wordrap

Kathrin Schweinberger

Christina on her sister Kathrin:

 

Kathrins greatest strength: her ambition.


Her weaknesses include: her ambition, which can sometimes be an obstacle to success.


What I have learned from her: to focus on my goals.


What we argue about: she always ride half a wheel in front of me on training rides to push the pace. (laughs)


What Kathrin will be doing in five years: if she no longer wants to ride her bike she I am sure she will spend lots of time out and about in the mountains.

Kathrin on her sister Christina:

 

Christina’s greatest strength: you can rely on her 200%.


Her weaknesses include: sometimes she doubts herself.


What I have learned from her: how she deals with other people and gives everything for her teammates in races.


What we argue about: being on time – sometimes I have to wait for her because I am ready before her.


What Christina will be doing in five years: she will have an Austrian national championship under her belt and with the ability she has I am sure she will have won a few other races too.


Christina Schweinberger

© 2017 Tirol Werbung