Partner in crime

A reunion with Nick Stöpler

“What makes it nicer for me to be a Pushbiker than part of another team is that there is a lot of passion and it`s not just a team to get results.”. 

We hear a voice from off-screen, with a somewhat broken German accent, and then see a young man pushing his bike in front of him, standing in a light flurry of snow in front of the lowered Berlin Velodrome, his gaze fixed firmly on the camera. It’s Nick Stöpler during the 2018 Berlin Sixdays, taking the viewer into this very unique world, down the stairs and into the velodrome. We see the riders flying around the track, the spectators in the stands, the riders’ cabins in the underground catacombs, the close community of soigneurs with their athletes. Nick lets us participate – that everyone likes to win, that your legs can feel good or heavy, and that it helps to put up a really good fight if you do it with passion. For him, it’s about the nice feeling, family and true support – because that’s better than not having fun and only striving for results.

The best you can have in life

“You meet each other twice in life” – I love that saying and it is absolutely true, he says as we meet up again in October 2022. Nick has been appointed as Dutch national coach for endurance siw weeks before the track world championships. We saw him on television as he accompanied his athletes, bent down beside the track showing his riders the little board with times on it, clapped his hands after successfull races like the bronze medal of Roy Eefting.  “I am very happy to be part of the Pushbikers again, even if it`s only indirectly, because the nicest time in my career were the years travelling around the world with Grasi”. Many nights at six-day races have marked this time, but if you ask him about his favorite Pushbikers moment, it comes out of the blue: Bendigo Madison. “In 2018, we took three laps on that more than 300 m track. The first one already after 40 laps. I remember I wanted to kill Grasi because I thought it was a suicide mission. We were hanging there for many minutes and many laps, but ultimately took the lap. I think we had the most impressive race, the public was all cheering for us not necessarily for the Australians. We were there two weeks before and we had barbecues here and barbecues there… The vibes and the shared journey was amazing.”

And here we are again, at one of the basic questions that has been occupying and driving us for many years now: What should professional cycling be like?

“You can look at it through multiple lenses… If its just being able to provide results and a salary, I think you should run it mostly like a business. But at the same time I think you should always ask the Why question: why do you do what you do, what`s the importance? In the end I think it ultimately comes back to you: being happy together, helping other people, inspiring other people, protecting and strengthening your community. And enjoying life together. Ultimately that`s the best you can have in life.”

Deutsche Strassenmeisterschaft 2020
Deutsche Strassenmeisterschaft 2020
Deutsche Strassenmeisterschaft 2020

Striving for happiness & avoiding suffering

We remember that already in his active time Nick was always a rider who wanted to inspire people for his sport. In his own actions, but also in communication; looking back, this already seems to be the basis for his current work as a national coach. He draws on a quote from the Dalai Lama for this. “All humans are the same: we all strive for happiness and we all try to avoid suffering. If you look through that lens, everyone has a similar story. You can go back to that – why do you do cycling and how do you avoid suffering while doing it? And if you tell your story, why you love bike racing and why that makes you happy, then even someone who is not into cycling can understand. They understand “ah, that’s why you go round the track with this crazy amount of speed”. And you can connect and they can share what they do in life to be happy and avoid suffering. “

At the same time, it is clear to Nick that it was never just cycling itself that made him happy. As already revealed in the 2018 film, there are other aspects of a cycling career that shape you as a person. “Meeting different cultures, languages, people. That gives you a perspective in order to be grateful for things in life. The fear I always have is that I take the things I have for granted. By going to other places and meeting different people you really learn more about yourself and also learn about the good things you have (family, health etc.). The travelling part has mostly shaped me as a person. “

Deutsche Strassenmeisterschaft 2020
Deutsche Strassenmeisterschaft 2020

“Track cycling is like a game of chess”

And how exactly can you deal with your own experiences from professional sports? For many athletes, the immediate period after their career is particularly difficult, when it means leading a “normal life,” no longer relying solely on the body and performance, perhaps reorienting oneself in a new or different way. In Nick’s case, the red line continues to run through, from coaching activities that he already performed in active times, to coaching in the corporate environment, and now the big issue as a national coach, which of course has expectations attached to it. After such a short time as national coach, Nick has not yet been able to put his stamp on it like perhaps other coaches who have been on the road for years with a group heading for Paris 2024. But the process has begun – medals at the Olympic Games are the expressed goal. But here, too, Nick adds: “On a more personal level: to get the best out of the athletes. Have them have a nice journey. Unlock their potentials. I think top sport is a great platform to do that. If they are happy with themselves, if they know who they are and why they do it and what it is of importance to others, I would be super happy.”

So well-being is at the forefront of his work for the national team? “I would say well being in the first place, that is something I really try to protect. When I look at the riders I try to look how good do they feel, do they take good care of themselves, how much energy do they have? How much constraints are there on their time, do they sleep well, are they happy? I try to have good vibes in the team.”

When Nick talks about track cycling, enthusiasm resonates in every word. “I like the speed, the technique, the strategy and the elegance. If road is rough, then I would call track cycling sophisticated, more like a game of chess. At a speed of 50 k an hour, which is the average of a Madison race for example, you really can not correct any more. Everything has to be right and thought out. Every move has to be standardized and you have to know how to execute it well.”

For him, Roy Eefting is one of the best sprinters among the current world leaders. “You can see that in the scratch, Roy is probably the best scratch rider in the world, but also a really good person to have in a team. I really hope that Roy can enjoy being part of the Pushbikers as much as I did – and I believe it can bring up another step in his cyclign career and that races like for example the Christimas Carnivals in Tasmania, which we used to ride, can be of great value to his performance side.”

Preparations for the 2023 race calendar are underway – for the Pushbikers road pros, but also for Roy Eefting, Liam Bertazzo and last but not least Pippo Fortin on the track. “It’s tremendously exciting to get a direct line to Nick again through Roy, a lot of memories come up. Track cycling will always have a special place in my heart, no question about it”, Christian Grasmann is pleased to say, “and we are already talking to our race organizers abroad. I’m looking forward to everything that comes up again.”

One thing is clear: track cycling is also changing. If you look back and into the future at the same time, the following picture emerges for Nick. “The change is mostly the calendar. The UCI Track Champions League takes place in the winter, while all other events are gone from the winter. That has a big impact. I think its good that the UCI tries something new, but for me it`s not as interesting a journey as it has been for example with the sixdays before. I am somewhat worried about the future of track cycling and at the same time I am sure it`s a future proof sport. A lot of people are getting back to the drawing board to find out how we can bring this sport to the people.”

Conclusion. “Passion and fun should be one of the basis in life and I think it’s a key for having a sustainable life. So if you really want to do something and be at your best you can`t work your way around passion and fun.”

Thanks for your input, Nick!

Photos | Arne Mill | Andreas Jacob | Royal Dutch Cycling Federation | Zuperdehlie | 

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