Bernd Reutemann, the owner and head of the mountain bike development team Trek | Vaude, stresses the importance of Big Little Things. As an example, after a sponsor recently declined a partnership, Reutemann sent them a homemade cake and a note thanking them for talking with the team.
“You get a lot of touch points with your customer where he can feel like you love what you do,” Reutemann says. He describes Trek | Vaude as a “love brand”: “It means you are good at what you are doing, but also be emotional.”
That philosophy extends to the riders themselves. For 2022 and beyond, Trek | Vaude will focus on developing U23 cross country mountain bikers using a two-pronged system that is part science and part art.
Reutemann wants to find strong, young athletes who have perhaps been overlooked by the sport’s traditional scouting systems and use data from advanced technology to guide their training and recovery. At the same time, he’s wary of treating riders like machines. He wants the team culture to revolve around fun and sustainable progress to avoid the mental and physical burnout that can stunt development.
„We do a lot of stress recovery monitoring. It’s a warning system so that I can see, ‚OK, this young talent, he is not really able to recover.“
“It’s my mission to make sure that we protect young athletes from over-exploitation of their bodies — so going too quick, too fast,” Reutemann says. “I’m not a cyclist, I come from martial arts. And I bring in different skills, emphasizing mental strength and discipline.
“We do a lot of stress recovery monitoring. It’s a warning system so that I can see, ‘OK, this young talent, he is not really able to recover.’ Or, ‘There’s too much pressure on him.’”
2021 was Trek | Vaude’s first year of existence, but the team experienced immediate success. Nineteen-year-old Mona Mitterwallner led the way, winning all six U23 World Cup races, as well as the U23 XC and elite marathon World Championships. In addition, Alex Miller qualified for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Philip Handl was crowned European Champion in the ultra-marathon distance, Sascha Weber finished second at Germany’s marathon national championships, Charly Markt finished sixth at marathon World Championships and Gregor Raggl won the Austrian short track national title.
Mitterwallner, Handl, Raggl and Markt will be continuing their development for new teams next season, but Miller and Weber return, along with Antonia Daubermann, who will focus on marathon racing after a season hampered by injuries and illness. In addition, six U23 riders are expected to join the team, including confirmed additions Nils Aebersold, who placed third at junior World Championships, Luisa Daubermann, the reigning German U23 Champion, Bjorn Riley, an American who excelled on the domestic circuit, and Tamara Wiedmann, a promising Austrian rider.
Reutemann is excited about all of his riders’ potential, and what he can build with his system. He’s not looking for immediate success necessarily. Instead, he wants Trek | Vaude’s riders to make the sort of steady progress that will set them up for years of success.
Below, Reutemann goes into even more detail about the culture of Trek | Vaude with the Trek Race Shop. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
You like to use the term “love brand.” What does that mean?
Bernd Reutemann: It means you are good at what you are doing, but also be emotional. You get a lot of touch points with your customer where he can feel like you love what you do. So we are writing handwritten cards, a lot of them, to the customers. If we are going to have a contract with a sponsor, we say thank you with a homemade cake, and say, ‘Thank you, we’re looking forward to working with you.’ So we have a lot of touch points where our sponsors or our customers can feel that we love what we are doing or how we are doing our job.
With our young talents, I also tell them what they have to do for a sponsor. In their weekly schedule, they have to do some work for the team. For example, maybe sometimes they have to do some exercises in nutrition science, but they also have to get in contact with the sponsors and help us to be reachable. The sponsor is our customer, it’s our friend, our partner.
We are not interested in quick success, but in the meaningful and sustainable support of young athletes.
Why is Trek | Vaude focusing so intently on U23 riders starting next season?
Reutemann: I run a company called TRAINALYZED, and we’ve built up a very holistic system for sustainable development of young talents, which is the basis for the training concepts of Trek | Vaude. So our goal is to find young talents outside the known systems of talent scouting and develop them sustainably. We are not interested in quick success, but in the meaningful and sustainable support of young athletes.
I’m not a cyclist, I come from martial arts. And I bring in different skills, emphasizing mental strength and discipline. It’s my mission to make sure that we protect young athletes from over-exploitation of their bodies — so going too quick, too fast.
In the center of the program is the athlete and their personal development. We have a four-year program, which is built up step by step. A lot of teams are doing cycling-specific training elements. In our system, we also include elements of sports psychology and nutrition science, but also mental training and personality development. Those are my skills. For 30 years I’ve been doing personality development in leadership.
We want our athletes to be able to assess their bodies. We train them to know their bodies better and feel better, and know what’s going on in their bodies. For me it’s common sense to do that. Don’t look for fast success. It’s not worth it.
Do you see a lot of over-use in young athletes across the sport?
Reutemann: Definitely. Look into the scene, you will find a lot of that. Too much for me. And we don’t have a good system to avoid this. And sometimes you have to make decisions. If you’re only considering the short term, some might ask us, ‘Why are you doing that?’ But I’m not looking at short term success, I’m looking for sustainable development.
You mentioned mental strength and personality development. What are you looking for and what is your philosophy? What is a mentally strong athlete to you?
Reutemann: You have to be sure that it’s the best day for you and you did everything you have to do. And even if you have not slept well, you are sure that you will win the fight. Otherwise there’s no sense doing it.
We have a culture. We have our own language.
I got the feeling that the fun factor was missing from the sport. So if we are training, we are also joking or having a lot of fun. You have to go have fun. I tell riders to take a downhill bike and just have fun jumping around. And then I say if you’re good at jumping, you might also find new lines. It’s common sense if, even if you don’t know every stone on the course, if you have it in your mind that you are safe, that even if the stone there is wet, you can manage it.
We want riders to feel psychologically secure. The first thing in your brain should be, ‘OK, I’m safe, this is the right tire.’ Don’t think about, ‘Oh, maybe it’s not the right tire.’ It is the right one. And if you are safe in your mind, then you can give the best output. If you are not safe, you will never get the best output or speed.
What do you do to develop personality in a team?
Reutemann: We have specific exercises. We’re doing skills for communication. We are doing skills for feedback.
We have a culture. We have our own language, we have some words we are using. These are our words to use. Like Usain Bolt, he had his famous gesture. This was his sign. And over the upcoming weeks we are developing our sign for the next four years. So if you are standing at a race, it’s our brand sign for our athletes.
You mentioned earlier looking for athletes outside of traditional scouting systems. What do you mean by that?
Reutemann: For example, Mona has only been riding for four years. Before she was doing Taekwondo and volleyball and football. We always keep an eye on endurance for those athletes.
In Germany, we have the national team, but if you are not in the national team system already, it’s very hard to enter it after you’re older than 17, and there are a lot of good riders outside the national team. Sometimes they are more motivated, and there’s more potential. Right now I have a young Austrian rider, Tamara Wiedemann, who is an excellent athlete, and she has a high potential. We only have to change their training skills.
I’m always looking for potential. For example, I told one our young riders, ‘I need some data from your power meter.’ And they said, ‘Oh Bernd, I’m sorry, but I don’t use a power meter.’ And I said, ‘That’s OK, give me your training data and your heart rate,’ and they said, ‘Oh Bernd, I’m sorry, I never use a heart rate monitor. I just ride by having fun.’ And they’ve been training only 12 hours a week. It’s incredible.
I’m doing a lot of science, but in the end you have to know your body, and you have to have fun.
That’s what I’m looking for. I’m doing a lot of science, but in the end you have to know your body, and you have to have fun. We did a bike fitting, and she said, ‘Wow, that feels great!’ And I said, ‘How did you fit your bike before? How did you get your saddle?’ She said, ‘I just rode the bike and it felt OK.’ She’s incredible, she has fun riding and a smile on her face.
Sascha Weber is far and away the oldest rider on the team now at 33 years old. What does he bring to the team?
Reutemann: Sascha, he’s the Capitano. He’s a long distance rider. He’s doing cyclocross as well. He’s good on the road. Sascha is the man with the experience. He’s very important for the young riders. He has done everything. He was a road cyclist. He was 10th at cyclocross Word Championships four years ago. And he was the German champion in XC marathon twice, and he’s one of the best marathon riders in the world.
He likes to share his experiences with the young talents. Not all the riders want to share their experiences. He’s like a father. He’s very, very important for the team spirit as well.
What lessons did you take from your first year as a team, and what are your expectations for next year and beyond?
Reutemann: We learned a lot last year, but we also have seen that the system is working. Next year it will be easier. Because last year, nobody knew us. We were real rookies. They said, ‘Do you have experience?’ I said, ‘Not that much but we know what to do. We can change a tire or a wheel in 20 seconds. We have the best mechanics and we are always focused on bringing the best support.’
We are really, really excited to be a devo team for Trek. And I’m honest, I’m very proud of it because we are still rookies, and Trek said, ‘We trust in you. You have a good system.’ I explained to them how we are working with TRAINALYZED, and how we have all this advanced science like dynamic metabolic models and near-infrared technology. But at the center is the athlete, and I’m thinking very sustainably. I’m really happy that we don’t get this pressure from our sponsors, like Trek or Vaude. They said, ‘OK, you are developing. You are the guy to bring sustainability and performance together.’ And so I’m very proud of it. This is what I want to do.