We Will Never Be Here Again: the amazing story of Svein Tuft, the greatest Canadian cyclist few have ever heard of…

The tattoo found on Svein Tuft’s right forearm.

Svein Tuft during the Individual Time Trial, 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, China.

At thirty-two years of age, a virtual lifetime late compared to his competition, Svein Tuft is poised for greatness on the cycling world stage. Late? Perhaps. But then again, Tuft has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, with a sense of timing that is decidedly his own. Following up on unorthodox early career preparations that included bicycle touring to Alaska and Mexico, as well as boxcar hopping along the railway lines of western Canada, Svein Tuft has come off a breakout 2008 season. After finishing seventh at the Beijing Olympics and an even more impressive second at the world championships, Tuft’s fortunes are on the rise and his best results appear yet to come. More importantly, it looks like they will come on his terms. In a sport that has been dealing with the demons of rampant drug use amongst its elite, threatening to destroy it from within, Svein has found a pro team whose values mirror his own – developing young riders and promoting ethical sportsmanship by riding drug free.

“We will never be here again” is the tattoo emblazoned on Tuft’s right forearm, staring at him whenever he rides his bike. The “we” could perhaps just as easily have been an “I”, and this is significant. At a time when much in society seems focused on the “I”, win at all costs mentality, Svein Tuft represents an individual who has always embraced the greater collective good, drawn to the sport of cycling for the “we”: the team camaraderie, the opportunity to promote and provide support to younger athletes, and the desire to strive for the success of the team and teammates around him, often at the expense of his own individual goals.

Set amongst incredible European scenery, as well as the colour and pageantry of its cycling crazy hoards, Svein Tuft’s story will now move to the sport’s pinnacle, top tier professional racing. In Europe, where the sport’s elite are afforded rock star status, Tuft and his team will prepare in some of the sport’s preliminary classics, and hopefully culminate in what is arguably cycling’s crown jewel, the Tour de France. He will compete against the celebrity of Lance Armstrong, and other premier talents. But, he will also be immersed in the seemingly relentless bout the sport continues to fight against the stigma of performance enhancing drugs.

BACKGROUND

Back in 2003, Svein Tuft turned his back on the sport he loved due to the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs and the pressure to use them. But, re-energized and fresh off a year of cutting lawns, wrestling, hiking and back-country skiing, Tuft was lured back, working hard with the Langley, B.C. based Symmetrics Cycling Team over the next four years. He pushed himself to see how much, in his words, he “wanted to hurt.” And, with the support of this local team that espoused and raced with his values, he did it clean, living by the “Cheaters Suck” motto emblazoned on his socks.

In 2004, Svein Tuft would quietly go about winning the first of what would become four Canadian national titles in the individual time trial. Then, in 2007, his fame would spread south of the border when on a day that began in a virtual blizzard, he would dismantle the field on national television while winning the inaugural U.S. Open Championship road race, prompting on-air colour commentary person and former pro racer Frankie Andreau to label the unshaven Tuft: “Grizzly Adams from the Great White North.”

Tuft at the 2007 U.S. Open Championship road race wearing Symmetrics colours, Richmond, Virginia. Photo © Kevin Field.

In 2008, Tuft’s winning run included four gold medals at the Pan Am Championships, impressive stage race victories in Canada and Cuba, and the overall points championship for the North American pro racing series. At the Beijing Olympics, he stunned the cycling world by finishing seventh in the individual time trial. Even more astounding was that he was in line for a medal up until the last dozen or so competitors. Svein had arrived on the international cycling scene. But, Tuft wasn’t done. The month of October saw him in Varese, Italy at the World Championships and a result that had the European and world cycling press aghast and asking – “Who is this Svein Tuft?” They would have an answer shortly.

2008 World Cycling Championships, Individual Time Trial, Varese, Italy. Photo © Sirotti – cyclingfans.com.

Transcript taken from the Cycling Weekly text update of the 2008 World Time Trial Championship from Varese, Italy:

13.47pm: Canada’s Svein Tuft, the revelation of the Olympic Games time trial, where he was seventh, is going well, with the best time at the first check point at the moment.

14.06pm: Svein Tuft of Canada is flying. He is 41 seconds quicker than Brajkovic at the third check point. According to his Symmetrics team website, one of his hobbies is freestyle wrestling. (We’re not making this up).

 Photo © Bryn Lennon / Getty Images.

14.20pm NEW BEST TIME: That’s the ride of the day so far by Canada’s Svein Tuft, who has wiped the floor with Devolder’s time to top the leaderboard. 52-44, first man under 53 minutes.14.24pm: Tuft apparently had a mechanical problem and had to swap bikes between the third checkpoint and the finish. How much has that cost him? It could be the difference between winning a medal and not.

Amazingly, Tuft would win the silver medal, finishing only 43 seconds back of the eventual race winner after getting a flat in the final 6 km. The press was incredulous that a virtual unknown had accomplished what he did, flat tire and all!

Svein Tuft, silver medalist, 2008 World Cycling Championships, Individual Time Trial, Varese, Italy. Photo © Sirotti – cyclingfans.com.

THE PAST

So, where does one really begin when telling the story, or perhaps more accurately, the legend that is becoming Canada’s Svein Tuft? We could start with the fact that he quit school at age 17 and embarked on the cycling version of a walk-about. With a virtual garage sale bicycle and after constructing a small utility trailer to tow behind it, Svein set off from Langley, B.C. on a little tour…to Bella Coola. His cargo was a simple one-person bivy shelter, a blanket, a camp stove and oh yes, his 85 lb. Alaskan Malamute dog named Bear. Did we mention that Bella Coola is 1000 km from Langley and Svein, due to a lack of funds, was eventually forced to cook over open fires with nothing but a sack of potatoes for sustenance?

Tuft and his dog Bear. Who could foresee where this was all heading? Photo © The Holness Family.

We could talk about how he roamed the west coast on a bicycle from Mexico to Alaska for five years. Or, we could talk about the fact he rode the rails across western Canada as a boxcar-hopping vagabond, resembling more a product of the dirty thirties rather than the 1990’s. Of course, we could talk about how he would enter some local cycling races on a whim, even lead his first-ever competitive race on sub-standard equipment and wearing street clothes before a flat tire would force him to withdraw. And, we could eventually talk about how, two races later, Svein would taste victory. Within two years he would make the Canadian national team and the rest, as they say, is history.

But, we couldn’t forget about how Tuft, recognized as an emerging talent, was invited down to the Mercury cycling team’s training camp in San Diego, California. Accepting the invitation, he would head to Southern California – not by plane, train or car, but, in what would be typical Svein Tuft fashion, by bicycle.

THE PRESENT

As the 2009 cycling season begins we find Svein racing for one of the world’s top professional teams, U.S. based Garmin Slipstream. With a mandate to clean up the sport both from a drug testing and race results perspective, the team has managed to coax the reluctant diamond in the rough superstar away from the cozy confines of his local Symmetrics team family. Garmin Slipstream team director Jonathan Vaughters, a former teammate, has been pursuing Svein for a number of years and sees him as an important cog in the multi-million dollar team’s success in Europe and the sport’s marquee grand tours, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, where he will be competing against cycling’s elite, including a returning Lance Armstrong.

Fresh off international success and totally dedicated to cycling as a profession for perhaps the first time in his career, many feel Tuft, at the ripe old age of 32, still has his most impressive results ahead of him.  And, if that is the case, it will sit just fine with new team director Vaughters: “I remember in 2003 I thought, ‘If this guy ever gets serious and loses that spare tire, he’s going to fly.’ “

It seems as if Svein Tuft is poised to fulfill that prophecy, all while maintaining his own unique philosophy. So, let’s hang on for the ride as this unorthodox world-class athlete strives for success in a wonderful, and particularly relevant place and time; a place and time where we, like Svein Tuft, will never be again.

Svein Tuft at the start of the 2008 World Individual Time Trial Championship, Varese, Italy.

ASIDES

“I didn’t want to say anything about it before the race, but Svein was always our guy,” said White. “The ethos of this team is you get what you give. Svein has been part of all our great time trial results, and I think it’s only fitting that the guy who’s been the lynch pin of so many big moments gets the limelight for at least one day.”

Orica-Greenedge Sport Director Matt White after team wins 2014 Giro d’Italia TTT, placing Svein Tuft in 1st place overall, May 9, 2014

 

“Svein is very, very versatile,” White said. “I’ve taken him to the Giro, and the Vuelta, and it’s great to see him making his Tour debut at this age. You pick a team for the team’s goals, and we didn’t come here to specialize in the team time trial. What we want to use him for, specifically, is to move the train up in the closing kilometers. He does a great job of that. He can ride at the front, for a long time, at 55 kph. He’s not part of the leadout, but he’s a crucial member in positioning Brett (Lancaster), Daryl (Impey) and (Matt) Goss in the final.”

Tuft has also proven to be a dependable workhorse, valuable in defending the team’s overall race lead by setting tempo on the front, keeping breakaways in check. It’s something Tuft says he enjoys.

“I’m fine with that,” he said. “There’s stress in the first part of the stage, but at the end of the day you’re just riding on the front, ticking away the kilometers. That’s enjoyable for me.”

In fact, in many ways, Tuft is, as the saying goes, just happy to be here, at this 100th Tour de France, as the oldest rookie of the modern era.

VeloNews.com, July 5, 2013

 

“Ride of the day…No, make that ride of the millennium goes to GreenEdge’s Svein Tuft. 200km ALONE controlling the peloton! Respect.”

Tweeted by fellow competitor,and world champion Mark Cavendish after stage 2, 2012 Tirreno-Adriatico

 
Now he’s in a restaurant with big-screen TVs and a wine list doing an interview.

“I struggle with that because I never feel in place in these kinds of environments,” Tuft said. “I never have. Even with bike racing in general, I don’t feel like I’m part of it.”

Garmin-Slipstream is making him part of it. Underneath his seemingly perpetual two-day grizzle and Paul Bunyan lifestyle lies one of the most talented bike racers in the world.

Team director Jonathan Vaughters, his teammate six years ago on a continental club called Prime Alliance, signed him in September and is trying to tap this raw commodity, like a baseball scout who finds a can’t-miss shortstop in a remote Dominican village.

The Denver Post, February 27, 2009

 

“All of those wonderful adventurous stories of riding his bike to Alaska, the railroad-car jumping, yes, those are all true,” his mother said.

“But I want everybody to know that, no, Svein was not an orphan. He was raised by two loving parents. He had his own room, a trampoline, a motor scooter. But he was just looking for something else.”

The New York Times, Saturday February 7, 2009

 

2014  HIGHLIGHTS

  • 1st Giro d’Italia, stage 1 TTT, wears the maglia rosa (pink jersey) as overall race leader
  • 2nd Tirreno-Adriatico, TTT

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • 1st Tour de San Luis, stage 4 ITT (2013)
  • 1st Tour de Slovénie, stage 1 ITT (2013)
  • 1st Tour de France, stage 4 TTT (2013)
  • 1st Duo Normand (2013)
  • 1st Canadian National Time Trial Championships (2004-2006, 2008-2012)
  • 1st Tirreno-Adriatico, stage 1 TTT (2012)
  • 1st Tour de Beauce, stage 4 ITT (2012)
  • 1st Eneco Tour, stage 2 TTT (2012)
  • 1st Eneco Tour, stage 6 ITT (2012)
  • 1st Duo Normand (2012)
  • 1st GP Stad Zottegem (2011)
  • 1st Canadian National Road Championships (2011)
  • 1st Tour de Beauce, stages 4 & 6 (2011)
  • 1st Eneco Tour, prologue (2010)
  • 1st Post Danmark Rundt, stage 5 (2010)
  • 1st Tour de Beauce, overall (2008)
  • 1st Tour de Beauce, stage 4a (2008)
  • 1st Pan-American Championships, ITT, track: individual pursuit, madison, and points race (2008)
  • 1st UCI Americas Tour Championships, overall (2007)
  • 1st US Open Cycling Championships (2007)
  • 1st Vuelta a Cuba, overall (2007)
  • 1st Vuelta a Cuba, stage 11 ITT (2007)
  • 1st Canadian National Track Championships, individual pursuit & team pursuit (2006)
  • 2nd Road World Championships, TTT (2013)
  • 2nd Road World Championships, ITT (2008)
  • 3rd Road World Championships, TTT (2012)
  • 3rd Tour of Missouri, overall (2008)
  • 3rd Three Days of De Panne, stage 3 ITT (2012)
  • 4th Tirreno-Adriatico, stage 7 ITT (2012)
  • 4th Three Days of De Panne, overall (2012)
  • 4th Tour de Beauce, overall (2012)
  • 5th  Circuit Cycliste Sarthe – Pays de la Loire, stage 3 ITT
  • 6th Tour de France, stage 11 ITT (2013)
  • 7th Beijing Olympic Games, ITT (2008)
  • 169th “Lanterne rouge”, Tour de France overall (2013)

To be continued…

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2 Responses to We Will Never Be Here Again: the amazing story of Svein Tuft, the greatest Canadian cyclist few have ever heard of…

  1. MarcF says:

    My favourite cyclist of all times. Together with Graeme Obree
    He’s just so natural.
    I hope someday he (or someone) will write a book about his life!

    • M Mauchline says:

      Hi Marc,

      Svein is one amazing, and oh so unassuming individual. And yes, his is a story that could fill a book, should fill a book, or a screenplay, or a …

      Thank you for stumbling across my post.
      Cheers,

      Mark

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