Feature | Mountain Bike

MTB maverick Simon Andreassen: What I have in common with Peter Sagan

The two-time junior world champion used to beat future Tour de France winner Egan Bernal. Now the Danish rider is ready to prove himself at senior level and has big expectations ahead of Tokyo.

By Alessandro Poggi ·

Simon Andreassen is what you call a 'cool' rider.

The 22-year-old mountain biker from the Specialized Racing Team sports eye-catching tattoos, loves coffee and rap music, and enjoys performing 'wheelies' on his bike for fun.

He's very good at racing too, and is considered one of the finest talents of the new cycling generation.

Over the years, comparisons with Peter Sagan became more frequent, thanks to his punchy racing style and a ‘maverick’ attitude.

Like the Slovakian star, Andreassen has honed his bike handling skills through different cycling disciplines, and has been winning since he was a kid.

In 2014 and 2015 the Dane topped the highest step of the podium at the UCI MTB junior world championships, beating future Tour de France winner Egan Bernal on both occasions.

Andreassen also won a junior world title in cyclo-cross and made his Olympic debut in Rio aged just 18.

In the last couple of years, his rise has been hampered by injuries and bad luck, but the Odense-born rider is determined to make his breakthrough at senior level.

His first year as an elite started with encouraging results, before the coronavirus outbreak put the MTB season on hold.

Olympic Channel spoke with the rising star, who's now in Denmark and training 'full gas', looking forward to when racing resumes.

Simon Andreassen loves tattoos. Credit: Etienne Schoeman

Olympic Channel: How did you take up mountain biking?

Simon Andreassen: My very first race was actually a mountain bike race: I did it just for fun, because my dad was also riding. Then I joined a road cycling club and I did road cycling for a few years and I thought it was a little boring. I decided to stop and take a break from it. Then I picked up the mountain bike again and started doing fun races. I figured out I was quite good at it and since then I started to win races, one after another. I’ve became passionate about it, and I really enjoy training, just going hard in the forest, spending the whole day out, building small jumps, having fun with friends…Eventually it turned into my work and being able to race professionally was just an extra.

OC: Why did you find road cycling boring?

SA: I think it’s about the action. In MTB something is always happening. It’s also because in MTB you’re always playing with the bike, doing small jumps, doing downhills… there is more adrenaline in there. You never get bored with it, you can go out in the forest and time just flies.

OC: How are road cyclists different from MTB riders?

SA: I feel it’s a bit more serious on the road, there’s not so much base for fun as in mountain bike. In mountain bike you pretty much know all the riders in the circuit, all the riders and the team staff are friendly. It’s more like a big family compared to road cycling, which is more like ‘everyone is for himself’.

OC: How is it racing against riders who are already established? and who impressed you the most?

SA: It’s weird because you’re growing up watching these guys on TV and you think it’s impossible to ride this fast, and a few years later you’re riding in the same races as them. Nino (Schurter) has been an inspiration for many more riders than just me. He’s been at the top of the game for so long. He was winning world titles when he was 22 years old, he’s been Olympic medallist every single Games he went to. It’s hard to come around him.

OC: What makes him so special?

SA: I think he’s just a very smart rider. He knows exactly how to use his strengths, he’s a real winner. I am not sure he’s always the strongest, but he’s definitely the smartest in most of the races.

"I like to do fun stuff outside, I like trails, jumps, adrenaline...not sitting on a turbo trainer, I hate it." - Simon Andreassen to Olympic Channel.

Simon Andreassen celebrates the win with a wheelie during the 2015 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships for Men Juniors in Tabor, Czech Republic. CREDIT: Nico Vereecken

OC: How would you describe yourself as a rider?

SA: Definitely my strength is in the punchy tracks, when you have to make short and steep climbs. Technical routes, rough terrains are what I like the most.

OC: How would you describe your personality?

SA: It’s difficult to talk about yourself. I think I’m pretty curious with what I’m doing, I just like to have fun. I like challenges, no matter what I’m doing I’m super competitive with everything, even when I play a ball game. When I compete I want to win. It’s difficult for me to take something just for fun, I always want to go all in with the stuff I’m doing. For example I can’t go for an easy run, I want to run as fast as possible.

OC: What do you like apart from cycling?

SA: I like to do a lot of stuff. When I’m not riding I spend most of the time relaxing. I like rap music: Eminem, ASAP Rocky, Travis Scott, all that stuff. I like walking with my girlfriend sometimes, maybe going for a swim, drinking coffee at a coffee shop is a big passion of mine as well.

OC: You opened a coffee shop called ‘The Cranks & Coffee’ in Copenhagen with two friends of yours, what’s your favourite kind of coffee?

SA: I like black coffee, espresso or Americano. I just drink coffee for pleasure, it tastes nice, it’s just a nice way for taking a break.

OC: Can you talk me about your passion for tattoos?

SA: I like tattoos a lot. I got my first one when I was 16. Many people ask if they have a special meaning, but I just like the way they look, I like the idea of having tattoos and standing out a bit. Especially in cycling there’s not a lot of people with tattoos. I feel a bit special for that. My favourite is a big eagle on my left side just below my ribs. I also have a crocodile on my arm and the number 13 on my stomach: I chose it because it’s considered an unlucky number but for me is my lucky number!

OC: When will we see the Olympic rings on your body?

SA: I thought about it after Rio 2016, but a lot of people are doing that and I don’t want to have the same tattoo as so many other people. It would be really cool, but I think if I do it, I want to do it in a different way.

"I’m never afraid to learn new things, I’m super curious about new ways to approach training and racing" - Andreassen

Andreassen competing at Rio 2016 when he was 18

OC: How was your first Olympic experience in Rio?

SA: It was a crazy experience. I was only 18 years old at the time, it was my first year as an under 23 rider, and I hadn’t done many elite races at that point so it was for sure a big shock to line up against those guys. But on the other hand it was a really nice learning experience to prepare for Tokyo. I had already the experience of living in the village and being at the Olympic Games is so different from a normal race: there’s so much focus from the media, it was really good to try that. There was no pressure on me, it was purely to learn for the future.

It’s hard to remember, there were so many moments. It was a bit of a shame that the MTB event was on the last day of the Games and after that we had the Closing Ceremony. After the race we didn’t really get to spend time to hang out, before we didn’t have time to go anywhere because we were focused on training.

OC: In Rio, Peter Sagan chose to do the MTB race. How does it feel to be compared to him?

SA: That’s a big compliment I guess. I remember in Rio we spent time together in a place outside the village with the Specialized team for a week or so ahead of the race and it was crazy for me to go out for a ride just me and him! I always saw him on TV and suddenly being able to ride with him was crazy!

OC: What did you talk about?

SA: He used to do cyclocross and I won the cyclocross junior world title the year before, so we spoke about that and about his move from MTB to the road.

OC: You both love doing wheelies, what do you have in common with him apart from that?

OC: I think tattoos as well now. Another thing we have in common having fun on the bike: you can see both of us like to play on the bike, doing wheelies, doing jumps and all the fun stuff.

"Rio was an overwhelming experience. When I was having breakfast at the Village, I could meet athletes from other sports I normally saw on TV. It was pretty special." - Andreassen to Olympic Channel.

OC: Other young riders, such as Egan Bernal, Mathieu van der Poel, and Remco Evenepoel, have already made their breakthrough in elite cycling: how do you feel about it?

SA: For sure it’s a big inspiration to see that it’s possible to break through. For me in junior years it was always easy, after that I started to get injuries and crashes and it put a big stop to the whole thing. It made it difficult to me to continue as I would normally do. For sure it’s been a lot of ups and downs for the last four years. In the end it only made me stronger, it made me realise that I wanted more than just having fun. I always kept fighting and kept coming back from injuries. I’m sure when the bad luck stops, I will also make my breakthrough pretty soon.

OC: What did you learn from the last couple of years?

SA: I’ve learnt a lot, both about racing and how to train differently. I recently tested out a lot of new things, I started working with a new coach last year and it’s been really positive: the way I started this season showed it a lot. My first results in the elite races this year were better than they were anytime before. So it looked really promising until we stopped racing…

OC: Once you said: ‘My expectations are higher than people’s expectations’. How do you see yourself progressing in the next few years?

SA: I always had high expectations and high ambitions, but sometimes you need to be realistic too and set goals that are realistic. My goal this year was finding myself in the elite category proving that I’m one of the best in the world, but for sure it takes some time and once you’re there it’s easier to make good results. Definitely I want to be at the top of the sport within a few years, but it’s difficult when there’s no racing now...

OC: How much are you tempted by a switch to road cycling?

SA: I’ve always been interested and I played with the thought of it. But the more I race, the more I realise I love riding a mountain bike, that’s where my passion lives, where I want to become the best, not in road cycling. I will never rule it out completely but for the moment it’s definitely mountain biking where my focus is and where I want to develop.

OC: If you could choose from an Olympic gold medal, a world gold medal, or an overall World Cup, what would you pick?

SA: Without a doubt I would choose an Olympic gold medal, because it’s the most prestigious thing you can win within mountain biking sport. Not a lot of people can say they’ve been Olympic champions, it’s such a selected group to have ever achieved that. For sure it’s nice to win a World Cup or a world title, but the Olympics is just the next level, you don’t have a chance every year, you need to prepare for every four years and everything needs to fall in place perfectly on that one day.

OC: What has been your best achievement to date?

SA: I had good results such as world titles and World Cup wins, but I think some of the best achievements I’ve had was when I came back from injuries and kept fighting to be where I am now because that’s never been easy. Many times I wondered: ‘why I’m doing this’, ‘why is it so hard’. I think coming to where I am know and knowing what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, is like the best achievement I’ve had.

OC: You competed against Egan Bernal, and you beat him many times at junior level in MTB, what memories you have of your battles?

SA: I raced with him a lot of times because we are from the same year (born 1997) and we battled to get into the Specialized Team. I remember when in 2015 we were invited to racing with the team and we battled against each other like in the world championships for two years. I always felt I was a lot better on the technical stuff, he was maybe stronger in the climbing. It was always a battle, a good battle with him!

OC: How impressed are you by how Van der Poel is able to juggle road cycling, MTB, and cyclo-cross?

SA: I met Mathieu several times, we’ve done recons, some training rides during World Cup events. It’s crazy not to be surprised at what he’s doing. It hasn’t been seen before and I don’t think that anyone has done it, so it’s pretty impressive.

OC: Do you like the idea of practising so many disciplines at the same time?

SA: I definitely like cyclocross, I raced a lot in the past and I would like to do it again some time, it’s not something I’m completely done with. It’s a fun sport in the winter and it’s a good way to keep your shape going in the winter and get the high intensity training done in a more fun way.

OC: How is the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to next year going to affect you?

SA: For sure the delay is a benefit for me, I get one more year to develop and become better. I’ll be one year older and some of the competitors are already quite old and perhaps they won’t be as good as this year. For the young riders is a benefit, for the old riders it will be worse.

OC: After trying the Olympic course in Izu last October, how competitive do you feel?

SA: We did the test event and it’s a really nice track. It definitely suits my riding style, it’s like punchy, not very long climbs, it’s really technical and you can earn a lot for being good on your bike, being able to handle it well. It’s a really good track for me and I would actually say one of the most fun track I’ve ridden, it’s just really well-built.

OC: What’s your goal in Tokyo?

SA: It’s difficult for me now, since I haven’t raced at elite level yet at a World Cup event. I want to do it very well, I want to prove that I belong to the top of the sport. To be honest I think a top-10 is a realistic target, if everything goes well and we keep making improvements. We have to wait and see where I am at in one years time. It’s so hard to predict what’s going to happen now.

Simon Andreassen [Credit: Etienne Schoeman]