Interview – David Graf

David, have you ridden your bike yet since retirement?

To be honest, no, I have not ridden a bike since Papendal 2021. I was busy doing things I could not do before, but I could imagine getting back into riding in a bit as soon as my daughter starts riding her strider. Give me another year.

It’s been a number of years now since you moved into the coaching role for Switzerland, how is the job going? Are you enjoying being behind the scenes these days?

Yes, I started my new job in October 2021 just a couple of months after my last race. It was a pretty smooth transition since I was already planning on doing this the year before.

Then I had to get my coaching degree finished in 2022 which was a bit of a struggle to get back into it after so many years away from school.

On the job side my riders make life easy with the results they are currently achieving. It’s fun working with this talented group at the events and in the lead up to it. I do enjoy being on the other side now while still having the privilege of experiencing the highs and lows of all the emotions that are coming along with them, that you only get in high level sports in my opinion.

Who is on the National team, and what kind of support do your Tier 1 riders receive?

We do have an A and a B Team for all the championship classes. There are different criteria that they have to achieve, so in the National Team A we have currently 14 athletes across both gender and Junior, U23 and Elite.

In Elite Women we have Zoe Claessens, Nadine Aeberhard and Thalya Burford.

In the Elite Men it’s Renaud Blanc, Simon Marquart, Cedric Butti, Gil Brunner, Loris Aeberhard and Filib Steiner.

 The support is not directly coupled with their National team status. We do make a selection for all the World level and Championship events that covers their expenses. This is at the moment 3 women and 3-4 men per event. On top of this they have support from a foundation called “Schweizer Sporthilfe” where they can get some funding depending on how much they need and how much they make with sponsors etc. I think the current max you can get there is 30,000 a year but it’s quite tough to get the maximum.

In addition, most of our athletes had the privilege do become a part of the Swiss Army’s sports group. Where they can further get funding.

We have continued to see the depth of the Swiss riders coming through on the World Cup front over the last few years, and it seems another step up over the winter seeing your riders at the first few rounds in New Zealand and Australia this year with an impressive showing. You have to be proud of what’s happening at the moment.

I am happy to see this for sure. Coming into a new season is always a bit of a surprise and we had a bit of a rough two weekends to end last year in Argentina. So, it was very nice to see how everything is coming together.

Can you tell us more about how the team is structured since you came into the job, with coaching, and a solid World Cup squad traveling and training?

I do minimal coaching outside of the travelling we are doing together. I do help a couple of riders but more like a guide and less of a full-time personal coach. I did coach Cedric until this season, but we figured he needs something new to make the next step and it worked out nicely, he is working with Mike Violain. Simon is working with Kurt Pickard and Zoe is with Liam Phillips.

I am there to support each one on an individual basis and try to have a good relationship with the athletes and also their private coaches.

This is a model I have seen from the French Team. Julien Sastre is a true head coach and lets the riders do what they feel is best for them, not forcing them to be in a certain system is something that is important these days I feel like. In every aspect of life, young riders are looking for individualization in what they do, doing this in the high-level sport setup is just logic to me. 

I am trying to help the riders with my experience, but I feel like the more important thing is to have team leaders that show the young riders what it takes to get to the top.

This current situation we are in started with Roger Rinderknecht back in the days and since then we have found a way to keep the continuity in having riders on the team that set the standard high. Now having Zoe on the woman’s side is crucial for the future of our woman’s program in my eyes to get this same kind of movement going.

What does a normal working day look like for you at home and then again during a World Cup weekend?

At home, I am mostly on the phone talking to athletes and other stakeholders like our development coach Joachim Dovat, who is responsible for Junior’s and below.

A crucial part to my job too, since my mission before starting the job was, make sure BMX SWISS is and stays worldclass.

Then organizing all these trips takes quite a lot of time and it’s always a fight to stay within our budget and make the most out of it. I would love to outsource this, but it is not that easy.

I know exactly what setup I am looking for and I have a lot of experience on what makes life as an athlete easier, and what is better to avoid.

During a World Cup it’s straight forward. Getting the staff organized so everyone knows what to do and I feel like we are getting there. Having Ugo Ballerini, a former rider as our mechanic, is a great addition to the team. Then trying to make the athletes’ lives as easy as possible the closer we get to the competition the more we try to take the load off their shoulders. Most important is to be prepared for every circumstance that could arise and not forget an important thing along the way.

I am more a coordinator during these weeks than a coach but still from time to time I do give my input on things I see in the rider’s performance or when I see other riders to things in a certain way. This input can go through their personal coaches or directly with the athlete.

What kind of atmosphere do you like to have during a race weekend for your riders?

This is individual to every athlete. Still, I want them to treat a race week with some focus and give it a certain importance. No sightseeing with me during race weeks. Calm but with focus.

What’s the future goal for the Team moving into the Final World Cup and Worlds? For Tulsa?

We are positioned well in the overall in the men’s and the women’s, this is for sure one goal to continue the high we had in Brisbane/ Rotorua.

There are some athletes that still have something to prove, and I think they can. To me it would be great to see everyone riding to their full potential. That would mean, more Swiss in the finals and fighting for more podium spots.

Worlds will be a big show down and we will try to get in there as prepared as possible. Same as for the World Cup, I think our athletes have the potential to make a great showing. I do know how these one-day races can be, to make a clear result goal is tough, but we are definitely going there with the intention to bring back some metal.

What are your thoughts on Paris with the Team, the track, and the outlook going into the Games?

Now it looks like we will be going with 4 athletes total, which would be great! Most of the key players on my team have experience with the games but I think Paris will be on another level. It will be like home games for us Europeans and my focus is to get the athletes ready for this. Other than that, it will be another BMX race. 

The French have a huge advantage being at home and in their training center, coming off all these victories and domination the past year so our plan is to stay calm and go fast.

As a coach with your history and success as a rider, do you think it’s a big advantage to pass on to your riders?

It definitely helps in some respects, although this advantage will be gone sooner than later. The young kids won’t know the past and this is ok.
 Currently it makes life easier with the young riders since they believe me most of the time.

With my Elite riders it is a conversation on the same level, and they do not look back but forward. I have riders that have had at least the same or more success as I had as a rider, but this makes for great conversations and exchange of ideas.

What are your thoughts on the World Cup and Elite racing right now in the big picture? Is it a good place right now or room for improvements?

The level of racing is very high as expected in an Olympic year. I think the World Cup is running pretty well at the moment, although the fact they have only 3 weekends this year is not a good sign.

I think they are going in the right direction, in my eyes there is a little too much talk about U23 during a World Cup weekend. I would like to see them running the U23 but putting all their effort off track into background stories of the top athletes. Where are they coming from and how they got here. I think for our sport it was great that we had such a domination from two men and 1-2 women last year. It shows that if you are the best, you will come out on top – most of the time. Like Sylvain said not long ago on Instagram, predictability is important for our sport.

We will see where we are going but we are in a stronger spot than 5 years ago I feel like.

How is the sport of BMX racing in Switzerland right now?

At the top we are way over achieving. Switzerland has around 500 licensed riders total, and we are trying to get these numbers up but it is not easy. Our national series is running with around 220 entries per day and slightly growing. It is up to us to make it a better product, so the kids and the parents want to be

As with the World Cup, I think we are going in the right direction but there is still a long way to go.

Lastly, alongside yourself, who are the top 5 Swiss riders of all time?

Interesting question. It speaks for the current status of Swiss BMX:

Simon Marquart, World Champ, World Cup overall winner, multiple World Cup Wins.

Zoe Claessens, 2nd at Worlds, 4 World Cup wins and a couple European Championship titles.

Cedric Butti, current World Cup leader, multiple World Cup podiums, Junior World and European Champ, U23 European Champ.

Roger Rinderknecht, pioneer as a Swiss BMX Pro, multiple World Cup finals, two Olympic participations.

Yvan Lapraz, Junior World Champ with the greatest lap of all time.


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