A multifunctional MTB family
Number 17 of the series 20 heads for 2020 is in reality not just one head but a trio. Bernhard Mast-Sindlinger and his sons Tobias and Gabriel are closely connected with the sport of mountain biking and especially with the World Cup venue in Albstadt. And they do so in a variety of combinations that probably cannot be found anywhere else in this constellation. A video talk about their work at RSG Zollernalb and beyond.
Tobias Sindlinger is sitting in his current apartment in Herrenberg and starts the Skype conference. Gabriel Sindlinger appears in front of the screen in his home in Magrethausen. Then there’s a little wait for father Bernhard Mast-Sindlinger until the multifunctional MTB family is almost complete. Mother Karla Sindlinger is not present, but her knowledge will be subject. The conversation quickly picks up speed so that after a few minutes we talk about basic questions of the youth work in mountain biking and general developments they are confronted with at RSG Zollernalb. It quickly becomes clear: at the other end of the screen there is a lot of competence, which stems on the one hand from experience as an athlete and on the other hand from being a coach in the club.
The World Cup in Albstadt is cancelled. Are the flags at half-mast at your home?
Bernhard Mast-Sindlinger: The answer depends on who you ask. Of course there is a certain disappointment. For Ulf Haasis and me, this would have been the end of the road. But the mood didn´t hit rock bottom completely. The application for the World Cup 2021 is ready. If it were to be cancelled, too, it would be frustrating and a bitter setback for the mountain bike sport in Albstadt and the region.
In 2013 the first UCI Mountain Bike World Cup was held in Albstadt. Before that, international Bundesliga races and German championships took place in the Bullentäle. Did this have an effect on you as a young athlete?
Tobias Sindlinger: In the past, when I didn’t live in Stuttgart, I used to run weekly training sessions for children. World Cup was something cool for the kids, but I didn’t get the impression that it motivated them to race. For myself, on the other hand, it was motivation. Even the Bundesliga races before that motivated me immensely. I lived completely with the scene from the beginning. In 2013 I was Chaperone (chaperone for the athletes who have to go to the anti-doping control after the competition), for the eliminator of Thomas Litscher (Switzerland, World Championship third in 2017) and even of the winner of the cross-country race, the Australian Daniel McConnell. That was already super cool, it gave a certain push. On the one hand to take part in the races and on the other hand to get more involved.
Gabriel, how was it for you?
For me the level of racing was perhaps even more distinct. In 2012 I was very successful in the youth class and had ambitions accordingly. I had the goal to ride at the World Cup and already in the first year you stood at the track and said: you want to ride there. Then my performance went down a bit. But after Aaron (Beck) I was the next one who was allowed to ride World Cup. I didn’t make it in the Junior World Cup (which still existed at that time), but in 2015 I made it in the U23. The World Cup was a childhood dream for me, a dream of every mountain biker who rides the junior series. It was always the big thing to ride a World Cup. To have the chance to ride it at home, to have it so tangible, that was very helpful, very motivating for me.
And how did you experience that as a father and coach?
BMS: In the end they are two sides of the same coin. In Albstadt we are a bit away from the centres (of MTB competitive sports in Baden-Württemberg) Freiburg and Kirchheim. We had no squad riders for a long time. Gabriel was the first one who has gone through almost all state squad years and was in the BDR youth squad for two years. After we did this more systematically in the club in the direction of racing, the World Cup has been a great development. For Ronja (Eibl), Tobias Steinhart and so on this is great. We always had races for the youngsters, but since the short track was introduced at the World Cup the time frame for the youngsters is too short.
GS: At the World Cup the Alb-Gold Juniorscup was more of a supplement. In the Bundesliga it was more a part of the whole thing. Or also at the German Championship 2011.
BMS: For the majority of our own young talents we now have fewer competition offers. That’s why this cuts both way.
TS: In the beginning we did it pretty well. When we started in 2006, we had ten kids in training with coach Rainer Schairer. That was the whole group. Within a short period of time, four or five years, we managed that the parking lot at the Zollernalb-Halle was no longer sufficient. Sometimes we had over 50 children, which was a boom. That led to many parents becoming trainers and we built in the Bullentäle. A large number of the young riders were not only present at the training on Wednesday or Thursday, but also dug in the Bullentäle on Tuesday. In the meantime, however, the numbers have decreased again.
BMS: In the beginning the World Cup was a club event. With the increasing professionalization the smaller the share of the RSG became. But it’s true, for many years it worked well. But at this point one should not forget that the Albstadt Bike-Marathon also played a role.
That there is a kind of dent in the numbers of young people, is that a regional or general development?
TS: What I observe is that there is even more action at the Alb Gold Cup. The children are keen on cycling, but at some points they are not so keen on tormenting themselves for it. My impression is that they prefer going to the bike park. Or, how do you see it?
GS: I believe that the issue that also exists in football clubs, that they lose young talent, is also present here. But I don’t have any reliable figures.
BMS: At the moment it is not really possible to judge that. I know that the numbers in the youth screening are stable. At the moment you can’t say anything anyway because there are no events. But seen in total, there is no such thing as in football, where you have to form teams everywhere. As far as racing is concerned, I agree with Tobi. From the U17 upwards it gets difficult. I can imagine that we’ll get a dent next year. Keeping the motivation high at the moment (with the cancellations due to the Corona pandemic) you need to have punch.
TS: You also have to see that there are a lot more possibilities to be a mountain biker today. At the beginning of the 2000s there was cross-country and for the older ones marathon. But it has developed radically, there are enduro bikes and there are bike parks.
BMS: The fun factor has increased a lot. When you were kids, these options didn’t exist.
TS: It was an advantage to have only hardtails. When ten-year-olds come with fullys, they don’t learn how to ride a bike smart. With a downhill bike with 140 millimeters of suspension travel, you’re racing over everything. With the hardtail you have to ride much more sensitive and find lines.
Bernhard Mast-Sindlinger also combines his job as principal of the Special Education Centre with a focus on learning in Tailfingen with mountain biking and the RSG Zollernalb. Through the state’s bike pool, the school now has 20 mountain bikes with which the students can learn simple riding techniques or take rides.
The students can rent the bikes for the club training at the RSG. Gabriel Sindlinger talks about how the students almost had more fun in training than other children, even though the development of their physical and motoric skills is not quite age-appropriate. For educationist Bernhard Mast-Sindlinger this is the possibility to put his students into a context that would otherwise probably remain closed to them. Because mountain biking is a sport that is not particularly cost-effective.
It´s experts talking – in various ways. It sounds like a family that is crazy about cycling or mountain biking. Is this true?
GS: It depends on how you define crazy, but probably some people would classify us that way. Since the World Cup in Albstadt was established, we’ve hosted many different nations. Israeli Rotem Ishay for example. He once said that he has experienced a lot, but never a family that is involved in an event in such different ways. I rode with him back then, Tobi was already (as a reporter) at MTB-News, Dad was involved in the organisation and our mother also helped.
How does one become such a family? How did everything start?
BMS: It all started with Gabriel.
TS: First we were football players.
BMS: Football, a little bit handball. Tobi was a boy scout for a while. The boys tried different things. And Gabriel came one day and wanted to ride his bike.
GS: No, I just wanted to do something else. Football alone was… well, not boring. But in the village club the possibilities were limited and the question was whether I should try to play higher class or try something new. I was always open for it, that was in 2006, I was about ten. But for understanding the background you have to know that father has been riding the Albstadt Bike-Marathon for 20 years and every day he cycles to school. Bicycle had already been a part of the family.
TS: And parallel to playing football, since the U9, we have always participated in the City Sprint at the Albstadt Bike-Marathon.
BMS: Of course, this has also had an effect.
TS: I rode for the first time in 2002, you in 2004.
BMS: Well, I have to add that we have been living here in Margrethausen for 23 years now.
TS:…now you go far back.
BMS: I always cycled to school and a colleague said, come on, you ride here every day, you can try the bike marathon. That was in ’98. There was a group of people in the district who rode bike marathons. The group had their own jerseys and that the boys liked that, too. In these jerseys they rode the City-Sprint. They also rode the city championships. Gabriel wanted to join the club and that’s how it started. It started out small. Rainer Schairer had a group and I looked after a group.
GS: Racing was logical at that time, it was the obvious goal of the training. You drove regional series.
The fact that you had nothing to do with cycling in your family before is almost typical for mountain bikers.
BMS: Well, the bike was just a normal means of transport for me, even during my studies.
GS: I think the main reason we got into this is because our parents said that they would support us in what we do. If playing football was enough, we would have been happy there, too. However, we just got more and more involved.
None of you stopped at riding races. The father became a coach, and the two sons started to follow the sport in journalism. But they got really infected with the bike virus – if this metaphor is allowed in these times.
BMS: I had a licence for mass sports from my studies. When the boys played football, I also trained the team in question. When it became more with cycling, Rainer (Schairer) asked me if I could join so that there were two groups. But many things developed by themselves. There was a dynamic without much planning. Without great systematics. Then came this third place of Aaron Beck (U19) at the German championship here in Albstadt. There were inquiries from other teams. Rainer had founded the Gonso-Rawoflex-Team, which was a first important step towards targeted competitive sports. But no one had ever made it very far then. We then said that in order to reap the fruits of our own work with young talents, we would have to found our own competitive sports group. This was called “pro team”. There was a fierce discussion about whether to do that.
BMS: Because it creates a kind of two-tier society. But if you want to make progress in competitive sports, you need methodology and a concept. That’s how the Gonso-Simplon Racing Team came into being. As I said earlier, in Albstadt we were virtually in between the chairs of the region around Bad Urach, Neuffen, Kirchheim and Freiburg. We didn’t have the lobby like that. Then I did the B-license training and we became more and more systematic and well-founded. Within the club we had a clear concept with criteria from U15 on.
TS: The junior concept was already pretty good. I think that few clubs in Germany have such a concept. It is based on the ideas of Rainer Schairer, Ulf Haasis and our father. It was a promotional concept, with a focus on competitive and popular sports. Just as it is common practice in football clubs.
GS: It was also successful as can be seen with Franka (Durst, German Youth Champion 2017) and Ronja (Eibl).
BMS: Yes, I still stand by that. Even if it was controversial and led to breaks. But if you want to do competitive sports, you have to make a cut at some point. The needs of a competitive athlete are often different from those of a hobby athlete. At some point you can no longer make any compromises. As a result, at some point we were better positioned in terms of sponsorship, the general conditions became better, and we were simply more professional – in quotation marks – in terms of organization. But our approach is not to get anybody. We are a regional team of young talents and recruit our people from our own junior staff.
Tobias and Gabriel Sindlinger work as “student assistants” for the mountain bike internet portal mtb-news.de. It is the biggest of its kind in Germany, maybe even in Europe. From a sporting point of view, the portal has its biggest focus on the downhill disciplines, but it is also a forum for technical news, bike tourism and amateur athletes. The discipline of cross-country has long been a sideshow.
Coincidentally – or not – it was Thomas Fritsch, a club member of the RSG Zollernalb, who gave the Olympic discipline more weight on mtb-news.de. In his entourage the RSG group with Tobias Steinhart and the Sindlinger brothers grew to four people. In the meantime it is above all Tobias and Gabriel Sindlinger who try to present the endurance discipline on the platform with their limited time, but with very much expert knowledge. In fact they succeed very well, because the click numbers of their stories show a clear upward trend. The two are also present in this function at the World Cup in Albstadt.
Tobias, you practically followed your younger brother, did races and then later also took care of the young athletes. But how did it come about that you became journalistically active at the biggest German mountain bike portal mtb-news.de?
TS: In the end Tom Fritsch was responsible. He is also from the RSG and well-known. He is a few years older and came to MTB-News via two brothers. At that time he was the only cross-country editor. The readers of MTB-News.de are more downhill oriented. As a student assistant, Tom was the only one responsible for cross-country and he reached his limits there. I started studying in 2014 and wrote reports for the team from time to time. Tom then asked me if I would like to join the team and work in minor employment on a mini-job basis.
That’s what you did then.
For me it was a jackpot side job, because I was already reading a lot about both technology and the racing scene. I knew every biker, even people who race for 40th place. I was very enthusiastic about it. So it was a great job and it grew bit by bit. Tom had finished his studies and reduced his workload. Then Christian Schöllhorn and Gabi (Gabriel) joined us. Christian is now only involved in events, otherwise Gabi and I do it together and are in charge. But still as a side job. From 2016 on Gabi can tell it (laughs).
GS: You learn something new. You’re not the best journalist right from the start. Especially not if you are not the best in spelling – father grins (and so does the son, too) – comma placement is the big problem (laughs). No, you get better and we are lucky that what we do is well received. We always have a photographer at the World Cups who gives us very good pictures and in combination with the reports it is very well received. That is how the whole thing has grown. We reach a broad mass.
TS: We had to think about how to proceed and see how we, as students, could set up a meaningful concept. We couldn’t compete in terms of topicality, but we could create a great photo story.
It certainly changes your perspective when you start writing about what you do yourself, doesn’t it?
GS: I find it exciting to have both sides. When I can experience both at the World Cup in Albstadt or in Nove Mesto. To prepare for a race, to ride it as good as possible, but then to be there the next day and write about it. That is quite cool.
BMS: What I always find very exciting are the blogs from the stage races. That’s where the link between journalism and sporting performance can be experienced most directly. According to the comments I hear about them, they are really well received. Journalistically, there is perhaps a bit of room for improvement, but if the sporting performance wasn’t there, if you were riding full-time as hobby, the reports would have another characteristic. That doesn’t mean worse, but the target group would be a different one. You simply still have competitive ambitions and that works.
TS: There were already manufacturers who liked our live blog so much and offered to equip us with bikes for a stage race to write a test afterwards. We never ride at the front of stage races, but we have a good level. We are fit, but we are not professionals.
GS: I think it comes across pretty authentic. The Sindlinger-Brothers have made us a name in this respect (laughs).
TS: We are just no professionals. When you consider that in South Africa (at the Cape Pioneer stage race) we slept in a tent, we didn´t have enough luggage space, we couldn’t even take a BlackRoll (massage roll) with us. We had a relaxed week, tried to do the best we could and wrote a blog on the side. We had no support at all. We were still riding around tenth to twelfth place. I think that’s something that is quite well received.
And what does the change in perspective involve?
TS: You have such a broad spectrum because you are in contact with all aspects of the MTB scene. You know the racing scene, you know what it’s like to race, you know the riders, you have contacts with the industry and you get a complete all-round picture. I think that’s pretty cool.
It’s probably not that easy after stage races, when you reach the finish line exhausted, to sit at your laptop and write a report?
GS (laughs): There is a funny story. We rode the Transalp-Challege together in 2015 (stage race for two-person teams across the Alps). I didn’t work for MTB-News back then and Tobi did everything on his own while I lay down in bed after the stage and slept and next to me Tobi had to work hard. That was downright shameless (laughs). You can already see that it is quite tough.
TS: That can be ultra hard. Last year we rode Epic Israel and I got my stomach upset. The whole race was just torture. I felt sick. Then you cross the finish line, drink…I couldn’t eat…then you sit there and think, shh…now you can write another three hours of articles. It’s ultra-tough, but it’s fun, and it’s all part of our lives now. That’s just the way it is. You race in the morning and write your article by noon.
Let’s get off the subject of journalism. There’s the father-son relationship in your family, which is accompanied by the coach-athlete constellation…
…somebody is already laughing. How much potential for conflict does that hold?
BMS: It’s probably a question of perspective (laughs).
TS: If you don’t like what the coach says, you just ride something else (laughs).
BMS: I think it’s quite relaxed now. That’s probably due to both sides. Concerning Tobi, I don’t know, did we ever have discussions?
TS: We regularly have discussions about training, because – regardless of MTB news – I have got the C-trainer licence and I am involved in training. We discuss a lot about content, but it’s not like you give me a plan and I don’t accept it. This has rarely been the case until now. If anything, it’s about basic considerations. When a new study came out, for example. Or when I have MTB news contacts with professionals who tell me internal stuff from their training. Those are the things we discuss.
BMS: I remember when I wanted to try something new, we had discussions. Then there was the question, do you really have to do it now? It was difficult when Gabriel was successful and then got the pollen allergy. That was a frustrating time. You were (in the U17) one of the best five in Germany and there was already a discussion within the family whether there should be a change of coach. Whether it really makes sense if the father is also the coach. It was clear that there is potential, but it is not available. It could be that I wanted to rush one or two things – or all. There was simply a limitation that we first had to learn to deal with.
GS: We’re lucky that we’re doing it with passion and fun. Whether I ride one interval less or more, I and my father don’t think anything of it. We are past the age where seriousness exceeds fun and passion.
BMS: Well, I don’t think I’ve ever gave any athlete hell for driving one interval less.
TS: Nope. To put it bluntly: we’re not about a world champion title anymore and all sides have accepted that.
GS: The one who accepts it the least is father (all laugh)
TS: The father and the coach also realized it. There are a lot of people who ask me: why do you still do this racing to yourself. But it is great fun and that’s why we do it. You are happy about a great result. The race can be just as great, whether you are 27th or 28th in the Bundesliga. We have accepted that.
The constellation here in front of the screens is a bit unfair, because the Sindlinger family also includes the mother Karla. She has no official role, but she still plays a very important one.
BMS: Nothing would work without Karla. On the outside, she’s actually the photographer. She hasn’t been around that much in the last two years, you can definitely tell. She is simply missing. In Heubach we had a crash injury with Jan Nägele (RSG youngster). Then she went with him to the paramedics. And she’s backing us up at home. If you leave on a Saturday early morning, you can drop everything.
TS: At World Cup weekends in Albstadt or at the Cross German Championship. We know a lot of people and at the World Cup the house is full to the brim. There are people like Simon Schneller (German U23 champion), who doesn’t even look anywhere else anymore. The former MHW team (today GTR) is always there. In the meantime they have become too large and thus rent the holiday flat across the street. But they still come for dinner. We had New Zealanders there, Israelis…we already had four, five, six World Cup riders in the house at the same time. All of them needed something else to eat.
And they are taken care of by mother Karla?
Yes. And then she helps in the race number distribution and entertains everyone, also in English.
GS: For the family it is also important that there is someone who sees other things. Like when it didn’t work for me anymore. She then supports us emotionally.
The name Ronja Eibl has already been mentioned. Mr. Mast-Sindlinger, you are still the coach of the Olympic aspirant from the RSG Zollernalb junior staff and your sons have also accompanied her development. How often is she a topic in your family?
BMS: Yes, but not that much.
TS…you follow her and her races very closely. When there are World Cups in a different time zone, at a strange time of day, you are already sitting in front of the live timing. I have trained her because up to and including U17 the young riders in the RSG are coached by me. Dad takes over for riders in the U19. She was the first female rider of mine who made it to the national squad.
BMS: As long as Ronja was in club training, we had more contact. Sure, if something happens, we exchange ideas.
GS: At the races it’s also quite cool when you meet someone you know from your home club in the press area.
Let’s be honest. In the U15 and U17, did you think it was possible that Ronja Eibl could develop into an U23 World Cup winner and Olympic candidate?
BMS: That is the wrong question. What is not written down in the concept I mentioned…I never forget the situation. At the strange Bundesliga race on the motocross track at the Nürburgring, I was standing at a steep climb. It was the first Bundesliga race (U19) she won and for the first time against Leonie (Daubermann). She was always very far away. National coach Marc Schäfer stood next to me and said that Ronja would always call me „someone who restricts“. That is still an issue. Also currently again.
In what way?
The Corona Pandemic brings with it a sometimes exorbitant amount of training, where I also said again: “Take it a little bit easier. In principle, this is the danger of wanting too much too quickly in junior training. That’s why, for example, we don’t give the kids a concrete training plan until the second year of the U15, and only in the U17 do we continue with a more differentiated plan. In other words, to let the development take its course first. If there’s potential, we try to manage it well. Nobody here has asked themselves the question, will she ever…
GS: In concrete terms, we have to say: no. Sure, you dream of being successful, you have your wishes. But the fact is that it becomes clear relatively quickly: You won’t become world champion. Accordingly, at that age you never assume that it will be so rad and so successful. And at that young age Ronja only just was in the top ten at the German championships. No, nobody would have expected it.
BMS: You would have expected Gabriel to go further, because he already had the results. But Ronja never made it past five in the junior classification. At that time it was a topic for us in the club that we would get girls who were ambitious in cycling. For many years this was a fallow field, but now it is actually a fallow field again and it was rather the goal to create a group and with Nora Schulzke, Elisa Steinhart and Franka Durst we did so. Maybe, if there hadn’t been one, Ronja wouldn’t be where she is now.
TS: It has to be said that Gabi was the only one from the RSG who went through all national squads up to the U23. Ronja didn’t. Rationally speaking, Ronja is a prime example for how it was imagined at that time. That you don’t burn out the kids too early. I didn’t think that she would become U23 World Cup winner, but I have already seen that there is a certain potential. From the training documentation you also saw that there is still a lot of potential, although the results were not that good. But you can never tell where this will lead. In the U15 and U17 she was physically disadvantaged, and maybe she still is.
Short profile Bernhard Mast-Sindlinger
Profession: Study of special education and teaching degree, principal at the Special Education Center in Tailfingen
Profession: Master´s student of Civil Engineering
Sportive successes: 5 World Cup participations (Elite), 3rd of the Baden-Württemberg Championships, 20th of the Bundesliga overall ranking 2018, respectively eleventh place at the stage race Swiss Epic (Switzerland) and Cape Pioneer (South Africa) with brother Gabriel
Profession: Student of Business Mathematics
Sportive successes: 7 World Cup participations (4x in Albstadt)
Participation in the TFJV (multi-disciplinary comparison competition in France)
7th of the overall ranking of the BDR junior classification U17, respectively eleventh place at the stage race Swiss Epic (Switzerland) and Cape Pioneer (South Africa) with brother Tobias.
Photos: Karla Sindlinger