Manuel Fumic, the carrot cake and the not converted penalty kick
For 20 years Manuel Fumic has represented the German colours at cross-country world championships, for more than ten years he has embodied world-class format. Although the man from Kirchheim is missing a major victory, he has long been one of the most popular figures in the scene, even among fans. The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Albstadt will be the last title bouts of his career and in the series “20 Heads for 2020” he talks about why the World Championships in Albstadt would be so important for him at a later date and also looks back on his career.
Talking with Manuel Fumic is usually a pleasure for journalists. Not only because the man from Kirchheim looks back on a long history in his sport. He is open, authentic, communicative and always manages to illustrate situations or mental constellations with metaphors. In addition, he does not lack self-irony in the slightest. Laughing at himself is not difficult for the father of three, and this conversation is constantly spiced up by it.
Manuel Fumic, you have participated in 20 cross-country world championships, starting at junior age in 2000, Albstadt would be the 21st in a row. Does that make you proud?
Of course it makes me proud. Because it’s my last season, journalists keep asking me what the special moment in my career was. Many people want to go for a race, but I don’t have that one moment. It’s more the whole thing. To participate for 20 years and to be one of the people who have managed to belong to the inner circle, especially at world championships, shows that I have been very consistent and there are very few of those. After all, this is a highlight for everyone. That is what I am most proud of.
Isn’t the silver medal at the 2013 World Championships in Pietermaritzburg an outstanding moment in your career?
Yes, it is. That was my biggest success in the elite area and I was only seven seconds short of the title. It was Nino Schurter right before me (laughs). I watched the replay at some point. He just caught his bike in one scene and was right back on the track. If he had taken a little longer, maybe it would have been enough for me. I always liked that course.
You had two critical situations yourself because riders had to get off their bikes in the notorious Rock Garden.
Yeah, right. I had a bad starting position and came from behind. It was the season I broke my collarbone. After about 200 meters I went into a single trail, so I had no chance to be in the front. In the penultimate lap I passed (José) Hermida and in the final lap I rode up to Schurter.
The collarbone fracture happened just before the debut World Cup in Albstadt, during training on the track.
Yes, that’s right. I was in a super good mood that year. I went out on the track again with Fonsi (team mate Marco Fontana). I was already done with training, but Fonsi asked me if I could ride with him one part again. I was in such a good mood and thought, “Come on, let’s just ride”. I think I switched off for a moment, as it always happens.
Let’s get back to the 2013 World Cup. Your team manager Daniel Hespeler said that you told him to pack his “podium backpack” the morning before the race.
(Laughs). I felt so good. Not that I am comparing any times or values. It’s just that I’m physically able to get the maximum out of it. I remember I bought cake because I said we need a cake to celebrate, a carrot cake. I ordered it two days before and then I picked it up. The others thought: he’s crazy (laughs). When I said I needed the podium backpack, everyone looked at me strangely. But then it was okay after all.
Fresh clothes are packed into the “podium backpack”, because in case of success the protocol does not leave any time to change in the camper.
Unfortunately, you have not had another podium backpack moment since then. At least not at world championships.
Yes, unfortunately. Something was always missing. In recent years we have also tried to set several highlights, I wanted to become a more constant, more complete rider and at the World Championships it didn’t quite work out that way. But I was still satisfied with the Worlds results of the last years. It wasn’t completely off the mark, but it shows how strong the field has become, the increase in performance skills. There are quite a lot of people who can finish between third and tenth place. If you’re missing one percent, then you’ll be passed right through.
And from the outside it looks like a defeat.
People then think, oh, he can’t keep up. Even if you are perhaps tenth, you can often see that you are not far off. That’s how it has developed in the last few years. In layman’s terms, it looks like you’re really far away. I find this incredibly interesting, but outsiders only see the placement. It’s hard to convey.
In 2019 you didn’t start the season well after finishing second at Cape Epic. What were the reasons?
I got bronchitis in the winter and couldn’t train properly in South Africa. Then I went home, did too much there. When you feel you’re behind, you tend to do too much too fast. Then I had back problems and eventually I suffered at the Cape Epic as rarely before in my career. It took me a long time to get back into shape. At the World Championships I realized it was slowly coming back, but it was one or two weeks too early for me.
A week later, at the World Cup final in Snowshoe, there was another penalty kick for you, so to speak.
…and the Fumic didn’t take it (laughs). The goalkeeper jumped over to the left and I shot past on the right. Sometimes the goal is open and you just miss. I just went around the bend, I knew I had to be in front. That would have been the safe podium place. I had that in mind, then I went into the corner way too fast…
…and crashed. The group was gone and in the end it was sixth place.
A lot of people said, oh, too bad, that was a stupid thing to do. But for me it was like this: I tried it and I don’t have to blame myself. It was the moment when I had to try it, it didn’t work and it was over.
There were many situations in your career where luck or concentration or whatever was missing. To celebrate a great victory.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot too. Whether it was a question of luck or concentration, I don’t know. You always say: Fumic was once U23 World Champion, often in the lead in the World Cup, but he has never won a World Cup. That annoys me too, but it’s not like I was far away from it. In the end it was just not enough.
Another example of a missed opportunity is a World Cup race in Windham, USA. It was at the end of June 2012 when Fumic was in the lead with 25 seconds after half of the distance and then a defect occurred. Or in 2010 at the classic in Houffalize, Belgium, when he was in front with a 45-second lead, but then was caught up and lost by the Spanish José Hermida at the end of the penultimate lap. The fact that he had to give up the lead was probably mainly a mental matter at that time. Fumic simply didn’t know such a situation yet and Hermida knew that too.
So the chances have been left behind.
Yeah, nothing changed (laughs). But you also have to see that I rode my races in a time dominated by the greatest of all times. There was Julien Absalon, who always won when he wanted to win over a long period of time. And then Nino Schurter took over. There was never a phase when the door was really open. I tried it, but it didn’t work. In retrospect, I have to smile about myself.
Since you’ve been working with Phil Dixon, I don’t think you’ve made any mistakes in your training. Looking back, was there a time when you thought you could have gotten more out of yourself?
Yes, there are always phases. But difficult to answer specifically. Surely there are situations where I can say, yes, I should have done something differently. But the difficult thing in our sport is to always be on point. Therefore, kudos to people like Schurter, who have managed to stay ahead for months of a season and years of a career. On the other hand it still motivates me a lot. When I talk about the end of my career now, it is not a physical thing. It’s more the mental thing. It’s the head that says: now it’s enough, after 20 years. For me it was always an incentive to get fit for the season, for the individual competitions. Also to listen to the body, where I was always good.
Instead of relying on values?
When I see the young athletes, where everything is documented, where everything is about numbers and no one listens to their innermost being anymore. The typical example is the carrot cake of 2013. I listen to myself and know that I can draw on unlimited resources today. You don’t often have days like this. And sometimes you might have a day like that, but then it’s not necessarily Sunday and the Worlds. It might be Tuesday and you are driving around your usual tour (laughs). You think, shit, if you just had such a day at the Worlds. Maybe I’m one of the last people who know their body this way (without looking at its data). I still get motivation from that. It’s just an amazing feeling when you know your body like that and communicate with it on this level. Then came the Dixie (Phil Dixon). He is one year older than me and he understands how it was then and how it is today. We found the balance between the old Fumic, the dinosaur and the new methods. That’s what connected us and that’s why it works so well.
You already raced against Phil Dixon in the U23.
Yeah, I know. World cups, too. But we never saw each other (laughs) because we were riding in a different league. When we talked about it at some point, he said, there and there I rode. And I said, yes, me too. But I never saw you, you were way too far back (laughs).
He is a much better coach now.
Yes, because he can put himself in their place. He also has a child and he sees me as a family man. We have a good coach-athlete relationship, but also a good, friendly relationship.
Let’s talk about the current situation. Your first highlight of the last season was taken away from you. The Cape Epic did not take place because of the spread of SARS-CoV2. You mentioned a bitter moment, also because you felt much better than the year before. Olympia is also postponed. How do you currently deal with the situation?
I must admit, I was pretty down. Especially when we were in South Africa and Cape Epic got cancelled. That was a bitter pill for me. It has to do with a lot of things. It was going to be my last year with these highlights. I tried to get everything out of myself again, which worked out great. I got through the winter great, all the values showed that too. Our team has already existed in this constellation for four years.
And you wanted to compete for victory with Henrique Avancini.
It was a process and everyone was focused on getting to the front. The cancellation was very emotional for me. Not just someone taking the race away. I would have had the opportunity to write my own story, to win the Cape Epic in the last year. Would have, could have, but a lot indicated for us being able to compete for victory. I had to see it all float away and I have nothing under control anymore. Everything I can control, I’ve been doing for four and a half months. Every day was meticulously planned with Dixie and suddenly someone says: everything over and forgotten. I no longer have the chance to repeat this. That’s when it pulled my feet away for a moment. I wanted to finish my story, had the pen in my hand, painted the sheet and suddenly someone came and took the sheet away from me (laughs). Now it is empty.
That someone’s name is Corona.
Yes. It was then foreseeable that the Olympic Games would not take place and that the Worlds would not take place on the planned date. Which for me is even more bitter than the Olympic Games, I must honestly say. I have already had four Olympic Games, it would still have been a highlight, but in my whole career I have never had a World Championship in my own country. Especially in Albstadt, which is in a way on my own doorstep. I could have coped with the Olympics, but the World Championships, that was another damper. In the meantime I see things more relaxed. After all, there are more important things than racing.
How concretely do you currently train?
So far we can still go outside. I usually train alone anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference. I just do more with the hometrainer. When it’s cold and windy, I don’t see the need to go out at all. Besides, I’m in the woods, I don’t see anybody there anyway. It is just more difficult to get physical therapy. And I can’t go to the gym, I do that at home. I try to do that at home.
So home office, too.
That’s interesting, because of course the kids always look at the funny looking exercises daddy is doing (laughs). But I see it positively and I hope that things will relax soon so that we can get back to our jobs. Not just me, but everyone else, too. My wife also works from home, she has closed her little shop. I just drove away some packages again. One just tries to get by. At home I am the sports and English teacher for the children (laughs). But in the long run that would not be for me. 30 kids, nope, kudos!
Can you motivate yourself again for a world championship in October?
Yes, of course. I’m still training. I strongly believe that we’ll be racing this year. Or let’s just say that I hope we will. If I have tangible points, it’s easier. At the moment it makes no sense to train intensively if I don’t know what for. It could do more harm than good. At the moment we just try to keep in shape.
A home world championship in October could also be a nice way to end your career, right?
Of course it could be that we don’t have such good weather. Which would be an extreme pity for the event, the Worlds don’t deserve that. Albstadt has continued to develop itself and made investments over the years. I myself am still employed by Cannondale until the end of the year and whether the World Championships take place in October, in November or December doesn’t matter to me. I am a professional and I try to get the best out of myself there as well. But Albstadt would have deserved to host the World Championships under good conditions.
When you think of the Worlds, your last Worlds, what is supposed to happen there? Is it clearly about you winning a medal at the end or are there other aspects involved?
I am not going to a world championship and just go along for the ride. I want to be there in a shape that is so good that I can achieve a top place. But the ranking is rather secondary. It’s more about the fact that this is my last big race, on German soil, in front of a home crowd. Where I can say goodbye in a small way. That is primarily what I have in mind. One week of cross-country party with lots of people there to say goodbye to.
Saying goodbye after about 25 years in the sport.
Yes, at the age of 13, 14 I was in the national squad and then also at this youth competition in France (TNJV). That had a history with my brother. I didn’t ride, but I was already hanging out in the team area, at Schwinn, GT, where Lado rode. I’ve been with the team for almost 30 years. In 2000 we flew with the family to Sydney to the Olympic Games to cheer for Lado. That motivated me, I wanted to go there too.
From 2001 to 2004, mobile communications company T-Mobile sponsored a mountain bike team led by Manuel and his six years older brother Lado Fumic, who was German champion six times in a row from 2000, most recently in Albstadt in 2005. He came fifth at the Olympic Games in Sydney. At the end of the T-Mobile era, Manuel Fumic came eighth at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and took the U23 World Championship title. Instead of accepting offers from international teams, he spent the next five years forming the Fumic Brothers International team with his not uncontroversial brother Lado. Perhaps too long, as Manuel Fumic once suggested in an interview. Only once did one of the two, Manuel Fumic, stand on the World Cup podium, in 2007 in Maribor. In 2010, the Kirchheim native signed with the Cannondale Factory Racing team, which is managed by Swabian Daniel Hespeler who worked for Team T-Mobile as a mechanic during his studies and who has a friendly relationship with Manuel Fumic.
You say the Olympics in Sydney motivated you. But in the meantime you have a rather detached relationship with the Olympics.
Back then I was allowed to go with Lado to the Olympic village, it was a great atmosphere. When you talk to athletes who were there in Sydney, they probably say the same thing. It was still a bit different. I can’t describe it exactly, but it developed in a different direction. When people ask me what the best Olympic Games were, it was Athens (2004) was for me. They were my first games. The athlete was in the foreground, that’s how I felt. You celebrated the athlete and now you celebrate something completely different. It is not the same flair anymore. It seems different to me now.
With the routine, maybe you also perceive an event like this differently? As a young athlete you are perhaps captivated by the size and significance of the event, aren’t you?
Yeah, probably. Personally, I’ve changed too. My look has changed. The first time it goes “poof” and the second time you see everything differently.
When you look back on your career, where do you see the distinctive points? What has helped you in particular?
Phew, now that’s a good question. That’s a tough one. Maybe a few people. Lado at the very beginning. The one who took me there, who introduced me to riding a bike. It was a family thing. Then the big T-Mobile team, afterwards we went into business ourselves. After five years the chapter ended when Lado quit. Then in 2010 the next one started with Daniel Hespeler and Cannondale. Daniel still plays a big role for me.
You are the longest-serving athlete in the Cannondale team.
I’ve been there ten years. I’ve always looked for a place like this where I feel comfortable and where we can grow together. With my brother we have turned a little story into a big story, and at Cannondale everything has grown bigger too. I am only a small part of the story, but I am proud of it. I think of Ave (Henrique Avancini), who has developed greatly. I only have a small part in it, but I am involved.
Do you feel that you have made a difference?
I have met a lot of great people and I have tried to give something back. When people write to me that they started cycling because of me, from different countries, Brazil or Chile or from somewhere else, I am really happy. Maybe I wasn’t the most successful, I definitely wasn’t, but maybe I was a personality that people saw: he enjoys cycling and what he does. Maybe these people have never raced, but maybe they did an alpine tour or something. When they write to me about the greatest feeling they ever had, then that’s great. I think we still have a community that is not out of touch. It was always important to me to stay down to earth.
His Brazilian team mate Henrique Avancini spoke in a 20-heads interview of the positive mood that Manuel Fumic spreads and which helps him a lot. Fumic is a person who does not ponder for long after disappointments, but quickly tries to devote himself to the next tasks. On the other hand, on certain days, he draws on his emotional reserves to achieve particular performance. Manuel Fumic is sometimes also described as an emotional person for whom a harmonious atmosphere in a team is extremely important.
If you consider yourself a junior, what piece of advice would you want to give young Manuel?
(Laughs). Honestly: stay the way you are. You’re definitely going to cause a stir. I was a little wilder, had a loose tongue. But I just did things.
What are you referring to in particular?
My feeling as a young athlete was that people wanted to force me into a system. That my training had to be one way or another, four hours this and 15 minutes that. But I was never like that and maybe that’s why I stayed with it for so long. In the short term, that might have gotten me further, but in the long term I wouldn’t be where I am now. I was a rebel – but not a terrorist (laughs). Personally, I think that it also hurts young people when they slip into the system. Maybe it would be good if they were more relaxed.
Since the season is more or less placed on hold, with the Olympics not until next year and the next Cape Epic already in March, would you consider postponing the end of your career?
Not at the moment. I haven’t had any talks yet and I haven’t even thought about it. We hope that the World Cups can still take place. Whether I want to, that is too early to think about. I would have to team up with Daniel anyway to see what to do.
So you have no concrete plans for 2021 either?
No, I haven’t.
So you don’t have any plans apart from your sports career either?
No, not that either. The plan was actually to take three or four months off after the season, spend more time with the family. If the season had gone normally, I would have been on the road a lot. I would have needed a lot of time for myself and my family. In these three or four months I wanted to see where I was going. It’s too difficult for me to say that at this point in time. I’m more the kind of guy who needs a clear course. It makes little sense to me when everything is still open.
Nevertheless, the question remains: Will you stay with the sport in one function?
That depends. What I would like to do is a commentary job. That would be fun for me, to be at the events. But that’s all there is to it. I can’t imagine getting on any team and taking a position. Because I’ve been in the sport for so long, I rather have the feeling that I want to get a little distance. To find a balance and to find out what I really want. But the commentary job is something I could well imagine, because that’s also a limited scope and I could keep in touch.
Short profile Manuel Fumic
Married to Anna, 3 children age 8, 5 and 1
Greatest successes: Vice World Champion 2013, Team-Worlds-Silver 2010, 2018, Team-Worlds-Bronze 2012, 2013, U23-World Champion 2004, U23-Vice World Champion 2003, 2x World Cup second, a total of 11 World Cup podium places, Euro Third 2015, 2017, U23-European Champion 2004, Team-European Champion 2015, five-times German Champion
Photos: Traian Olinici, Armin Küstenbrück