There was an interesting article in the Times Sunday magazine recently featuring a reflective Noel Gallagher, the lead guitarist and songwriter for Oasis. Looking back at some of his past antics, he was blunt,” We made it look like it was the greatest job in the world.” From the lofty perch of being Road Bike Actions roving gadfly, I had one of those ‘this is the greatest job’ moments recently. I was able to sit down with Magnus Backstedt, and talk with him at length about all the good stuff, coffee, his new team, the future, and of course Roubaix.
I knew Maggie was based in Wales, and being a stones throw across the Severn Estuary, I was hoping I could set something up. As the wheels started turning on this, Maggie made his announcement that he was stepping down from riding with Garmin-Slipstream, but would be ‘consulting’ with them. So did that mean he had a whole lot of free time on his hands or not? The next news was that Maggie would be helping to get a UCI Continental Pro team off the ground, and his coffee company was one of the principal sponsors. With a bit of luck, a few emails, and a small window of opportunity later, I was crossing the Severn on the M4, off to meet the big man in Wales. We met at a café and our conversation covered a range of topics.
Backstedt takes the biggest win of his career at Roubaix
(Photo: Roberto Bettini)
Magnus talks retirement
Sitting down, it was clear that news of his retirement was very premature. Between 4 hours on the bike in the morning, multiple meetings earlier in the week, and the launch of his team, Team Cyclesport.se - MagnusMaximusCoffee.com a few days later, retirement didn’t seem to part of the picture. I asked if the launch of his new team had created any sort of tipping point for him. His reply was straightforward. “Stepping down from the top flight had nothing to do with the team in Sweden.” Clarifying why he did step down was also equally clear. “I woke up one morning and had to ring the forklift company to get me out of bed.” The life of a top-level cyclist isn’t easy. Maggie spoke at length about a string on injuries and illnesses that seemed to plague him in the last few years, and he found himself playing catch up having just enough time to get back to peak form and something else would happen (another illness or injury). In the end, according to him, “It became a bad circle and I had to listen to my body.” I asked him what he would miss. “I do love spending time with the guys, and I do love going out to the races. There is a void, but that will be filled once the team gets off the ground.” Fairly quickly I suspect.Magnus on coffee
To many, cycling and coffee are joined at the hip. When I asked him where the idea came from to start a coffee company, Maggie said, “I’ve never met a rider who doesn’t like coffee.” No disagreement there. So Maggie decided to go into the coffee business appropriately named Magnus Maximus Coffee. He immediately immersed himself into the new venture by spending a whole week sequestered in a café trying all manner of different blends and combinations until the right one was found. According to him, rich, smooth, high octane, no bitter aftertaste, and consistent whatever method you use, i.e. press, drip, etc. The company now operates in both Europe and the US with a distributor based in Boston. However, the coffee company isn’t just Maggie’s boutique company that he will flog into old age, rather a means to a much larger end.
On his new team: Team cyclesport.se-MagnusMaximusCoffee.com
Team Cyclesport.se- MagnusMaximusCoffee.com
Throughout the course of our discussion, one theme that resurfaced again and again was the notion that Maggie was deeply appreciative of opportunities given, and now as one of cycling’s active elder statesmen, he had an opportunity to give something back to the sport he loves. Going back to his childhood, he remembers, “ the special feeling like it was yesterday” when the elite riders in his club invited the younger members to go on a ride with them. Reflecting, Maggie said, “I have now taken a few steps past those guys, so if I have some free time to hand out awards at a kids event or whatever, if I can keep a few kids interested in the sport and they want to do on, mission accomplished.” This brought us to the team that has existed in Sweden for a few years as an amateur team. Maggie and his business partner Marty were approached by the team director about helping out and this seemed like a good opportunity for their company, Sprocket Productions, to take the big step into professional cycling.
Team Cyclesport.se-MagnusMaximusCoffee.com will be racing as a continental pro team. In layman’s terms, this is a development squad for the pro tour, and the place where most cyclists will get their start. As Maggie talked about his vision for the team, and where it was going, it made perfect sense. “Unless you are Spanish, Italian, Dutch or Belgian, getting a start is difficult. We wanted to create our own possibilities. We are actively seeking guys from non-traditional cycling countries that may not even have a strong national team system.” For example, they are currently looking at riders from Jamaica and Malaysia. “Those guys need a shot.” In addition, Maggie discussed his role. “We are looking at how cycling is run and pick up the best bits of it. We are focused right now in building the best development team and I am going to put in as much of my 13 years at the top level into the team.“ When I asked him about his own role as a rider for the team, he was direct, “Better than sitting in a team car, I can teach them so much more sitting right next to them.” Well said. But his vision about molding riders is not just about riding, but also knowing how to eat, rest, dealing with the media, the whole package. When asked who helped him, Maggie heaped praise on his former mentor Eros Poli, Cipollini’s old lead-out man, who passed what he knew along to the young Swede. Looking down the road, Maggie hopes that his riders will slowly trickle into the top ranks of cycling. “Nothing would give me more pleasure than a phone call from a pro team and know that that these guys have the right values and know how to look after themselves on and off the bike.”
Building the team
The team bikes of the Team Cyclesport.se-MagnusMaximusCoffee.com
In building this team, Maggie has a two-pronged approach. The first and most obvious is financial. In setting up the coffee company, the goal was to be able to give back to cycling, and all profits from the company go towards team sponsorship, ergo the team name. Getting into the management end of cycling has been an education, but the goal is to make a sustainable model of sponsorship for the team. Getting a continental team off the ground is “a couple of hundred thousand pounds a year.” When I asked if they had any other Swedish sponsors lined up? “We are looking for anyone who wants to put money towards the team.” But the folks at Sprocket Productions are aware that Rome (or pro cycling teams) weren’t built in a day. There are plans for a number of cross-promotional events, and sponsorships to get brand awareness out there. Among them is the Magnus Backstedt Grand Prix in Jönköping, the site of the recent team launch, in August that will feature a criterium and a sportive. In addition, Maggie was very enthusiastic about their sponsorship by Viner and Miche; two Italian companies he felt had absolute top-flight products, but were slightly below the radar of the cycling public.
The other piece of building the team was Maggie going ‘all in.’ This isn’t a person who does things half way, and it is clear that Maggie intends to put his mark on the team, from liberal use of the company logo of a Viking to ‘Magnus Maximus Coffee’ everywhere. But Maggie’s participation as a cyclist also comes into play as an on the bike- in the races mentor for his riders. From Grand Tours to the Olympics to victory of Paris-Roubaix, Maggie has seen a lot more than most, and he can’t think of a better way to bring this to his riders than to be among them. Also, as we talked about getting a team off the ground, and trying to get slots in higher profile events to give his riders better exposure, mentioning to promoters that he would be riding seemed to open a lot of doors.
Magnus on Paris-Roubaix
Backstedt atop the podium in Roubaix
(Photo: Roberto Bettini)
Of course, my conversation with Maggie would not have been complete without a few questions about Roubaix. ‘What was it like coming into the last couple of kilometers?” (With Fabian Cancellara, Roger Hammond and Tristan Hoffman.) “Everyone was absolutely flat out. Entering the velodrome, the only thing I could hear was the squeak of the tires on the velodrome, the guys changing gears, and occasionally brakes on rims. Coming around the final corner, I knew what was going to happen with Hammond and Cancellara coming out of the turn, and I had to be calm, select the right gear for the sprint and go at the right time.” The rest as they say… is history, and a big cobblestone trophy for Maggie.
In my conversation with Maggie, it was clear that while he enjoyed his time at the highest level of sport, he is looking forward to the new challenges facing him building a team, and moving into the next chapter of a long career. To this end, the big man keeps on rolling.