Words: David Sharp | Date:
Paul Stubert, product manager at wine dealer Sommelier-Privé, speaks to David Sharp for Survey in Berlin.
What was the beginning of your relationship with cycling?
My dad was a cyclist in the GDR. He was junior champion in the team time-trial. So I’ve always had a connection with cycling. And I remember sitting on a couch watching Miguel Indurain win the Tour de France on TV. Then there was the Jan Ullrich era and it suddenly felt like everyone in Germany was following cycling. As a kid I tried football and basketball but I didn’t have the technique for those sports so I turned to cycling at 13.
Did you start competing at this age?
No, I just cycled for fun because I was already sick of competing at football. People would be shouting at 10-year-old boys from the side of the pitch! So I didn’t start racing competitively until I was 18.
Did you ever have serious ambitions to become a professional road racer?
In cycling there are so many guys who think they can be a pro. Probably because I started so late I never really had the ambition to do that. It was just fun for me. In the last three years I competed in some lower tier UCI stage races but by then it was already far too late!
Nevertheless it must have been a buzz to ride in these races?
Yes, it’s like a drug. You always think you can do better and you’re always looking to see what race is coming up next. You don’t want to stop. But even the people I know who turned pro went back to being amateurs because there were no pro teams in Germany due to the fall-out from the Ullrich doping scandal. These guys also suffered because they’d been focused on cycling since they were 12-years-old so they didn’t pick up other career skills. The sport is so time consuming. I always followed a career path from a young age.
I stopped my cycling career in the autumn of 2013 because I thought it was time to put all my focus into work so now I just cycle for fun. I’m afraid of getting slower on the bike! I still do training rides at the weekend but it’s different because I don’t have a goal anymore.
What is your impression of Berlin as a cycling city and how has it evolved over the years?
It’s hard to say because I’m so used to cycling here. Sometimes when I go to Paris or London I think, “Oh my god, if I lived here I could never be a cyclist!” Where do you cycle? I supposed if I lived in these cities I would just get used to the different conditions.
There was a lot of negative press for London in 2013 due to several bad accidents resulting in the death of cyclists. The city perhaps doesn’t have the same infrastructure as Berlin to be able to cope with the upsurge in bike traffic.
In Berlin the streets are big and wide so there’s always lots of space. But I’m not necessarily a fan of cycle lanes. I get the impression that car drivers don’t really pay attention to them. I always feel that if I ride fast enough to keep up with the cars then it’s not a problem. So I avoid the bike lanes and ride on the road. You have pedestrians and tourists in the bike lanes so in my opinion it’s less dangerous on the road.
How important to you is the style and aesthetics of cycling?
I like it a lot. Years ago cycling wasn’t hip. When I first started racing 10 years ago you were an outsider if you tried to be stylish. In the real racing scene they still don’t really care about looking cool. So it was quite good when it got hip because a lot more people developed a style, more clothes became available and it became more acceptable to be stylish.
Do you spend a lot of your hard-earned money on cycling gear?
When I was in a bigger team they equipped me with all the stuff but that was a bit of a pain because I had to wear stuff that I didn’t really want to wear – it wasn’t very cool! But then I got used to it and I became proud to ride in a team. Now that period is over I’m starting to spend a lot of money on my own stuff.
When did cycling street fashion hit Berlin?
When the first Velo show came here in 2008. All these guys showed up with cool clothing from America and introduced us to new brands. Before then that stuff wasn’t widely available here. It’s nice now that you can see cycling from a creative or stylish perspective. It used to be pretty hard before to get Rapha stuff or a copy of Rouleur magazine.
What is the bike scene like in Berlin? Are you part of one?
There’s a racing scene that kind of separates into the different areas and clubs in the city. Every Saturday and Sunday a bunch of cyclists meet up in the Grunewald forest and you can decide which group you want to ride with. Then there’s the old East Berlin scene who meet around the Velodrom and head off into the countryside north-east of the city. I also know a lot of guys from the fixie scene who started to race.
What are the best and worst thing about riding a bike in Berlin?
The worst thing is the lack of mountains. It’s very flat.
The best thing? I love riding downhill into those underpasses where you can go full speed and then emerge up and out the other side, like the one near the Alexa shopping centre. It’s fun trying to keep up with the cars and sometimes even pass them. You feel like a little kid!