With the recent rise in Norwegian Cycling, highlighted by a brilliant Worlds in Bergen last season, the nation now has three great stage races (Tour des Fjords, Arctic Race or Norway and Tour of Norway) that have a reputation for being very well run and riders are reportedly always keen to participate. The country has always had two premier road teams on the UCI circuit, Coop and Joker. But those squads, like a lot of WorldTour teams, are comprised mostly of older riders, with just a few U23s on the roster. In the winter of 2016, another of Norway’s premier teams, Ringeriks-Kraft, became what is now known as the Uno-X Norwegian Development Team, a squad designed to launch more Norwegian’s to the WorldTour.
While the team does have a couple of riders who are not U23, the main body of the team is U23 riders. One of the strongest guys on the team so far this season has been Torjus Sleen, a 21-year-old all rounder who has put up some very consistent results in a number of terrains this season. Torjus, who is primed for a big breakthrough soon, took some time out of his busy season to speak with U23 Cycling Zone and participate in our “Get to know” series, so readers can learn more about one of Norway’s best up and coming stars.
“This winter I have lived in Spain with my best friend Iver Johan Knotten, from Team Joker, so I have got some really god training, and I have taken some big steps compared to last year. The start of the season so far has been good. In Liege, I had a technical problem in the end of the race, but in the other races I have been where I should, but just missing a little extra in the end. I had hoped for some better results, but I have learned a lot and got a lot more experience. I know if I do everything right, and keep doing what I am doing, I will take some steps further, and then I know I will be good enough to be up there with the best. Then the results will come, and hopefully I will be ready to take the next stop to the World Tour,” Torjus replies, when asked how he would assess the opening few months of his season.
2018 is Torjus’ second season with the development team, and from the minute he joined the team he has been one of the leaders. This was reflected last season when the team was invited to take part in the Worlds TTT in front of a home crowd in Bergen, and Torjus was one of the lucky members of the team to be selected. Torjus talked us through this thrilling experience.
“Last season I was so lucky and got the chance to ride the TTT Worlds in Bergen. That is the coolest thing I have experienced in my life. It was so well supported, the weather was nice and the course was nice. It could not have been better! This was maybe the only Worlds in Norway in my career, so I was really happy that I got the possibility to do that.”
As we covered earlier, Torjus is incredibly consistent and is good on a number of terrains. At the hilly one-day races in Italy, he placed 43rd in Piva and 27th in the harder Palio del Recioto. Just days later, he showed his class on a different terrain, finishing in the main group that competed for second, with two other Norwegians, Rasmus Tiller and trade teammate Erik Nordsaeter Resell, at the U23 Tour of Flanders. A former medallist at the national time trial for juniors showed he is not afraid of the TT bike either. So what type f rider does Torjus think he is?
“What type of rider am I, that is a really good question. I am not a sprinter. But in the future, I hope to do well in the Ardennes Classics, and in short stage races. I also want to go fast on the TT bike, which is something I think I can do. I also love races like Flanders. I love the fighting to be first into the critical parts of the race, and when the adrenalin kicks in. But I hope this season will tell me a little more about that rider I am. If you ask me next year I hopefully will have a better answer. My biggest strength is maybe that I am good at many things. My biggest weakness I will say is my sprint. I think also I am a nice person to have on a team. I do what we have planned, and what is best for the team. I am also mostly happy, and I think my team appreciate me. I certainly appreciate everyone on the team!”
A consummate teammate, who is loyal and gives everything for his friends during and after the race, Torjus will hope to be a key rider in the upcoming Norwegian pro races, where he may be supporting Tobias Foss, who we spoke with way back in early November last season. Torjus was happy to speak a little about Norwegian cycling and the strong state of the sport in his homeland.
“The situation in Norway now is really good. I think if you are good enough to be a pro, it’s much easier to be seen now than before. I think the big teams are looking to Norway more now than before. We also have the three continental teams, Joker, Coop and Uno-X, where I am riding. I am very lucky to be part of a team like Uno-X. They give me the opportunity to hopefully take the next step. Without them it would have been more difficult. Everyone in the management group has a lot of knowledge that I can use and learn from. We also have a really good race program. In Norway, we also have some really nice UCI races now. The biggest is Tour des Fjords, Arctic Race and Tour of Norway. Races like this give us young guys an opportunity to compete against some of the best riders in the world.”
Speaking of that great race program, Torjus was able to divulge where he will be racing next. He has a great blend of local races, UCI races, U23 events and, hopefully, another outing with the national team at the Peace Race.
“I know most of the program for the rest of the season, but my next races will be Eschborn-Frankfurt, Sundvolden Grand Prix and the Norwegian cup at home in Norway. After that I will race, Ronde de l’Isard and hopefully the Peace Race if the shape is good.”
Torjus, 7th in last year’s Norwegian national road race, says he still has some big goals to achieve in these upcoming races, as well as targeting selection for the two biggest events in the world of U23 cycling. Howeer, he stresses development as a rider is still the number one objective.
“My goals for the rest of the season are the Ronde de l’Isard and the Peace Race. Hopefully, I will be in shape to ride Tour de L’Avenir and the World Championships in Innsbruck. That would be really cool. But my main goal this season is to learn as much as possible and take some steps, so I will be closer to becoming to a good pro in some years.”
When we asked Torjus our standard interview question about which pro race he would like to win, he had two answers for us, arguably the biggest one-day race in the world and the oldest one-day event still going in the pros.
“My dream is to win the World Championships, that would be really cool. The feeling to wake up and put on the world champion’s Rainbow Jersey everyday is something I dream of. I also dream of winning one of the Classics. Flanders would have been really nice, but I think I have a bigger possibility to win a race like Liege-Bastogne-Liege. But a lot can happen in a few years, so it’s difficult to say just now.”
Consistency is key for any U23 if they want to be spotted by a WorldTour team, and Torjus Sleen is very consistent. His strength in many terrains ensure he will be very valuable to any team that sings him, and he can lead a team just as well as he can work for a leader. He is an exciting name to follow for the future.
U23 Cycling Zone would like to thank Torjus for taking part in the interview and we wish him all the best for the rest of the coming season. If you wish to follow Torjus’ journey, you can connect with him on Twitter at @TorjusSleen, or on Instagram, where his handle is the same.