For former mountain bike rider Sven Burger, life has been a little unfair in recent seasons with regards to injuries. But in 2018, the Dutchman is finally healthy and, in his first full season on the road, showcasing his immense talent.
Sven, who rides for the WPGA U23 club team, which stands for Wielerploeg Groot-Amsterdam, from the Netherlands, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a phone call from U23 Cycling Zone, where we discussed a variety of topics, ranging from his injury history, to his current season and, in particular the Carpathian Couriers race, where Sven and his team put together a stunning week of racing on the international U23 stage.
“For sure the first part of my season up until Carpathian was very good,” Sven says when asked about his 2018 so far. “This past winter was the first winter that I could train, injuries blighted my other offseasons. I made the call to switch from the mountain bike to the road and devised a good plan with both my coach and the team, which has worked really well so far.”
His program has worked well, and Sven has been better with every race he has had. He explained that a lot of his progress has been stunted by injuries, including one concussion that effectively not only cost him a season in his career, but essentially a year of his whole life.
“In January I switched to the road after recovering from my second collarbone injury, overall I have had three in just two-and-a-half seasons, and my endurance was really bad. I had a concussion that took eight months to fully recover from. I spent six months mostly sleeping, along with doing walking intervals of one minute. Last year, I only really started my season in May, so I was really playing catch-up. The team saw something in me after a few road races, where I was not racing smartly, more like a mountain bike rider, always going fill gas, which on the road is not possible. They signed me up to do last year’s Lombardia and things worked out. Now, I am riding well and working towards the Ronde van Limburg and the Nationals. That is my second peak of the season, Carpathian was my first and Piccolo Lombardia is my third peak.”
Sven is really riding well, with all of his bad luck squashed and the hard miles paying off when he turned up at the Carpathian Couriers U23 stage race. After a teammate won a stage, Sven took a stage himself and was 3rd on GC, with the Points jersey to boot.
“Joep Steinbusch won stage one, which was amazingly his first ever win, and the whole team was very excited. It was so awesome to see him win. I sprinted to tenth that day, and from then on the plan was to try to defend Joep’slead, which we knew would be very difficult. Our plan was to get in the break on day two, which I did, and after I won the stage, moving up to 2nd on GC, which was such a great confidence boost for us as a club team. In the next day’s hilltop ITT, I was not good enough. I didn’t have enough experience in the discipline and really blew up. Over the next days, I got better and on the last day, I decided to attack on the climb and go full gas. Delta Cycling had Jens van den Dool in the break and I almost made it to him, I could see him, but I looked around and Filip Maciejuk and a few other were coming back. That final sprint is one I am still disappointed with now. I touched the back of someone’s wheel in the sprint and lost some speed, which really cost me as Mattia Bais was able to win and I was second. Overall, I was so happy with 3rd on GC and the Points Jersey. It was simply an awesome week.”
Sven, Joep and the rest of his teammates put on a clinic in top team tactics that week, showing great class for being a “smaller” team at the race. how much easier does a strong WPGA team mean winning is for Sven?
“For sure having a strong team behind me makes things easier, but winning itself never gets easier. After Joep’s win, morale was so high and all decided we would go for good results, the points jersey and, of course, GC with me and I just kept performing well. It was an example of great teamwork and I really have to thank both my teammates and the staff of the team.”
Since Sven has only been a full-time road racer for half a season, he is understandably unsure about what type of rider he is. However, his past career on the mountain bike has certainly given him some very useful attributes as a rider.
“Honestly, at the moment, I don’t know what type of rider I am. Coming from the mountain bike world, I would say I am pretty explosive. I am fast, but I will never be the rider who wins bunch sprints. I prefer a really hard race, especially in the rain, and I love technical descents. I also have some background on the track too. Perhaps a race like Liege or maybe even some stage races overall can suit me. I will see in the future, for now I am happy to be considered an all rounder.”
Sven, who speaks perfect English, actually has previous on the track, mountain bike and cyclocross bike as well as his career on the road. In the track, he has not raced since the junior level, where he has competed in the monium and scratch events, with success as a youth rider. Sven says anytime he rode the track, road or cross bikes, it was mainly for fun while he raced the mountain bike, but he has still picked up some skills from his “fun” training sessions. This really proves what a versatile rider Sven is, and just how good he could be in the future, when you remember he is further behind most 21-year olds as he switched to full-time road racing so late. Perhaps EF Education First’s Mike Woods, who went pro so late, is an ideal future comparison. Sven spoke a little about his diversity on the bike.
“I have previouly raced all four disciplines. Last winter was the first time I focussed only on strength and endurance training. I had to work so hard to come back from the injury and I feel I have really improved my motor. I train in Limburg (also the training base of Tom Dumoulin, ed.), which is perfect as it has both hills and plenty of flat roads. I also have a great group of guys to train with too. I really hope I can continue on in this strong manner.”
Given he trains in Limburg, where the Amstel Gold Race parcours can be found, surely this is Sven’s favourite race and the pro event he desires to win above all others? Nope.
“That is a hard question, but for me it would be Strade Bianche in the wet conditions the riders faced in this season’s race. Between seeing the race on TV and hearing stories from those who took part, winning this event in this way is something I really want to happen. I also love Liege (he was 38th in his first participation in the U23 race this year, ed.). Amstel Gold is for sure a nice race, but I feel that other races suit me better.”
Sven, who turned 21 a few days ago, is only going to get better and better with each and every race he does. His skillset is so diverse and he is so talented, meaning he can be a real star in a lot of different terrains. Given how new he is to road racing, Burger is likely to not be considered for a pro deal this season, but if his progression keeps up for the remainder of 2018 and 2019, Sven Burger will be a very highly recruited rider next year. Furthermore, he is a consummate teammate who genuinely enjoys seeing others succeed, which was so clear listening to him talk about Joep’s stage win. He really is a phenomenal talent and person, and it was a pleasure to speak with him.
U23 Cycling Zone wishes to thank Sven for agreeing to take our call and for answering our questions with such in-depth answers. We hope he succeeds in his upcoming races and keeps up his progression in each race. if you want to keep up with Sven, you can follow him on Twitter at @SvenBurger.