Interview with Herbert Zahner

2. September 2021


He already holds the record for the fastest east-west crossing of Switzerland. Now Herbert Zahner has also won the Tortour, the biggest multi-day non-stop ultracycling race in the world.

How did you find the Tortour?

The Tortour was a phenomenal experience for me and my support team. I was able to cycle my race as planned and never had to fight one on one because I got ahead of the competition in the first few kilometres. I naturally reached my mental and physical limits, which is hardly surprising given the 1,000 kilometres. I had to overcome mental low points from time to time and towards the end my neck felt sore. There were also moments during this long tour where I asked myself why I was doing it. But I was prepared for this in advance and always had solution strategies ready.

How do you prepare for such a challenge?

An achievement such as this is only possible with good preparation. And it is precisely this that gives you the assurance that you can succeed. To ensure the endeavour will be a success, the following aspects need to be taken into account:

  • An extensive training plan with lots of kilometres
  • Several years of training at a high level with longer distances
  • The interplay of physical preparation, route knowledge, nutrition, and equipment
  • An experienced and expert support team

Overall, I accumulate around 500 km a week. I do a lot of training early in the morning in a fasted state (1-1.5 h) on a roller with a view to optimising my lipid metabolism and I sometimes cycle to work (63 km with 800 m difference in altitude). I also regularly do cycling intervals, hard races on Zwift, and long distances, which I also cycle at a relatively high intensity. Finally, I do strength training for my back muscles because core stability is essential in order to be able to cycle with triathlon handlebars for hours on end.  

Generally speaking: my entire training and the Tortour project is tailored to my environment. Otherwise it wouldn’t be at all possible.

Cycling 1,000 kilometres with an altitude difference of over 13,000 m or being on the go for 34 hours non-stop is simply inconceivable for many people. What are your three most important training tips for boosting the pleasure and performance capability of an amateur racing cyclist?

  1. Whether alone or with colleagues, indoors or outdoors, short, intensive, or long - adding variety to your training keeps you motivated and improves your performance.
  2. Take a performance test and use it as a training guide. By doing so, you can develop your level of performance and steadily increase your scope of training over the years.
  3. Benefit from the new forms of nutrition during your training units and competitions. They support your athletic activities and ensure you don't suffer any loss in performance.

Do you have an insider tip you would be willing to share with us? 

It is important not to be overzealous. Listen to your body instead and allow yourself to recover. Especially if you are pursuing a specific goal. When you keep your joy of cycling alive, you can look forward to an improvement in performance.