Swiss brothers Lukas and Mathias Flückiger made history on Saturday at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Saalfelden, Austria, when both stepped onto the podium after the elite men's cross country race. Lukas earned a silver medal ahead of younger brother Mathias, who got bronze. They were the first siblings to share a Worlds podium in mountain biking.
"It's great Lukas and I could come onto the podium together," said Mathias. "Lukas came from the back. In the first part of the race, I caught Luk, then he left our group, but later he came back to us. I think I was a little motivation for him. It's not that we are rivals, but we push each other. It's perfect how we both ended up on the podium. We've been dreaming about this."
Neither racer was at the front early in the contest, but both proved stronger as the race went on and other early leaders faded.
The eight-lap race was a roller coaster ride. Mathias fought through traffic at the start from a third row grid position, and Lukas fought back from around 12th place after suffering a motivation issue during the third lap.
Some of the elite men had tipped Lukas as a favorite because he'd shown good form in recent weeks. He also had been free of the Olympic pressures that some of the elite men faced because he was not selected for the Swiss Olympic team. He said that being called "a favorite" didn't make him nervous.
"I definitely didn't feel any pressure going into today's race. I think I was relaxed. I was excited to be at this level - maybe there is more pressure if a lot of riders name you as the favorite."
"I'm not sure about not having done the Olympics. I had more training time than the Olympic riders because they had 2-3 weeks with no time to train. I worked really hard at altitude training and timed it well. I could come here and be fresh and have more focus than the Olympic riders. I think maybe it was a little advantage to have not done the Olympics."
Lukas and Mathias were aware of how each was doing, but Lukas said there's not much the brothers can do to work together in a mountain bike race.
On the second and third laps, both guys were running in the top 10 but then started to lose touch with the front three. It was at this point that Lukas started to see his dream of a world championship elite medal fade away, again. It was too much and he began to back off, the pace too high at the front. This saved his legs and allowed him to fight back later. In fact, his lap times on laps 4, 5, 6 and 7 were faster than race winner Nino Schurter, gaining a total of 32 seconds and finding himself in the silver medal position. Schurter learned of the rapidly chasing brothers and increased his pace to finally win by 29 seconds. All three made up an all-Swiss podium.
While the brothers had talked about trying to make the same World Cup podium, actually doing so at Worlds had seemed impossible.
"We've talked about it since we've raced the same category in World Cups - since 2007 - first it was hard for me because he was always much stronger," said Mathias. "But since 2009 or 2010, we're close. There was just once when we were on the podium together, at a World Cup in Champery. It's hard for us to both go in the same race at the same pace."
"And this time, we got on the real podium - both of us - not just the top 5 but the top 3."
Mathias said the two brothers train together sometimes, but not often. "Sometimes if we train together, we push each other too hard. I have specific training programs, which I can't do in a group. I like to train alone, but sometimes it's good to have a training mate like Luk. We have the same training mindset, which is good."