As is the case with many European nations, Switzerland requires young men to perform military service. If you're a professional bike rider, this can pose several problems. On Monday Phonak riders Gregory Rast, Aurelien Clerc, Martin Elmiger, Steve Morabito, Steve Zampieri and Sascha Urweider began their military service. Thanks to a pilot project they can report for duty in the elite sport recruit school in Magglingen while carrying out their season preparations in full.
In recent years over 500 top athletes have been able to profit from special, sport-friendly conditions in the Swiss Army. Now the army is going one step further, with all Swiss athletes aiming for the Olympic Games in 2008 being able to undertake their military service in Magglingen. In relation to cyclists, the course from December 12-23 is a pilot project. "After its conclusion, we will analyse the repetition course and discuss its future," said Franz Fischer, head of sport at the school.
Rast, Elmiger and co. reported for duty in military uniform on Monday in Magglingen. But they were quickly able to swap the khaki green for a track suit. Despite their military service, cycling is still the number one priority. The Phonak boys were able to join Michael Schär, who is attending the school in Magglingen, and be trained by Marcello Albasini, trainer for the U23 Swiss cycling team. Athletes must still observe military guidelines upon reporting for duty, during joint meals or on parade after the optional evening meal on Wednesday evening, however.
"It's a great advantage for us that the season's build-up training isn't interrupted by military service," said 25-year-old rider Sascha Urweider. The army also hopes to be able to profit from this project. "We are hoping for a positive response in the PR area. For example, that after a sporting success an athlete will mention the contribution made by the army," said Fischer. But it's not just professional cyclists that benefit from the project - the entire national handball team will be performing their military service in Magglingen while Phonak riders are training and doing their duty.