Tuft to retire at end of 2019 and take up gravel bike guiding

Svein Tuft will finally bring an end to his professional cycling career at the end of 2019, with gravel bike guiding among a series of projects on the horizon of retirement.

Tuft started his career back in 2002 and, as he puts it, has had his "foot on the gas for the best part of 20 years". After his eight-year stint with Mitchelton-Scott came to an end in 2018, he was on the verge of retirement until Pro Continental outfit Rally UHC Cycling offered him a contract in a support and mentoring role.

The move has breathed new life into his career but, with the season coming to an end, there's no real temptation for the 42-year-old to go one further.

"I'll be done this year," Tuft told Cyclingnews in Å at the start of the opening stage of the Arctic Race of Norway on Thursday.

"As you get to a certain age in life, the intensive training and all that becomes less interesting and just harder and harder to do. Also, that extra bit you need to make it in the finales of these races, I just don't have it anymore. It's simple: I'm 42 years old. I can ride all day but to make that next step takes a lot."

Tuft has done nearly 40 race days so far with Rally in their second season at Professional Continental level, riding an exclusively European programme while continuing to live in Andorra. He has relished the challenge of passing on his experience to the team's young riders, and he currently finds himself at the Arctic Race of Norway alongside Brandon McNulty, who's just signed a three-year WorldTour contract.

"It's funny, it's something I hadn't considered last year, to keep racing at this level," he said.

"It's definitely a change of pace, coming from a WorldTour team, two Grand Tours a year, early stage races, Spring Classics, then Worlds build-up. But it's not like you can back off or take it easy – it's always hard. You do a French Cup, and it's hard, man. It's incredibly hard. Anywhere you go in the world now, any UCI race, it's hard racing.

"It's been a big change in mentality, being there in that support role, helping the directors and the riders, but I've enjoyed it quite a bit. It's hard as a North American to make it over here, and these guys are supporting North Americans to do that. That's something I've always wanted to be a part of. Your first year in Europe is always tricky and I just hope the years I spent over here, I can pass on."

Tuft hopes to continue to be involved with the Rally UHC team behind the scenes in 2020, but he's got plenty of other plans, too.

"What I'd really love to do is run some crazy adventure gravel tours, and just get people that want to do an epic trip," he says.

"That's how spend most of my training time now in the Pyrenees, doing big loops, hike-a-bike. If I can find a route with good trails and sketchy descents, that's what I really enjoy. I'd start in places I know well, so the Pyrenees, Canada, but it's something I want to grow into and do anywhere in the world."

Tuft is very much an adventurer at heart, with bare-foot hiking, skiing, climbing, and yoga among the activities he has balanced with the strict demands of road racing over the course of his career. And adventure cycling is very much a la mode, with the sales of so-called 'gravel' bikes soaring in recent years.

"It seems like it's such a growing thing. For a lot of people, to get off the roads and have fun training like that… man, I love the road bike and coming to places like this, but the reality is that on a gravel bike, you're away from traffic, you're breathing fresh air, you're exploring. It adds so many other great elements to cycling."

Another project in the pipeline will see him run with the bug he has clearly picked up at Rally – that of helping to nurture young talent. While he wants to stay involved in the Rally project in some way, he has firm plans to head back home and work with the Canadian Cycling Federation to help improve the current situation, in which just three Canadians are competing at WorldTour level.

"There are so many aspects missing in Canada," Tuft says. "I'm good friends with Kevin Field, and he's been working really hard to bring us back to a level where our young guys can compete in Europe and get the funding to not come over to Europe and be totally scarred by the experience.

"For a long time we haven't had a programme, so that's building. We want to give juniors and espoirs the technical abilities to understand what they're getting into, so if we could start growing that, it would be a really nice project. The biggest obstacle is financial. We have the population of southern California and a northern climate, so when it comes to sports funding, it all goes to hockey and other Olympic sports. There's just not the money to run the right programmes, but if you have people who want to do the work, it doesn't take a lot. With the right people involved you can do a lot with very little."

Tuft's head is full of ideas and 'projects', but he will still be factoring in some down time over the winter.

"I don't to sit up and relax because life isn't about that. I like to keep moving, but I do need some time where I can step away for a bit and not have any commitments," he says. "For the last 20 years I've had an objective, but I want to experience not having to go anywhere or be anywhere for a while."

First, though, it's time to savour those last few races.

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Patrick Fletcher

Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist, and former deputy editor of Cyclingnews, who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.