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Magnus Bäckstedt had sport director offers from multiple teams for 2023 across the men’s and women’s pelotons, but the Swedish former pro knew he wanted to get involved in women’s racing.
Bäckstedt was announced last month as the new lead sport director for the Canyon-SRAM team, where he’s hoping to get them back on winning ways. It will be the first time in almost a decade that he will take the helm as a sport director.
With women’s cycling very much in the ascendency and both of his daughters now signed up with WorldTeam squads, Bäckstedt wanted to be involved.
“I had an offer to go work with a men’s team as well, and ultimately, it was a conscious decision that I took go into the women’s side of the sport,” Bäckstedt told VeloNews. “There’s a lot of different reasons for that. For me, it was the excitement of where women’s cycling is right now and where it’s looking like it can go over the next number of years and being part of shaping the sport really, as it gets into the mainstream media.
“I’m really looking forward to being part of that and I thought it almost felt like taking a step back into the world that I was in previously.”
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Bäckstedt has previous as a sport director and a team manager after taking up the role with some domestic British teams before stepping into the commentary box in 2013. He has since made a name for himself as a co-commentator for Eurosport.
Stepping away from the hustle and bustle of working in the team car was no accident. Bäckstedt’s two daughters — Elynor and Zoe — were becoming passionate about racing and he wanted to be there to support them.
It’s only now that Zoe — who took the junior time trial and road race title at the 2021 UCI Road World Championships — is joining EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, while Elynor is already signed up with Trek-Segafredo, that he feels ready to do it again.
“I did my own thing, racing and then ran a team at UCI Conti for a few years, and still raced a little bit, and then I realized that the girls needed my time and me being there. And helping them as they started showing a bigger interest in wanting to do this at a high level,” he said. “It was definitely a conscious decision to give them the time that they deserve and required to get to this point where they’re spreading their own wings and doing their thing with their teams and so on. At that point, it was okay, now it’s time to really do something that I have a big passion for.
“It’s something that I’ve definitely missed for a number of years. As much as I invested with the girls, it’s also a different aspect of it, because then you’re dad, and obviously, you want them to do well, and you’re investing a lot of emotions into that and adrenaline that goes with it. But you know, actually running a team, you know, on the sporting side is something that excites me.”
With Bäckstedt and both of his daughters now working within the Women’s WorldTour, there will come a time when they will be competing against each other. Sibling rivalry is one thing, but racing against your own children is a different kettle of fish.
Bäckstedt, who is married to former pro Megan Hughes, is not one to get flustered easily though and it’s a situation he’s taking in his stride. Working in the Women’s WorldTour also means more opportunities to spend time with his daughters that he might not get working elsewhere.
“I know that we’re going to come up against my two daughters, relatively frequently and I’ve already been part of a couple of races this year sort of watching and learning, looking at Canyon SRAM and having a having a say, in the team car, and a spin in the bike race,” he said. “For us, as a family, it works. We don’t really see it as something strange. It’s just who we are and what we do.
“At the same time, the nice aspect is that I’ll bump into one of the girls in the hotel if we’re staying in the same hotel … and even at points, we’ve ended up on the same flight traveling back home together, which is nice to get a bit of one-on-one time with your daughters, which, is very valuable to me.”
Bäckstedt’s relationship with Canyon-SRAM began earlier this year after the team got wind during the classics that he was looking to get back into the sport. He has already sat in the team car a few times during the season, building up a knowledge of the squad and how it works.
While the team has been one of the most consistent in the bunch and finished sixth in the UCI’s rankings for 2022, it has been lacking in the win tally. It scored just one win this season and it hasn’t taken a WorldTour victory since 2019.
The hope is that Bäckstedt can give the team a bit of a shake-up and get its riders on the top step of the podium with a bit more regularity.
“It’s such a tiny difference between winning and being second. For me, it’s making sure that we build a strong group of riders and a strong team,” Bäckstedt said. “The team aspect of it is, for me, the most important. Who stands on the top step of the podium, I couldn’t care less. It’s all about the team and building that structure where everyone gives 100% for each other every single day.
“We just need to start looking at where what we could have done differently in the past and doing our homework in a different way to not end up doing the same mistake twice because that’s something that I don’t like. Mistakes are great because it means you can learn from them, but if you don’t learn from them then they’re just silly mistakes.”
Canyon-SRAM has undergone something of an overhaul ahead of the 2023 season with some of the squads most experienced riders departing and some younger riders coming in. It is all part of team manager Ronny Lauke’s attempt to refresh the team.
It means that there will be some tweaks and changes to be made as Bäckstedt figures out what roles he wants riders to slot into. However, he believes that the time he spent with the squad already this year will help them get off the ground quickly.
“I know a lot of the riders from this year already as I have done that couple of races with him already. So, I kind of know where we’re at with them,” he said. “But then we’re getting a bunch of new riders that we need to make sure integrate into the team in the right way.
“We need to find that having fun together on the bikes, and I think as soon as we start having a good time on the bikes, then I believe we’re going to be in the mix. I’m not expecting us to not perform at the start of the season, but I’m expecting us to see bigger changes as the season goes on.”