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Amid the chaos of a bicycle race, Svein Tuft is known to enjoy quiet moments with nature — on occasion he has ventured barefoot into the woods to meditate or practice yoga. Recently, Tuft’s meditative moments came during early morning dips in the chilly Pacific Ocean in Oxnard, California, where he attended a training camp for his new squad, Rally-UHC.
For Tuft, now 41, the training camp in California marked a return to the North American racing scene, a decade after he made the jump to the WorldTour. Tuft began his career 17 seasons ago with Prime Alliance and then Symmetrics, before joining Garmin-Slipstream in 2009.
“It feels like I’ve gone full circle,” Tuft told VeloNews. “When I started it was a lot like this, just a core group of guys. When we came from LA, when we got picked up, we were in a similar van to what I always remember. It’s just how I remember 10, 15 years ago. We drove by the Motel 6 where Jonas [Carney] and I were teammates on Prime Alliance in 2002.”
Tuft had initially planned to retire following the 2018 season, his seventh with Australian squad Mitchelton-Scott. Yet his relationships with Rally-UHC’s Performance Director Jonas Carney convinced him to sign up for one more season.
The two were teammates in the early 2000’s, and kept in touch as Tuft jumped to the WorldTour and Carney became Rally’s director. When Rally embarked on a European campaign in 2018 and began to plan for a new service course in Europe, Carney contacted Tuft and asked him how to navigate the cycling scene there. Later that season, Rally management met with Tuft in Spain.
The team had future ambitions in Europe, and Carney believed that Tuft’s experience could help them achieve those goals.
“They started pitching the idea, and the more I started thinking about, the more I realized that that was something that would be really cool,” Tuft said.
With Danny Pate retiring, Rally was seeking a veteran racer to help shepherd the younger riders into the sport. Tuft, who has collected 11 Canadian time trial titles, two Canadian road race titles, and a number of international wins in his lengthy career, was an optimal choice.
Carney said he did not expect Tuft to change his retirement plans. He was thrilled when Tuft proved him wrong.
“We’ve been trying to have Svein race for us forever and finally we lined up,” Carney said. “Where he is in career and what he wants to do, and where we are and what we need, it was a great fit. We’re lucky.”
Tuft said that a transition from the WorldTour to a Pro Continental team was more attractive than quitting. He also liked Rally’s approach to growth. Over the past two seasons Rally has steadily grown its overseas ambitions, last year venturing into a handful of WorldTour races. Rally’s leadership hopes the team can eventually bring more riders from North America into the WorldTour ranks.
“We haven’t had that for a very long time now,” Tuft said. “I’m always talking about development in Canada and how we have all these young riders with nowhere to go. Here [Rally] is the place to strive to. To be part of that and grow with that, that’s super exciting.”
Rally’s increased focus on European races will mean that Tuft’s calendar will still include plenty of high-caliber events in Europe. While Tuft hopes to “rip a time trial” of his own occasionally this season, his main focus will be shepherding Rally’s crop of young talents into race finales.
“Most of my race schedule is very European so not a lot changes,” he said. “One of the things that we always have with North American riders is that it’s tricky to make your way in Europe. That’s something that I feel like I can help a lot of guys with.”
Tuft is no stranger to teaching younger riders. He was a trusted road captain with Mitchelton and imparted his wisdom to the squad’s talented time trialists. Rally management believes Tuft’s leadership can help the team’s under-23 talent Brandon McNulty, and others, thrive in the European peloton.
“[Tuft] genuinely wants to be there to help these young guys,” Carney said. “He cares about them.”
Tuft says his new teammates are already picking his brain, and that he has already begun sharing some veteran wisdom. What does he tell them? Rally’s racing ambitions in Europe represent the best opportunity they will ever have to make their mark in the sport.
“I’ve said to these guys, ‘This could be the biggest chance you have in cycling right now,'” he said. Tuft credited the Mitchelton-Scott team for identifying and elevating talented Australian riders to the sport’s highest league, and he believes Rally can play a similar role in North America. For 2019 the team’s roster is composed entirely of American and Canadian riders, and management hopes to maintain a predominantly North American roster for the foreseeable future.
“We didn’t have that, until this team,” Tuft said. “It’s super exciting. It’s something I can see growing with even when I stop I can maybe continue working on the project.”