© Jessica Blomqvist
Emil Lindgren's big return to UCI MTB XCO World Cups 2021
After a 4 year break, one of Sweden’s best XC riders goes back to the Mercedez-Benz UCI MTB World Cups together with his all-Swedish UCI MTB team Serneke-Allebike.
XCO World Cups are about to get even more exciting for Swedish fans this year as one of the most legendary Swedish XC racers and long-time professional rider Emil Lindgren is making a comeback. After a couple of very successful years racing on home-soil, the current Swedish XCO Champion is ready to step out of his international retirement and return to the limelight of the world cups. A place where he made a huge buzz in the early 2010’s. Together with his UCI MTB Team Serneke-Allebike and young protégé Oscar Lind, Emil has his gaze set on big things for the 2021 season.
34 AND STRONGER THAN EVER
Emil Lindgren’s career is one of the most decorated in Swedish MTB history. He most likely has the biggest collection of Swedish MTB Championship gold medals ever - with more XCO, XCM and CX Championship wins that we dare to count. He is no stranger to the world cup scene either, having been a professional rider since the age of 18, scoring some big result over the years. His best XCO result being 11th in Champery in 2011 and 11th in Hafjell in 2013. He was ranked ninth in the world in 2014, the same year as he took silver in the XCE World Championship.
Over the past four years the 34-year old has taken over 70 wins on home soil.
But an unfortunate turn of events made him retire from the big buzz of the world cups in 2017 and shift focus solely to the Swedish race scene. But to claim that he is retired is a complete lie, because over the past four years the 34-year old has taken over 70 wins on home soil, and the current Swedish XCO Champion feels stronger than ever.
“I’m turning 35 this year and I feel like I’m just as good as before, if not better. So why quit now, I still got some left in the tank”, Emil Lindgren says and laughs as he gears up for his next big challenge - making a world cup comeback. But why now, you might ask?
“When we started this team back in 2016, we said that we wanted to have a world cup-ready team within five to six years”. Emil is off course talking about his current race team:Team Serneke-Allebike. It’s been his home for the past five years and after having raced for multiple big international teams over the years, Serneke-Allebike is the one the lies closest to his heart. A relatively small Swedish team, based out of Alingsås and run by family friends. Emil plays a vital role within the company, being part of everything from bike production and building to dealing with team issues and logistics.
Our goal with the team was to first focus on the the Swedish scene, races and riders. Then, when the time is right, we would start to look broader, to the world cups.
That time has now come. The team has been hugely successful over the past couple of years, taking plenty wins in both Swedish XCO and XCM races. 2020 was in many ways the pinnacle, with two two Swedish Championship gold medals - Emil taking the win the elite class and Oscar Lind in the juniors. “I think we’ve won every race there is in Sweden with this team”, Emil says proudly.
THE TEAM’S YOUNG HOPEFUL
Oscar Lind is the team’s new young hopeful who’s already shown that he has the talent and isn’t afraid to put in the work. 2020 saw him take a big win on the international circuit, become Swedish Junior XCO Champion and place 8th at the European Championships. 2021 will see him take a step up into U23.
“It will be a huge challenge for him, and he will obviously have ups and downs throughout the season, but if we can get one good result we’ll be stoked. I know he’s got it in him”, Emil says about his young protégé.
Obviously, Emil isn’t just returning to the world cups to help Oscar. He’s got personal reasons too - you could call it unfinished business.
After having his best season to date in 2014, ranking 9th overall in the world, Emil was on fire coming in to 2015. “I felt like I was on top of the world at the time. I had the world cup season ahead and I was in the middle of qualifying for the Olympics. I was truly on top of my game - the strongest ever. And that’s when it all went to sh*t”, Emil says. During a nasty crash whilst racing the famous multi-day stage race Cape Epic, Emil broke his arm. A bad break that needed surgery. Complications followed and the road back became anything but easy.
I was truly on top of my game - strongest ever. And that’s when it all went to sh*t.
ROAD BACK FROM INJURY
A year and a half later Emil was over-worked, stressed and had developed Premature ventricular contractions, more commonly known as double heartbeats. He was back racing, but something wasn’t quite right.
After 14 years racing bikes abroad, with a lot more travel days than home days, he was worn out and over it. “I’d always promised myself not race for so long that I’d lose the spark, my love for riding. Mountain biking is my biggest passion and I want it to remain that way, not travel the joy away”. So after a couple a Bundesliga race in Germany in 2017, he called it quits on the way home. He was done with the international races.
However, he was still racing at home, underlying health problems still brewing under the surface. One day the gasket blew. It was during the 2017 Swedish XCO Championship race in Värnamo. With three kilometers left to the finish line, Emil had a strong lead and was on for a spectacular win.
My body shut down completely - my legs cramped up and I literally fell off the bike. I couldn’t finish the race.
“All I had to do was kick the ball into an open goal”, he says. “But that’s when my body just said no. It shut down completely - my legs cramped up and I literally fell off the bike. I couldn’t finish the race. Then and there I decided that I needed a change, it wasn’t working anymore”.
THE TURNING POINT
Emil decided to scrap everything that took, rather than gave him energy. He bought an Enduro motorbike and learned how to relax and have fun on two wheels again. He cut the chords with his strict training program and gave up having a personal trainer. From that day on he decided to only ride and train “by feel”, a motto he still lives by.
“If I only rode 4 hours and 45 minutes on a day where my training program said 5 hours, I felt so angry for that 15 minutes I missed, rather than happy for the 4,5 hours I got to ride my bike. Now I wake up in the morning and see how my body feels, and adapt my training accordingly”, Emil explains.
READY FOR A COMEBACK
It’s worked and fast-forward almost four years and Emil has reignited his spark. He is still a professional racer, part of the Allebike company, a test rider for Shimano and MTB coach. With more stuff going on than most, and after having won most races he’s entered on home-soil, he is still hungry for more. The world cups are once again luring him in.
Danish rider Simon Andreasson started from 42nd position and took the win. I mean, that is madness.
“I am very aware that it will be extremely hard. World Cups are no joke. I don’t really have any ranking points, so I will start far back in the pack, and always be on the hunt. So will Oscar. But we’re ready to fight. I just feel so good on the bike right now, it would be a shame not to give it another go. And just look at how rock and roll the 2020 season was. Danish rider Simon Andreasson started from 42nd in Nové Město and took the win. I mean, that is madness. And it shows that anything is possible!”, Emil says excitedly.
The team has signed up for all six rounds of the UCI MTB XCO World Cups, adding international races along the way and topping up with races in Scandinavia. He will do things differently this time though. With two boys at home, he needs time at home in order to be a dad, and isn't ready to spend too many days traveling.
THE LONG GAME
Team Serneke-Allebike isn’t going for a one season wonder, but are in it for the long run looking at several seasons on the world cup circuit. The dream for Emil is to manage one top 20 finish this season. The long game is to help Oscar gain a career, and potentially other promising riders too, as well as expanding the Allebike brand onto international markets.
As for Swedish fans, it will be exciting to have another Swedish UCI team to watch out for on the world cup livestreams in 2021 and hopefully it will inspire the next generation of XC riders to dream big. Because if Emil Lindgren’s career has been anything, it’s been massive.
Learn more about the XCO UCI MTB World Cups for the upcoming race season: