Why the new team and EWS setup will suit Zakarias Johansen
© Niklas Wallner
The Swedish enduro rider talks team swap, pre-season training and goals ahead of the 2021 season.
With two top 12 finishes last season and ranked 10th overall in the EWS (from 2019), Enduro rider Zakarias Johansen is currently Sweden’s highest-ranked Enduro rider. With two very successful seasons behind him, “Zaka” is in for some big changes ahead of the 2021 season. Leaving Cube Action Team after three years, Zakarias finds himself back on the team that he started off his EWS career on - the Ibis Enduro Team. On top of that, together with the rest of the EWS racers, he is also in for a brand new race format. Three of the EWS rounds will be so-called “double events” with two races within the same week. A format that will test the riders to their limit.
We caught up with Zaka just before leaving for a three-week training trip to Italy in order to find out what he thinks about his new team and why he believes the new race format will suit him.
Hi Zaka. After three years with Cube Action Team, you’re now back with the team you started your EWS journey on - Ibis Enduro Team. How does it feel?
It feels really good. I think it’s good to mix things up and keep things fresh as it does tend to give you a good motivational boost. Having new people around and a different setup this year feels exciting and I’m eager to get going with the race season.
It feels especially good to be back having Robin Wallner as my teammate again and Mats Pettersson as our road manager. Both are good friends that I hang out with at home.
Ibis has always been a very good brand to work with as well. Of course, there are positives and negatives with a team change - Cube is a big brand and has some stuff really dialed, but in many ways, I prefer dealing with a smaller brand like Ibis. They really value your feedback and you can speak directly to the engineers who design the bikes - that kind of communication often gets lost in big brands. I also have a good relationship with Tom Morgan, the owner of Ibis, who is very engaged in the team and I email with almost daily. It makes you feel very valued as a rider.
Does it make a difference that you already know your “new” team pretty well?
Mats, Robin and Tom are the main people in the team and I know them all very well. That definitely makes a difference as you feel pretty relaxed already from day one.
I’ve been hanging out with Robin and Mats loads even when I’ve been on Cube, so in a way, it doesn’t feel like that much is changing. As for the other riders on the team, I know Cole Lucas pretty good. He was actually a junior rider on the Cube Action Team in 2018 and stayed with us during that season. I don't know Bex Baraona that well, but I have spoken with her a couple of times.
A race season can be pretty intense so it’s really important to have a nice and fun group of people around you.
A race season can be pretty intense - you’re on the road a lot and you hang out with your team 24/7 - so it’s really important to have a nice and fun group of people around you to make you feel relaxed and “at home”. It’s important to be able to be completely open and honest with each other and be able to talk about things, both good and bad.
Read all about how Zakarias and Robin won silver for Sweden in the 2019 Enduro World Championship here:
In what way does your setup change with your new team?
I will still be on the same major components - Shimano and Fox Suspension - which is awesome. I feel like I’ve got them really dialled in and I’m used to riding them. As for the bike, Ibis has developed two more models of the Ripmo since I left the team at the end of 2017. It’s been really cool to jump on the their latest modell - it’s completely changed in geometry, linkages and the measurement of the bike really suits me. So I’m stoked!
How are you preparing for the 2021 season and has the cold weather been a problem for you this winter?
The snow isn’t really a problem for me as the winter manly consists of strength and conditioning based training anyway. A lot of the time is spent indoors in the gym, velodrome or BMX hall. We’ve been changing things up by doing intervals on the XC skis from time to time. Also, I love ski season. We’ve been going on mini-trips every other weekend to local ski resorts and it’s been so much fun. As professional racers, we get so much bike time anyway it’s nice to switch things up a little.
As the first race of the season isn’t until June we’ve been able to spend more time than normal building up strength and it’s been good.
Currently, we’re in our last strength build-up phase in the gym this week. As the first race of the season isn’t until June we’ve been able to spend more time than normal building up strength and it’s been good. But from next week, it’s more focus on bikes and less on the gym. Me, Oli and Ben are heading down to Finale Ligure in Italy for some snow-free riding.
A “normal” season, when the first race is in march sometime, it’s always hard to get enough bike time before it all kicks off. But as the first race is in June this year, we’ll have more than enough time to riders bikes. Even our local trails at home will be dry and dusty by that time, so it feels very nice and relaxed it that sense.
The EWS has a new format this year with so-called double events - three of the venues will have two races during the same week. How does that feel and do you think that it will suit you?
I think it’s a really good concept, especially with everything going on in the world at the moment. It minimises travel and maximises race output for all the teams and riders. How it’s going to play out is very hard to say. It’s obviously going to be a tough week with two races but at the same time, it’s going to be the same for everyone. Also, each race will be slightly easier - you can’t have two monster races with only a day in-between. But, with that said, even if those races will be easier individually, combined they will be tougher than what we’re used to. But I’m excited to try it out - I think it might suit me well because I’ve got good stamina and endurance.
Will you race any other races apart from EWS?
I will try and fit in any of the Swedish races that work around the EWS schedule, but the EWS is of course my main focus and priority.
What are your goals with the 2021 season?
My goals for 2021 are pretty much the same as they were ahead of the 2020 season: I’d like to be within the Top 10 at every round. If I manage that I will be extremely happy. I feel like I’ve got the speed for it to happen, but there are so many things that need to go right for that to happen. Being that consistent over the many races and venues is a real challenge and I’m keen to try and make it happen.