Oliver and Ben Zwar are the Swedish-Australian Downhill duo that are putting Sweden back on the Downhill map. Brought up in the Downhill-oriented country of Australia, they decided to embrace their Swedish roots and move to Sweden in early 2020 to race for the Swedish National Team and get closer to the UCI MTB World Cups.
A big leap that seems to have reaped its reward as the duo finished their 2020 season with their best World Cup results to date and enter the 2021 UCI MTB World Cup season onboard a brand new UCI team - The Union.
We caught up with the brothers just as they prepare to take on the first UCI MTB Downhill world cup of the season in Leogang to find out about their slightly unusual team setup and how they feel coming into the season.
Ben and Oli, tell us about your new team?
It all really came together last minute. Like the day before we had to register it with the UCI for the 2021 season, haha.
It’s a really cool concept. Basically, MTB media company Steel City Media and our old team Zwar Brother Racing have come together to form the Union. A team with a vision that goes beyond the race tape and with the goal to help up and coming riders from all kinds of bike disciplines. But as it was really last minute, the team for the 2021 season is mostly built around our team setup from last year with us two, Kiwi National Champion Tuhoto Ariki, first-year elite Kiwi racer Finn Hawkesby-Browne and reigning U17 Australian DH Champ Ollie Davis.
We want to help people who deserve a chance and we want to have a broader span of riders in the future - women and men as well as a mix of bike disciplines.
Together with Steel City Media we have some great plans for the future of the team. We want to help people who deserve a chance and we want to have a broader span of riders in the future - women and men as well as a mix of bike disciplines. We want the Union to become like a big family.
It’s a dream come true really, to be able to help young riders like Ollie for example. He’s a family friend from back in Australia and we’ve always tried to help him out with his Downhill career. So it feels great to be able to give him the opportunity to race his first Junior World Cup season this year.
Where did the idea come from?
We have run our Zwar Brother racing team for a couple of seasons now and had both Tuhoto and Finn on the team last year. But last season, as we all know, was a bit of a strange one and coming into 2021 it was looking like we were going back to the privateer life of just being the two of us.
However, we’d been talking with Joe Bowman from Steel City Media last autumn who was keen to join forces and potentially start up a new team. But things never really materialised and at the end of 2020 it didn’t look like it was going to happen. Then suddenly, two days before the UCI team deadline some of our big sponsors like Santa Cruz jumped on board and it all went super fast. Within two days the Union team was registered and it all came together quite nicely.
The Union’s mission is to help is up and coming riders: how hard is it to be a privateer on the world cup circuit today?
I wouldn’t say impossible, because it has been done. But it is borderline impossible. Doing the full circuit as a privateer is really hard, especially if you’re from the southern hemisphere. Both when it comes to funding, logistics and time. At least if you live in Europe you can drive to most of the World Cups. It’s the main reason we moved over here, to be closer to the races.
Also, getting the UCI points you need to race a world cup is super hard these days. There arn’t many races in Australia, or Scandinavia for that matter, where you can get UCI points so you often have to travel far in order to just try and qualify for the world cups. And even if you spend all that money and time to get to a qualifying event, the competition is really tough so you might not even get any points.
In short, it’s really hard.
What difference does it make to you as racers to be on the Union compared to your old team that you ran yourself?
It’s hard to describe. We’ve both dreamt of being on a world cup team one day and now to sit back and realise that we actually are on one is a really cool feeling. From being privateers to running our own team to now being on the Union, getting help and support with the logistics and everything else that goes on behind the scenes. Also being able to give others an opportunity feels really cool.
It will be a huge difference for us at the races. Having a pit over out head, somewhere we can actually hang out between runs. Having Joakim Sundfeldt as our mechanic at all the races will be a huge help as well. We’re not sure we’re going to know what to do with ourselves, haha. Being able to utilise some of the networks that both Steel City Media and our other sponsors have will be a huge help. It’s all these small advantages that will make a huge difference in the end.
Also, we get to spend our summer out in Morzine where we’ve got a team house, thanks to Bike Morzine, which will be perfect for training and preparing for the races.
Last season was one of highs and lows - tell us about the missing bikes?
Haha yea to say the least. Basically we’d been waiting all year to race and we were so excited to finally kick of the season. We arrived at the first world cup in Maribor and of course our bikes didn’t turn up at the airport. But the staff assured us the bikes would arrive with the next flight the following day. The next day rolls around and still no bikes. Same the next day and it’s now the day before practice. It felt so hopeless. All that training and waiting for the world cups season - we feel really prepared - and then to have no bikes show up.
Of course our bikes didn’t turn up at the airport. But the staff assured us the bikes would arrive with the next flight the following day. The next day rolls around and still no bikes. Same the next day and it’s now the day before practice. It felt so hopeless.
We started reaching out to people in Maribor if there were any bikes we could borrow, and luckily for us Ben Cathro wasn’t racing and lent us his Santa Cruz V10, the same bike as we have. So at least now we had one bike. We shared it for practice - as Oli was in A practice and Ben in B practice it worked alright. However, for qualifying it wouldn’t work to share a bike as our runs were too close to one another. So Oli, who was dealing with a broken hand, ended up taking a backseat and sitting the first race out so that Ben could qualify and race. Ben qualified in 31st - we were so stoked!
As the 2020 Maribor world cup was double round, the bikes finally turned up the day after the first race so that we could both race the 2nd race. But wow, he whole thing was super stressful. We were both pretty much in tears, and it was a lot to deal with. The racing it self seemed the least stressful part of that trip haha. It’s times like that we’re glad to have each other to lean on.
But then things really turned around for you two at the last world cup in Lousa?
Yes! But it wasn’t completely stress free either haha. Jocke was meant to come with us as our mechanic for Lousa but he fell ill a couple of days before, and although it wasn’t Covid, he still couldn’t make it. And then Oli fell ill, but luckily it wasn’t Covid either, but it wasn’t ideal to get to a world cup feeling like that.
But things started to turn around once we got to Lousa. We got both bikes this time, the track was so much fun to ride and we had Adrian Hörnqvist from the Swedish Cycling Federation come with us instead of Jocke. It is such a help having someone to just take care of the small things like cooking dinner, cleaning our bikes so we have time to eat lunch, give some advice along the track. Like we mentioned earlier, it is the small things that really make a difference during a world cup week.
On race day, it all came together and we both had our best World Cup results to date, 0.2 seconds apart. Ben ended up 22nd and Oli in 24th. It was a good way to end the season!
What are your plans for this season?
We’ve had a good off-season getting our heads down and just focusing on training. We’ve been doing lots of riding with Swedish Enduro rider Zakarias Johansen, so I’d say we’re the fittest we’ve ever been. We’ve mainly been at home in Falun but did a 4-week stint in Finale Ligure in February and one week in Spain with the Swedish National team.
Now we’re heading out to France to spend the summer in the Alps. Bike Morzine has hooked us up with a house to stay in for the summer, so that will be our base. It’s going to be amazing and such an advantage to have a place like that to stay in, instead of always been on the road and jumping from one place to the next. Having the team together will be ace.
We plan on doing the full World Cup circuit and we’re also heading to Crankworx Innsbruck to race the Downhill. Potentially we’re coming home to Sweden to race the Swedish Champs in Enduro and Downhill.
Sounds like a good summer. What are your goals with the season?
(Ben) I want to stay healthy and get through the whole season - be at every race. A top 30 overall is a pretty good goal for me and just try to be in a good place for next year.
(Oli) My goals are pretty similar to Ben’s. I want to keep improving and learning. I’d like a Top 30 overall and it’d be awesome to get a Top 20 result. My main goal is to ride consistently as I for once feel really prepared for the season.