Rene, most commonly found under his helmet. Matt DeLorme photo.
Despite many injuries over the last couple years, six-time Megavalanche Alp d’Huez champion and mountain bike legend Rene Wildhaber still shreds the Enduro World Series (EWS) circuit and super-enduro races.
You might also have seen Wildhaber in the Kranked movies, Anthill's films (like the recent Not Bad) or Red Bull features like Buffalo Solider.
He's cemented his place as one of our sport's best and, as time marches on, has also evolved into a pillar-of-the-community emotional favorite.
Rene in Buffalo Soldiers. RedBull/Christoph Margot photo.
In 2013, I was lucky enough to have Rene’s tent next to mine at the Trans Savoie race. Every afternoon, after winning all stages, he’d meticulously wash, service, tune, lube and ready his bike for the following day. He wouldn’t rest or shower until his Slash was perfectly dialed and placed next to his tent. I, and most like me, could barely muster a cursory pass with the hose before flopping down dead in the grass.
The Swiss are typically very clean. RedBull media pool.
Rene is a guy who respects his tools—who understands how to take care of something he needs for work. I really admired that. I imagine it's something he learned from growing up on a farm; If you don’t fix your equipment, no one else will, and you won’t be able to work.
I was lucky enough to grab him for a few questions in that gap between EWS finishing, travel, and winter training.
GW: You’re known for your stamina, training, and technical preparation. I imagine that kind of endurance comes from having a plan each offseason. What does the winter of 2016-2017 hold for you?
RW: To stay fit I'll do ski touring or XC Skiing. For sure I will work a bit at the ski school at my home mountain, Flumserberg. Before and after work I'll do a couple of off-piste runs just for me. I choose my activities around what the nature brings. For example, if it’s a really cold winter I try also a bit of ice climbing.
Some off-season upper body training. Daniel Benz/RedBull photo.
The winter time also helps me to find my inner balance, a full moon at night in the glittering snow is beautiful. But indoor strength training is also important, so I'll hit the gym.
GW: Is there something about long and challenging events that appeal to you?
RW: I love long descents. To feel the concentration and keep it up is a great challenge for me. To do technical parts of a race with a very exhausted body is one of my strengths.
Wildhaber at altitude. RedBull/Sébastien Boué photo.
I also found that my body works quite well in high altitude compared to other riders. That helps at races like Megavalanche.
GW: You have suffered a few injuries over the last few years. What changes, if any, have you made to your race style or training to adapt?
RW: I tried to find out why it happened. If I knew that, I could prevent it in the future. In terms of changes, I used to ride more in the winter time but that caused the injuries, so maybe I try to do a little less biking and more winter sport this time around.
Riding in the offseason, what could go wrong? Redbull content pool.
GW:To confirm, the Wildhaber family farm is a dairy farm? Can you give me a picture of your average, or favorite, day’s routine working on that farm?
RW: The farm got taken over by my brothers after my father died. They have cows, sheep, goat, chicken and ponies. In the summer time the cows graze at altitudes up to 1800 meters. And with the milk we produce cheese. In the winter time we produce meat.
It ain't easy... RedBull/Christoph Margot Photo.
It’s Swiss mountain farming, so very small scale compared to other countries. Unfortunately I’m not involved in the daily work anymore, but I love to help my brothers if there are special events. In the summer time they are happy when I help them cut the hay.
GW: When tuning your bike, or developing race equipment, do you approach the process as you would a farming chore? Or are they completely different?
RW: There are a couple of similarities. There is the daily work which has to be done. And you must have patience to work until your task is finished. Never give up and be thankful when the work is done.
Be thankful for your work, good to pass on. RedBull photo.
I grew up without sports, but I felt early that I loved sports and that gave me a lot of energy to make my dream true. So I worked, was thankful, and that moved me to what I loved.
I did my apprenticeship as a carpenter during school to get access to university at the same time. Three days of practical work in a business and two days of school for four years. That’s possible in Switzerland. Later I worked full time as a carpenter to finance my mountain bike adventures and races.
GW: Is there anything else about a farm upbringing that you feel prepared you well for your life?
RW: Helping my father on the farm was a kind of workout for me. I learned how to have a daily work routine from him too. And responsibility: I had my own animals which I took care of every day.
Feels right at home around horses. Christoph Margo/Red Bull from Buffalo Soldiers photo.
I learned also to take care of nature, work with the nature, and do the right work at the right time. With planning and timing, work gets done more easily and gives me energy.
TGR: You’ve competed in the Swiss Epic the last few years. Does participating in events like that keeping you close to your roots?
I’m quite a curios guy. In general I like to try new sports stuff. What I especially love about bikes is that they can be used in daily life as well as a sport tool.
A little competition never hurt anyone. RedBull photo. Matt DeLorme photo.
From commuter to downhill, each bike has its fascination. I never did a road bike event. Maybe that could be something for next year.
GW: Are you involved as an official or in the promotion of any of those events? If you were to organize your own race, what would it look like?
RW: At the first edition of the Swiss Epic I was involved as the ambassador for the flow category. Flow is the Enduro event at the 6-day marathon race. It was great fun to be part of the first edition of this terrific event.
Wildhaber in Switzerland, prepping for the Epic.
In the future, yes, I will try to organize my own event. I have a couple ideas which I'm discussing with sponsors. The style of the event is not finalized yet.
I also like Red Bull events because they have a wide range of them which I can participate in.
GW: I’ve also noticed you’ve been active in the installation of a pumptrack in Walenstadt. Tell me a bit about your efforts there and a bit about Wildi’s foxes.
RW: The town of Walenstadt and I started a kids biking training group many years ago. As time went on, we got more and more kids into it.
Man, where was this when I was a kid? Red Bull photo.
After a few years, the next step became about building a meeting and learning area. We built the track with collaboration from the local bike club. All members dealt with the permissions regulations and construction.
Teaching at the pumptrack in Walenstadt. Redbull photo.
Pumptracks help kids learn a lot and improve really fast. Of course I have a lot of work to do still to develop the program further, I hope I'll find the time!
Youth camp. Samsung photo.
Today many communities are building their own tracks. It easier to get the money if it comes from the town or a park department.
GW: Is Wildi’s foxes linked to that pumptrack and the surrounding area?
RW: The Wildis foxes program has existed for four years. Every year I try to integrate some new ideas into the project. Trail, racing, skills etc.
At the pumptrack, I guess everyone's got to have a day job. Redbull photo.
One year I did the project on the Pumptrack. The foxes program is supported by Red Bull and Samsung Perspactives. As far as who participates, I choose the kids together with their bike club coaches.
GW: You have merged cycling with more than a few social efforts in the past. Any future plans for social programs or efforts? Or do those things arise more organically?
RW: Yes, I try to raise some money for development programs in foreign countries. When I travel and see a need for help. sometimes I'll get inspired with an idea. Then I look for a way to make it real.
In Nepal on one of the benefit projects. RedBull/Sébastien Boué photo.
For example saving the snow leopard in northern India, bikes for Africa, school in Nepal…
GW: Because Teton Gravity is a mountain bike and action sports website, we’d love to hear your thoughts on equipment and bikes. How do you like the Trek Slash 29er? Are there any equipment or product trends (from any manufacturer) you are excited about or that you think will make an impact?
RW: The Trek slash 29” is a great bike! Well balanced, stiff, good suspension, all capabilities coming together very well. It is the first 29” bike which does not feel like a 29er to me.
Racing the 2017 Trek Slash. Matt DeLorme photo.
I was involved in the development over many years and am very happy with the result. Riding on plus tires is fun too, doesn't matter if I'm on 27.5” or 29” wheels.
For racing, I like up to 2.5” tires with stiff side walls on 30mm wide rims. In Europe the E-MTB is a big trend!
GW: How is your role, or that of any athlete in mountain biking, different now than it was a few years ago? Have your media responsibilities changed? How do you adapt to that?
RW: Social Media got really big. That’s not my favorite thing but I have to deal with it as a professional athlete.
What is this 'selfie' of which you speak? RedBull photo.
In general I try to always find something new and exciting in the sport, that’s what keeps me motivated.
GW: Fancy chocolate or Callier from Migros?
RW: The chocolate factory of Migros is Frey. Callier belongs to Nestlé.
GW: Serves me right for asking a dairy farmer about chocolate.
RW: The chocolatier in my village makes beautiful stuff with a lot of love and the cream and butter of my brother's cows!
In general, all Swiss Chocolate has a very high quality standard. Swiss Chocolate is the best in the world.
Rene Wildhaber Recent Results:
Rene during the 2016 EWS. Matt DeLorme photo.
8 Time Mega Avalanche Champion
1st Place: Bike Festival Riva
4th Place: Enduro World Championship Round 4 - Stage 3
1st Place: UEC European Enduro Championships
(Men Master 30+ Class)
1st Place: European Enduro Series #2
6th Place Overall: Enduro World Series
6th Place Overall: Enduro World Series
1st Place: Trek Bike Attack Lenzerheide
Wildhaber also won in 2011
1st Place: Red Bull Trailfox