Interview with former Swiss Racing Academy rider, Théry Schir.
Théry Schir is an athlete who managed to transition from the highest level of one sport to the highest level of another. Théry raced in two Olympic Games on the track and was part of the Swiss Racing Academy (SRA) until he retired from the sport in 2021. He is now part of Alinghi Red Bull Racing, which is the Swiss Sailing Team, and they are aiming to win the 2024 America’s Cup. We sat down with Théry to understand what his life as a sailor looks like and how much it compares to his past as a cyclist.
Théry, where are you right now?
I am currently at our team base in the old harbor of Barcelona. It is the place where we, Alinghi Red Bull Racing, have our boat, gym, restaurant, and offices. We have quite a big team that works here. We are about 130 people: from sailors to engineers, coaches, and administrative staff.
How have you found moving from Switzerland to Spain?
I moved here in July 2022. Barcelona is of course Spain but above all else, it is Catalunya. People here are very proud and rather quiet so I would say it is a lot like Switzerland. I moved
here with my girlfriend who is also working in Barcelona, and she enjoys having the opportunity to work in a foreign country. My weekly schedule consists of me being at the team
base from Monday to Friday (even some Saturdays!). I see the same 130 people day in and day out, so I am in a bubble most of the time. My daily routine is made up of training and
time on the boat.
Alinghi Red Bull Racing is a Swiss Team. Does that mean the 130 people are Swiss?
There is a rule that all sailors must have the same nationality as the boat, so we are 14 Swiss sailors who are licensed to the Société Nautique de Genève. However, most of the team members are not Swiss. Sailing is a very Anglo-Saxon sport and New Zealand is providing a lot of engineers, sail designers, and qualified workers. There are also a lot of Spanish people
of course. All in all, I believe there are more than 20 different nationalities working for the team.
Why is Alinghi Red Bull Racing based in Barcelona and not in Switzerland?
The America’s Cup rule says that competitions must happen on open water, so it doesn’t make sense for us to train on a Swiss lake. And the weather conditions would not allow it anyway.
You were a cyclist before becoming a sailor. You took part in two Olympics (Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2021), as well as many World Cups and World Championships on the track. What is your best memory of this time?
Racing at the Olympics will always remain something very special to me. Even though I was disappointed with my performance in Tokyo, taking part in the world’s biggest sporting event and battling with the crème de la crème of athletes was very special. I also enjoyed travelling for World Cups, as well as European and World Championships, where we often won medals as a team. I was lucky to be racing team events with other riders who I met when I was very young and who I am still good friends with.
Did you retire from cycling to become a sailor?
Not at all! I always had in mind that I would quit racing before turning 30 to switch to a more traditional job. I raced Tokyo knowing that I would start working a few weeks later, as a real estate agent in the Lausanne region. I did that for seven or eight months until I got a call from Alinghi Red Bull Racing. I went through some fitness tests, and I quickly found motivation again, so I dropped everything to become a sailor. And I don’t regret it!
How and why did Alinghi Red Bull Racing get in touch with you?
They were building a new “on-board team” and they were looking for different types of athletes for the power group. They reached out to cyclists, rowers, cross-fit, and endurance athletes. After physical tests in Switzerland, we went aboard a boat with them in Spain; it was a GC32 foiler, one of these flying boats. It went well but I must admit here that it wasn’t my first time on a boat. I sailed a lot as a kid with my dad on Lake Geneva and on the Mediterranean Sea before becoming a cyclist, so the transition to being a full-time sailor wasn’t so difficult for me. My dad was a bit sad back then when I told him that I wanted to stop sailing so I’ve sort of come full circle and made him happy again.
What are the main characteristics and differences between cycling and sailing?
Cycling is physically very demanding, and the sport has reached such a high level of performance optimization that we can’t do anything besides riding our bikes. We wake up, eat, train, recover, eat, and sleep. Sailors are more involved in the boat and material maintenance. I personally like it because I get to learn a lot; I am no longer just training and making sure I stay healthy.
It was quite an adjustment period at the beginning as it was very intense in comparison to cycling. My typical day is spent at the base from 7:30am to 7:00pm or 8:00pm. Another big difference is that cyclists spend so many days away from home (for racing but also training). Now I spend most of my time at the base in Barcelona.
You said you’re at the base every day for long hours. What do you do during this time?
We usually have breakfast together at the base restaurant. Then, if it is a day on the water, we start with a session in the gym before bringing the boat to the water. After a quick lunch, we go on the water for three to four hours, we take it out of the water and clean it, before going for a debrief. This meeting is to ensure we understand what happened on the boat. Part of this process is analyzing data and videos of the day. This usually lasts quite a while before we finally get to go home fora good night’s sleep.
On days when we are not on the boat, we spend four hours on the bike and then go to the gym. I still consider myself a cyclist as I train between 15 and 20 hours a week on the bike. The main difference is that my racing machine is no longer a bike but a boat.
You said you spend a lot of time taking care of the boat. Are you also involved in the development of the vessel?
Yes. The engineers come up with concepts that they draw and bring them to life. It is our role as sailors, to test and give feedback. I didn’t study engineering but with my cycling background, I can say that I have a good feeling and a good judgement for that sort of thing. One way or another, we all take part in the boat development and that’s exciting.
You said you train between 15 to 20 hours on the bike per week. What does that look like?
We ride a lot outdoors but for greater practicality, we do all our power and specific training sessions together indoors, on rollers. One of the reasons for that is to replicate what we do on
the boat. We also go for cycling training camps, often in Girona.
And what does your bike on the boat look like?
I can’t reply to this question because it’s highly sensitive andstrictly confidential information. As every team is developing its boat daily, we must keep things a secret. We are constantly
testing and optimizing the boat to make it faster and more maneuverable. This process will go on until the start of the America’s Cup next year.
Do you miss your life as a cyclist?
I miss the competition and the sensations of being on the bike, but I make up for that with the discoveries I make here and the adrenaline on the boat. Cyclists race every weekend for seven
to eight months a year, while the America’s Cup is three years of preparation for one or two months of racing. The approach is completely different, and I am happy to discover something
else. I also feel very privileged to transition from one sport to another while remaining at the highest level.
Do you follow cycling?
I don’t watch all races, but I check the results, especially the riders I know. Many people on the team are interested in cycling so we also talk a lot about it. Funnily enough, I am not the
one who follows it the most. I know Robin (Froidevaux), Simon (Pellaud), and all the other Swiss riders so yes, I keep up to date with the team and I can’t wait to see how you will perform this season.