Zoe Bäckstedt on the path to greatness

The 18-year-old steps into the professional ranks next season after a dominating final year at junior level.

Photo: David Pintens/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty

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When you hold current junior world championships in four different disciplines, road, time trial, cyclocross, and track the term prodigy seems fitting.

If your dad won Paris-Roubaix and your mother is a former British national road champion the term pedigree seems more appropriate. To be sure, Zoe Bäckstedt earned all those titles. But what’s on the horizon might just end up being best described as greatness.

The 18-year-old Welsh rider, showing maturity beyond her years, puts it all into perspective.

“During my junior years, I was pretty good at attacking and riding solo for a bit. That’s probably my strength,” Bäckstedt said. “I have a pretty good sprint on me as well but moving up into the WorldTour ranks you can be the best at the junior level but then you can be the lowest at the WorldTour level. There is a big step there, but it is something I look forward to.”

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The 2023 season will be her first full year in the Women’s World Tour peloton and she will be riding for the EF Education-TIBCO-SVB team.

“If I am honest on the road it is going to be a year of finding myself as a rider; finding myself in the peloton; finding myself in the team,” she said. “All of us on the team will be working together and if there is a result for me then great. If there is a result for the team then that is the biggest thing. I just want to be there to be able to help different riders win stages and different jerseys. You name it. I just want to be there to help.

“It is not necessarily a year for me to go ‘I want to be winning this’ because I don’t believe that is possible as an 18-year-old in the WorldTour ranks. The first year is definitely going to be a learning year and see how it goes.”

Being world champion in so many disciplines may lead to a problem of focus.

“My favorite discipline at the moment is probably road. I am enjoying doing some long miles on the bike, being in the hills, and being in the sunshine. But my fondest discipline is definitely cyclocross. It comes in the middle of winter and I am just riding around in muddy fields for no reason and going full gas for fifty minutes to an hour. And then coming back home and having to wash some really, really stinky kit,” Bäckstedt said.

Bäckstedt is quick to identify the areas in which she needs to improve. “Climbing is never going to be my main focus in cycling. I am not built like a climber. I am built to sprint or to do the classics type of climbs. That is me summed up I feel. I am very much like my dad is built. I can always improve my climbing; I can always improve my sprinting; I can always improve everything. As long as I can get over the top in a decent group I can push on and try to get back on.”

Her older sister Elynor will also be riding in the women’s WorldTour peloton, but for a different team, Trek-Segafredo, which could help foster a bit of a sibling rivalry. “We are siblings. There is always a bit of a rivalry there,” she said. “We don’t really play [board]games at home because I, let’s say, get a bit too competitive.

“It is going to be cool next year coming into the road races and having someone there I know who will look after me but also knowing when it does come down to leading someone into a sprint or something like that then neither of us will be backing out of it.”

Having a former British road race champion Megan Hughes, as your mum has its advantages. “I definitely have my sprint from her. She’s pretty nifty on the bike. Even now, like during the pandemic, she did a lot of stuff on the turbo[indoor trainer] and was just constantly riding hard trying to compete with her friend whom she would ride with. On the group rides she was always trying to be the best so I think I get my competitive side from her. Definitely my sprint and my willpower,” said Bäckstedt.

Her father, Magnus, won Paris-Roubaix in 2004 and was a great rouleur. “My endurance and my base of being just able to ride hard for a fairly long time. That was his thing,” Bäckstedt remarked.

In 2023 Magus is going to be a director on a rival women’s team, Canyon-SRAM which could lead to an interesting family dynamic.

“We have been out on the bike a bit the last couple of weeks and he has been off to training camps and things like that. I have been asking if he can give me any insight on how his girls are going and he is ‘no, no. No, no. I am not telling you anything,'” said Bäckstedt.

But, rivalries aside, the family bonds are still strong. “It will be cool to have my sister, me and my dad all in the peloton,” said Bäckstedt. “Just a familiar face for races gone bad you always have someone there who will support you. The girls on the team will definitely do that anyway, but a family member is quite nice.”

When not on the bike, does Zoe have any hobbies? “Not really if I am honest. A bit of chilling watching Netflix. I like to cook as well. I spend a lot of time cooking all of my meals and what goes into them. That kind of thing. But, honestly, I don’t really have a hobby that I do other than riding. I just use my time off the bike to recover and get ready for the next [training] session.

Adding to her already impressive list of palmarès will most certainly happen. “Next year nothing comes to mind because it is a learning year. Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix are the two. Roubaix especially being close to home because my dad having won it. Ronde van Vlaanderen just because it is quite an iconic race and I live in the area, so I know all the climbs. Those two are up there with the Worlds and the Olympics,” said Bäckstedt.

With the Paris Olympics less than two years away so much is still up in the air. “We have to see how I am going. If I get selected. Everything like this,” said Zoe. “It is down to selection and what happens in the year coming up to it. Crashes can happen, etc. You can’t just say ‘I am going there’ because I am still very young. There are a lot of good riders in the UK. So, we have to wait and see on that one.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.