Tour de France unsung heroes: Michael Gogl on swapping the cello for bike racing

Michael Gogl used to play the cello as a child but he soon learned that his talents were best placed elsewhere, bike racing. He is riding his fourth Tour de France.

Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

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Throughout the Tour de France, VeloNews will be talking to some of the unsung heroes in the peloton – those riders that battle on each day without the recognition the major GC favorites or sprint stars receive.

Michael Gogl could have been a cellist, well maybe not quite.

Gogl, who rides for Qhubeka-NextHash, used to bang out a tune on the stringed instrument as a child but he left it behind when he found his talents were better suited to sport.

These days, playing the cello is a nice but distant memory for the Austrian, and an activity he’s happy to let the professionals do.

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“I was playing cello when I was young, but I have to say that my music talent was never really there. I’m more listening to music and my brother is playing the violin professionally, but I don’t play anymore,” Gogl told VeloNews.

“The cello is something pretty difficult. And if you don’t practice it, it’s kind of impossible to play. I would say, if you play the piano then maybe you have some songs in mind and you can maybe play them after years. But with a cello, practice is kind of important. For me at least.”

Gogl is not really sure why he chose the cello over other instruments, but he got into playing because of his parents, particularly his mother.

“My mom was always trying to teach us the music side of life and my dad was always pushing for the sport side of life. One son stuck to the music side and the other one to the sport side,” he said.

Gogl usually listens to more modern music these days, but he hasn’t left classical music behind completely and he likes to watch his brother perform when he gets the chance to.

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“Every now and then, I visit my brother, who is in the orchestra, and I really like to listen to what they are doing,” Gogl said. “It’s something different and I think young people don’t really like it or get to understand the music. But when you’re there, and you feel it and the power of the orchestra, that’s mind-blowing sometimes.”

Instead of having a jam session on the cello when he’s not racing, Gogl likes to get outside. Often, like many riders, he likes to go out running but sometimes he likes to ease up and follow his girlfriend’s more sedate pastime.

“I just love to be out in nature and my girlfriend has a really nice hobby. She’s watching birds,” said Gogl. “Sometimes I just go with her and she’s telling me which bird it is. And I’m like ‘ah yeah really’, without really having too much of a clue but it’s just relaxing.

“I’m still listening but yeah. It’s just nice, you know, like be out in nature and relax instead of having to deal with our high-performance sport all the time.”

Never again

Gogl is riding his fourth Tour de France this year, after making his debut back in 2017. This year’s race has been a tough one and he had to visit the race doctor for cramps during Wednesday’s brutal double ascent of Mont Ventoux.

His team Qhubeka-NextHash has lost Nic Dlamini and Victor Campenaerts following some tough days in the mountains.

However, little will compare with the pain and torture of his first Tour de France appearance. The Austrian was so determined to finish the race, despite a serious injury, that it took him months to recover from the effort.

Also read: Tour de France unsung heroes: Hugo Houle wants to win a stage in memory of his brother

“I broke my pelvis in my first Tour de France. I suffered through 10 stages and finished in Paris. This is the most memorable thing but also the thing would never do again,” Gogl told VeloNews with a wry laugh. “It was kind of weird because it was broken in a place where we didn’t really think it’s possible something is broken there. It was four days after the crash when we finally managed to go to the truck where we can make the pictures [x-rays].

“All these nurses and doctors suddenly started to speak a lot of French and I straightaway knew something’s going on. We went to the hospital and did an MRI, and we saw that my sit bone was broken. I thought, ‘okay, I did four days, it was really painful but I did four days like that.’ It was another six stages to Paris, where one was a TT and I think two flat stages. So, I was like, ‘I only have to survive two mountain stages.’ I was really keen on finishing my first Tour de France.”

Pushing through the pain got Gogl to Paris but it also had a lasting impact on him. For months after finishing, he struggled to ride his bike and he was worried it could spell the end of his fledgling career.

Fortunately for the now 27-year-old, he was able to recover through rehab and he was back at the Tour de France the following year.

“I think most of the riders in the bike race like the Tour de France have a high pain acceptance. It was always the most painful in the first minutes of the day but when you got into it, you forgot about it, and it got better. But I had to ride a lot out of the saddle too. When I think back, it’s just like, ‘what did we do there?’,” Gogl said.

“I needed quite a long time afterward to recover. It was my maybe not the greatest move. It actually needed almost until December. I was trying to do some more races, which I couldn’t finish that year.

“I couldn’t turn like my leg over the pedal anymore after like 40 minutes of riding with 100 watts. Back then, as a neo-pro, I was really scared if that meant that my career will be in threat. In the end, I met some really wonderful people in the Innsbruck rehabilitation center, and they helped me out.”

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.