Ask any road cycling enthusiast what they associate with the name Marcus Burghardt and they'll probably say unconditional sacrifice. We had the pleasure of spending an afternoon biking and barbecuing with the BORA Hansgrohe rider. What kind of person does it take to put their legs in the service of others for so long?

„”I’m glad not to be a general classification rider.” No one has defined the role of the domestique in road cycling as much as Marcus Burghardt has in the last decade, who’s been lacing up his shoes for the German Worldtour team BORA-Hansgrohe since 2017. Through his role as a loyal servant who pushes beyond his pain threshold to clear the way for his leaders, he’s taken something of a derogatory term and made it popular. His willingness to sacrifice himself for the success of the team is legendary. Marcus Burghardt is the rock on which a lighthouse is built. Without his strength, it would be impossible for even the brightest light or most talented rider to shine. It is only through loyal helpers like Marcus, that teammates Peter Sagan and Emanuel Buchmann are able to achieve their victories and top positions in the overall standings.

From Marcus’ point of view, you have to be born into this role and need a certain feel for it to do it perfectly. If you look at the highlights of the 2011 Tour de France, you’ll often spot the eventual overall winner, Cadel Evans, riding behind a tall German: Marcus’ performance earned him a big share in the overall victory of the Australian. Here, podium placements play a subordinate role in your resume, even if the victory at Gent-Wevelgem, a stage win at the Tour de France and becoming 2017 German champion are outstanding achievements for a super-domestique.

Turning your hobby into your profession

If you meet Marcus Burghardt on one of the winding roads that lead through the lush green meadows around the Bavarian town of Rosenheim, you’ll find a grateful person. He managed to turn his hobby into his career and has been able to support his family doing so for almost 15 years. Of course, every coin has two sides and high-performance cycling is no exception. Uncomfortable training rides and races in cold and wet conditions, accidents and injuries at high speeds and the pressure of sponsors are both physical and mental pressures that the riders have to deal with.

Liège, three degrees celsius and pouring rain. You knew: shit, you’re going to be riding in the freezing rain all day today. You sometimes wish you were a swimmer.

Before we joined Marcus, the BORA-Hansgrohe rider had already clocked six hours on his bike around the foothills of the Alps. While we try to control our efforts on the first climb even though our legs are fresh and try to maintain the appearance of being able to keep up at least for the first half-hour. Marcus takes his smartphone out of his pocket and chats with us as if he were lying on the shore of the Chiemsee and enjoying the mountain panorama, casually commenting, “300 watts does hurt!” Yeah sure, Marcus. 😉 Luckily he can’t see that the lactic acid in our legs has already spread all the way to our toes. The weather is perfect as we ride a section of his local route around the Samerberg and we have trouble suppressing our jealousy: mountain views instead of high-rise avenues, cows mooing instead of tooting horns. Not too bad here!

No wonder that Marcus is able to reflect so clearly about his career in this environment. Over time, you change. After nine times riding the Tour de France and participating in more than 30 classics, he perceives things and circumstances differently than at the beginning of his career. “People go on a pilgrimage for you up to Alpe d’Huez and cheer you on with frenzied applause – it’s madness!” For this reason, Marcus wants to give back after all the love he has received over the years. The fans on the side of track are incredibly important to him and he’s become increasingly grateful for their support.

His roots in Saxony but his heart in Bavaria

Despite being born near Chemnitz 37 years ago, Marcus Burghardt identifies as a passionate Bavarian and lives with his wife Maria and two daughters in Samerberg/Rosenheim near the Chiemsee. If you want to get to know the love of your life as a professional cyclist, it’s best to do so before you start your career or on a ride. That’s what Marcus did: he met Maria while on tour and immediately invited her to the Tour de France. If you were to examine video recordings from the last 15 years, you would definitely find Marcus Burghardt, a little distracted, constantly looking to the side of the track at one of his races, hoping to find Maria among the fans. However, she let him hang for a long time, only meeting her future husband on the Champs-Élysée. Since then, Maria has become an integral part of the family man’s life and watches all of his races to make sure that everything’s fine, even if she can never completely hide her fear of an accident.

Lederhosen and kohlrabi

Marcus loves the mountains, Bavarian life and its traditions. According to Maria, her husband only has two outfits: his BORA-Hansgrohe kit on the bike and his lederhosen as soon as he’s off the saddle.

After settling down in the garden, Maria’s dad comes by. He gets handed a beer, we toast and he tells us about the competition he’s got going with his daughter: who can grow the biggest kohlrabi!? It’s no wonder that Marcus feels right at home here, even if he claims that he rarely drinks and prefers the autumn festival in Rosenheim to the Oktoberfest in Munich. But don’t bother offering Marcus a beer shandy because here in Bavaria those only get served in a Fanta glass.

Bavaria? Great, isn’t it?

On our ride together and hanging out with Marcus Burghardt afterwards, we quickly realise that despite all of his successes and popularity, he’s managed to stay humble and grounded. Marcus isn’t the kind of guy who enjoys being in the spotlight with consecutive podium finishes or self-aggrandising YouTube videos. He prefers leaving that to the others. At his core, the BORA-Hansgrohe rider is a humble and approachable person who’s well received because of his kind-hearted and sociable manner. If you really want to see him open up, you should hang out with him when he’s wearing his lederhosen around the barbecue – which we were lucky enough to do!

From the bike to the barbecue and back

Besides a well-structured training plan, the bread and butter of many pro cyclists is a nutrition plan that is perfectly tailored to them and their respective needs. Of course, a Bavarian menu has to include a fresh cut of game! At home, Marcus is responsible for the cooking even though he never used to spend much time in the kitchen. He gave Maria a Jamie Oliver cookbook for Christmas – without any ulterior motives, of course. We’re just speculating here but we think Marcus simply took matters into his own hands because she didn’t immediately use it. Since then, the Burghardt’s kitchen has been smelling of delicious chamois, beef and chicken.

The kitchen determines your quality of life.

Marcus is particularly proud of their new kitchen and 13 liter soup pot. “I could cook you an excellent soup in 10 minutes.” In the middle of the kitchen there is a large island made of stone that everyone can sit around. Away from the hustle and bustle of his pro cycling career, Marcus enjoys cooking, often inviting his friends and relatives with an apron tied around his neck and spoiling his guests. After spending some time together, we can easily picture him as the perfect host! There is no soup on the menu today but a local chamois from Samerberg. Delicious! One thing is certain: if you’re friends with Marcus, you’ll have to join him on as many training rides as possible to avoid putting on the pounds!

His favorite bike – the Specialized S-Works Roubaix Team

What started his long and successful career as a professional cyclist? At the age of nine, Burghardt was given a Diamant road bike with downtube shifters and since then he’s ridden enough kilometres to have reached the moon. The only way we’d ever be able to ride 385,000 kilometers is in our old diesel, if we’re lucky. Anyone who’s ever been in the pro racing circuit for so long has seen and ridden a lot of bikes and Marcus experienced all the developments that happened in the bicycle industry over the last few decades first hand. His current favourite? The Specialized S-Works Roubaix, which we reviewed in our latest group test.

For long training rides, especially in cold temperatures and poor road conditions, Marcus Burghardt appreciates comfort but not at the cost of performance. Specialized’s comfortable race bike is a good fit.

Paris–Roubaix? Oh yeah. Finally a men’s race!

Classics like the Paris–Roubaix are always a lot of fun for Marcus and his colleagues. While the GC riders suffer, Marcus really steps on the gas and isn’t bothered by the nastiest cobblestones. The Future Shock on his bike stays closed most of the time and he only opens it up for the cobbles. Regular meals are at least as important for a cockfight on the pavé, where he sometimes forgets to put on the damper. Burghart does have favourite bikes but it’s not so much about the bike for him as long as it moves forward. Obviously, the Specialized Venge allows you to ride much faster than many other bikes and to win races you need to make use of the latest technology. However, according to Marcus Burghardt, pretty much anything on two wheels will do the job to live out his passion for cycling. Sometimes life can be that simple!

Both on the bike and in front of the barbecue, we had an amazingly good time with Marcus. It’s great to see how approachable and down to earth one of the most consistent German cyclists of the last decade is. Diva? Not at all! In his Saxon-Bavarian way, the BORA-Hansgrohe rider gave us a great insight into his life as a cyclist and, above all, as a family man. Thank you, dear Marcus, and all the best to you!

Here‘s our full review on Marcus Burghardt‘s favourite bike – the Specialized S-Works Roubaix.

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Words: Benjamin Topf, Philipp Schwab Photos: Benjamin Topf