Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas is a world-class athlete and a bit of sports nut, too. Outside of the workouts required for a race car driver, he also enjoys partaking in a variety of sports. Not only that, he’s naturally athletic, highly competitive and probably would have been successful in a number of different disciplines.
Having grown up in the outdoor sports haven near Lahti, Finland, he skis, snowboards and Ski-Doos in the winters and enjoys running and playing on bikes of all kinds in the warmer months. Like a good Finn, he also played ice hockey for some 10 years in his youth before car-racing started demanded most of his time. Hockey remains his second love though cycling may be tied for second.
Cycling Weekly recently got to spend some time with the Alfa-Romeo driver in his home region during a bike-filled, mid-season break on the Formula 1 calendar which resumes this Sunday at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The week at home was a busy one for Bottas, who hosted, and competed in, his annual charity duathlon, while also conducting meetings and taking part in a test event for FNLD GRVL, a gravel event he co-founded, and that will take place in June 2023.
Riding alongside Bottas was not only a chance to see the beauty and fantastic trails of Southern Finland’s lake region, it was also an opportunity to meet Valtteri Bottas, the cyclist, who certainly is no slouch outside of a car either.
Valterri Bottas, the cyclist
Bottas told me that he knew he was going to be a race car driver from the tender age of six, when he first started go-karting. He then did everything he could to make that happen, from finding sponsors to support his karting career to studying car mechanics at school. Yet his interests were never singular. His free time was often spent outdoors and bikes were always a part of his life.
“Bikes were always around,” he said. “Road, mountain and, now, gravel — I love to ride everything.”
And this was apparent. Riding gravel bikes around Lahti, Bottas looked very comfortable on his bike and took every opportunity to bunny hop over some roots or catch a little bit of air on the more mountain bike-y trails.
When car racing became more serious and ultimately his profession, bikes became a training tool as well as an escape from monotony of gym workouts.
If you’re not deeply engrained into the Formula 1 world, it’s hard to appreciate just how fit these guys are and how much physical training they do.
“Oh it’s like a 90-10 split of training and fitness versus driving,” Bottas shared. “[The driving] is very limited. There’s pre-season testing and otherwise it’s just at the races and simulators.”
Formula 1 cars can reach speeds up to 360 kilometers per hour (or 223.6 mph). Handling these cars at those breakneck speeds requires an incredible amount of strength, focus, reaction speed and stamina to withstand the G-forces. An event can last up to two hours with G-forces equalling that of fighter jets. These races push the driver’s body and mind to the absolute limit, which is why peak fitness is essential. In fact, Formula 1 drivers are considered among the fittest athletes in the world.
To withstand the G-forces and handle the car, drivers need pure muscle strength in their necks — to hold up their heads, which is the only part of the body not strapped in—, in their core and in their legs while also having the stamina to last lap after lap after lap. Drivers also hold an average heart rate at or above 170bpm for the duration of the race, which is why cardiovascular conditioning plays such an important part of their training.
And then there’s the heat. Temperatures inside the car’s cockpit reach well over 40 degrees Celsius, and drivers are also wearing thick, fireproof race suits and full face helmets.
“The temperature [in the car] gets quite high. I normally lose 2-3 kilos of fluids,” Bottas said.
The takeaway from all that is that drivers spend a lot of time in the gym. Cardio work meanwhile, most often takes the form of running or cycling.
Before meeting his girlfriend, professional cyclist Tiffany Cromwell, Bottas ran a fair bit. Nowadays, it’s all cycling.
The week of the SBT GRVL event in Colorado, USA, in August, Bottas clocked an impressive 400 kilometers of gravel riding. That following week in Finland, was around 300 kilometers.
The gravitation toward cycling for conditioning was a combination of fun and getting older, Bottas shared.
“I’m getting older and I was getting knee issues at times,” he said. “But now I’ve gotten into cycling more, it becomes addictive in a way. To keep the fitness and to be competitive you have to do it so much more.”
And he sure is competitive.
At the 2021 SBT GRVL, he bested some 500 riders in the 64-mile race to end up in fifth place overall and third place in his age group. At Belgian Waffle Ride San Marcos this past May, he took second in the 72-kilometer event and, returning to SBT GRVL earlier this month, he narrowly missed out on the overall podium, finishing in fourth overall and first in his age group in the 64-mile course.
At the second ride of the FNLD GRVL test event, Bottas was suppose to be tapering for his duathlon the following day. But when he and Cromwell got to the front our little group got rather quiet, unable to talk while keeping the pace.
“This is his tapering pace?” I asked Cromwell on my way to take a turn at the front.
“Apparently,” Cromwell gruffed back.
When asked if they’re competitive with one another, Bottas said they rarely are.
“Maybe for the Duathlon on Sunday, but normally we don’t compete,” Bottas said.
It was Cromwell who came out ahead that Sunday, finishing two minutes ahead of Bottas in the Duathlon. American gravel pro Alexey Vermeulen won the overall, coming across the line some 10 minutes ahead of Bottas.
Valtteri Bottas’ bike choice
There are barely any similarities between bike and car racing, Bottas said. Perhaps the only similarities can be found in the way he looks for lines when cornering at speed or descending on technical terrain.
That, and a fixation with tire pressure.
Bottas says he doesn’t really geek out on bike equipment much. He took on Cromwell’s bike sponsor and now rides a Canyon Grail complete with a SRAM Red XPLR AXS groupset and a Zipp 303 tubeless wheelset wrapped in G40 gravel tires.
What he cares about most, he said while waving me over to have a closer look at his front wheel, is the Quarq Tyrewiz sitting on his tire valve.
The Quarq TyreWiz, is a small device that monitors your tire pressure and sends updates to your cycling computer or smart phone.
For the curious: Bottas stands at 1.73 meters tall and weighs around 70 kilograms. His tire pressure for a day of riding on fast and relatively smooth gravel was 38 PSI.
Valterri Bottas, the Cycling Fan
Bottas hadn't known much about bike racing and women's cycling in particular before meeting Cromwell, but he's definitely a fan now.
"Since meeting Tiff I've definitely have a different view of the sport now, and I've learned that it's highly competitive and, I feel, underestimated. It's been really interesting getting into it," Bottas told me when I ran into him at the sidelines of the Tour de France Femmes in July.
"They're all top, top athletes and have dedicated their lives to the sport, and it's always nice to follow top athletes.”
Bottas has frequently been spotted at Cromwell’s events, taking photos and even taking on soigneur duties by handing out bottles in the feed zone.
“There was a charity auction in Monaco, and there was Pogačar’s bike he used at a couple of stages at the Tour. He signed it, and I have his jersey, too,” Bottas shared with us back in May.
Between traveling to the Tour de France Femmes, Colorado and Finland, it seems like Bottas spent the summer on or around bikes rather than in the gym or behind a simulator. Will this impact his performance when racing returns this weekend in Belgium?
“It may have had an impact on his rest, but he’s been doing some drills and he knows what he’s doing,” a member of Bottas’ staff told me.
Many professional athletes will have a contract provision that prevents them from participating in other sports or activities that could potentially lead to injuries. Bottas meanwhile love sto push himself on the gravel and mountain bike, on skis or even a snowboard.
"He is going to do it anyway so we may as well allow him,” the staff member joked. “They draw the line at the really dangerous stuff though.”
That is to say, we won’t be seeing Bottas bull riding or base jumping anytime soon but it does sound like Bottas may become a gravel racing regular, whenever his schedule allows.
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