How much did Ján Svorada (not) deal with the Christmas menu? And why did he have to go to the video store?
He lost four kilograms compared to the era when he celebrated triumphs at the Tour de France, the Italian Giro or the Spanish Vuelta with his arms above his head. "Because I shrunk. I've lost not only weight, but also some centimetres," laughs Ján Svorada, an eight-time Tour de France participant and winner of three stages on the Grande Boucle. He has never had a problem with weight. And even the upcoming festive days do not worry the fifty-five-year-old from the point of view of the threat of gaining grams or perhaps kilograms.
"I've never been the type to be extremely careful with my diet. Even during the festive season, my weight did not go up. I was always within two kilograms, which I considered a great advantage," recalls Ján Svorada, who was the ambassador of L'Etape Czech Republic by Tour de France for the third year and will continue to be the patron of the biggest domestic road race for hobby cyclists in 2024.
He didn't experience Christmas as drastic in terms of limitations during his seasons at the highest level, when he wore the jerseys of Lampre, Panaria or Mapei. "For example, Christmas candy was not something that I would rave about all year and look forward to indulging in during the holidays. I have two or three favourite kinds that I enjoy and will eat. But symbolically. If I had to choose, I gravitate more towards goodies like crème brûlée, panna cotta or crema catalana. Rather than Christmas sweets, my host can honour me as a visitor with a fruitcake," says Ján Svorada.
The Christmas Eve table itself was different during his professional career and has not changed much even now, when the native of Trenčín is far from riding a few tens of thousands of kilometres a year.
"Carp seems like a very fatty fish to me. So we eat fish on Christmas Eve, but we prefer something a little different compared to the Czech tradition," Ján Svorada admits, recalling how during his time among the elite he used to eat practically everything he could get his hands on.
"Back then, I felt like I was always hungry. I ate steaks, meat, basically without limit. Overall, I didn't worry too much about diet. After dinner I was able to fill up on a bar of chocolate. I ate a lot of sweets in general. But we're talking about 20 years ago. Back then, healthy eating wasn't a big deal in the peloton. Nowadays there are nutritionists in the teams, calories are counted in detail and you have to watch yourself all year round," Ján Svorada compares.
While a large number of his peers or professional athletes in general have put on weight after their careers, the holder of sixty-seven professional victories has pushed the needle on the scale even further. "But I still have more fat and less muscle. Years ago it used to be the other way around," shrugs the former pro, who had a racing weight of eighty kilograms, with a smile.
"Two years ago I changed my diet fundamentally. I stopped eating meat. I don't eat red meat at all, I rarely indulge in fish. I prefer pasta, rice, vegetables and fruit. The diet can be very varied with the options available in the supermarket today. I have less physical activity compared to the professional era, so I have reduced my calorie intake. My body simply didn't need more intake," explains Ján Svorada.
"I've come to change my eating habits with age. I was looking for a solution to feel better after eating and to improve digestion. Christmas is actually ideal in terms of eating. Potato salad, fish soup, fish. The composition of the diet is favourable to our family during the festive season," Ján Svorada jokes.
"But to be honest, I am not and never have been a big fan of Christmas debunking and the associated celebrations. Not because of the food, but because it threw me out of my rhythm. I was nervous if there was no opportunity to train to my liking. I was more concerned about the threat of a training failure than whether I would have a schnitzel and vanilla rolls with my coffee," Ján Svorada explains the routine of Christmas days twenty years ago.
However, even on Christmas Eve he covered a fair portion of kilometres. "Back then it was not customary for domestic racers to spend Christmas somewhere warm. So it depended on the weather. Either I took my bike out and rode outside. But of course there was also the trainer in the living room. My wife didn't protest. Nor could she. It was my job. If there was training on the schedule, I just trained. In the morning I did two or three hours on my bike and in the afternoon I spent my time with my family and decorating the tree," Ján Svorada recalls the habits that are far from the reality of a holiday day for the majority of the population.
When the weather didn't favour the successful racer, the TV screen was a nice way to cut short the unpopular "training" sessions. "But Christmas cartoons are not my favourite genre. I didn't devour them in the past and I don't watch them now," says Ján Svorada
"My favourite genre is detective stories, mysteries or documentaries. So back then, I always went to the video store before the holidays and stocked up for the whole Christmas and the end of the year. I would then play the tapes during practice. It doesn't compare at all with today's age of smart apps," Ján Svorada recalls with a smile.
After leaving the top cycling scene, he changed his habits and for a long time during the winter months the bike was an absolute taboo. "It went into the garage at the end of October and I dusted it off again in the spring. But the last two winters I've gotten a trainer, so two or three times a week I try to get something in," he lets a glimpse into the retired pro's training schedule.
"However, I like to keep the winter sporty. So I go for a run, go cross-country skiing if the snow conditions are good, I like Nordic walking or at least work out at home. I'm certainly not one of those enthusiasts who has to go out on a bike without fail," says Svorada. "Unless it's eight degrees and dry. Then I'd pull the bull out," he is clear about the conditions that would make him think about exercising in the saddle during the winter season.