He won gold at the European Championships and the European Games, and was a world vice-champion. Why? Because during his active career Tomáš Bábek sacrificed time for preparation even when others did not want to work. For example, during the Christmas holidays. No non-stop idyll, but even on Christmas Eve, training drills.

When in the autumn of 2022 Tomáš Bábek left for his last races in the national team jersey and knew that his top career was over, joy reigned at home. "When I announced on Christmas Eve that I was going to train, I surprised my wife perfectly. This year will be no different. I just need the movement," laughs the ambassador of L'Etape Czech Republic by Tour de France in an interview about the Christmas habits of the best Czech track rider of recent seasons.

20230610_JSvoboda_LEtape_020 ve velké velikosti

Tomas, it's been a year since you left top cycling. For the second time, you'll spend Christmas knowing you don't have to limit yourself. Does the schedule of an elite track cyclist differ much from that of an active sport manager?

Not a bit during the holidays. I feel strange when I don't have exercise for a long time. It's a natural part of me, I'm addicted to exercise.

So it's possible to see Tomáš Bábek on his bike on Christmas Eve?

When I was younger, we used to have a regular ride together on the 24th. And then on New Year's Eve we'd practice behind the bike. Throughout my career, I always went to train for at least two hours in the morning. Now I've adjusted my schedule. But I can't do without exercise.

Your girlfriend and now wife didn't growl when you left home after breakfast?

She respected that. I have a great advantage that I live in Brno, a short walk from the centre of Dukla. So I went for example on a wattbike, and then to the gym, because the conditions for riding outside were only rare.

Is it a necessary process on the way between the best to sacrifice training time even during Christmas at the expense of family?

I think it is one piece of the puzzle of why I have achieved success. I've always pushed for what I wanted. Sure, I've listened to the occasional rant. But it's also about family harmony. Getting away from home for two hours can contribute to well-being. Of course, it also depends on the sound judgment of the athlete. Nothing should be overdone. A five-hour workout on Christmas Eve is probably over the line...

Even with the end of your career, you have not changed your schedule, and do you play sports even on Christmas Eve?

Last year I was at the gym in the morning. It's great to be with my family, but I feel like two hours away from home is within tolerance... Although it's true that I surprised my wife. She thought I'd spend the holidays completely at home for the first time. But I won't be any different. I'll definitely be heading out for sports again this year on the 24th. In the past, when the snow conditions were right, I would take my fatbike or gravel bike and go for a ride in the woods.

Did you always spend Christmas at home? Or did you also spend the festive days in training camps somewhere warm, as is common today?

I think we are conservative as Czechs in that respect. The training plan for track and field athletes was always made with Christmas in mind, which we spent at home. Actually, I am quite sorry that I never experienced holidays abroad. I had friends from track cycling who spent winters in Miami, for example, and really enjoyed the change. When the kids are older, we'll definitely go for that experience.

Has your view of Christmas changed since you became a father?

Absolutely! You experience Christmas Eve so differently with kids. I enjoy their joy, the holidays are all about the children. I don't care about the presents, I care about the happiness of my family and loved ones. As I try not to watch TV during the year, I indulge in fairy tales with my children during Christmas. It belongs with the tree and Christmas in general. I'm reminded of my childhood.

Was your childhood associated with Christmas Eve and presents in the form of cycling items?

When I was a kid, Christmas wasn't about cycling at all. I got bike-related stuff as needed throughout the year. So then under the tree I enjoyed the joy of other presents.

The sporting habits remained with my retirement from the elite scene. Did your approach to eating and traditional holiday treats change over Christmas?

My whole life has been about food. But I consume everything in a way that makes me feel good afterwards. During the holidays one is tempted by all kinds of goodies and the opportunity to munch is greater, but I still eat pretty much the same.

So, no lifestyle transgressions even on special occasions? No one-time helpings of salad, carp, or candy of choice?

I love my mom's potato salad, which I will never forgive myself for. But I only have it at Christmas or New Year's. I have no qualms about indulging to taste. I think Christmas is a great time to give your head a rest. Athletes watch themselves all year round. So a few days of imaginary shutdown can't hurt, quite the opposite. I'm not an advocate of the theory that there is such a thing as bad food. It's just a matter of quantity.

So you follow the adage of everything in proportion?

Exactly. Tasting a vanilla roll or a linzer won't deprive anyone of form and health. It's a tradition. Just don't overdo it. If someone eats two pounds of tomatoes in a day, they're probably not gonna be very well. And that goes for Christmas food too... I don't think there's any point in overeating. I've had a couple of gallbladder attacks. I just think back and imagine eating uncontrollably at the Christmas table and I feel sick. Plus, any athlete of any performance level needs to recover properly, which of course is closely related to food.

Does Tomáš Bábek have a favourite Christmas candy that he can't imagine Christmas Eve without?

My roots are partly in Kyjov, where there is a great Králíček's confectionery. They have absolutely exceptional miniature pinwheels, wreaths, tops... I know, it's not exactly a Christmas treat, but it's honestly made and it's not to be missed here.

Have you dealt with caloric intake during your career over the festive period? Or, knowing the huge energy expenditure in training, did you simply eat to taste and then playfully shed any extra grams?

The only thing I addressed was the amount of protein. My mantra, even during Christmas, was two hundred grams of protein per day. I was mainly looking for quality, to consume as little industrially processed food as possible. I tended to have a problem with inadequate intake, so I didn't have to restrict myself. During the year, not even at Christmas.

However, in the case of alcohol consumption, there were certainly some restrictions. Did you toast either on Christmas Eve or subsequently during the New Year's Eve celebrations?

Toasting is not a problem. And at New Year's Eve parties, it depends on the company one keeps. Sometimes it's a tough time when you're in the thrall of friends, but I always knew when to back off. It wasn't a matter of puritanism, but I could imagine in advance how bad I would feel the next day. And I knew it was better to take a little nap.

For training? Even on New Year's Day, you were in the saddle regularly?

I know it's a big custom among cyclists to get out on the bike on the first day of the year. But I've only ever been twice. I'm not a fan of cycling on New Year's Day. I had no need to win the first spurt of the new year. And that hasn't changed with the end of my professional career.

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