Standing races are an integral part of the program of many 6-day races. The last official world championship in this discipline was held twenty years ago. In 1994, the German Carsten Podlesch won the final race in Palermo behind his pacemaker Dieter Durst. Since then, it has become quiet in international competition for the discipline that was once so popular. An almost renaissance-like refreshment was experienced these days in the Berlin Velodrom. Hardly any other format generates so much enthusiasm and joy among the viewers. The American Zachary Kovalcik proves that the standing sport is not a sport for old men. And every year anew.
With his incomparable style, he is an absolute crowd puller and always good for a laugh. How he made the leap from a bike messenger in his hometown of Pittsburgh to one of the most popular stay-at-home riders in the international field and to several US championship titles in the Madison and what his vegan lifestyle is all about, we have in a short interview as part of the 6-Day -Racing in Berlin can find out.
Hello Zak. You just did your first stayer run from the Berlin Six Days, which is a bit outdated. How did you get into cycling?
Unlike the other teenagers, when I turned seventeen I didn't want a car. I grew up in the punk rock scene and everyone uses bikes to go to work or school, meet up in the afternoon or go on a little tour. It was just a little more casual. At the age of 19 I finally started working as a bicycle courier and that was the first time I really came into contact with bicycles. That's when I started to get into the technology.
When did you have your first racing experience and how did the switch to track cycling come about?
At first it was just a job for me. I liked being outside and doing sports. I was one of the few who used a track bike at the time for my job as a bike courier. In my first year on the job, I competed in a couple of North American Courier Championship alleycat races. Funnily enough, I won the general classification on my track bike. Then in 2006 I moved to Portland, Oregon and there was a velodrome there. I went to a race and since that moment I've been hooked.
In 2007 I caught the eye of a trainer and started working with him. He kept motivating me until I became a category 3 rider and then qualified for the national championships and got on the podium there. My love for track cycling hasn't changed since then.
Are there any goals you have set yourself for the next few years?
I want to continue to compete in the stayer races, it's a lot of fun for me. The 6-day races are at the top of my list, but unfortunately there are only the races in Zurich and Berlin where the stayer discipline is on the program. Otherwise, I also drive the Sixdays in Copenhagen or the 3-day race in Los Angeles, both at the Madison. But I'm also excited about the World Cups in scratch, that would be the next step I'd like to take.
It is already your third visit to Germany. What is so special about Germany for you?
That's right, in 2012 I was invited by Carsten Podlesch to come to Germany. I should try to do stayer races. Apparently I did pretty well. [laughs] I drove my first race in Chemnitz. Last year I was in Berlin for the first time and was totally enthusiastic about the city from the start. Apart from a few cities in the USA, Berlin is my absolute favorite city. I like the vibe here, the people are super friendly, the food is great and of course I like the 6-day race. The audience is so happy. They understand the format and react to every little thing that happens during the race. We rarely have that in the States.
What many may not know, you live vegan. How does this fit into your daily life as a professional? It's definitely a bit complicated at times.
You're probably making it out to be more difficult than it actually is. I've been eating vegan for almost ten years, a lot longer than I've been cycling professionally. So it was part of my everyday life before that and so it wasn't difficult to get used to it.
Do you use special products to prevent deficiency symptoms?
No not true. I try to eat as varied as possible and drink a lot of water. I don't have any deficiency symptoms due to my vegan lifestyle. However, it can be very nerve-wracking when traveling. We have great catering here at Sixdays, but I occasionally bring my own vegan sauce for the pasta. You have to plan ahead, but you get used to it quickly. What I like most about Berlin is that YoYo in Friedrichshain. I really like eating there.
Earlier you mentioned your punk rock background. Many people notice you because of your somewhat unusual style, with the piercing, the tattoos and the long, colored hair - a little bit punk rock. How important is your style to you?
I never gave it much thought to be honest. I've had my haircut since I was 15. At some point I started dying my hair blonde and growing out my braids. When I started racing, I got a lot of attention and a lot of people liked it because I was always recognized. It is definitely an eye-catcher and the audience experiences a certain amount of entertainment. On the other hand, people now expect it from me and so I'm kind of in a quandary with my style [laughs].
At the end we want to ask you a few short questions, quick shots so to speak. Here we go.
Traveling or racing at home?
You meet new people and see new places when you travel, so definitely travel!
Stationary or normal track bike?
My heart belongs to the track bike. If I had to choose, I would prefer this to the special stationary bike.
Hard training sessions or relaxed rounds with friends?
You have to do both [laughs] but if I had to choose, it would be the relaxed round with the boys.
Thanks for the interview, Zachary! We wish you continued success and are already looking forward to the upcoming track race with you.