He Beat Cancer and Raced the Olympics in the Same Season: Andrea Tiberi Knows Perseverance [Interview & Bike Check]

Now in his final season of World Cup XC mountain bike racing, Italian Andrea Tiberi has lofty goals for retirement.
Tiberi’s adventure bike is a Tallboy. Photo: Andrea Sabbadin

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

There’s a heavy concern for athletes about whether the 2020 race season will happen or not, and for Italian XC pro Andrea Tiberi that uncertainty hovers over his final season on the World Cup circuit. He’s not too worried, as he has enjoyed a super successful run, but of course, it would be great to test some of the long winter’s training. I recently chatted with Tiberi to get the scoop on his career, his currently modified training regimen, and what retirement might hold.

First, a brief vignette. I met Tiberi at a Santa Cruz press camp in Verona, Italy, where the brand showed off their newly released Heckler e-bike. I recognized nearly all of the Italian journalists on our first outing, save one super fit guy who was decked out in Santa Cruz gear from head to toe. That was Tiberi, or “Tibo” as his supporters call him. As we pedaled ahead, chatting up a long gravel climb, I noticed his e-bike motor was switched off. No big deal. He was just hanging with our motorized pace while pedaling a bike that weighed 3-times (or more) what his race whip does. The best part: he could out-descend most of us as well.

2019 World Cup in Nové město Na Moravě, Czech Republic. Photo Enrico Andrini

Like many other Italian professional shredders, Tiberi started racing bikes as a kid, at 15 years of age. He earned top results early on and joined the KTM Bikes International squad when he was 17. Back when he began racing World Cups the U23 and elite fields were combined, making it very difficult for younger riders to push through the pack and demonstrate their skills. Race courses consisted of one or two long laps back then, and only the leaders showed up on the helicopter cameras throughout the two- to three-hour long events.

Tiberi mentioned that the current version of XC where riders take 6-7 laps of a short course makes the sport far more accessible for fans. “The old format was a bit boring. There were really long and tough climbs, and from beginning to end you would only see a few riders. Not much action. I think it was good to move to a faster circuit.”

“The evolution is also due to the bikes. When the 29er came out it allowed a big step to make races more technical. I remember the first rock garden in cross country [racing]. It was in Pietermaritzburg in 2011. I was still on the 26″, and it was good fun to ride that section with the old skinny tires, narrow bars, and bar ends.”

Then, in 2012 Tiberi hopped on his first 29er from Torpado, and the tall rider was largely stoked on the new platform. “It wasn’t perfect. We were using the single chainring with an 11-36 cassette, so there were some missing gears. There weren’t a lot of tire choices, and the wheels and fork weren’t performing so well yet, but overall it was better.”

2019 World Cup in Nové město Na Moravě, Czech Republic. Photo Enrico Andrini

After riding for several teams that had him spreading the season between marathon, grand fondo, and XC, Tiberi joined Controltech Nevi in 2013 where he could focus solely on cross country performance. His goal was to go to the Olympics, and for that, he would need to focus on his favorite discipline. In the 2014 and 2015 seasons, he saw some of his best results with the FRM Factory Racing Team and was hopeful for the coming Olympic games in Rio.

A few results from Tiberi’s long career

  • Italian Elite National Champion in 2015
  • U23 Italian National Champion titles in 04′, 06′, and 07′
  • 8 other podiums at XC National Championship races
  • 6 victories and many podiums in XC International races
  • Raced European Continental Championships 15 times, with a 7th place best result
  • Raced World Championships 15 times, with a 13th place best result
  • 7th place in Nove Mesto World Cup in 2015
  • 19th place at Rio Olympics in 2016
  • 3rd in the team relay at European champs in 2007

Through the winter of 2015-2016, he trained hard, dreaming of racing against the best athletes in the world. Then, during a routine health check in February of that year his doctor discovered that he had thyroid cancer, and would need to undergo surgery to have it removed. Fortunately for Tiberi, the cancerous growth was small and condensed. He lost roughly a month of crucial training while healing from the treatment, with the Olympic games hanging in front of him as a constant motivator.

One month and ten days later he was lined up at a race, ready to re-tune the engine he had worked so hard for. He knew that he wasn’t physically prepared to race well yet, but his mind would feel better between the tapes. “I wasn’t as strong, and it felt a little like I lost the best year of my career, but in general I am very happy about my career.”

2019 Val di Sole World Cup. Photo: Enrico Andrini

In June, Tiberi received the official word that he was on the Italian Olympic squad and would be going to Rio. “I felt all of this attention from the national media. There was this feeling that everyone was watching this event, even people who usually would only pay attention to soccer or other sports. This was a good feeling. Also, there were all the supporters from my valley (Valle di Susa). Almost everyone got a sticker that said ‘#iotifotibo’ (I support Tibo).”

The FRM Factory Racing squad that Tiberi was working for at the time arrived in Brazil a few weeks early to acclimatize, and they spent most of that time in the hills outside Rio. With the XC event taking place on the final day of the 2016 games, none of the riders wanted to stay in the Olympic village with all of its distractions. Once the course opened for practice, six days prior to the main event, the Italian team descended on Rio with the intention of practicing every line and memorizing where to shift and when to attack.

To no one’s surprise, Swiss rider Nino Schurter won the Olympic XC event, followed by Czech powerhouse Jaroslav Kulhavy in second and Carlos Coloma Nicolas of Spain taking home the bronze medal. The top Italian rider on the day was Luca Braidot, and Tiberi finished in a very respectable 19th place in the field of 49 world-class athletes. Without cancer, the race likely would have played out differently, though it’s arguably more impressive to be a cancer survivor and Olympian in the same season than to receive a medal.

2019 Val di Sole World Cup. Photo: Enrico Andrini

All professional athletes have had to dial back their training for the 2020 season. They don’t want to reach peak physical performance whith no races to use it on, so Tiberi went into a rest period similar to the one he takes every autumn. Starting May 4th, after 60 days of short rides on the rollers through the Italian quarantine, he’s finally allowed to ride outdoors again. He will start with long base miles, and ramp up the intensity in anticipation of the first scheduled World Cup in late August.

Tibi is a strong athlete and a man who’s always been in top shape in terms of body fitness. He likes training hard and scientific and he’s the one looking for new ways of doing it and always developing new roads.

We shared the room at times during this long period of racing and he always had a lot of respect for me so I’m happy to have raced against each other in most of the competitions, and at the same time to be part of the same national team for Worlds the Olympics.

Marco Aurelio Fontana
“Io tifo Tibo!” translates to “I support Tibo!” Photo: Andrea Tiberi

Growing up in his alpine hometown of Oulx, Tiberi is no one-sport pony. He enjoys combining mountain bike adventures with skiing, hiking, and trail running. Since joining the Santa Cruz FSA MTB Pro Team he has also had the opportunity to race other cycling disciplines, including enduro and cyclocross. Tiberi’s real passion is alpine adventure, and he has ambitious plans to fill his retirement with regular excursions away from home. He also plans to coach XC athletes and would like to continue testing bikes and working with athletes on the Italian national team in various capacities.

2020 Santa Cruz Blur CC bike check

One large Santa Cruz Blur CC. Photo: Michele Mondini.
  • Saddle height from BB: 76.5mm
  • Cranks: 175mm
  • Stem: 80mm
  • Bar width: 720mm
  • Front chainring: 34t
  • Cassette: 10-50 12-speed
  • Shock pressure: 170-190psi
  • Fork pressure: 80-100psi
  • Tire pressure: 1.15 (16.7psi ) to 1.30bar (18.9psi), depending on the track and conditions.

We have a special set up for the fork and shock, made by Andreani. They are our partner for Fork setup, care, and maintenance. From the standard setup, we work especially on the progression (to have more) and for a better [function] at high speed. Also for a setup that allows me to pedal the bike with open suspension [settings] without losing power.

We would like to wish Tiberi luck with the season, and with his coming adventures.