How cool would it be to have a sibling who is also your friend and race mate? Swiss enduro pros Anita and Caro Gehrig live in that dream scenario, and their Norco Twins Racing squad is quite fierce on the elite Enduro World Series circuit.
The pair have a total of sixteen top-ten EWS finishes from the past two seasons, and numerous impressive results from Crankworx, the UCI Downhill World Cup, and other competitions.
Like most professional athletes, Anita and Caro work with a variety of talented filmmakers to create entertaining content for their sponsors. Unlike some other teams, the Gehrig twins have dug in deeper to share cultural narratives from around the world that they entwine with cycling. In 2018 they released “Gehrig Twins: A story of cycling and coffee,” with help from espresso machine manufacturer La Marzocco, where they followed the path of coffee production from the plant to the grinder. In an earlier release, titled “Free Riding Iran” the Gehrigs toured some of the finest singletracks across the western Asian nation, and we checked in with them to learn more about the riding there.
We’ll start off with Anita sharing some stories from past race seasons, and then dig into the Iranian soil with Caro answering questions about the tracks and culture of Iran.
What’s the current vibe amongst pro riders regarding races being rescheduled?
There are so many cancellations right now I think everyone is happy if the organizers are keen to still hold their events to later dates. It’s the only thing that makes sense really. We are in the lucky situation that the South American rounds could be moved and will be held six months later. The DH World Cup only had cancellations so far, we at least got some new dates and events to look forward to. It will be weird for sure to still be in competition season in November but I’d be very happy if we still manage to race this year. So many hours went into the season preparations that it was hard to accept that we can’t kick off the season. Of course, we also want to represent our sponsors at the races and it would be sweet if we could go out and race for them. Only time will tell, I’m kinda mentally prepared for everything now.
What are some of the things you two are doing to pass time during quarantine that you wouldn’t normally do?
I caught up with many things I wanted to do for a long time; reorganizing the bike garage, finally baking sourdough bread, putting some effort into my garden. It’s nice to get some shit done during this time and I’ll sure be happy about it after we get back to normal life. Normally I go to a gym to work out but now I have installed my own home gym in the garage which is super helpful to keep in shape.
What felt like the most successful day on the bike at this point in your race career?
My first podium at EWS in Aspen 2016. We had a tough time with our team manager at that time and the vibe going into the race was so tense. I knew we had prepared really well for the altitude and I just pushed as hard as I could. I managed to put it all together during the two days of racing and ended up in second place. It was so rewarding! Or that race in Finale where I had a shitty first day of racing and put it all on the line the second day. I felt like I rode really strong and pulled so much time back, collected my first stage win along the way but crossed the line in 4th with 0.003sec back. First I was so disappointed but then I realized how strong I was riding that day. Racing is intense. Bring it back, I miss it!
Which EWS event did you enjoy most in 2019 and why?
Zermatt for sure. It was the first time we had an EWS in Switzerland, so I was looking forward to this event for a long time. It was amazing to have so many friends there helping out and cheering. I love my crew and having them at a race makes it always really cool. Zermatt is a special place for us, I could stare at the Horn forever really, to race in the shadow of this majestic mountain is surreal.
What is your favorite region or trail system to ride in Switzerland?
Graubünden and Wallis are my favorite regions. I live in a great riding area called Flims/ Laax. We have tons of hiking trails to ride and also some fun downhill tracks and flow trails. What makes it even more special is the amazing bike community we have here. It’s not only about the best tracks but also about who you ride with. It’s weird now when I’m home we usually do big group rides but now it can’t happen.
Did you have any big ride traveling plans coming up in 2020?
We did not have any big traveling plans besides the EWS races, just a few extra days before and after on the race venues. Now I could imagine doing a little bikepacking adventure trip in Switzerland, as I’m sure we will be allowed to travel within the country much sooner than we are allowed to cross borders again.
What’s something most people in the MTB community don’t know about you?
I was working as a chef for quite some time and have a degree in tourism and hospitality management. I’m sure I’ll do something with it after my racing career because it’s really something I love. What I actually like about Corona, if you can say so, is that people finally have to cook again! For me, it’s something so fundamental for wellbeing that I simply cannot understand why people don’t put more effort into it normally. Maybe this situation leads to a change.
What originally inspired you two to go ride in Iran?
Our friend Arno who used to be a ski teacher was doing a few Ski trips to Iran and we haven’t seen each other for a few years when we met him again one night and he told us all about it. He suggested we should do a bike trip over there and this thought never really left us and we just had to go visit Iran ourselves. A few years later and many hours of planning we made it finally!
Did you pack anything for the trip that you wouldn’t normally bring along?
Definitely a headscarf, yes! Not something that makes us particularly comfortable wearing it but there is not really a way around it. We adapted the rules a bit and just wore a hat on top so the weird feeling of the headscarf is less and the thing is not flying away the whole time. It’s not something that I ever want to become used to wearing.
What is it like visiting Iran as a woman? Have you recommended the adventure to friends?
It’s definitely worth the journey! I guess peoples’ opinions of traveling to a country like Iran are super biased by the western media. We never had a moment where we felt unsafe or threatened being a woman. People are super welcoming and friendly so I can really recommend visiting Iran as a tourist, [for] men or women. It’s a big adventure traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language at all and it’s not a very common country for tourists. Therefore you have to try a lot harder to get the information you need, but in the end, this is what makes it special too. It’s not New Zealand where everything for your perfect holiday is laid out in front of your feet and you just need to pick and choose. You really have to go and explore and therefore I think the reward is a lot higher because you don’t expect so much in advance!
What were some of your favorite trails and places to ride?
The most stunning place to ride was the deserted hills in Khaled Nabi, this place really blew our minds. A super long and nice single track descent in Golestan was very memorable as well as the super fun Downhill track in Tehran.
What is the terrain like?
Super diverse. There is very deserted areas with sandy, dry soil but also similar terrain to our mountains in Europe. Beech forest like in NZ can be found as well. The country is huuuuuge so there is quite a variety in climate zones.
What is the local cycling scene like?
The cycling scene is not a massive community like in Europe or the US but I think the core scene in Iran is sticking together even more and support each other because there are not so many other riders. Still, we were surprised by how many riders we actually met in the end. Not many girls are riding unfortunately but there are more and more that want to enjoy the freedom a bike gives you and the ones that ride, love it so much so it’s really nice to see. There are bike shops and a few events for sure, most of them are probably centered around Tehran.
What were some of the best dishes and drinks you tried while visiting Iran?
We went to a restaurant in Tehran that served dishes that were out of this world. It was a beautiful restaurant with a garden terrace out of your dreams. Blooming flowers and plants everywhere and just this little piece of heaven in the middle of a big stinky city. They serve a lot of nice rice dishes and vegetable pastas with fresh garden herbs and tasty spices. It was super delicious. As alcohol is forbidden to drink in Iran they have a lot of alcohol-free cocktails with rosewater and once you are used to the taste it’s actually really good and refreshing.
Can you find beer with alcohol in it?
I’m sure you can. There is a big black market that can bring you about anything to your door that you can’t find in the markets. We only drank alcohol once with some locals in a small town near the Iraqi border. They pretty much approached us with a bottle of home-distilled schnapps as soon as we made it into town. It would be rude not to take a sip, although you might get a punishment with a flogging if they catch you. Living on the edge, right?
Did you ride with a guide?
Yes, we took Christian Dassi from Exoride with us. He is from Switzerland too and a real expert for Iranian trails. He knows them all, speaks a bit of Farsi, and is the most chill guy you will ever meet. The perfect travel companion. He’s guiding MTB holidays in Iran several times a year and I think there is almost no way around riding with a guide in Iran as the trails are not marked at all and can be really hard to find. You’ll just get a lot more out of your time if you choose to ride with a guide.
What do you think the future of MTB looks like in Iran?
It’s evolving for sure. People are looking for personal enjoyment and freedom more and more, especially the young people that are very educated and don’t accept anymore to be suppressed by the strict regime. It’s their tool for freedom and integrity.
Did you notice some intriguing Iranian cultural customs?
We once came across a parade somewhere out in the province with several hundred people marching through town with black flags, costumes, horses, and drums. For us westerns it sounded and looked almost like a war parade but apparently it was somewhat of celebratory parade in honor of something. That was definitely very weird and a strange gut feeling.
You got to hang out with some mules while you were there?
Haha, the mules were fun for sure. We asked the mule guide if we can ride on them and in exchange, we showed him how to ride our bikes. He never rode a bike with shifting before. It was super fun!
Lastly, just for fun, who do you think will win the women’s and men’s EWS overall for 2020, when it finally begins?
If it’s ever going to start this year I think the person that manages to stay happy and healthy and motivated throughout this crisis will have high chances on a top finish. Isabeau and Sam will definitely be very hard to beat, that’s for sure.
If you want to read more from Norco Twins Racing, check out this 2018 interview with Caro telling us all about her then-new DT Swiss F 535 One Fork.