‘People didn’t think I deserved to win Worlds’ - Tobias Foss on expectation, illness, Ineos and aero gains

The Norwegian rider discusses his rollercoaster season after winning the World Championships and what will come next

A few days before his first race of the 2024 season, Tobias Foss says he is living his dream. To some, that statement may come as a bit of a surprise – since his 2022 World Championship time trial title, Foss has had a lacklustre year in terms of results. There were hopes that the form he showed on that memorable, surprising day in Wollongong would follow the 26-year-old as he spent a season in the rainbow bands, but the reality was a different picture. The man himself, however, believes that perspective is key.

“I think there was a feeling that some people didn’t think I deserved to win the Worlds. I didn’t feel pressure afterwards, though, because I’m quite realistic. The year before I won, I wasn’t dominating every time trial, so for me to come the next year expecting to win every TT was unrealistic,” Foss states, now 18 months on from the greatest victory of his career. “I accept that winning Worlds was one big thing, but the chances of always being up there afterwards were just the same as before. When it comes as a surprise, some people think you get it for free, I guess.”

Foss’ ability to overcome the difficulties he faced last year as part of Jumbo-Visma can also be put down to the fresh chapter he is starting with the Ineos Grenadiers in 2024 – his contract with the Dutch outfit wasn’t renewed after two years and the British WorldTour team have signed him up until 2026. He speaks about growing up as a fan of the sport, playing ProCyclingManager as a 13-year-old and watching Ineos (then Team Sky) dominate the world of professional cycling.

“I think leaving Jumbo was mutual. Other teams had a spot for me for bigger possibilities than Jumbo have. It was fair and square. Also money-wise, if you have a bigger role, you’re going to be paid more. There was no space at Jumbo for that, but there are no bad feelings,” Foss says. “It’s all about being on a good team and finding your position, and Ineos was a great choice for me. They have big riders but they are more open than Jumbo. With Jonas [Vingegaard] and Wout [van Aert], those big stars, it’s understandable. I always loved Sky back in the day and it felt kind of special, I’m coming to my dream team.”

Foss on the Ineos Grenadiers team training camp (Image: Ineos Grenadiers)

It hasn’t taken long for the Norwegian rider to find his feet with Ineos Grenadiers and he praises the team’s meticulous preparation in the off-season. From equipment testing to medical checks, Foss argues that Ineos are searching for the same, if not more, marginal gains compared to his former team.

“We did the biggest medical screening I’ve ever done with Ineos. They do it every year, it was way bigger than I'm used to. We found out that I’d had the kissing disease [also known as mononucleosis or glandular fever], the test indicated it had always been in my body,” Foss says. “At what time in the season, we don’t know, but looking at the last years I had been struggling with my body. There was an imbalance in my health system that made me quite unstable.

“I would do really well often in time trials and short efforts, then struggle to find the consistency on the bigger races and the longer races. I was quite sick for a month or so last year and then for the rest of the year I was unstable. I would train for a maximum of 20 hours per week and then break down and start again. It was nice to get some answers now and I had a really long off-season so now my body is healthy and better than ever.”

So far in 2024, Foss’ performances have been promising, and he believes that he is only at the start of his recovery. A fourth place in the time trial at the UAE Tour proved that, although he’s not yet winning, Foss still has the potential to compete with the best in the world. It’s not just in medical testing that the 26-year-old has noticed a step up with Ineos Grenadiers, either. He also notes that the team has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to time trialling expertise, lauding the work of Ineos’ performance engineer and elite track rider, Dan Bigham, in helping the team prepare for time trials.

“This team is full of great people and great humans. Bigham and our other performance engineers are doing a great job on the equipment side and it’s a big improvement from last year’s and we still keep on improving,” Foss says. “We have a lot of experience and it’s no coincidence that both Josh [Tarling] and Filippo [Ganna] are doing so great on the time trial side.”

Although Visma-Lease a Bike is known to be one of the most experimental and forward-thinking team’s in the modern peloton – and they have the budget to back this up – Foss believes that the Ineos Grenadiers’ focus on performance gains is special.

“Ineos have two guys who are dedicated for testing and that’s really unique for the team. They spend a lot of time on it, but the equipment needs to go that far and the guy on the top needs to do the rest,” Foss says. “Jumbo was really good aerodynamic-wise but, in the end, if you put a rider like Wout on any bicycle he’ll perform quite well. But I’m very confident that the support on Ineos will be as good as I had last year.”

While he is in a team filled with some of the most scientific minds in the sport, Foss adds that, personally, he prefers to focus on his physical performance rather than becoming obsessed with finding aero gains himself.

“I try to stay away from all the numbers as much as possible. Of course, I need to do some things myself and then be on top of it, but I also have a team that is on top of it and there’s no need for me to worry too much. I think it could do more damage mentally. In the end, you need to be fast and have good equipment but you also need the legs and power, I’d rather put my focus on that,” Foss says.Foss on his way to finishing in fourth place in the time trial stage of the 2024 UAE Tour (Image: Getty)

Foss hopes that the road ahead involves steady progression to his best level as he utilises the support and expertise of his new team. The thought of playing the long game and remaining patient in his career isn’t alien to the Norwegian rider – he mentions the three years he spent in the under-23 category as crucial to his development. While it’s not uncommon for riders to join the professional ranks straight out of juniors in modern cycling, Foss credits racing as an under-23 as crucial to him learning how to race and deal with the ups and downs that elite sport throws at athletes. 

“If I did what I did as a junior now, I would also have gone pro quite quickly I think, because times have changed. I feel like now, everyone wants the new Remco [Evenepoel] and it also seems that the young guys are basically training the same hours as pros,” Foss says. “I was happy for my development that I turned pro a bit later. Because Edvald [Boasson Hagen] comes from the same town as me and turned pro, I always believed that if I worked hard, it would come sooner or later.”

His impressively level-headed and mature mindset means that Foss is acutely aware that he likely won’t see immediate success in the 2024 season. Instead, he’s ready to work towards the podium again with Ineos, accepting that, although he has been a world champion before, his progression hasn’t been linear, and that’s just the way the sport works.

“Because of my struggle with health last year, we need to build it up. I’m not expecting too much in the first half of the season, I’m just getting some races in. I felt better than I have in a very long time after this winter. I still want to race hard but it’s about getting in the rhythm again and building up a good foundation,” Foss says. “I’m on the long list for the Giro d'Italia where I can be a key rider and helper for Thymen [Arensman] and G [Geraint Thomas]. After that, I need to see how I go, but the main focus will be the Olympics and I hope for a medal there in the time trial. That’s my carrot.”

The most important thing for Foss, it seems, is to hold on to self-belief despite the setbacks he has suffered. While he might have struggled to live up to the pressure of wearing rainbows and felt the impact of criticism from onlookers because of this, the 26-year-old appears more motivated than ever to prove people wrong. Luckily for him, thanks to riders such as Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas, cycling is a sport that loves a comeback story and it offers inspiration in swathes, something that Foss is acutely aware of.

“It won’t come for free and it is a lot of hard work. It’s nice to see that a rider like G peaked in his late 20s and is still keeping it up now in his late 30s,” Foss says. “It’s really impressive and cool to see, and it makes me believe that not every career path is the same and I have a long future ahead of me.”

Cover image: Ineos Grenadiers

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