Marco Brenner is laughing. Again. It’s all he does. “Yeah, of course,” he chuckles when I say that life is good. “Like you say, I have a lot of energy and I am talking a lot.” Which is a good thing, because the 20-year old-climber is a 178cm, 60kg mass of intrigue.
There’s many places we could start, but let’s begin with his management portfolio. After turning pro with DSM aged 18 following near-constant success as a junior, the German was disappointed that his U18 team, Auto Eder Bayern, no longer had an association with his regional cycling federation in Bavaria when it became the official junior outfit of Bora-Hansgrohe.
“My area didn’t have a team to compete in the junior national series and that was sad. It was my first year in the WorldTour and I wanted to organise a race for young riders or something like that. Then my dad said as a joke, ‘you can do what Pogi does with his Pogi Team’,” he references Tadej Pogačar’s Slovenian youth team. “‘You can do your own Marco Brenner team’, he said, and I laughed at him but said, ‘well, why not?’”
So Brenner, still 18, did exactly that. He set up his own eponymous cycling team. “I am the team owner and I like to organise stuff, this is the kind of work I like,” he says. “I do the business side of it all, I meet with the sponsors, sign the team up for races. In the off-season I am basically full-gas with it. I try to do everything in person in October and November and then I do all the organising stuff in the hotel room in December on the training camps. I sort the clothing, the right sizes, I ask the riders for all their details, I order the bikes, the groupsets, everything. That’s what I do.”
His father, Christian, is the team’s DS, his friend from school, Phllipp Eger, is the physio, and the accountant is from his first club, RSG Ansbach. It’s a team of four, but Brenner is hands-on. “We still need some small things from Shimano and I need to get all the stuff from Wahoo,” he goes on. “We also need some more pedals, spare bikes and other stuff.”
A reminder, Brenner is 20. He still qualifies for U23 races. Yet he’s the boss, a control freak. “Yeah, yeah, exactly like that! That’s what I am! Of course sometimes it’s stressful, but I like it, I like to be in control of things. When there are sh*t things to do and I have to fix it, it feels nice afterwards. This is the first time where I have had, let’s say, a job next to cycling, something that I have to put some time into. Actually, no, it’s my hobby, my project, and what I enjoy about it is that it’s still something to do with cycling but in a different way.”
Two years on, his very own team has 11 riders from across Germany, and its most successful alumnus is his own brother, Mauro, two years his junior who also joined DSM this winter. “As people we’re not so similar, he’s a bit quieter,” Brenner says, yet again to a giggle. “This year we have a lot of good talents, and I think we have made a really good step up; I’m really happy with how the team is developing.”
Brenner was prolific as a junior rider (Getty Images)
Perched up against a wooden headrest in a hotel room in Calpe, Brenner’s light brown hair is cut short and there’s a slit in his left eyebrow; it’s a visible sign of his mischievousness. Dressed in his tracksuit bottoms, he wouldn’t be mistaken for a school-age teenager hanging around an inner-city football court.
When Brenner was racing in younger age groups, he was one of Europe’s best with 33 wins in 2019 and 2020. Was it easy? “It was different. For sure there was competition.” I mention that Remco Evenepoel and Quinn Simmons have previously spoken about the junior ranks being easy. “Ah yeah?” he questions. “In my first year I was racing against Quinn a lot so I think he also had competition! I actually think I beat him more than he beat me!”
Brenner was prolific as a junior and courted the attention of many WorldTour teams who spotted his GC potential. His first two years as a professional have been about steadily progressing, but a slow start to pro life was never his plan. “In my first year it was hard to accept that I was not winning anymore and maybe I was impatient. It was a big problem,” he recalls. “I took a short break and said to the team, ‘f**k, it was a bit too much’ because I really wanted it too badly. I took a little break and when we started again I made some good steps that I continued last year. Mindset-wise and as a person I have developed well, and I can now focus better on the things that I need to focus on.”
His own bio on DSM’s website quotes him as describing himself as “funny” and a “social person”. That’s an accurate self-assessment; he’s devilishly cheeky, not least when discussing his forte, descending, and explaining why he won’t be copying Matej Mohorič’s use of a dropper post. “I don’t need one,” he says. “I am already fast enough. Dropper posts would be illegal if I had one.” He lets out a deep belly laugh, the tenth in half an hour.
I ask him what his ideal parcours would be. “Buah, buah” he ponders as he looks up to the ceiling. “Some climbs with technical descents. When you can descend it makes a complete rider in my opinion.” Stage 19 of last year’s Vuelta a España, his debut Grand Tour, pops into his mind. “There were two big climbs and I got dropped on the last one, and I had a two-and-a-half minute gap to close. I closed it on the descent and then I got 11th in the sprint.” His smile grows wider. “F**k, that was the craziest I’ve ever done. I couldn’t believe it myself, and my DS said he couldn’t believe what he was seeing in the car’s mirror.
“When it’s just straight and downhill and 100kph, no, nah, I don’t like descending so much to be honest. Like that it’s just super fast and you don’t need to do anything. I prefer to enjoy the corners and technical descending. When you brake as late as possible and then you accelerate out of it, this I really like. I love cornering.”
It's a technical descent that Brenner really loves (Getty Images)
His best result so far is fifth on a stage of the Vuelta, but he’s not satisfied. He’s since moved to Andorra - “I am super spontaneous and I am someone who really likes to try new things, that’s why I moved there,” he says - and this winter he based himself in Malaga with Felix Gall from AG2R Citroën. “My numbers from the winter are already better,” he confirms.
As he seeks out his maiden professional win, it is planned that he will return to the Vuelta this year. “The goal for sure is to become a GC rider and I think I am getting closer to it with how I am riding,” he says. "I am getting better and better on longer, steadier efforts and climbs, and I’m also on a good way in my time trialling.
“I want to achieve big things. I wish it would still be easy to win but it’s really hard. The team think the way you are thinking: I am 20, it’s my third year so there’s still lots to learn, but I really miss winning. I am working hard to do that again.”
He exchanges pleasantries, mistakenly wishes me well at university (does he think I’m the baby-faced participant on this call?), and then his camera turns off. It’s 7pm, but Brenner the team owner and manager is not yet done for the day. “I like to do things, and then everything else around those things,” he concludes.
“There’s always stuff to do.”