(24/5/2018) Blog 14- Steel Von Hoff; From broken back to Comm Games Gold in 7 weeks!
Steele Von Hoff, a gold medal in the cycling road race at the recent 2018 Gold Coast Comm Games in an exciting sprint finish, you must still be over the moon?
Yeah for sure! That’s definitely the highlight of my cycling career so far. When you grow up you always want to represent your country at a world championships or a “games” its embedded in the way we are as athletes, so to head there and get the dream run feels incredible.
When did you realise hang on maybe I could win this?
I have raced most of these guys for the last few years over in Europe, and when a few things started going in my favor, in regards to which people were attacking, each time this happened one of my Aussie team mates was strong enough to go with them, so we were always happy with the situation. But as a sprinter, you don’t ever really know until you cross the line. I started having a pretty good feeling at about 50m to go that no one was on my wheel though! But even then I was wondering if someone was up the road. I just thought it was a bit too good to be true at the time haha.
Steel, not everyone will know your story but to make your achievement even better you fractured your neck and were in a brace just 7 weeks prior to the race. Tell us firstly how this happened and how you stayed so physically and mentally strong for the Games?
Yeah, I had a crash racing at my local club criterium and flew over my handle bars landing directly on my head which compressed a few vertebra and fractured several others. When I heard to the extent of the damage I was at first very concerned. But as soon as I heard it was all “stable and in alignment” and I wasn’t in any risk of damaging my spinal cord, then it was all about managing the pain and getting the training in. I just decided that this was my last chance. It was either let the injury beat me and retire, or give it one last shot and do everything I can to make the games. So within 6 days I was already back spinning the legs on a recumbent bike that didn’t put pressure on my back, then within 2 weeks I was out on the mountain bike riding on our coffee shop rides with my dad and his crew again. Everyone was supporting me, and riding with me when ever they could to help me stay fit and do head checks for me as I couldn’t when I was in a brace!
Surely there were some days you doubted you’d make the start line?
For sure but I figured if I did everything right to try and get to that start line, all I was doing was fast tracking my recovery to being better for life even if my goal to make the games didn’t happen. However, it’s never easy when your battling so much pain just to do daily tasks such as putting socks on!!
And how’s the neck feeling? Does it still need rehab? It must still be sore?
Its not too bad now, its only if its cold that it seems to stiffen up. I still have a little way to go to try and get all the tendons and ligaments surrounding the vertebra moving well again. I was getting a lot of work done before the games to keep mobile. But since I have landed in Europe I have been traveling from race to race and haven’t been as proactive as I should be in getting rehab done.
What was the medical advice racing this early after such a big injury? Did it ever cross your mind; what if I fall off again in the bunch sprint? Or were you pretty good at blocking that out?
Haha well, for sure crashing was a ‘no no’! It’s never good to crash at any time! Straight after the injury there was so much damage to all the muscles that I was quite exposed to doing more damage and ending up with long term problems if I didn’t look after it, so it was a bit slow at first doing all the big movements like pulling up on the bars hard for sprinting. But crashing is the risk you take every time you pin numbers on. So, it was back to work as usual. In cycling, ‘its not if you crash again, but when you crash again!’
How’s life been since? Has this changed the course of 2018 for you? What’s the plan cycling wise for the rest of this year?
I might have a few more supporters backing me now but in terms of racing it hasn’t changed much. I’m back racing in Belgium now trying to land more results to hopefully find my self a spot back in the world tour.
Are there any plans to try to make the Tour de France? Is Tokyo 2020 a goal? How many more years do you have in those legs Steele?
The Tour de France is the dream as a cyclist talking to the general public, most people ask if you have raced the Tour de France. I would love to say, ‘yes’ one day. However, alot has to start going right for that dream to come true!
Tokyo 2020 would be amazing. Japan is one of my favorite country’s in the world. To also represent Australia at the Olympics would be the icing on the cake for my career.
Now, are you a full time cyclist or are you working as well at the moment? You have spent a lot of time overseas cycling in different professional teams, do you own houses abroad? Will you stay in Australia much of this year or will there be more travelling?
I was working over the summer last year but I decided to keep trying to chase the “pro dream life” and to do that you cant work at the same time. You have to put full commitment in to cycling. This sport isn’t as glamorous as most people from the out side think it is. It’s a very tough one and sometimes your clutching at straws to try and make it work. Some times you get lucky with good contracts and other times it can be very hard to even find a ride on a team with a good race program. I am still renting an apartment over in Spain where I have based my self out of for the last 5 years. But every time I’m home in Aus I still go and stay with my mum and dad for the summer period.
The gold at the Comm games has made all the hardship I have gone through ‘chasing the dream’ worth while. I can earn good money later in life. I’m a qualified boiler maker by trade, and the place I occasionally work for follows my cycling and they are happy for me to come in when ever I’m home and need some extra cash to keep me going! I don’t want to finish cycling wondering what could have been, I want to try and get it all out there before I start working full time and just racing as my hobby.
In the lead up to a big road race like the comm games, what does a typical training week look like? Do you train in a squad and have a coach? Do you mind listing what you do Monday to Sunday? What mileage? What type of sessions? How many hours are you on that bike?
There is no typical week in cycling; we more or less do blocks of training. Some blocks are base blocks where we just put in big kilometers and some are full of intensity with a lot of sprint training. Very rarely are 2 weeks the same. It all changes depending on the upcoming race and the next major goal.
Yeah, my coach is the owner of FTP training – Mark Fenner, he did an amazing job of tailor making a program specifically to get me back from injury to success! Of course with the short 7 week time frame, this was difficult to get a lot of form in. I was training to be good for 4 hours and no more. So it has been a little bit of a struggle over here in Europe trying to get through the big races backing up for 7 days straight at tours.
A lot of readers wouldn’t know but you started your career as a promising junior runner, then turned to triathlon, enjoyed being involved with the human powered vehicle project at the Peninsula school and then quickly realised you were just made to ride bikes. Can you tell us about this journey from running to cycling?
Do you still go for the odd run these days?
Haha, I don’t know about promising runner but I loved the struggle trying to chase you around Ballam Park back in the day!
Well the running and swimming was something that I always had done, then jumping on a bike and starting triathlons was just the next step! I wasn’t too bad at riding my bike after training at lunch times at school for the human powered vehicles in primary school, so I brought my first road bike in year 7 and started triathlon training with my then swimming coach Steve Foster.
We had a good group of guys that would push each other on the bike and then try and still hang on to the runners at Nicky Frey’s squad training on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The bike wasn’t my strongest leg, running still was.
However, as I got older, shin splints started to become a bit of a problem, so I finished up with running and just focused on cycling. I still love to get out and run occasionally. It becomes more of a thing in my off season! A few years ago, I actually got back up to running 5x a week and started ‘Strava hunting’ around Catalonia!
Both running and cycling have been tainted at the top end with performance enhancing doping. I read Tyler Hamilton’s ‘the secret race’ several years ago and he tended to suggest that in his day doping was rife. Lots of reader will have also watched Icarus on Netflix. Tough question to answer I know but what’s your view, is the top end in Australian and international cycling clean? Or is there possibly still a way to go?
It’s defiantly much better than the stories from the old times. People are doing much less heroic things in races now and it is a much more level playing field. I would like to believe its clean now.
What’s the plan for life after cycling?
I don’t think there will ever be a big retirement and then “after cycling” time. I will likely just wind cycling down and work more. I love racing my bike and I think I will always be doing it at some level. I have many different options when I do start racing in Australia rather than Europe again. But mainly I would like to do something with my metal fabrication qualification. I love making things. To be able to get an end product from my work would be a very satisfying thing.
Steel, thanks so much for your time. I’m sure the run culture readership will get so much out of this interview! (even though you are a cyclist haha) You are an amazing example of what can be achieved against the odds! Well done again Steel and please keep enjoying the win, you are a Comm Games Gold medalist forever!
Add it: Since publishing this blog, Steel’s roller coaster 2018 continued as he unfortunately was involved in another crash this week while racing in Europe. He broke two new vertebrae in his neck (the old ones were fine), his scapula and a rib. Fortunately, the neck fractures are once again stable and he is back home safe and sound. He will be forced to take 6 weeks completely off for this one. I had a chat to him this week and I feel his response speaks a lot about his character and incredibly positive mindset. Instead of being down and despondent, he was gloating how it got him out of having to do the heavy lifting as he is currently moving house. He also joked about how he started 2018 having never broken a bone and now he has broken 10!
Throughout this interview, I’m sure the readers will agree, you could feel Steel’s palpable sense of fearlessness and his ‘happy go lucky’ persona. ‘Mate, you will be back before you know it, bones heal and you have shown all too well this year that you are an amazing coper!’ Steel’s 2018 journey is a nice one for us all to reflect on when we ourselves are down or injured; he remained positive and just played his best ‘hand’.
Well done Steel and all the best over the coming months!