One of the cool things about this sport is that there are so many different back stories. Of course, some riders can come across as one-dimensional, with nothing but cycling occupying their thoughts. When you get to speak with someone who has done things differently, it gives you a new perspective on the sport, a new idea of what’s possible.
One such rider is multiple Finnish national champion Sari Saarelainen, who returned to both the road and the velodrome in 2010 after time out to live a different life.
PEZ: How long were you away from racing, and what made you decide to come back?
Sari Saarelainen: I was away for six years. I’ve always been training very, very hard even when I wasn’t racing. I stayed fit and have now even better physical and mental condition than before. But the funny thing is that I never touched the bike in the period 2005 to 2009 – I did other sports to stay fit.
PEZ: Did working as a personal trainer mean that it was ‘easier’ to come back, because you always remained fit?
Sari Saarelainen: I think that’s the most important thing. But besides my work as a personal trainer, spinning and aerobics teacher, I also work out in my spare time. Sport is in my blood, I just can’t help it. I started doing sports at the age of 10, so I’ve built a very strong base in these nearly 20 years.
PEZ: You’ve won national titles in TT and on the track already in 2010. Was it ‘easy’ to come back?
Sari Saarelainen: I’ve won silver in the road race and gold in 4km track pursuit. It was easier than I thought. On the track, I beat my own record both in qualification and in final. That’s something I never thought could happen.
PEZ: Do you still teach spinning/aerobics at the same time as living as a pro rider?
Sari Saarelainen: Most of the time I stay at home in Finland where my gym is located. I’ll teach lessons again this autumn and I work continuously as a personal trainer during the cycling season. In Italy I “only” race and do training but nowadays the Internet enables me to work telecommuting with my personal training clients. Finland is absolutely my home. I’ve lived in Nurmijдrvi since September 2009. Before that I lived in Vantaa, a big city near Helsinki, ever since I was born.
PEZ: You have a little daughter – is it hard to combine being a musician/cyclist with being a mother, and does she travel with you to races and events?
Sari Saarelainen: Yes, I have a daughter who is 12 months old. I have to admit that it’s not as easy as it was six years ago when I packed my bags and travelled abroad just like that.
Being a mother has given me so much more than anything could ever offer. I’ve got more energy and I’m mentally stronger than before. I also know there’ll never be a race like childbirth! I am stronger now as I see life with different eyes than years before. My daughter travels with me whenever it’s possible. For me, it’s important to stay close to her.
PEZ: You moved abroad to pursue cycling … how difficult was it to move away from your family?
Sari Saarelainen: I was 16 when I went to Germany. It was very hard to move away because I was a teenager and I had to leave my friends. I did it for being a cyclist and I’ve never regretted it. It gave me so much.
PEZ: Which sporting results are you most proud of?
Sari Saarelainen: I have to say there’s nothing that could beat the value of my daughter. But thinking back to years before 2004, there were many great races. Most people remember me for my fifth place in Junior World Championships in Valkenburg. That may be my biggest result though there are so many placements in elite stage races like Emakumeen Bira, Vuelta Castilla y Leon, Giro del Trentino, etc., many U23 jerseys and over 30 Finnish national titles.
PEZ: Early in your career you rode for Team Let’s Go Finland, a team your father set up. Was it easy to work with a parent?
Sari Saarelainen: I’ve always got along well with my Dad. He has been a trainer for me ever since I started racing. Now I know what I have to do to be fit but, after all, he’s the one I ask for help when I need it. I’ve always been close to my family and it was more than normal to race in his team.
PEZ: You have ridden beside some of the greats of women’s cycling including Zulfia Zabirova and Fabiana Luperini . What influence did they have on you?
Sari Saarelainen: I’ve seen that they are only humans, just like anyone of us. If they go fast, there’s no reason I couldn’t go as fast as well.
PEZ: Who inspires you – in music, in cycling and in life?
Sari Saarelainen: There’s one clear answer: my daughter and my husband in all areas of my life. I wouldn’t be me without these loving people next to me.
PEZ: What does the future have in store for Sari Saarelainen? Do you think you are still ‘fresh’/’young’ for cycling because you were away from the sport so long?
Sari Saarelainen: It would have been so much more difficult to come back to the bike if I wouldn’t have been working out that hard. I’ve got a great base of 20 years of sports and it’s a huge help for me.
I think the best years for women cyclists are between 30 and 34. Of course, women in any field always face the same problem with combining career and family. But physically we are at the strongest by our 30s. I also think that mothers are stronger than the others.
PEZ: Your current team is Chirio Forno d’Asolo … can you tell us a little about it?
Sari Saarelainen: Chirio is the team which I should have raced the season 2005 with, but as we know I stopped racing after season 2004. Franco Chirio has been a huge help for me in this season and I’m very thankful to him.
There’s no stress in this team which I personally find good. Though I always dream that women’s cycling would be [seen] in the same level as men’s cycling, unfortunately we are less valued and have so much less [in terms of] sponsors, visibility and interest from the media. Maybe one day we’ll see equality in cycling.
PEZ: Are the London Olympics in 2012 on your radar?
Sari Saarelainen: I’ve always dreamed of being in the Olympics. I aim for London 2012, that’s my biggest goal in this period. Although I wouldn`t be too old for Rio de Janeiro in 2016 either!
PEZ: Can you tell us about your music career?
Sari Saarelainen: I have worked with several producers. Most of the projects are still going on so I’m not allowed to say more about them. The biggest break out was the production with my (then) fiancйe Henry (better known as Amx, Henry V) in 2007.
The tune called Undone got huge support from well-known international DJs like Tiesto and Armin van Buuren. It was an unforgettable moment to hear them playing our tune in their shows. One of my dreams came true. I do the vocals and write the lyrics for all the tunes I’m singing. My next releases will be out in October.
PEZ: What genres of music are you making music in right now?
Sari Saarelainen: Besides progressive trance projects, I’m also working for my solo project. There are new tunes coming out of dance/house and Finnish pop/rock.
PEZ: Describe Sari Saarelainen in three words …
Sari Saarelainen: Passionate, persistent, mother.
A big thanks to Sari for her time, and Pez wishes her the best for both her racing and musical careers. Sari’s racing season is done for 2010, but you can visit her website to read about her career in Finnish, English, Italian and German. Keep an eye out for her on the road in 2011.
Check out Sari’s tunes at www.myspace.com/sarismuzik and bang up-to-date Twitter.