Neo-pro Rutsch impresses during Aussie summer

During the Australian summer of cycling, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education First) has been one rider who is hard to miss within the peloton, both for his immense size and his attacking style of racing.

It was a strange sight. With Stage 4 of the Herald Sun Tour finishing atop Mt Buller (16.8 kilometres at 5.9 per cent) you wouldn’t expect a man-mountain climbing a literal mountain to be anywhere near the front of the race. But Rutsch, who started the mountain with the early breakaway and three and a half minutes lead on the peloton flew up the hill and ended up being the last man caught with three kilometres remaining.

 Rutsch went on to finish 14th on the general classification in a race with two long climbs leading to summit finishes, beating ‘proper’ climbers like Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), James Whelan and Lachlan Morton (both EF Education First).

“Yeah, I just gave it a try today and I was pretty satisfied with my job,” Rutsch said. “It was a little bit weird with how far I was able to come in the end but I’m happy with it.

197 centimetres tall and weighing 82 kilograms isn’t your typical build for a climber, but with enough power you can make any body shape work in cycling and that is certainly the approach that Rutsch takes to his work.

“I know I’m not too bad when I have a little gap,” the big German said. “I’m not the worst climber, not the best, but when I have a little gap in the breakaway there’s a chance for me to stay.”

Rutsch has attracted attention throughout the summer in Australia not just for his height – though he is currently the tallest cyclist in the WorldTour – but for the way he has gone about his first month with EF Education First. Rutsch has been getting himself into breaks consistently and is often the last man caught even on the bigger climbs.

“That’s my style of racing,” said Rutsch of his penchant for aggression. “I’m preparing myself for the classics in the best way and I think I’m going well.”

“It’s a great start to my first pro season here in Australia. I did my job, in the leadout sometimes, sometimes in the breakaway and sometimes as a climber in an uphill finish,” Rutsch finishes with a smile on his face.

Rutsch signed for EF Education First, and has become part of a growing cobbled classics squad, centred around Tour of Flanders winner Alberto Bettiol.

“For me, EF was the best decision in the end,” said Rutsch. “I’m really happy with the team and within the team. Everything is really familiar and I’m really happy to be part of the team.”

His teammates have taken to him as much as Rutsch has to the team with James Whelan very complimentary of his new teammate.

“He’s really, really strong,” said Whelan. “He’s a big lad but he has some serious power. We saw that with how he was going up those climbs at Cadels (Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race). He’s a real nice guy as well!”

EF Education First management have big hopes for Rutsch, particularly for the cobbled classics with the German a winner of the Gent-Wevelgem Under 23 race in 2019.

“The kid is a machine,” said EF Education First Pro Cycling CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “A well-tuned machine.”

“He’s a big rider that seems to climb well and go over cobbles well – and from what I’ve seen, he handles pressure well, too,” said Vaughters. “I think he’s going to be a great Classics rider. I mean, he won Gent-Wevelgem, and I believe is a future Paris-Roubaix winner.”

High expectations follow Rutsch, and certainly for the present he is showing that he’s got the intention and ability to give his supporters a fun ride.

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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger