A fleeting glance behind the large brown metal door of the workshop would seem to indicate that this is a private cycling museum. Hanging on the walls are racing bikes from past decades, medals, winners’ banderoles and faded jerseys in glass cabinets. In the middle of the room is a Mercedes-Benz 124 model series Estate with its tailgate open. Inside it, however, are carbon wheels, brand-new cycle tools and a box containing blue plastic water bottles. Leaning against the wall are futuristic racing bikes with flat, curved black carbon frames. So maybe it isn’t a museum after all.
The home of the team is a former car repair workshop in Bavarian Holzkirchen.
Theodora was born in 1981 as a 200 T with round headlamps. Her 80 kW (109 hp) four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual gearbox allowed the silver-blue metallic all-rounder to quickly reach 168 km/h.
A friendly young man comes out through a door halfway up the former car workshop: tall, slim and lean, with a hipster beard. “May I introduce you? This is Theo,” he says, pointing to the classic Mercedes-Benz. With a smile he runs down the nine steps of the concrete stairs, holding out his right hand: “And I’m Christian Grasmann.” Christian Grasmann. Cyclist, collector of vintage vehicles, Mercedes-Benz enthusiast, chairperson of two sports clubs and boss of a cycling race team. The Maloja Pushbikers, as his team is called, are different and want to be different.
The two cars that not only accompany the riders during training rides but also transport them to the races are two estates. But these are not E-Class models of the current S 213 model generation – they are an S 123 built in 1981 and an S 124 ten years its junior. Why those two? “I’ve always valued the Mercedes brand,” replies the professional cyclist. “That has a lot to do with the thriftiness that my parents instilled in me.” Their motto was, “Before you buy something, think about whether you really need it. And if you do buy something, buy something decent.”
The S 124 joined the family in 2004; it was 13 years old and was soon given the name Theo. “I’d just started cycle racing,” says Christian Grasmann, who had previously been an Alpine skier and had served in an army sports promotion group.
“I was looking for a reliable vehicle for the long journeys to the cycle races.”
It had to be a diesel, with enough space for four cyclists and their bikes. “I’d always liked the 124 series, and the large luggage space was and still is just ideal.” You could fit up to eight racing bikes into the luggage compartment without having to put any on the roof. “The car had served as a pure workhorse and when I bought it, it already had 160,000 kilometres on the clock, but it was still in perfect condition.”
A thunderstorm brings an abrupt end to a training session on the concrete outdoor velodrome.
More than 100,000 kilometres later, the diesel engine still runs impeccably, and the automatic transmission and the air conditioning are also in perfect working order. The only investment in addition to the regular maintenance services at the Mercedes-Benz workshop was a new car radio. Today, Christian Grasmann, who was once an amateur cyclist, lives from his earnings as a cycling professional.
He and the members of the Maloja Pushbikers team, which he founded in 2010, named after an equipment supplier, occupy a special niche in their sport: six-day indoor events; races on short, tight circuits in urban centres where the spectators can keep a constant eye on all competitors; and races with fixed-gear bikes, with no gearshift, which are currently all the rage on the younger scene. These events provide an opportunity for riders who do not have the benefit of the large budgets of those professional teams with well-known jerseys and names from the major circuits.
“We just enjoy cycle racing,” says the up-and-coming 21-year-old cyclist Lena Vogl, who races for the women’s team of the Pushbikers, founded in 2017. She knows both sides of the scene and has raced as a junior member for teams in the national women’s league. “You do long races, and there are just a few spectators standing by the side of the road.” As a fixed-gear rider – which means like track racing, the bikes have no gear change and no brakes – she rides on circuits in major cities like New York and London, in front of thousands of spectators.
Lena Vogl is a road cyclist who specialises in fixed-gear city races.
Sofie Mangertseder was German Champion in team pursuit in 2016.
This is why she and her teammate Sofie Mangertseder, who is the same age, have made the switch: they now give priority to their vocational studies, they’ve reduced their training time, and they ride as committed amateurs at events with a large audience – without the pressure of having to win. The fact that the Maloja Pushbikers have made a real name for themselves on the cycle racing scene within only a few years was not the reason for acquiring a second team vehicle. Buying it was a stroke of luck, because the second estate car – which goes by the name of Theodora – helps to make the Pushbikers stand out from the crowd when they appear at races.
“With Theodora, it was the other way round from Theo. I didn’t look for her – she found me.” The S 123 had been standing in a shed, unused and dusty, and was the same age as Christian Grasmann. “I thought I’d get her out to give Theo support. Today, Theodora is everybody’s darling.”
Support is exactly the thing that distinguishes the Pushbikers. “If you support our team as a sponsor, you commit to supporting the young upcoming cyclists from the Irschenberg Cycling Club.” The Maloja professionals take the future talents along with them in their slipstream.