Lars Forster – how he became a pro mountain bike racer

As a child, you couldn’t get Lars Forster away from a bike. Very little has changed for the 28-year-old from Switzerland, who’s one of the country’s top male cross-country mountain bike athletes. The current European Champion’s journey to the top involved a lot of commitment, sacrifice and determination. Still, despite his natural competitive drive, Forster has always raced and competed with a smile on his face, whatever the result.

Don’t ever lose that smile, Lars Forster

© Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Forster can thank his father, Sepp Forster, for getting him into mountain biking. Sepp, a keen motocross racer, was looking to stay fit away from his motorised machine. With a young family, cycling was a leisure activity that was perfect for everyone to enjoy. At the same time, mountain biking was taking off in Switzerland. The stars aligned.

By the age of three, Forster had already mastered riding his first bike. From then his parents could hardly get him off two wheels. His enthusiasm eventually saw him enrolled in a local cycling club, Veloclub Eschenbach, where he was free to roam local trails with his friends, going uphill and downhill.

Lars Forster as a child

© Private

Forster’s father, during this time, had begun to compete in mountain bike races, mostly long-distance marathon races. The whole family would travel to see Sepp compete, and seeing his father race, inspired a young Lars. At one particular race, Lars wanted to get on the same course as his father, but much to his frustration, he wasn’t allowed to.

“I didn’t think the [skills] course was cool, I wanted to be in the real race,” Forster remembers.

Forster wanted to be a pro cyclist from early on

© ZO Bike Cup

Mountain biking was by no means Forster’s only hobby. He played football and basketball with his friends with the same passion. Most of all, he amazed his parents by taking up and sticking with the martial art sport of Jiu-Jitsu. Martial arts are all about discipline, and a young Forster was all about having fun to that point.

“This ability to concentrate, which he acquired there, later helped him enormously in the mental area,” says Sepp.

Basketball was another sport that Forster excelled at

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Forster continued doing martial arts until his teenage years, ranking to brown belt by the time he finished.

Forster got his wish to race on a big boys course eventually, taking part in mountain bike and cyclo-cross events. His parents provided valuable support, ferrying him from race to race with his father as his unpaid mechanic.

Forster (bottom left) with his local cycling club – Veloclub Eschenbach

© Veloclub Eschenbach

Training with the local cycling club

Forster’s cycling club, Veloclub Eschenbach, played a critical part in his development. The club helped put on training rides and provide coaching to Forster in his early years. Current Scott team-mate Andri Frischknecht was also part of the cub. He and Forster benefited from riding with cyclists who were a lot older than them, some of whom were beginning to make waves on the Swiss mountain bike and cyclo-cross scene, such as Fabian Giger and Marcel Wildhaber.

“I didn’t feel like I was training,” says Forster. “I just had fun with my colleagues on the trails.”

Forster alongside bike pro Fabian Giger before a VC Eschenbach club ride

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As a junior, Lars was more successful in cyclo-cross than on a mountain bike. He was a Swiss national champion in the discipline at age group riding. In 2011, he took the junior European Championship title.

Lars was one of those people who seemed to be born with a bike on their back. Technically everything is just right

Manfred Kupferschmied, Wheeler-iXS team manager

Forster enjoyed taking part in cyclo-cross races as well as mountain biking

© EKZ Cross

Schooling was still an important consideration for Forster, and he graduated from high school before taking on an apprenticeship post-school with a tool company. With all this going on, he was trying to train daily at the same time. But becoming a professional bike rider was his main goal.

In Switzerland, all men have to complete a period of conscription into the Swiss Armed Forces. Forster was lucky that he could complete his mandatory time at a special unit for promising sporting athletes. His childhood friend Andri Frischknecht was with him there as well. In between basic military training, the two were allowed to train like full professionals.

Forster (2nd row from the top and in the middle) during his army training

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Mountain biking comes to the fore

Cyclo-cross racing went on the backburner for Forster once he started competing at U23 level in cross-country mountain biking. In 2015, he signed for the Wheeler-iXS team, and it coincided with an incredible year at the World Cup, claiming two victories at Nove Mesto and Lenzerheide along the way.

Forster winning the Swiss U23 national title

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I was better at cyclo-cross, but mountain biking was the bigger event for me

“That’s when I decided I no longer had to go to work [outside cycling], and I could instead fully rely on my mountain bike,” says Forster.

His team manager at the time, Manfred Kupferschmied, remembers: “Lars was one of those people who seemed to be born with a bike on his back. Everything was just right in terms of his riding technique. He was incredibly determined, focused and consistent. At the same time, he remained relaxed.”

He’s a real two-faced kind of guy: calm outside of the races and snappy like a pit bull on the bike in races

Thomas Frischknecht on Lars Forster

After that 2015 season, Forster stepped up to racing with the Elites, and he was a wanted man. BMC was his destination from 2016 onwards. One of the greatest cross-country riders ever, Julien Absalon, was a training partner and a teammate. He finished his first elite World Cup race in Cairns, Australia, in sixth place, followed by fifth place in Albstadt, Germany.

Forster had the talent to win major races in both cyclo-cross and MTB

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By his own admission, he wasn’t at his best in the 2017 season, but by 2018 he was back again competing at the top end of World Cup races, crowing the season by winning his biggest senior title to date – the European Championship.

Celebrating becoming European champion in 2018

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A World Cup win with the perfect team

In 2019, Forster left BMC for the Scott Sram team. Scott, of course, had Nino Schurter on their roster, but his childhood friend Andri Frischknecht was also on the team. Another friendly face on the team was Andri’s father, Thomas Frischknecht, Scott-Sram’s team principal.

Things didn’t start well with the new team, though. Forster got injured in the first World Cup race of the season. But he worked to get back to fitness in the second half of the season, and at the last race of the season in Snowshoe, USA, he overcame his team-mate Schurter in the final moments of the race to take his first World Cup victory.

The Way To The Top documentary accompanies Lars Forster on his way to his first win of the season in 2019:

Lars Forster – Way to the Top

A two-time European champion

In August of 2021, Forster won the European Championship crown again in Novi Sad in Serbia. The second Euro win was a hard-fought victory but was a reward for Forster, who took control of the race from the last lap.

Forster goes into the rest of the 2021 World Cup season with some form and will be looking to make a mark on his home track of Lenzerheide, where he’ll be up against top opposition in compatriots Nino Schurter and Mathias Flückiger.