Off the Bike with Tom Bohli4. May 2016, Santa Rosa, California (USA) — Road Team
Think back to the final kilometer of Stage 5 of the Tour de Romandie which played out last Sunday. You may remember a blistering attack from a BMC Racing Team rider who shot passed the four-rider breakaway and looked set to take home the stage win, only to be caught just meters before the line.
The Twittersphere was asking “who on earth is that rider?”. Well, that rider was Tom Bohli, Swiss neo-pro, BMC Development Team graduate, and the newest addition to the BMC Racing Team roster for the 2016 season. Tom has already showed that he has a phenomenal engine and is more than capable of churning out some massive watts when he scored his first win as a pro rider in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen prologue. He followed that up with third place in the Driedaagse de Panne-Koksijde time trial to cross the line with the same time as triple World Time Trial champion Tony Martin.
But away from racing there’s probably a lot that our fans don’t know about Tom so we figured he was a good candidate for the second edition of our “Off the bike with…” series which looks at an aspect of a rider’s life away from cycling.
So what’s something you may not know about powerhouse Tom Bohli? Well, you can probably just call him the master of languages. Most cyclists would put the rest of us to shame with two, maybe three, languages that they can speak. Not Tom, who has mastered no less that five languages (he’ll tell you that his Italian isn’t great but we don’t buy it for a second!).
We sat down with Tom to discover where his fascination for languages comes from and just how useful it is for him in cycling.
Tom, I think you may be the rider who can speak the most number of languages on BMC Racing Team. Tell us, what languages do you speak?
“Languages are something that I am really, really interested in. Coming from the German part of Switzerland I obviously speak German as my native language, but I am also fluent in French, English and Spanish. My Italian is comprehensible at best!”
When and how did you start learning these languages?
“Usually in Switzerland we learn French as our second language in grade 5 and then English in grade 6, so I have spoken both of these languages for a long time. In school we are taught British English and then later you are introduced to some American vocabulary but by then you are already deciding in which direction you will go. I really like the sound of British English so I learned this way of speaking.”
“I only started learning Spanish two years ago after I met my girlfriend who is Mexican. I learned Spanish more to be part of her family and they have really accepted me because of it! It’s a very important language. The funny thing is I actually communicate with my girlfriend in English all of the time.”
“I was actually more interested in learning Italian but it is really difficult to learn Spanish and Italian at the same time because they are so similar, so at this time I decided to study Spanish for a year at school. In Switzerland we have a different education system with a level of education in between high school and university, so this is where I learned Spanish (side note: Tom is specializing in biochemistry).
What do you think fascinates you most about learning other languages?
“The thing that interests me most about a language is the influence a culture has on that language, and how the language has an influence on the culture. This is something that fascinates me so I do a lot of research on this. Also when we are in different countries and often on long transfers to and from airports, hotels or races you see things that interest or intrigue you and you want to know more about it, and more about the language to understand in the right context. I really love to go to a person’s country and be able to speak to them in their native language and really feel like you are experiencing their culture.”
How useful are these languages mid-race?
“It really depends on where the race is. If I’m racing in Belgium, then I probably only speak English and French because basically the whole peloton speaks those two languages. But then in Qatar or Dubai it’s very international so I may also speak some Spanish, some English, some French and occasionally some Italian.”
What will the next language be?
“Good question! I think it would be Japanese. I have already started learning the alphabet a bit and I was able to read sentences but without really knowing the rules. Of course you forget it quite quickly when you are not using it, but I would very much like to learn Japanese properly, once I’ve finished my studies that is.”