Roger Federer’s got a lot going for him. He’s arguably the greatest tennis player who’s ever lived, he has 20 Grand Slam Titles, and in 2020, he beat out the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James for the distinction of “world’s highest-paid athlete,” reeling in $106.3 million over the previous calendar year.
Last year was a bit of a lost year for the 39-year-old Swiss, though. He competed only in January’s Australia Open, where he was knocked out in the semifinals. Not long after, he underwent the first of two arthroscopic surgeries for a right knee injury, which effectively ended his season. If he had to pick a year to sit out, though, it would probably be the one in which his beloved Wimbledon was canceled (for the first time since World War II) and tournaments were postponed and played in empty arenas.
During all that time off, Federer did Federer things. He went for hikes in Sound of Music-esque countrysides; he stayed sharp by hitting balls against the wall while wearing a funny hat; he ramped up his marketing for the Swiss running brand On. And he might’ve, according to spotty but promising online intel, become an absolute wizard on the Peloton, the connected fitness bike that became so popular last year, it increased sales by 232% over one quarter, with some Black Friday orders not expected to deliver until July.
Access is a preordained right for professional athletes. Normally, they don’t have to think twice about court-time or rink-time or nipping into the rehab facility for a 45-minute massage. The perks of the job are also prerequisites — others handle the logistics of facilities and itineraries, so they can focus on skillsets, fitness and progress. But that age-old agreement went out the window in the early days of COVID, when sports were put on permanent pause. Some NBA players entered the Orlando Bubble without having shot a basketball in months. NHL teams bought rollerblades in bulk, so their players could practice on cul-de-sacs. Athletes all over the spectrum, sequestered from even their personal trainers, were tasked with keeping themselves in shape.
It shouldn’t be too surprising, then, that the same connected fitness apparatuses that have found their way to homes of amateur trainees all across America (and the planet) are now favored by deep-pocketed pro athletes. Peloton, in particular, has become a cross-training machine of choice. Not just for cardio-focused Olympians, like middle-distance runner Colleen Quigley, but also for NFL quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Pat Mahomes. There’s even a brotherhood of Peloton-obsessed PGA golfers, including Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas. They all seem to be chasing Rory McIlroy, who regularly puts up god-like numbers and occasionally calls out other guys on the Tour.
Roger Federer’s Peloton usage, meanwhile, is unconfirmed. Unlike those athletes, he’s never posted about using a bike on social media. But if you fire up the Peloton app and search the handle “federer1,” you’ll find an account with about 4,500 followers, a tennis ball in the icon photo and some absolutely absurd performance metrics. Unlike mainstream social media apps, fitness accounts like Peloton or Strava are yet to confer notable users with a verified “blue checkmark.” The only way to know for sure is by A) the athlete confirming his/her own account, B) parsing together internet research, or C) using common sense. We’re blind here on A, but information-gathering for B and C seem to suggest that Federer loves his Peloton.
For starters: no matter your opinion of Reddit, the site’s users tend to take themselves seriously. And we know fitness junkies take themselves very seriously. Make a cross-section of those two groups and you end up with a subreddit called r/pelotoncycle, where someone published a list called “Famous People Who Cycle”. The user “federer1” is included on that list, alongside a dozen confirmed accounts. The top commenter replied “Imagine being Roger Federer and having to take ‘federer1’ as your username. Probably typed in ‘federer‘ and said, “Aw shit, it’s taken.” That’s not only a funny point, but a salient one — like anyone else, Federer sometimes has to operate in the muck of social-media martyrdom and throw a number onto the end of his name. Something about that makes this account feel real.
Elsewhere, one of the most popular trainers on the Peloton app, Alex Toussaint, appeared to count Federer as one of his regular riders in an interview with Sports Illustrated. And the managing director at GOLF.com, Jonathan Wall, name-dropped Federer when discussing his idea for an all-sport tournament to determine the “Peloton King.” Wall said: “I actually saw Roger Federer is on Peloton, and he’s putting up insane numbers. People always say he’s kind of in the twilight of his tennis career. Not on the Peloton.” Then there are the scores of “Bigfoot sightings” — people who’ve gotten virtual high-fives from Federer during workouts, or seen his name on the leaderboard. Twitter, as usual, has the goods there.
The timeline works, too. Peloton isn’t just a great way to stay in shape — it’s also a perfect, low-impact option for someone looking to get back into shape. Coming off multiple knee surgeries, Federer likely wanted to balance a regimen of hard work with smart, safe work.
Make no mistake, though — and this is the best overall clue — Federer’s metrics are superhuman. If Peloton numbers don’t mean anything to you, rest assured that 45 minutes at an average 89% resistance requires otherworldly stamina: it’s basically an aggressive uphill climb for 20 miles straight. And that 15th-place finish pictured above is a big deal. Once you get into the top 100, you’re fighting off former professional cyclists, middle-aged Tough Mudder-types who love a stationary bike more than their own kin and actual robots — some people have hacked their bikes to cruise to the top of the leaderboard.
Could “federer1” be a robot? Or, just someone else entirely? It’s definitely possible. He’s following 94 people, and there’s a suspicious number of UK-based handles, and absence of handles from other famous people. This could well be the work of someone with quads of steel and too much time on their hands playing an elaborate joke on the internet. If so, congrats — not so much for the prank, but for the performance. This ruse has gotten you in terrific shape.
But we’re choosing to believe it’s Roger himself, a secret Peloton champion. It’s exciting, it’s legitimizing, it’s exactly what you’d hope from one of the greatest athletes we’ve ever seen. He’s pushing 40 and still has it, incapable of stuffing his competitive fervor into a drawer, not even for a 15-minute cycling workout. Never meet your idols? Perhaps. But no one ever said anything about taking a Peloton class with them. So next time you’re puffing away in a morning session with Sam Yo, keep your eyes peeled for a lone Swiss rider breaking from the pack.