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By Neal Rogers
There’s perhaps not a racer competing in the North American peloton that’s as universally acknowledged as the “consummate professional” as is Sierra Nevada’s hard-working Eric Wohlberg.
Entering his 13th year of racing, Wohlberg, 39, shows no signs of slowing down, evidenced by his recent time trial win at the Tour de Langkawi. Then again, winning time trials is nothing new for Wohlberg, as he is an eight-time Canadian national time trial champion. That’s right, eight. He also took 20th at the Sydney Olympic Games time trial. Maybe it’s those 500 sit-ups he’s rumored to do every morning.
Following a five-year stint at Shaklee, Wohlberg spent the last three years riding support at Saturn, but when Saturn’s sponsorship was officially declared over, he signed with the lesser-experienced Sierra Nevada squad for 2004. It’s natural to assume he’d take more of a leadership role at the Northern California-based team, alongside former Saturn teammate and 2001 NRC overall champion Trent Klasna, but as the eternally upbeat and always media-savvy Wohlberg explained in Malaysia, that may or may not be the case.
VeloNews: So Eric, is this a dream of yours, to have more of a leader’s position on a team of young guys willing to slave for you?
Eric Wohlberg: My dream is to just be able to continue being a full-time cyclist, so I’m very glad that Sierra Nevada, Kurt Stockton and Mike Neel are still giving me that opportunity right now. I’m really looking forward to this year, we’ve got a good mix of some old, kind of more experienced veterans on the team and that’s going to be balanced by a lot of young enthusiastic riders that have been with the team for the last couple of years.
VN: You didn’t win stage races for Saturn, but you were often pivotal in its successes. Will you have the chance to ride for yourself more in 2004?
EW: Well, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t really care where I fit in the hierarchy of a team, as long as I can be out there and making a solid contribution across the board and still racing well. If I have a chance to win the odd race here or there, that’s great, but I’m not really looking for guys to be working for me, per se, in any race. What I want to see is that the workload gets shared more equally across the board. Of course there are going to be some days where certain guys are going to have to be protected, and maybe one of those guys might be me in the odd case, but for the most part I’ve never really come to a team with the intent that I’m going to be designated team leader or anything like that. I like to see that responsibility shared amongst a couple of riders.
VN: To what do you attribute your longevity in such a brutal sport?
EW: Oh, I don’t know, I like to chalk it up to clean living [laughs]. I guess for me, I can really appreciate the freedom and the lifestyle I have as an athlete. Sometimes it’s difficult – the courses, all the traveling, and really we’re not making a whole lot of money compared to other people out there. But I also say it’s hard to put a price — or a value — on my experiences, as I’ve met all sorts of great people and just had this chance to be a full-time athlete.
VN: What have been some of the more memorable experiences you’ve had over your career?
EW: I think coming to Malaysia and racing with all the Canucks is a lot of fun. We have a good mix of riders, so that’s always fun. You know in 2001 and 2003 on Saturn we had fantastic seasons, and that was just a real great experience. It’s nice to come down to these different countries, and people know your name and respect you for what you’ve accomplished and risked down here, so that’s pretty cool to have that feeling.
VN: Are there any members of the Sierra-Nevada team that people might not be familiar with that, in your opinion, people will know about by the end of 2004?
EW: Well, I think some of the guys that have been on the team for a while. Ben Jacques-Maynes is pretty strong, from what I’ve seen being more-or-less a Northern-California resident and racing against him. Sterling Magnell is a pretty solid rider. Of course, with Glen Mitchell coming aboard, but most people probably know that name. We also have Russell Hambly, an Ofoto rider that’s come across, and he’s pretty strong. We have a good young team for the most part. I guess you just have guys like me and Trent that really kind of drive up the average age, but for the most part it’s a pretty young team.
VN: Tell me about Russell. Is he more of a climber, or a sprinter, or an all-arounder?
EW: I really like Russell’s style, and just dedication. I think he’s more of a solid all around guy. He’s kind of like a guy like me – he’ll just go out and absolutely ride himself into the ground, so I really respect that of a rider, that has that kind of mental fortitude to just go out there and get the job done. Sterling will be probably our fastest sprinter, and Ben Jacques-Maynes can handle himself pretty good, and then we have some other good support riders like Troy White and some of the other younger guys, that are just going to go out there and they’re excited to have some of us old buggers on the team right now. Hopefully that will help them step their game up a little bit, too.
VN: Is the team going to focus solely on the National Racing Calendar?
EW: Oh, of course, and the local California racing series, I imagine that’s going to be important for us. Sierra Nevada brewery is based out of Chico, California, and they do a lot of sales in the Northern California area, so we want to go out and represent our sponsor well.
VN: It should be fun riding with Trent Klasna again, eh?
EW: Oh yeah, it’s always fun with Trent [laughing]. You never know what’s going to happen.