By Mark Johnson
Twenty-six-year old Garmin-Slipstream pro Lucas Euser got his start racing mountain bikes while in high school in California’s Napa Valley. He turned to the road as an undergraduate at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on California’s central coast, and is now in his third year racing in Europe. VeloNews caught up with the 5’7”, 130-pound rider at his home in Girona, Spain, where he is on crutches recovering from a May 14 run-in with a car.
VeloNews: Last week you had an accident. What happened?
Lucas Euser: A car turned in front of me and I smashed into it. I was doing intervals, was going probably 45k an hour. (The car) stopped when I ran into it. I broke my kneecap and they screwed it and wired it back together and I broke a couple of ribs. It was my second workout of the day, a double day with the TT bike in the morning and hill intervals in the afternoon.
VN: What is the prognosis for getting back on the bike?
LE: The doctors here in Spain are amazingly optimistic. They are saying four weeks. I got operated on in Girona at this place called the clinic Onyar. They do a lot of sports-related injuries. Along with the hospital they have a rehab clinic, so that’s where I’ve been going. As the swelling goes down, the movement gets a lot better every day. But the thought of pedaling a bike right now is unbelievably painful.
VN: How far from home were you?
LE: About 25 or 30k away. The ambulance came and the police came. They brought a doctor out because they thought maybe I had a punctured lung or something. It was raining a little bit, too. I went right into the side rear panel of the car. It was a small SUV. I wish I would have clipped it and then crashed — got some momentum and then rolled. But it just went: 45k an hour, car, Lucas, bam! It was like a cartoon. I took most of the impact on my side and I’m pretty sure my knee must have swung around and smashed the side of the door.
VN: What was your next scheduled race?
LE: I was supposed to do Catalunya, the Dauphiné, and then Tour of Austria. I had a really good schedule. I was feeling awesome and the numbers were good. Everything was clicking.
VN: Garmin has had a tough spring with your crash and Christian Vande Velde breaking his back at the Giro.
LE: Yeah. And Dave (Zabriskie) broke his back there last year. Christian is doing good. He’s in good spirits. He came by and brought me lunch the other day with his whole family. We are both in places where neither one of us want to be.
VN: You got into bike racing through BMX and then mountain biking in high school, right?
LE: I grew up 500 meters from Skyline Park (in California’s Napa Valley). It was the backyard mountain bike park. Having a local scene is what got me started. Mountain biking helps you find that community of cyclists at an early age and in an easy way. It’s a good place to learn, to find that sense of community. And I’ve carried it all the way to the European peloton. You’ve got to remember your roots. Mountain bike racing is one of the best forms of grass roots cycling there is.
VN: How old were you when you transitioned to road?
LE: I didn’t fully break from my mountain bike until I was 19 or so. It was just the next step. The biggest thing was going to college (in 2002). I’ve always looked at collegiate cycling as a major breeding ground for pros. It’s a really good environment to be racing bikes in and it allows you to race while you are studying. And it’s produced a lot of good cyclists. A lot of people think ‘I can’t do all that training and racing while I’m going to school,’ but it’s totally possible. It made me more focused. ‘OK, I have to ride three hours today. Where is that three-hour block?’ It teaches you how to regiment yourself on the physical and mental end.
VN: In the Tour of Romandie this year you were hitting 60 mph on the descents.
LE: That’s kind of typical. And it’s right next to someone else and its ridiculous how fast you are going. You try not to think about it too much, that’s for sure. But that’s what we do. That’s part of our sport. I never focus on the speed and how fast you are going. You are always focused on what is around you. You are always thinking of an out. If something happens where do I go? Your instincts have to be 100 percent dialed or you shouldn’t be out there.
VN: Switzerland has fabulous scenery. Were you aware of it?
LE: Awww, man. I’ve been in some of the most gorgeous places and passed some of the most gorgeous scenery and not even known it was out there. It’s disheartening sometimes! Like that last stage of Romandie was actually pretty cool (scenery-wise) but we were driving it at the front for the last 70k. Just killing ourselves. Afterwards, Tyler (Farrar), our sprinter, was like ‘Man, did you get a chance to look at the stuff that we passed?’ And I was like, ‘No, we were working for you!’ There are so many times when you go through areas like Switzerland or the Pyrenees or the Alps and you miss out on some really cool views. However, a lot of the times you’ll end up staying up at some really cool hotel on the top of mountain.
VN: Garmin-Slipstream got a lot of TV time on the last stage of Romandie when Cavendish got dropped and you were at the front.
LE: From the gun, that was our plan. It’s really cool when that actually comes through. I know that Tyler got second (to Rabobank’s Oscar Freire), but he was close. Freire is hard to beat. The plan was to drop Cavendish. Rabo and us hit it on the climb and we dropped Cavendish. We had 12 or 13 guys fully rotating to make sure Cavendish didn’t get back on. We went Mach 10! I think we averaged 56 or 58k an hour. It’s totally motivational. That’s what I love about the sport is that I can sacrifice myself like that and somebody else on my team is going to do good.
VN: This year you did your first Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallone.
LE: I loved it man. Flèche was awesome. I was good at Flèche. I was working for Ryder (Hesjedal). I was positioning Ryder in the end and I used my last few bullets riding for him instead of riding for myself. I was kind of on the limit as it was. It’s better to help someone else.
At Liège I was having a bad day. My only job that day was to get in an early break. And holy crap it was Mach 10 for like two hours. The break went at like 96k, basically at the two-hour mark. At the 45k mark we hit a train crossing and sure enough the train was crossing. So right when the break was about to go — you could tell it was about to split — we stopped for five minutes. I was like, ‘Oh great, everyone is ready to go again.’ So it took another 40k for it to even happen. I had a mechanical and had to do two different bike changes while the peloton was going full out. That took me out of trying to make the early breakaway. I came off at kilometer 200, and there’s no sense in going all the way through if you are just going to finish, especially if you have to do Romandie in two days. That was my own choice to pack it in. But it was also with the 20 other guys I was with.
VN: Describe a typical non-race day in Girona.
LE: Shoot, this is the life. You wake up whenever you want, do some stretching, eat some good breakfast, then go on a training ride for as long as you need that day. And you have all day to do it. That’s the life of a professional. Granted, you can’t let the things slip that need to get done. There is real life stuff that needs to happen. So you have to balance your training life with taking care of yourself and your surroundings and all the things that are necessary to be happy. It’s pretty easy living over here, especially because Spain is kind of adapted to that with the laid back way of life, the late dinners and the siestas. It’s a pretty chill place to live.
VN: On May 4 the city of Girona threw a party for Garmin-Slipstream.
LE: Yeah. They did a little promenade kind of thing for us. We started from where the Tour is going to start and rode out from the city with a police escort. That was kind of cool because they’ve never really acknowledged that we exist. And we’ve been bringing professionals to this city for a really long time now and attracting quite a few tourists who come because we are here. It’s nice to be acknowledged by the city of Girona.