A conversation with Gavi Epstein, a neopro on Slipstream Sports’ continental team

Gavi Epstein at the Saratoga 'cross race start. Gavi Epstein is a 24-year-old rider who this week signed with Slipstream Sports’ continental team. In addition to winning a number of races near his home in the New York City area and placing consistently high in races on…

Gavi Epstein
Gavi Epstein at the Saratoga 'cross race start.

Gavi Epstein is a 24-year-old rider who this week signed with Slipstream Sports’ continental team. In addition to winning a number of races near his home in the New York City area and placing consistently high in races on the East Coast, Epstein has stood on the podium at the USA Crits finals in Las Vegas and won the best young rider classification at the Tour of Hong Kong–Shanghai.

With his pro contract freshly inked, Epstein spoke with VeloNews contributor Daniel McMahon about getting into cycling in London, coming up as a racer in the Big Apple, and riding in 2011 with the continental arm of team Garmin-Cervelo in countries around the world.

Q. So how does it feel to be turning professional?
A. I’m ecstatic! It’s a long-time dream come true, a goal I’ve been working toward for a long time. I’ve realized my dream.

Q.What’s the reaction been like from Garmin?
A. Jonathan Vaughters has been very enthusiastic about the whole deal, and he’s got a good program for me racing this year. The team is trying to get invitations to do more races all around the world.

Q.What are the team’s expectations of you, and what will your role be?
A.We haven’t really talked too much about that yet. I just want to work as hard as I can for the team. My own results, I think, are secondary. I really just want to make an impact on the team as a hard worker, somebody they can count on when they need me. That’s what I want to do. If they need me to chase down breaks, get bottles or go with the early break, I’ll be there.
And they know I’ve done races like the Vuelta Mexico and the Tour of Brazil, which were really hard races. Chann McRae (Garmin continental team director) told me that the year I did Vuelta Mexico it was just as hard as the Tour of California. There were about 200 guys that started that race, and only about 120 finished.

Q.At 24, you already have quite a lot of experience as a cyclist.
A. Well, I’ve been racing in New York since I was 14. From age 10 to about 13 my family lived in London, where my father was working at the time. Somehow I got involved in local charity rides there when I was 11. I just loved riding and I rode everywhere!When I moved back to the US, I never really thought there was bike racing here. I bought myself a road bike at a local shop when I was 13, and the guy there told me about the racing in Central Park. So when I was 14, I started doing the spring series, and that was it. I joined CRCA (the Century Road Club Association).

Q.How did your years racing as a junior go?
A.Actually, all of my junior career I was never allowed to race on Saturdays, because I grew up in a Jewish orthodox home, so I never really fully committed to bike racing. Even though I was going to all these races and qualifying for the junior regional champs, I could never go, which was kind of frustrating for me. So I was always just doing it for fun, you know.
But as I got older everyone still had interest in me. When I moved out of my house, that first weekend I raced on Saturday. That second weekend I rode at Univest.

Q.You’ve done lots of stage races, time trials, and the NRC and USA Crits series. Do you consider yourself an all-arounder?
A.When I started out, I used to think of myself as a climber because I was smaller, but the way my path in cycling has gone, I’ve had to acclimate to doing really everything. Like on CRCA/Foundation, my team this past year, it was primarily criteriums; with Champion System before that, it was a mix of crits and road and stage races. So I think I’m pretty much an all-arounder.

Gavi Epstein
Gavi Epstein

Q. You’ve been coached for the past few years by former pro rider Matthew Koschara, who also coaches Evelyn Stevens (Columbia-HTC). How has he helped you?
A.Before I got a coach, I’d just go out and do long, easy miles. Once I met Matt, he really showed me that the wintertime is the only time you can really improve, and for me that was my power, my high end. I had great endurance before I met Matt but I couldn’t do anything super hard, you know, because I just didn’t have that high power. So that’s what we really focused on.
Matt’s really helped me dial it all in, but he’s been more than a cycling coach. He’s really been my life coach, because he’s helped me through times in my life when I needed guidance. He’s involved himself in my everyday training, too. I think his secret is really understanding how you feel. We talk every day on the phone, and we ride a lot together. Such good coaches are far and in between. I’m lucky to have him.

Q. As someone who’s been racing in New York City for over a decade, what’s your take on the state racing there?
A.It has definitely grown and there’s a ton of racing. You can race every weekend; you can race four or five times a week. It’s just that all the racing is grassroots. I wish New York racing could evolve on a larger level.
In downtown Manhattan we used to have the New York City Cycling Championship, right on Wall Street. I did that race twice, once as a junior and once as an elite rider, and it was pretty fun. I don’t know if that race could come back but, you know, it’d be great to have some big races in the city again. With races like that we’re not getting in the way of people — people are coming to see us. I feel like with a lot of the races we’re just getting in the way. But we should really be the entertainment.

Q.What does your new team’s calendar look like for 2011?
A.I imagine we’ll be doing most of the UCI races in the US, except for the ones that the ProTour team goes to, like Tour of California or the race in Colorado, the Quiznos Pro Challenge. I imagine they’ll probably do the Tour of the Battenkill again; I just don’t know if I’ll be on the roster for that race or not. Jonathan has said he wants to take the team to Europe, so I could be going there as well. It’s a possibility.

Q.What’s the plan for the coming months?
A. I’m most likely going to Tucson at the beginning of January for an unofficial training camp. I know the team is scheduled to race in both the Tour de Langkawi and the Tropicale Amissa Bongo (Tabo), which is a stage race in Africa. They’re both UCI races, and they’re both going on at the same time. So basically the team is split in two.
Because I was a late signing, I was told that the rosters were already set for those races, but I’m on reserve for either team. So if somebody were to get sick I’d probably go. I was told by Chann to be ready to race.

Q.Will you still be based in the New York City area?
A.Well, my wife and I live here, and she’ll want me coming home often. I imagine it could be half the time here, half the time away.

Q.When you’re home, will you still come out and do the local races?
A. Of course I would love to come out to some of the local races. It really just all depends if it fits in. If I’m coming home from a long racing block it might not be too smart to do more racing when I need to rest.