Road

Eisenhart builds personal business after rocky off-season

Utah's most colorful pro cyclist seeks out personal endorsements and grows his art business to ensure his future during domestic cycling drought.

How big was the 2018 off-season for TJ Eisenhart?

It changed his life.

Like many domestic pro racers, Eisenhart watched in horror as multiple American pro teams nearly dissolved after the season ended in August. Eisenhart’s own team, Holowesko-Arapahoe Resources, was among those in jeopardy. Officials informed Holowesko riders in early September that the team was among those on the hunt for new sponsors.

The news came as Eisenhart was preparing to marry his longtime girlfriend, Heather. A month after their nuptials, the couple learned that they were pregnant with their first child. Eisenhart, 24, says the news, when matched with pro cycling’s downturn, caused plenty of anxiety.

“It was nerve-wracking and scary. At some point it was like, financially, how am I going to take care of stuff?” Eisenhart says. “Sometimes you have to be pushed in these ways where you think it might break you because it actually makes you stronger.”

Holowesko eventually secured funding for 2019, renaming itself Arapahoe-Hincapie presented by BMC. The new team model meant that riders and staff took a pay cut to survive, and shifted from a European focus back to North America. The team also shrunk from 16 down to nine riders.

Eisenhart says he was overjoyed that the team was able to continue. Still, the brush with job insecurity opened his eyes to U.S. cycling’s fragile economy. So in November, he began to pursue creative ways to generate revenue for himself away from pro racing.

“I knew I was going to have to make the best of a negative situation,” Eisenhart says. “I hustled.”

Eisenhart reached into his personal network to seek out personal endorsements. In 2017, Holowesko worked with apparel manufacturer Spyder on a one-year deal; Eisenhart maintained a personal relationship with employees at Spyder. In October, he inked a personal deal to both design and promote the brand’s new cycling shoes, and traveled to South Korea to meet with the company.

Eisenhart then signed a deal with watchmaker LIV, which produced a wristwatch to commemorate Eisenhart’s daylong breakaway during the second stage of the 2017 Colorado Classic. Eisenhart chose a bright blue turquoise for the watch to match the turquoise necklace he wore during the race.

Eisenhart said he navigated both endorsement deals without the help of a business agent.

“I’ve been doing it myself,” Eisenhart says. “I feel like I’m good at talking to people and figuring these things out.”

Eisenhart’s next goal was to grow his personal art business. Prior to turning professional Eisenhart took art classes at Dixie State University in southern Utah, and in late 2017, he began marketing and selling his paintings through social media as a hobby. This fall, Eisenhart put effort into growing the business.

“I took two weeks and just saw if I could dedicate myself to being a professional artist. No training,” Eisenhart says. “I did a ton of paintings. It pushed me to take that leap of faith and to prove to myself that I could do it.”

In 2017, Eisenhart sold his paintings for a few hundred dollars each; this fall, he more than doubled the prices. Eisenhart’s paintings continued to sell, and he was able to build a clientele of regular buyers. Since December, he has generated several thousand dollars a month from the sale of his art.

Eisenhart admits that these pursuits shifted his focus away from early-season training. A year ago Eisenhart pedaled long training miles through December and January as he prepared for Holowesko’s early-season campaign in Europe. This year, Eisenhart is following a more laid-back build-up to the season.

“I’m riding. If I don’t go out and train and make my legs hurt, then my legs hurt worse,” Eisenhart says. “There’s no need to do six hours a day every day right now. I don’t need to be as fit in February.”

And his racing goals have also changed. Arapahoe-Hincapie will target a mix of domestic criteriums and stage races, with familiar stops at the Tour de Beauce, Tulsa Tough, and USA Cycling national championships, among other events. Eisenhart again wants to target his home race, the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. He also plans to race a handful of mixed-surface events, including Utah’s Crusher in the Tushar.

Eisenhart says his big focus for 2019 will be to appreciate his existing place within the sport — yet more perspective he gleaned from the tough 2018 off-season.

“You dedicate your whole life to this pro life and you realize it can be pulled away at any second, and I feel for the guys who didn’t have anything lined up,” Eisenhart says. “I was preparing for my wedding and doing a lot of other stuff, and at some point, you realize it’s also not the end of the world.”