Interview with SRAM/Troy Lee Designs Racer Russell Finsterwald

Though he’s still a one of the younger pro’s on the national XC circuit, Russell Finsterwald has been a major presence on the American mountain bike scene for nearly a decade now. First as a junior rider, then as a top U23 racer for Subaru-Trek, and now as a pro for the SRAM/Troy Lee Designs Factory Team, Finsterwald has been on too many podiums to count and shows no signs of letting up.

He was kind enough to take a few minutes recently to check in with about his goals for the season, his recent switch to the SRAM/Troy Lee Designs team, and his experience coming up through the ranks the last several years. You have a pretty unique gig as the lone XC representative on the SRAM/Troy Lee Designs program, can you tell us how that came about.

Russell Finsterwald: I’ve had a close relationship with the guys at SRAM for years being that they are also based in Colorado Springs. As a junior, I would help work in the race shop after school to earn a little extra cash. They were a big help in getting me a contract on the former Subaru – Gary Fisher Mountain Bike Team. Last year, Troy Lee Designs decided to partner up and form a new team with SRAM and the opportunity to be apart of the new program was an easy decision for me. How has the switch been going from a big factory team, Trek, to what is essentially a solo program at SRAM/Troy Lee Designs? Is it tough not having teammates at races or has that not been much of a factor for you?

Russell Finsterwald: While racing on the Trek team I had a lot of great teammates whom I was able to learn a lot from. Had I not had those 4 years of picking up little pieces of information from guys like Sam and JHK, things may be a little different now. During those years I learned the ins and outs of traveling and racing, so I think I have a good system together now while on the road. The team provides excellent support while traveling which is a big help. I have a lot of good friends on the circuit who I ride with at the races, so I’m never really feeling the need for another XC teammate.

Photo Credit: Craig Glaspell What are your big goals this season?

Russell Finsterwald: Each and every year I want to bring my racing to another level. I think I’ve gotten consistently faster every year since turning pro so I just want to keep that momentum rolling. That being said, the World Cups and Nationals are my ultimate goals this season. I showed myself at Worlds I can have good World Cups if everything comes together so that was a good confidence booster. I’m looking to top 30 the first round of World Cups and hopefully find the top step of the podium at Nationals. What’s it like working so closely with Sram? Are you helping with product development? Have you been able to make any custom tweaks to your bike set up?

Russell Finsterwald: It’s been an awesome experience working with SRAM at a closer level than I have in the past. I was able to race on the new Rise 60 wheels for almost a full season before they were launched and did quite a bit of testing with them. Same with the RS-1. They truly provide me with the best equipment as soon as they can. I’m a part of the Field Test team which has been allowing to test all sorts of different products. It’s still a little early, but talk of the Olympics is already starting. Is going to Rio a big goal for you? Is it something you’re focusing on already?

Russell Finsterwald: Rio is for sure a goal, but it is also a goal that I know I am going to have to make a big leap in order to achieve. I had a great January in Tucson but spent a good amount of February with a couple different sicknesses. I’ve had a better than expected first part of the season all things considered, so I am excited to see how the second half shapes up after getting some more consistent miles in over the next few weeks. I just want to keep climbing the ranks, get some solid results, and we will see where that takes me. Awesome to see your teammate, Luca Shaw, taking 11th at the opening round of the Downhill World Cup. Have you had a chance to ride with Luca and (his brother) Walker much? Have they taught you any sneaky DH skills?

Russell Finsterwald: I was pretty excited to see Luca do that well in his first elite World Cup. The Shaw brother’s both have an incredible work ethic which is what you need to be at the top of World Cup field. At team camp, they were telling me about the different intervals and training they have been doing this winter. They are both really dedicated athletes so I’m excited to see how their careers develop over the next couple of years. I haven’t really been able to ride with them and pick up any skills yet but maybe I can drag them out for some World Cup pre rides and get some sneaky fast lines from them. Thinking back a few years, was there a specific race after you made the jump from juniors to the pro field that made you think, ok, I can race and compete with these guys? Or was that a gradual process?

Russell Finsterwald: I was fortunate enough to have an excellent team with support straight out of the junior field which gave me confidence in the sense that other people believed in me. There is always this pressure you feel, that may not even exist, to prove you deserve the support you are getting so that lights a fire in you. I didn’t have immediate success right out of the junior field but I put together some good races and beat most the U23’s guys at the races, so I thought I was in an ok spot.


Photo Credit: Adrian Marcoux What’s your favorite part of bike racing? What motivates you to keep at it and put in the work in training day in and day out?

Russell Finsterwald: I love racing because it’s where you get to see all your hard work come together. I enjoy the training side of racing quite a bit at times. I love pushing myself and the feeling of coming home after a hard days work. I guess you could say I’m addicted to releasing endorphins. Ha! Sitting in airplanes aside, another part I thoroughly enjoy is the travel. Mountain biking takes you to some pretty phenomenal places that I would have never seen unless I was traveling for a race. I counted the other day and I have been to 6 continents and 21 countries. On the flip side, what, for you, is the most challenging aspect of being a professional racer?

Russell Finsterwald: When you aren’t getting the results you want it is a really tough sport. I’ve had some pretty crappy days on the bikes and you just have no idea what went wrong. I’m learning that there is a large mental side to the sport so learning how to react to different thoughts that go though your head leading into a race has helped a lot. The first two rounds of the World Cup last year were horrible for me. I had good training going into them, but I was mentally weak and I think that factored into my lackluster results over there. I have a few new tricks I’ve picked up since then, so I’m excited to go over there and see what I can do this year. What are your favorite things to do when you’re not riding your bike?

Russell Finsterwald: I love just about anything outdoors that gives you a sense of adventure or adrenaline rush. I keep it pretty structured during race season, but as soon as Worlds is over I will be riding my dirt bike all over the Colorado mountains, bagging peaks and trying to capture some of Colorado’s beauty on my camera. I’m already itching to get in some short and sweet camping trips with some “recovery” hikes in once the snow melts.