Interview with Rare Disease Cycling’s Cole Oberman

Cole Oberman may be a relative new comer to the American mountain biking scene, but just two years in the Rare Disease Cycling racer has already made a big impact. Tenth at last year’s National Championships, and podiums in the Short Track at the early season US Cup races in Fontana and Bonelli have confirmed that Oberman will be one to watch in the coming years.

Oberman was kind enough to take some time this spring to check in with about how he got into racing, his breakout year last season, and his goals for this summer.

For those folks who live outside the mid-Atlantic and are maybe just getting to know you, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into mountain biking?

Oh I’m just your typical snotty teenaged punk turned professional bike racer, ha ha. I grew up riding and racing mountain bikes in Central Pennsylvania and base myself out of Philadelphia now. My father is a cyclist so Ive been riding bikes in some form for literally my entire life. I’ve been racing professional for four years now and am trying my best to carry the torch for Easy Coast mountain biking. We’ve got the best riding and scene but surprisingly few pros so I’m just trying to show the rest of the country whats up!

Congratulations on your short track podium at the PRO XCT in Fontana. Was your plan to come into those early season races in California on top form?

Thanks! Yeah, it was incredible to come out and land on the short track podium two weeks in a row (2nd at Bonelli, 5th at Fontana). That was a real eye opener for me because if it had happened once, it could have been lucky timing. Twice means I made it happen and that was a huge confidence booster.

The plan was to come into the season absolutely flying and I feel like I managed to pull that off. I took a light cross season and really started training again before the fall was over. I did a huge amount of work this winter with the intention of coming into the spring US Cup races on top form. I’ve still got some tweaks to make on my fitness but my XC results are getting better every race and so I’m  optimistic that I’ll be able to reach the podium with some consistency later this season. All you can do is ask to see progression and I’m getting that, so I’m stoked!

Kathy Thoma

Kathy Thoma

What are your big goals for the rest of 2015?

My big goals for after the spring US Cup races are to have consistent World Cup results, stand on the podium at XC and STXC nationals and compete at MTB World Championships in the fall. Obviously this is all easier said than done but I’ve got great support from my team and coaches and am confident I can get there. I started working with Jeremiah Bishop and Mike Shultz at the end of last season. We figured out some of my major limiters and made some serious progress over the winter. It was awesome to come out this spring and immediately land on the podium. I guess that says a lot on its own.

Anyone who follows NUE racing and the endurance scene knows about Rare Disease Cycling, but in the past the team has had less of a presence on the XC circuit. Is that something the team is looking to change?

Without a doubt. The team has consistently had great results on the endurance side of things, we’ve won everything from the NUE Series overall (x8) to The Transylvania Epic to The Brasil Ride stage race. RDC certainly isn’t going away from endurance racing but with the re-emergence of a high profile XC series in the US the vision is definitely to have more of a 50/50 focus on endurance vs. XC. The purpose of the team at its base is to raise awareness and ultimately direct research money for rare genetic diseases (often called the Orphan Diseases). From an exposure point of view, it just makes sense for the team to be at the US Cup.

It seems like your 10th place finish at Cross Country Nationals last summer was a breakthrough ride for you. Do you see it that way? What were your goals heading into that race?

Yeah, totally. I think even more so than my win at Transylvania, my finish at Nationals was a moment where I thought to myself that my performance was beginning to meet my expectations and potential. Top-10 was the goal heading into that race and I was super happy to meet that. Bear Creek is pretty local to me and all the fans and friends (they’re hooligans really) out there just made it so easy to pin it the whole race. That day is certainly one of my most memorable on the bike.

When did you decide, ok, I want to make it as a pro mountain biker? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Or did it just click one day?

My path to becoming a professional has followed a different pattern than most of my peers. I grew up riding mountain bikes and racing single speed for fun but was never involved in a development program or anything structured. I always admired the pros but it wasn’t until I was 18-19 that I decided it was something I wanted to pursue for myself. I raced amateur for two years before turning professional. It became obvious pretty quickly that I was lucky enough to have the genetic aptitude to be able to pursue being an elite racer with some seriousness.

So in a lot of ways I’m a little late to the party and have a lot to prove. At the same time, looking back, I wouldn’t have done it any differently. I race my bicycle because I love it and I’ve never felt any outside pressure to make it happen. I have the best friends, family, supporters and sponsors which makes it easy to keep pressing onward, even when it feels like I’m fighting an uphill battle.

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?

I grew up in a blue collar family and so hard work is in my blood. The mantra: “If you’re going to do something, do it right” has been permanently burned into my brain and I apply that to training. My job might be non-traditional and fun but I don’t half ass it, ever. When it’s go time, it’s full gas.

Beyond that, I ride my bike to stay sane and would do so daily whether I was racing or not. I snap out a bit when I don’t have a positive physical outlet. Cycling is an intimate part of who I am, and so the training and motivation comes pretty easy.

My favorite part of racing is actually probably less the racing and more the people you meet and the experiences you share with those people. One of my best memories of last season was from after the Missoula ProXCT. There was a whole crew of us riding back from the venue, post race. We just happened to stumble on some awesome single track. So we were full of endorphins from the race, there’s a badass sunset, and were just shredding hero dirt back down into town. Total, childish, shit-eating grin the whole way home. It was pure bliss and something I never would have experienced if the race hadn’t brought me there. For me, those smaller shared experiences are as meaningful as the racing itself.

Piecing together a race season is always a challenge – especially when you’re trying to compete nationally. What are some tricks you’ve learned over the years to make it happen?

I think for me the struggle has always been more on staying mentally focused. I just try to be patient and positive. Everyone struggles at different points in the season but good form always comes back around. When your form is bad you work hard to fix it, when it’s good you lay it all out on the course and smash! Either way I get to ride my bike everyday, travel a ton, and meet so many great people. It’s hard not to stay stoked on that!

Johnny Mueller / Sho Air Cycling Group

Johnny Mueller / Sho Air Cycling Group

We’ve seen you light it up at some big endurance races races recently too, like last year’s Transylvannia Epic. Is that something you’re looking to continue doing, or all you all in on the XC side of things?

For this year I am all in on the XC side of things and my fitness reflects that. Right now if my race effort goes much over 2.5 hours, I’m basically useless, ha ha. However, I really love stage races and marathons and my fitness is adaptable to it when I focus on endurance. We’ll see how next season’s schedule shapes up, I would love to include more races like Transylvania or the Epic Rides Series (Whiskey Off-Road / Grand Junction) if it makes sense.

What are your favorite things to do when you’re not riding your bike?

DIY/Punk music is my second passion and so I try to make it to a few shows and go record hunting when there’s time. Otherwise I live a pretty simple life; relax at the cafe, make food with friends and just enjoy the city. I spend half the year on the road and so when I’m home, I try my best to take it slow and catch up with friends/family.

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.

Interview With Topeak-Ergon Racer Jeremiah Bishop

Jeremiah Bishop has long been a familiar face on podiums around America. He’s won National titles in everything from Short Track to Marathon, brought home overall NUE titles, and dominated countless stage races in North America over the years. In the last few seasons, Bishop split his time between shorter XC style efforts and longer NUE races and stage races. That will change in 2015, however. The Harrisonburg, VA based Bishop has signed with a new squad this season, Topeak-Ergon, and will be focusing exclusively on endurance racing.

“It’s super exciting,” said Bishop. “I was planning to do the Pro XCT’s in the spring and strike a balance between those and the endurance races,” but, as Bishop explained to MTBRacenews, the opportunity to race the Andalusia Stage Race, the Cape Epic, Trans Alp, and other international races was too good to pass up. “It’s a huge honor to race the hardest races in the world,” Bishop said, adding, “we’ve got a really strong, fun crew.” And though racing internationally is nothing new for Bishop, the move to Topeak-Ergon nonetheless represents a shift in his career.

Jeremiah Bishop

“Those races scare me a little bit,” Bishop said referring to Cape Epic, Andalusia and Trans Alp. “But at this point in my career, having done this for so many years, the long scary stuff, that’s what I want to do.” He explained that his training for La Munga (a planned race in South Africa last winter that was cancelled due to funding issues) got him ready for his latest challenge. “The Munga getting cancelled was a disappointment for sure, but the training was an eye opener for me.” During a huge, 20 hour ride, from Stokesville, VA last winter Bishop says he went through nearly every emotion possible but came out better for it. “The truth is I wasn’t sure if I could do it when I set out.” He finished the tour though, and “crazy as it sounds, I loved it. It gives me a lot of enthusiasm for this new team and the events we’re doing.”

But not only are the events new, but the style of racing is as well. “I’ll be partnering with Robert Bennet for Andalusia Bike Race and the Cape Epic as part of Topeak-Ergon Team 2,” racing in support of Team 1, consisting of Alban Lakata and Krystian Hynek. Meaning that Bishop with be racing more or less as a domestique at those big, early season, stage races. And while that may be an unfamiliar concept in American mountain bike racing, the major international mountain bike stage races have evolved to the point where they are very much team affairs. Team Bulls and some of the other big endurance programs all have multiple two-person teams in the race, with the second squad often setting the pace at the front of the group, or providing mechanical support (i.e. giving up their wheel) if one of the riders on the first team suffers a mechanical problem – much like road racing. “My goal is really to prove my metal in those first races,” Bishop said.

Thus far this season Bishop has done that and then some. Despite some mechanical issues of his own in the Cape Epic, he and his teammate Robert Bennet did some big turns on the front over the course of the week, and managed some top finishes in individual stages.

Jeremiah Bishop at Cape Epic

So what’s next for Bishop? First up is the Trans Alp Stage Race in Europe. “That’s a significant race for me,” Bishop said. “It’s got this outrageous terrain, it’s super hard, but it was a big stepping stone for me in my career. I had a real break through ride there, taking a stage win. During that race I went from thinking I was at my limit to realizing I could do more, and that I needed to work more in training to get there,” he added, clearly excited about having the chance to return and give the race another go.

Bishop will also be at a number of domestic races in the second half of the season, including Marathon Nationals in May. “It’s a cool, fast technical track this year, like flat track moto racing for four hours,” Bishop said of the course. “It’ll be tight, pack racing. Not what we’re used to seeing in the US, but I’m excited for it.” Also on the radar for Bishop: the Pisgah Stage Race, Mohican 100, Breck Epic, Whiskey 50, Grand Junction Off Road, and a number of other NUE Races. “We’ll see,” he said, adding that managing his race days will be important after 21 days of high intensity stage racing at Andalusia, Cape Epic, and Trans Alp so early in the year.

As we wrapped up our conversation things turned, as they often have when I’ve talked to Bishop, to big tours and adventures he’s hoping to tackle. From multi-day epics in Virginia, to the Arizona Trail Race, do 170 mile singletrack loops he’d like to tackle in one shot, straight through, the do list is a long one. “The truth is I have no idea where the limit is,” Bishop said, but one things for sure, he’s trying to find it.