Erik Saunders. Photo courtesy
By Ryan Barrett
One of my first memories of Erik Saunders is watching him win the junior
race in dramatic solo fashion at the Tour de Richmond in his first racing
season. Ten years on and he is still sticking it to his competitors in a
slightly greater arena, the domestic pro scene. During the past ten years,
he has been a full-time student, spent a few years racing in Europe, and is
currently captaining the Ofoto Pro Cycling Team. He has always been a guy
who speaks his mind, so I figured he'd make a great interview.
Name: Erik Arlo Saunders
Nicknames: They are all stupid and unsanctioned by myself... I like "that
f#@*ing Saunders" the best though.
Team: Ofoto Cycling Team www.worldbike.com/OfotoProBike
RB: Let's take it from the top... How did you get involved in cycling?
ES: I just started out of the blue with the intention to race... I never
rode for fun, or had any cyclists in my family... I knew bike racing exsisted because of the Tour de Trump (I lived in
Richmond, Virginia) and so I
decided that I would do it and that was that... I started mountain biking
and then I joined a local junior team - with you on it... it was organized by
a great guy named Lee Piper.
He almost died recently, but he pulled through
and he is still alive... I havenít talked to him in years but I would have
been really sad had he not made it... He gave a lot to me and other young
guys too... He is a special person.
Ryan's Note: - Yeah... Lee is the man!! He gave us
the belief that we could do anything we set our minds too.
If anyone knows how to contact him, let me know.
RB: During your career, I've seen you go from sprinter, to time trialist,
to all-rounder, and now it looks like you're aiming more at the track...
How have you managed to be so versatile?
ES: Thatís really flattering to say that I am versatile...I am not really at
all. I think that I am more of a
one trick pony who doesnít even do that trick so well... in amateurs in
France I won a lot of time trials but the level there is not so big and so
it is easier to win.
In Chrono des Herbiers I rode fast
but I knew the course well... I still was two minutes slower than the winner
for 46k... and anyway that was a long time ago... I have never won a field
sprint so I can't be a sprinter... I am an all arounder, but in flat races
only... I can make big watts, for whatever that is worth... I feel like I
have never found a niche as far my "talents" goÖ Even now, it would be nice
to have a guy in our team that can win eight or ten races a year... With me
he could win 15...
As it is I can win 1 or 2 or 3 races in the NRC a year
for sureÖ And if I have a break-through this year I can be a guy who wins on
the big day when the top guys want to win as well (if it's flat)... I do the
track because I always wanted to... If you could make any money at it I
would only do track... I like it a lot because no one good races the track
and I can show up out of nowhere with Jackson (Stewart- Saundersí tag-team, er, um Madison partner) and become the national champion...
Well, I take
that back, a few good guys race the track, but not enough... All the best ridershate each other and race not to win, but so that the other ones will
lose... Itís crazy... Those guys need
to get it together on the track- they are all at each others throats in the
US track scene. It is
uncomfortable to be on the infield... I just clown ALL of them so no one
makes the mistake of thinking that I am in any of the cliques...
RB: Also, I know you are coaching some riders, how does your broad range of
experience help with that?
ES: As a coach, I am a total hard-ass... I canít coach a lot of guys because I
would crush their spirit... the biggest problem that I see in the US scene
is that there are too many guys that never played high school sports... They
never got drilled hard as young athletes... They canít take any criticism...
cycling gets a lot of rejects from high school sports and so we donít have
tough ass guys who can take it when you tell them they suck.
In the US,
young cyclists are largely babies who have delicate egos that require
constant care... If they had had some fat bastard gym teacher as their
sports coach from the time they were 13 then they would be a lot better
off... All my experience has just convinced me that the most important thing
for an athlete is to realize how strong he isnít and really understand that
RB: Hmmm, alright. So, what's up with you and wrestling?
ES: I love wrestling... I mean rasslin... I always have, since I watched
Rick Flair and the Four Horsemen in the 5th grade... it was them versus The
Rock and Roll Express... They used to fully kick ass on those pretty boy
all-American teeny-bopper heart throbs... I should have been a rassler...
a kid, like 7 and 8, I used to rassle in our back yard rasslin league with
the WT neighborsÖ They hated me and called me nigger. I didnít know what
that meant, but I would kick the crap out of themÖ I pomelled them because
it was fun for me, not because I was offended... One time one of Ďem pulled
a knife on me and I was scared so I stopped rasslin with them...
RB: On your diary (www.lombardisports.com), you mention some pretty lofty
goals for this year... something about a trip to Athens?
ES: NahÖ I donít want to do that anymore... I could go...I think I am good
enough to beat the best Americans, but I don't have the level to do well in
the Olympics... I think it is more realistic for me to focus on the worlds
in LA... I can have a passable level by then and maybe do well, but in
Athens I wouldnít have a chance... I do have a plan to represent the stars
and stripes at as many races as we can (me and Jackson). It's important to
do that I think...
RB: You're known as a guy who speaks his mind, what do you think of the
state of domestic racing?
ES: Itís good... I enjoy racing... if I think too hard about how screwed up
things are and the lack of
real development and the lack of attention paid to media and promotions, I
get frustrated... I was watching that show on ESPN where the two sports
nerds go off on each other over issues in sports - they were saying something
about how golf should do this or that to the calendar and have a 5th major
and I was thinking, F**k, this is GOLF!!! Who cares? What difference does
it make to anyone's life?... Cycling is the same for me - I like to race and
thatís it... it isnít important on any real level... Cycling doesnít matter,
itís just for fun and doesnít make the world a better place...
Thatís what I think of domestic racing, and UCI pro tour, and NORBA, and
whatever else... I canít get so excited over the contentious issues... I
would just rather win a bike raceÖ
RB: Not that you don't take cycling seriously, but you seem to be better
able to accept that it's just one part of life than a lot of riders... On
that note, what do you think of drugs in cycling?
ES: I think that cycling is about winning, sports are about winning...
Sports in the Olympic movement are struggling with the vestigial ideals of the
gentleman athlete who subscribes to a set of lofty athletic ideals in the face
of a world professional sports market that is all about entertainment and not
much else... Itís tough... Sport is not life and if you are looking to sport
thinking to find any proof that in life there is a place where fair is fair and
the best man wins on his god-given merits, then you are lost...
It is a lot easier to just live your own life according to the highest
principles and be content with that... Every individual has to find his own
way... I could say how terrible it is that there are drugs in sport and how
terrible cheating is, but itís not wise to chastise... There are a lot of things
in life that are much worse than doping in sports that people donít spend nearly
enough time on... I am not sure that doping to go fast is any different than
other things in general society that we all either accept, donít care about, or
look the other way on...People cheat, people lie, what do you want? (in a
rhetorical sense, I am not being jerky with you)...
It doesnít bother me for a moment that I may never have the level of some
guys because of drugs, or that a guy might beat me only because he takes drugs
and I donít... It's important to make the best effort at staying on top of dope
testing, but beyond that there isnít much I can say... given the nature of
RB: As one of the only African-American pros, do you feel any pressure to
get results, be a role model, etc., and, do you get tired of answering this
ES: I donít ever get tired of that... I am black thoughÖ I hate political
correctness, you can even say negro if you like... There isn't much African
about me... my mom is white too... Her grand parents immigrated from
Germany, so am I German American?... you couldnít tell that by looking, I
have darkish skin, so then I am "African American"... My dad was black and I
proud of that...
I identify with black people all around the world before any
other group, well the Palestinian people are for sure in there... I donít
need a silly bourgeois label invented by sociologists to increase my
feeling of self-worth or to make me feel better about my place in society...
but as far as cycling goes, I like to be an ambassador for the sport with
other black folk when the opportunity arises, that is importantÖ I like to
race in front of black people... I feel like it's an inside thing between us-
that we are everywhere doing everything.
RB: Great answer... I will give up the Barbara Walters impersonation and
call you black from now on, not that it comes up all that often... I
understand you've been at training camp this week, what can you tell us
about your teammates?
ES: We have fun... We havenít gotten any "good riders"Ö We can win through
team work and cohesion.. I have been talking to your man JP about that... you
will see... Cycling is a team sport... You canít win unless everyone plays
their position... Thatís what the "good" teams have on the other teams...
Itís not really so much about the individual strength of each rider, it has
to do with how they function as a unit... It helps to make the watts, but
there is a lot of room to play by employing the right tactics...
OFOTO Cycling Team specifically, it'll be the same stuff as
last year with Bajadali and Tim Larkin as our GC contenders, but our team
will mainly be focused on
winning anything we can with all the riders we have...Our new guy, J.
Bausch, will be someone that you should see a lot of in hard races this
season and Nieko Biskner as well...
RB: Ok, well thanks for doing the interview. Anything else you want to add?
ES: Thank youÖ I am doing some stuff with some guys who are busy producing the
World Cycling SeriesÖ itís cycling for TVÖ its going to be a big deal so
every one should be on the look out for itÖ
Erik Saunders Career Highlights
1st- Stage Heritage Tour.
1st - Stage 5 - The International (Tour de 'Toona)
1st - Temecula Classic
1st - LAX Circuit Race
2nd - Valencia Gran Prix
2nd - Ontario Criterium
18th - First Union USPRO Championship (10th Placed American)
21st - First Union Invitational
1st - Stage 1 Tour of Slovakia
7th - Memorial Andrzeja Trochnowskiego (Poland)
7th - Time Trial Tour de L'Ain (France)
8th - Stage 4 Tour de L'Ain
10th - Stage 4 Tour de Slovaquie
1st - Challans-Challans (Les Circuits des Plages Vend»ennes)
1st - Le Circuit de VallŤe de La Loire
1st - Tour de Loire Atlantique (TT)
1st - Deux Jours de Machecoul (TT)
1st - L'Aiguillon sur Mer
2nd - Prologue, Circuit des Ardennes
2nd - Saint Hilaire de Riez (Les Circuits des Plages Vend»ennes)
4th - Prolougue Tour de Sienne et Marne
6th - Chrono des Herbiers
1st - L'Aiguillon sur Mer
1st - Stage 2 Jours de Machecoul
2nd - Deux Jours de Machecoul
3rd - Tour de la Porte OcŤane (TT)
3rd - Tour de Loire Atlantique (TT)
3rd - Deux Jours de Machecoul (TT)