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Erik Saunders Interview: Part Two
By Staff
Date: 9/5/2004
Erik Saunders Interview: Part Two

Read Part One: Erik Saunders Interview: Talking Straight
In Part One, Ofoto Lombardi Sports' Erik Saunders talks about racing in the US, the difference between teams and the Tour de Georgia. The interview continues here.

By Charlie Melk

Yeah, Iíve been thinking about how the Pro Tour is going to affect the Tour of Georgia, and other big races in the United States. Itís funny weíre talking about this, because I was going to ask you about this. You were in Europe for three years, right?


What are the similarities and differences between racing here and racing there?

The biggest thing there is less travel. Itís lot smaller and there are more races, so you donít have to travel as far to get to bike races. But at the pro level you travel a lot anyway. Still though, a Trans-Western European flight isnít quite the same as a Trans-Continental U.S. flight.

But, in Europe, for a guy like me - I wasnít going to be a big star. I think I had a lot of potential, and I didnít go there until I was 25. So, if I would have gone there a lot younger, I could have been an average good bike rider and had a place in a team, and I would have been well received. I could have had a normal, average career as a cyclist. And I could have had some great days and won some races, or I could have had a big exploit and done something famous in a big tour, but honestly, thatís not a super great life. Itís really tough, and you donít make a ton of money. If youíre not going to be a super star over there itís not worth it. You might as well just stay at home.

In the States, itís great prize money. The teams are paying guys. There are some guys who ride for free, but the teams are paying guys. You get your expenses, and itís fun. Now, I really feel that cycling in the States is a viable career. Thereís enough money going around where if you apply yourself, train hard, and are smart about the media side of things you can have a place within a team and become well-respected - and make good money. Youíre not going to make six figures - maybe some people will and do - but youíre going to make the same money that some guy makes who has to go and work a hard job. Youíre going to make an average, working manís salary, and thatís good stuff. I mean, to do something that you love to do - why do you think you have to be a millionaire? (we both laugh) You donít! You can get your college degree and go to work somewhere or you can race your bike. Iíd rather race my bike.

I went to college and got my teaching degree, and part of me wishes that I had the talent to race my bike for a living. It sounds like a good life. A hard life, but a good one.

Yeah, well, your job lasts a lot longer than biking.


The truth is - youíve got to try to parlay that into something in your life after cycling. But thereís time for school, and time for everything else too. If youíre a reasonably intelligent, well-spoken guy, people are going to like you, and there are always going to be opportunities. I think that successful cyclists are the ones who capitalize on opportunities like that. For most guys - if you make it in cycling, you can make it anywhere.

Yeah, because itís hard, and you learn how to get the most out of yourself.

Thatís for sure.

Iíve even seen that in my life, with my limited experience in competitive cycling. You really learn how to maximize your potential. You realize that you can apply the lessons you learn in cycling to the rest of your life, as well.

Yeah, most guys find that. I mean, I live my life in a simple way. I donít feel as if Iím depriving myself of anything. If I can avoid wasting energy on things that are the same as what I have right now, things just generally have a way of working out.

Yeah, good point. Now as far as racing this year, what have been your favorite races?

I was just thinking that the US Pro Crit course is great. Itís a cool course. I also like the USPro road race, just because of the race that it is. I donít think the course itself is particularly great or anything. What other races do I like? . . . Yíknow, I get motivated for so few races throughout the year, actually (I laugh, because this seems totally untrue!). I mean, Iím just not into racing my bike so much sometimes, yíknow? It really takes something special for me to want to pull out all the stops. But, while I say that, I do it a lot as a matter of habit. (more laughter on my part)

Yeah, when itís your natural state of being to be motivated, you probably donít notice it as much.

Yeah, youíre probably right, because I end up digging pretty deep all the time. But USPro Crit is my favorite race, and I like every race behind that one equally.

What about the Captech Classic this year? You did well, there [third place, behind Gordon McCauley and Juan Jose Haedo], and it was in your home town of Richmond, Virginia.

Yeah, I got third. I wanted to win. It would have been better to win. Iím really bummed about that. There was some stuff I didnít do and I should have done - next time. You know, Iím not a guy who wins 20 races a year, so sometimes Iíll get into a situation and not quite have the experience to shake things up a little, like I should. I have one way that I can win a race - from a small group. And that was one of the few situations where I not only made the selection - I forced the selection - and here I am - I only have two guys to beat, and I canít even do it.

Yeah, but McCauleyís a pretty good sprinter though, right?

No, heís terrible! I shouldíve beat him. I shouldíve beat him. I mean, heís better than your average guy, but Iím faster than him. But heís really strong, and he was on some kind of special day that day, because he had come back from the dead - he was nowhere. He had wasted so much energy all day, doing his typical Gord McCauley thing.

So, did he bridge up to you guys?

No, he was out front for a long time. We came up to him. There was a counterattack - lots of counterattacks, and it just ended up being three of us. I was hoping that he was tired, or to have Frattini [one of Gordís Monex teammates] up there instead of him, but it didnít quite work out that way, so what are you going to do?

Well, the podium is still good.

Well, Iím happy with my performance - donít get me wrong. I like going out and riding hard. Having a good ride for me is going out, riding hard, and having it change the outcome of the race.

I was reading something that you wrote about your coaching philosophy the other day. One of the things that you wrote was that you should always have some small goal in front of you so you can always stay motivated. It seems like that mindset is such a part of your life in general right now that you might not even hardly notice it.

Yeah, yíknow, thatís totally true. It is a matter of applying that to other areas of your life. With everything I do, I always have a goal right in front of me. Like, Iím going to retile the floor in my house. And then Iím going to rearrange the closet space. Know what I mean?


Iíve always got the next thing going, and for a reason. Like right now, Iím painting the bathroom in preparation for laying the tile, which is in preparation for when I move out of this house - it will be really killer, and Iíll be able to rent it for a ton of money. And thatís in preparation for when I buy another house. I can take all the profits from the first one and invest it in a mutual fund. Know what I mean? Iím always thinking 15 steps ahead, and that really keeps me motivated when Iím at home.

And for bike racing itís a lot of the same thing. I have track nationals coming up. And at UsPro Crit I was thinking about getting in a good break. Because not only will it be good for me in this race, but itís also the same kind of effort that Iím going to have to make at track nationals. Maybe itís not the same kind of effort that Iíll need to make at San Francisco (laughs), but thatís ok.

So how much time do you put into coaching?

Yíknow, I used to coach a ton of guys, and it was just too much. It really requires a lot out of you to think about someone elseís training. Right now I have three people that I work with on a regular basis, and thatís a really comfortable level for me. Over the winter I can do more. Like Iím going to do some training camps this winter, for people to come to in order to get some good advice and go on some good rides - you know - show them some stuff. People need to be coached when the season is going on and thatís when you need to be focused on your own thing. So, you canít coach too many people.

Speaking of your typical season - how many days a year are you on the road? You must be gone a lot.

Yeah, to try to keep the travel at a minimum Iíll try to do it in blocks. Iíll go away for a month, come home for a month, and then go away for a month again. And I donít race that much locally. You know, all the local races are too short - too many short criteriums. If youíre in a Pro/1-2 local race and itís a crit, it should be 100k, or at least 80k. For me, 60 minutes or 90 minutes isnít enough time to sort out the race! Itís almost like a waste of time to drive there to do it. Itís not enough time to make a difference, and itís not even a workout. I mean, whatís 60 minutes - shit (we both laugh) - I mean, unless you ride your bike to the race? A lot of guys canít.

People ask, ďHow do we improve the quality of the racing?Ē or ďHow do we improve the quality of our racers?Ē or ďHow do we prepare these young guys coming up from U23 in the States to pros?Ē Duh! Make your races longer! If you make it timed, make it two hours - youíll end up doing 80k in two hours, easy. But people donít know bike racing well enough a lot of the times to recognize that something like that is important to do, but they really are. Anybody who really cares about developing younger riders needs to work on lengthening bike races, because hour long crits just donít cut it.

Do you think that would also help developing riders to ride on the track more?

Yeah, if they have a track near them. There are a lot of tracks! No one goes to them. There are three tracks in Southern California, and no one goes to them!

I used to go to the Washington Bowl in Kenosha, Wisconsin. [Erik then dazzles me with his encyclopedic knowledge of the Washington Bowl track]

I like that place. Itís a cool track. Yeah, they just poured that track into the ground - they just poured it.

Yeah, it was like - ďhey, letís hollow out this hill!Ē

Yeah, they didnít even do that a good a job of it, though, because the banking in turns one and two is different than in three and four. (we both laugh) Turn three and four are wider than one and two too. And then on three and four, the blue band is on the track and on one and two itís on the apron. And thereís a hump in turn four - itís hard to hold the bike down.

Itís really a fun track, though - I like it - itís one of the most fun tracks to ride. Itís really smooth too - it has some weird surface - makes it really nice and smooth.

Well, I donít know what it takes to get guys on the track, because if they had $1,000.00 points races at San Diego or Encino or the ADT Center - man, I would go all the time! Iíve said before - if I could race the track all the time, I would. But you canít make any money doing it. Riding track is definitely good if you live near one. All the tracks are so woefully underutilized. What it takes is a national development strategy or program that utilizes the tracks that already exist.

Everybody thinks that since we have the ADT Center that weíll be good at track now, but forget about it. You have so many nice velodromes anyway that no one goes to! The velodrome at Blaine is the same damn velodrome, but thereís no damn roof on it. Weíve got that track, but do we have a bunch of great track racers? No, and the reason is that we donít have a lot of money. If we had money, weíd have good track riders. You know all of those team pursuit riders [riding internationally for powerhouse track nations]? They get paid! They make like $50,000.00 per year to ride team pursuit and they race like four times per year!

No wonder theyíre so good.

Yeah, thatís why theyíre so frickiní good - they get paid!

Right, and the U.S. has great athletes, but youíll never get them to do anything on the track, because thereís no money! You can make good money racing the road, and having fun. Why would you go to the track and make no money - and itís hard! I mean, itís hard - thereís a lot of really hard training.

Yeah, and really specific.

Yeah - super specific - itís no fun at all. People think all of a sudden that weíre going to get really good at it. Maybe if we get $1,000,000.00 per year to put into a track program weíll start to be good - like Project í96. That was super good - good sprinters, good endurance, and good equipment. And now - thereís nothing - itís a joke.

Stay tuned for the final section of this interview, in which Erik talks about tactics, about the upcoming T-Mobile International in San Francisco and about the future of racing in the US...

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