Canadian Eric Wohlberg is a three-time Olympian and has been racing for fifteen years for many well-known teams, including Magic Cuts, Seldane, Shaklee, Sierra Nevada and the powerhouse Saturn team for three years. He joined the all Canadian continental Symmetrics Pro Cycling Team in 2004.
As part of his numerous accomplishments, the 43-year old Wohlberg won the Canadian Individual Time trial National Championships eight times in a row, and many stage wins all over the world. Stories about Wohlberg’s toughness abound. For example, he raced with a broken wrist and finished a respectable 25th in the time trial wearing a cast on his left hand in the 2003 World Championship.
Last year, the Symmetrics team won both the individual and team competition at the UCI America Tour. The chase for the valuable UCI points all over North and South America (and earning Canada an additional Olympic berth) was exhausting and the Symmetrics team went into 2008 with specific focus of helping its riders make it to the Olympics.
It’s now fairly well known that the Symmetrics team is currently undergoing financial trouble due to sponsors pulling out putting the team in jeopardy. While the team was snubbed by the Amgen Tour of California, they were invited and are racing in the Tour of Georgia.
Road Bike Review caught up with Wohlberg before the start of the Tour de Georgia to get his thoughts on the current team situation and its impact on the team. He was coming back from he called a ‘big ride’. A 200 kilometer ride, with a 34 km climb to the top of Mt Hamilton, around Livermore, push a bit in the valley and then back to his home in the Bay Area.
Lyne Lamoureux: The financial problems of the team are fairly known at this point, but what does that mean to the team as far as training and racing?
Eric Wohlberg: We’ve had to suck it especially this spring, we’ve done a lot of racing at our own costs, but in the long run it’s always for everyone’s benefit. Everyone has to race so we can be fit for those bigger events such as Georgia, US Air Force and obviously to try and secure Olympic spots. We need to be racing, and do well to try and impress the selection committee which is always a bit of a challenge.
We made a big push last year when we won the UCI Americas Tour that did elevate our UCI nation standing and also, I don’t know if that title has a direct effect on the Olympic quota or not. It’s a given that just because we earned a lot of those points on our dime doesn’t necessarily do anything in our favor for selection unfortunately, that’s how it goes. In ’95, I was the guy that qualified Canada, I was the only one that qualified Canada in the World Championship in Colombia and even though I did the ride and got the job done, that didn’t mean one little thing at all with regards to my selection for the ’96 Olympics.
LL: When did you know of the financial problems?
EW: We knew at the beginning of the year. It’s a tough time for a lot of Canadian companies right now, that’s why we’re trying to land ideally a US sponsor that has a Canadian division sort of thing and then they would be happy with us racing in the States and racing in Canada. It doesn’t seem to go the other way, a Canadian company that has a substantial investment in the US sort of thing from my very limited experience with the whole thing, Perhaps, if we have a good go in Georgia, perhaps we can salvage something from that.
LL: How does this impact your morale and training?
EW: The fact of the matter is that we are a very dedicated group of guys and we know that our strength has been our commitment together in the good times and bad times. And I think that is one of the truly unique thing that I found racing with a group of Canadians, there is a special relationship there sort of thing. I’ve raced on a bunch of team, we’ve had a group of nationalities on Saturn and Shaklee and Sierra Nevada for that matter. But it seems when you have a group of gnarly Canadians trying to achieve things you can basically get the job done. It’s in our best interest that this thing goes, we want to keep the group together but it’s tough there’s no question about that. But you try to focus on the big picture, roll with all the short-term punches and just do our best to race our bikes, and do our best to sell the team and the riders. We’re more than just a bunch of guys that can ride our bikes, everyone has a some great personal history and great personal stories, there’s a lot more thing each guy other than pedaling his bike. So that’s another feature we’re trying to put forth.
LL: Unfortunately, the team is not that well known in the US.
EW: It’s very frustrating for me because living down here, and we’ll be kicking ass plain and simple. We have all sort of great respect amongst our competitors down here and we’re starting to generate some respect finally from the race organization but it’s been a struggle. But that’s always been a problem with a foreign team particularly a Canadian team is getting that respect down here in the States, it’s very frustrating.
LL: So it’s been fifteen years as a pro now….
EW: Back in 1991 was when I started with back with Magic Cuts, I don’t even count anymore. I still love what I do, at the end of the day, you take the good, you take the bad, for me still the good still outweighs the bad.
LL: Do the young guys on the team look up to you to help during these hard times?
EW: It’s not just me, Jacob Erker, Andrew Randell and Andrew Pinfold for that matter, we’ve all been around the block a couple of times, and gone through the ups and downs of the sport in the last 10 years. The young guys, I think they look up to us, and we do our best to teach them everything we can and use all our of experiences, the good and bad to help them develop as cyclists and kind of have them have a better understanding of the sport in general. And I’m not just talking about racing and training and stuff like that, but the sport in general.
LL: How do you show them?
EW: You can tell when guys are struggling. I think a good coach, or a good friend is there when his buddy is struggling. When everyone is going good, you don’t need a whole lot of help, but when guys start going bad and when you start being faced with a challenge here and there, be it cycling team, or personal or team related that’s when one has to pitch in and show what they are made of., and try to get everyone through it.
LL: The last time the team was in Georgia was 2005.
EW: 2005, as a team we were in a little over our head to be honest with you, a couple of us were really going well, I was going good, a couple of us ended getting bronchitis as the weather turned just absolutely horrible and probably our 3 or 4 strongest guys that were actually capable of racing at that level all got sick so it was a pretty scarring experience more for the management than for the riders. As riders we know what we were getting into, but there was some pretty high hopes placed on Georgia for us in 2005 and for whatever reason it didn’t happen.
I think in general, the team is pretty prepared all the way around there’s not doubt about it but we’re still going to have to run the show pretty right down there. We’ve got some good volunteer staff coming on board and stuff like that and I think we’ll have all the bases covered down there. The only small issue is that we haven’t been really racing a whole lot when you get right down to it so we’re hoping that it’s not going to be too much of a shocker for us.
LL: What’s the plan in Georgia?
EW: As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to be sitting around to try and have a good ride on Brasstown Bald. Our best attack is just going to hook into it as early and as often as we can and try and get up the road and shake things up. We have absolutely nothing to lose by riding aggressively, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to ride like a bunch of idiots and attack a lot of times. Our best chance is to have guys up the road, let the race come up to our man in a move sort of thing as opposed to sitting around and actively contribute to bunch sprints. Or putting all our eggs in one basket and waiting for the climb up Brasstown Bald.
LL: How did you prepare for an unknown course?
EW: Just keep on training and get your fitness as high as you possibly can, and get a couple of days rest before the whole thing sets off and do as much advanced planning with food, with the support staff and so on. Dealing with the course is going to something after that.
LL: How’s the form?
EW: The fitness is good. I have some teeth problems in Redlands, that wasn’t the best, I had a wisdom tooth that broke off. I got through that okay. In general, I felt okay in Redlands.
LL: Is the team underestimated?
EW: Well, that’s always played into our favor because a lot of times, people do underestimate us. You can walk softly and carry a bit stick approach or you can be as quiet as a church mouse, as quiet as possibly can and just sneak away and before you know it, you;re up the road in a move, and they can’t bring you back sort of thing, and that’s going to work in our favor. But you know, since our big season last year, the few races that we’ve done this year, we’ve turned some heads, so we’re not going to be the absolute underdogs that we were a couple of years ago.
LL: What are your goals for 2008?
EW: Our goal, we want to keep this team running for the whole season. We want to keep this team going plain and simple. Our chief goal is to try shore things up financially with every possible opportunity, using every resource we can and the of course, the second goal, we want to put guys in the Olympics too. The first thing, we need to support ourselves, we need to keep on living and racing and you can’t do that without a budget. We do have a budget but we need more right now.
LL: How many more years?
EW: I’ve got make my million first. (laughs) I really do love the sport, I think I’ve really got a lot of good knowledge and I’ve got a rapport with a lot of teams and the athletes out there. I think there could be some management opportunities that may crop up or another stuff. I would definitely like to stay in the sport.
Symmetrics’ Eric Wohlberg in Redlands, photo cLyne Lamoureux