Posted by Editor on 12/10/08
Eric Wohlberg Takes Management Role with Bissell
Eric Wohlberg, the eight-time Canadian National Time Trial champion, Commonwealth Games gold medalist and three-time Olympian will be changing roles from a full time rider to Directeur Sportif for the Bissell squad based out of California. Wohlberg, who most recently raced with the now defunct Symmetrics team, spoke with us from his home in Sunnyvale, California.
Canadian Cyclist: So, I guess the first big question is: are you retired?
Eric Wohlberg: Well, I will clearly not be a full time racer next year. I've taken this role with Bissell, and I'm going to be on the road with the guys. I intend on racing whenever I can, though. There are three or four of us who will do the Nor Cal stuff. Hopefully, there will also be an opportunity to do some stuff [racing] with the team.
CC: But this is certainly a big change for you.
EW: Yeah, it's definitely a change, but it's something I've been looking forward to. I've known Glen [Mitchell - team manager] a long time; we have a good history together. It's a very good opportunity for me to stay in the sport ... with the demise of so many teams, and the UCI regulations about the number of riders on a team over / under 27 ... it has made it hard for a lot of riders to find a team.
CC: So what races are we going to see you at - Tour of California?
EW: Yes, we are in for California. There will be a training camp leading into it, and we may be doing a race in Argentina. I've never been able to do the race [Tour of California], but now it looks like I will do it behind the wheel of a car.
We want to do a real good run at the NRC series title, so that will be our main focus. But there is a bit of a gap now that Georgia is gone, so there may be a bit of stuff overseas.
CC: Beauce - it would be interesting for you to be there as a manager...
EW: We're definitely looking into it ... we are primarily focussed on the U.S., and there is Philly and Nature Valley around then, but it's a pretty good size squad, so we could certainly do teams at both. It's a hard race no matter what your role, but it's a great race and I would like to be there.
CC: How about Nationals? Are we going to see you racing there?
EW: I'll have to see. I've got to get fit ... for now it's for training camp so I can throw the smack down, throw the fear of god into the boys [laughs].
I still love the competition aspect of the sport so much, but this is a great opportunity with Bissell, it's rare to get an opportunity like this. I'm not fully ready to hang up the bike yet, and I did have a couple of opportunities to race, but there is more security here with Bissell, and they are behind me 100%.
CC: With you going to Bissell, it looks like pretty much everyone from Symmetrics has found a team.
EW: Yeah, it's sad the way it unraveled, but everyone who wanted to keep racing found teams, that shows the depth of the team, the quality and the reputation. It started about a year ago, with sponsors not renewing. Clearly we had showed that Canada has the riders to compete at the world level, but unfortunately the [Olympic] Winter Games have made it difficult for teams [in Canada] to secure sponsorship. After 2010 some more money will get freed up hopefully ... once the Olympics are over then hopefully there will be economic stimulus for summer sports, because I think that it is still possible to put together a Canadian program. At Symmetrics all of us shared a vision of a really great Canadian trade team that could kick ass. Clearly it is still a dream of mine to see a program like that in place.
But I want to say also that there were lots of unsung heroes this year, and they got us through 2008 ... the last pay cheques were in August, and that made it very tough for a lot of people. Kevin Fields and his wife Sheri, Matt Barth and Bruce Wenting ... these names need to be recognized.
Amarigo Belluomini was a super fan of the team, he cooked meals/fixed vehicles/would do 3 feed zones per day. Another guy who was the glue for us in 2008: Jacob Erker. I am really glad he's gone to Kelly. Jonas Carney [Kelly Benefits manager] has always been a fan of Canadian riders and of Symmetrics. If there are no new Canadian teams on the horizon, there's hope that Gord [Fraser], Jonas, [Steve] Bauer and myself can help our guys domestically. Maybe we can count on Cervelo for European opportunities.
CC: What about some highlights from your career? Eight national time trial titles, Commonwealth Games gold medal, three Olympics ... what stands out for you?
EW: Being a part of so many major Games teams was really important. The '99 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg is one event in particular. Brian [Walton] won the road race and Gord [Fraser] was second, I think [Note: Eric's memory is correct, with Walton winning solo and Fraser taking the field sprint. Eric won the time trial at the Games, ahead of Levi Leipheimer].
We had such a great race that day ... it was so nice to be able to come together, even though we were all on different trade teams. It didn't really matter who won that day, everyone gave 100% effort.
There's one more highlight: Christian [Meier] winning the 2008 Road Race national title and Jake finishing third.
In the last couple of years it has been great to see our young guys develop. I feel good knowing that I have had a bit of a positive influence. And this year, the team having the chance at St Lawrence Market, Beauce and BC Superweek to show what we're really capable of was special. But we still couldn't get the sponsorship, and that's pretty sad.
But I also want to say that I have two heroes in this sport. One is Danny Pate [2001 Espoir ITT World Champion], and the other is Svein Tuft. Those two guys I trust.
CC: So, although you are with Bissell, would you be open to working with the national team, possibly managing projects, the way Jacques Landry and others have done?
EW: Next year it is still the same racing scene, and hopefully I can help out. As far as the national team goes ... if the guys need a bottle, I'll be giving them up. For sure I would love the opportunity [to work with the national team]. Bissell is my job though, a full time position, so I can't say anything now for the national team, but further down the road ...
For now, I think the best opportunity I have to help is with any Canadians who come out to California for spring training ... I'm always willing to as best I can.
I haven't spoken with Jacques, but I think he has a lot of good experience, and can help turn things around. Our guys at the Olympics, and Svein's [Tuft] Worlds ride show what our guys are capable of. We have some truly capable guys, and Road is worthy of investment.
CC: Anything else you want to say before we finish?
EW: I truly consider myself to be lucky to have had the chance to live my dream of a full time athlete. I am able to continue this pretty much to the same extent, thanks to my involvement with the Bissell Team. I still believe that sport is a very beneficial aspect of our society and really encourage everyone to take part. If they choose cycling, that's all the better for us, so do your part to help out.
Through cycling I have made many life long friendships and have had so many great opportunities to explore my own boundaries as well as the World. As this sport grows in North America I hope we can better sell [it] to communities and sponsors. With proper support, there's no reason why we can't grow and have huge, consistent performances on the World scale.
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