photo alex chiu
When we first started Bear we knew right away that we needed to put some really experienced racers around these kids. But these Rider Directors had to be more than just fast. They had to be guys who could #keepitfun, look out for the kids first, do the right thing, travel well and sacrifice their own ambitions to work for the kids out on the road. Cat 1, 2 bike racers are a lot of things, but unselfish isn’t really the first thing that comes to mind when describing the majority of them.
Ben Jacques-Maynes is local to Santa Cruz and he was a great mentor to the kids long before Bear came into the picture. But, understandably, with a full time job as a pro bike racer and a loving family, he didn’t have much free time to invest in the kids. He recommended we reach out to Rob Evans and then introduced me to him on the Saturday ride in Santa Cruz.
Rob joined our team for the last few races of the 2012 season and is now a permanent fixture in our program as a road team Rider Director. We count on him in so many ways. Most importantly, the kids know that if they are on his wheel he will be right there in the mix when the race-winning move is made. And he’ll work like a dog to help launch them forward at exactly the right moment. He’s also been known to drop back, give young buck an earful and then tow him up to the front where he needs to be. The kids count on Rob and he’s always looking out for them.
I asked Rob a few questions about the nature of cycling development and this program. He had some insightful things to say.
- Photo Alex Chiu
What has it been like working with these kids?
Working with the kids is great, I’m always impressed by the level of professionalism and respect they show to each other, our sponsors and our supporters. Stu and Julia have made my role very easy, they have the hard talks, manage the sponsors and parents, so I’m free to be a bro. It’s much like the difference between being a parent vs. an uncle…I can buy them ice-cream and cookies, but it’s Stu and Julia who has to make sure they get to sleep every night.
What kinds of things have you taught them? What have you been working on with them?
If theres one single lesson I want everyone to learn, it’s the importance of loving to ride your bike. It can’t be forced by a parent, a coach, a sponsor, a team, it has to come from the rider. At a certain point, each of our riders will be forced to make difficult life decisions, weighing the opportunity cost between riding, school, relationships and work. I’ve seen it happen over and over again, big sacrifices, with no payout. It’s crushing, so much so riders walk away from their bike never to ride again. The day you give up school or work to “go pro” is the day riding a bike becomes a job, and like most jobs, work sucks…unless you love what you do. As Steve Jobs said, “our work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
What have they taught you, if anything?
Discipline. From diet, to intervals, to Strava, to wattage, to remembering your shoes before the race, these kids are dialed. I’ve always approached racing as a hobby, these guys approach racing as a profession…there’s a big difference.
What does the cycling development culture in the USA need more of? What does it need less of?
It needs more personality, more emotion. The entire sport, including our own federation is built upon the omertà. Do you job, don’t piss anyone off, and you will be rewarded (with contracts, coaching jobs, selection committee positions, grand fondo sponsors, industry positions, etc), it’s created a culture of drones. Fans want real heroes with real personalities, victory solutes and drama, underdogs and and trash talking, tears of joy and sorrow, above all fans want to feel the emotion. Until we find a way to bring emotion back into he sport, development will be stifled. Riders dreams will continue to get crushed by those who uphold theomertà, and the cycle will continue. This sport is ripe for disruption, I’m not quite sure how it will change, but I do know it won’t come from the top.
What makes Bear different from other programs you’ve raced with?
The ethos of the team is unlike any I have encountered before. The mission of the team is not to win 100 races, not to please sponsors or parents, it’s quite simply to help our riders become better, more well rounded people. As we achieve that mission, the rest simply falls into place, sponsors love us, parents trust us and results pour in. Our ability to stick to this approach is rooted in the lack of a title sponsor (or in other words, the generous donations of our private sponsors). Our objectives can then be set by the riders, not the sponsors. It’s a subtle, but important difference.
How does the experience these kids are having differ from your experience of developing in the sport?
These guys are under much more pressure than I was. I knew well before college that I wasn’t pro material…however each of our riders are. It’s taken me 20 years to develop to the level these guys have achieved in 2-3 years, it’s a mind-blowing level of talent. Currently the opportunity cost of “going pro” has never been higher, yet the “pro dream” is no less real. Reconciling those two is extremely difficult for a high school kid. Throw in the culture of doping (which was something I was completely aloof to at their age), and it’s even harder.
- Photo Alex Chiu
We’re stoked to have Rob in the program. Can’t imagine doing this without him.
Thanks for reading, Stu