Editor’s note: Cole Oberman, a local professional mountain bike racer, who grew up in Pennsylvania and now lives, works, and trains in Philadelphia. Over the coming weeks, Cole will give us an inside look at what it takes to be a pro bike racer. A focus of his training and his column is the Trans-Sylvanian Epic, a multi-day mountain bike race based as its name implies in the heart of Pennsylvania.
I currently live in West Philly. I race for Rare Disease Cycling. I coach at Breakaway Bikes in Center City. I really, really like burritos and IPAs.
I’ve been racing bikes pretty much my whole life. My father was a cyclist, and so I’ve been around cycling literally since I was a baby. I started racing BMX when I was nine and transitioned to riding and racing mountain bikes when I was 12 or 13. I cut my teeth on the trails and mountains of Central PA. (I grew up in Harrisburg.) Learning to ride in brutally rocky places like Michaux State Forest and Rattling Creek has endowed me with a decent set of bike handling skills and a penchant for suffering which certainly helps me out in my current line of work. I spent my high school years racing casually, working in bike shops, riding my fixed gear way too far, and taking some pretty rad mountain biking vacations with my dad to places like Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina and Moab, Utah.
First MTB Race ’02 or ’03. At a Mid Atlantic Super Series race.
I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a professional cyclist, and when I turned 18 I decided to pursue that dream seriously. Of course at the time, I had almost no idea what that meant other than ride my bike lots. I figured what better way to ride your bike a lot than to go on bike tour. I set out from Harrisburg with my girlfriend at the time, and we headed west. We didn’t make it very far by bike (try Columbus, Ohio). We did eventually end up In Albuquerque and that’s where I joined my first real cycling team. I started riding with the pro/elite guys on the team when I say riding with, I mostly mean that I was just getting physically and mentally destroyed. After getting dropped from more than a few training rides I started to pick things up. I spent the rest of the year racing in the New Mexico Off Road Series earning a few Category 1 podiums. This was just the taste of successes I needed and as my first Cat1 season came to a close I was motivated more than ever to become a professional.
After turning 20, I moved back to Pennsylvania (to the great city of Philadelphia this time) and began working at Breakaway Bikes. This turned out to be the opportunity that would make my dream a reality. Breakaway owner and head coach Joe Wentzell agreed to not only coach me but to sponsor me as a rider. I went on to dominate the Mid-Atlantic Super Series that year in the Category 1 Division.
I turned professional the next year at 21 and began the long journey of climbing the pro ranks. I flew down to Texas that spring to race my first ever international level pro race and absolutely got my ass handed to me, just barely finishing on the lead lap. I ratcheted up the training and gradually my results improved. By the end of my first pro season I had earned a top-10 finish at elite Under 23 Cross Country National Championships, raced on the UCI World Cup Circuit with the Under 23 USA National MTB team and won my first local elite/pro race.
Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships, Philadelphia, 2013.
My second year as a pro (last season) saw continued success with consistent top-20 finishes in International level races, another National Team selection, 15+ pro/elite podiums, breaking Chris Eatough’s long-standing course record at one of my favorite local mountain bike races, the Laurel Classic in Wellsborough, PA, finishing on the podium at Iron Cross and finishing second at the SSCXWC held here in Philly. Last year also dealt me my fair share of bitter disappointment, most notably flatting out of the professional cross country national championships, held just up the road at Bear Creek Resort in the Lehigh Valley.
Which brings us to now. I’ve learned a hell of a lot since I was 18 about training, travel, nutrition, equipment, and the business side of the sport. This year I am taking a break from going to school at Temple and thanks to the support of Rare Disease Cycling, focusing 100% on my racing career. I’m aiming for redemption at Cross Country Nationals, chasing a podium in the US Cup Pro XC series, looking to race more World Cup races and aiming to finish on the podium at the Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage Race. My season this year will take me to every corner of the United States, Canada and possibly across the Atlantic.
First year racing pro, U23 Rock Drop, 2012. On my way to a top ten finish in the U23 Elite race.
My training involves about 2030 hours a week of active training. Either on the bike, in the gym or doing stretching/ core/ yoga work. I ride through rain, snow, and freezing temperatures and when its too dangerous to ride outside I sit on the indoor trainer for hours on end. This also means I’m in bed earlier than your grandparents and take my naps pretty seriously. My girlfriend is constantly disappointed at the lack of food in the house. (I eat 4,0005,000 calories a day when I’m training hard.) For Trans-Sylvania I’ll do long back-to-back to back training days to try and get my body used to the training load of racing for seven days straight.
It’s a ton of hard work and totally worth it for the all the experiences. I’m privileged enough to meet a ton of great people and see every corner of this country. I couldn’t do it with out the support of the Philly cycling scene, my team, my coach Joe Wentzell at Breakaway, my sponsors and friends, family (Hi Mom!), and my girlfriend.
All Photos, except SSCXWC photo, courtesy of Cole Oberman.