An interview with Jacob Rosenbarger, March 25, 2007
American Jacob Rosenbarger is a member of the BMC Pro Cycling Team. John Wikswo caught up with him for Cyclingnews on a flight that was taking Rosenbarger to his first race of the season in Fresno, California. The Colorado-based rider was happy to be escaping the clutches of a tough Front Range winter for some California sunshine, and he looked forward to the chance to race with his new team.
Excited about his place on the BMC squad, Rosenbarger said, "It's a new team, it's their first year. It's important to start the season with a good showing - especially with a new team. All the other guys want to see how it shapes up, how good the equipment is, how fit the guys are."
Rosenbarger has been racing for ten years, with the last five as a professional, but his career got off to a rough start when he was involved in a life-threatening accident during his first pro race. "I got hit by a car in a race six years ago, broke my femur, and stopped breathing during surgery. I was at a pretty low point. It was a big success the first time I rode my bike after that accident."
" " -Jacob Rosenbarger on his new BMC Team
"My break was high, near the head of the femur, but I was back on my bike in six weeks. My problem was that I stayed conscious the whole time. The race was a big road race in Riverside. I laid on a gurney for seven hours before they took an x-ray to see that the neck of my femur was broken. Lots of road rash. Three days in ICU after surgery."
Ironically, the car he hit was a police car. "I dented a quarter panel. I went across the hood, and my leg hit the metal frame above the bumper."
The accident was a twist of fate that impacted his personal life, too. "From that, I met my future wife. That made this a most positive experience. She's the soignieur for that team (Jittery Joes Coffee Company) and waited by my hospital bed for three days. That shortened my recovery by months. Now she is the soignieur for our BMC team."
The 28-year-old did not race the Tour of California in February, but he followed the race from afar. "I'm a real big Jens Voigt fan. I like the way he handles himself. He has a good demeanour. He's always smiling on the bike."
The BMC squad for 2007 consists of fourteen racers and five staff members. "It's an awesome opportunity for me--the best-run team I've ever been on . . The teammates are good and motivated. At the end of the day, it's nice when you don't have any excuses to not succeed. The team definitely provides that environment." Racers are on Dura-Ace equipped, all-carbon frames that utilize nanotechnology and are made of nanotubes.
The making of a pro
Rosenbarger started cycling in 1994. His step-dad, Ed Martin, was a dedicated racer while a student at MIT. Martin later moved to Indiana University as a professor. Still into riding, he played a minor role in the movie Breaking Away. "He's one of the extras in the Cinzano 100 - the road race that supposedly took place around Bloomington. They needed a hundred riders to make up the peloton," said Rosenbarger, who was inspired to follow his step-dad's tracks into cycling. "See something cool, and you want to copy it. It just appealed to me."
Long-term, Rosenbarger is hoping to race in the Spring Classics on the other side of the Atlantic. "If I could do those, I would feel really complete." He already raced in Europe, for two years on an amateur team in Holland called Dextro Energy. "It was brutal. I was 17 and 18. Oh man, talk about tough bike riders." But his own toughness helped carry him through a particularly cold winter of training this year. "My waterbottles froze two days ago -- this winter was unprecedented." Then, he offered a tip, "I find that if you add a little salt and sugar to the water it lowers the freezing point."
Rosenbarger has some advice for young racers. "Patience is critical. It is hard to be a racer. Everyone wants everything now. It's not just about capabilities; it takes a lot of time to learn how to win - to be calm in stressful situations. There is lots of discipline in success. Success is a matter of perception. Statistically, in terms of winning races, you will lose more races than you will win. There is a lot of disappointment. Everybody will find a success if they have the patience to wait for it."
After a decade of all the riding that goes along with racing, Rosenbarger has many interesting stories-including one encounter with a bear while riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, near his grandparents' farm.
"I was freewheeling down a long hill on the Blue Ridge Parkway and there was a crosswind, so it was completely quite. I was really hauling. All of a sudden, I see a bear walk out of the woods and cross the road. I braked as hard as I could and managed to pull the bike to a stop just in front of the bear. He was surprised and rose up on his back legs.
"I was doing a track stand, in my big gear, pointed down hill. We were standing like that for a long time - maybe 20 seconds -- and I was trying to figure out what to do, like maybe try to break off to the side and go on down. Just then, a Volvo comes down the hill behind me - I still remember the car, and the bear heard the noise of the oncoming car and dropped down on all fours and ran off. I don't know what would have happened if that car hadn't come by!"
Aiming for the Classics
While Rosenbarger considers riding the Tour de France an honor, it's not a race that motivates his own career. "It is obviously the most prestigious race in the world, and it is the only race that the majority of Americans watch. But I've ridden most of those climbs in training and for fun. They're just too hard. I'm just not a climber - the Tour is not a race that really suits me."
Instead he prefers one-day races. "The longer the better. I have pretty good high tolerance for fatigue - lots of stamina. Typically, I can do the short stage races ok, but it's kind of fun to think about one particular day, like the classics. You don't have any second chances to come back, like in a stage race. Everything has to be right, and I'm a good planner for that kind of stuff."
For now, Rosenbarger is readying for some major races in the US. "My number one (priority) race is the 155 mile (249 km) race in Philadelphia in June."
Looking to life after pro cycling, Rosenbarger said, "My wife and I are going to open a cake shop in Boulder. We love it there, we've been baking cakes for years now as side business, for all our friends birthdays. We've done a few wedding cakes. We have our business plan written up."
In the meantime, look for Rosenbarger's inner toughness, experience, and determination to carry him through the rest of his cycling career.