American Russell Finsterwald has signed a one-year contract with the Subaru - Gary Fisher pro mountain bike team. The junior national cross country and short track champion begins his tenure with his new team in 2010.
"He's rounding out the team as the token Under 23 rider," said Gary Fisher Brand Manager Travis Ott to Cyclingnews. "At 18 years old, he's got several years of crushing it in the Under 23 ranks. He'll be with the team for all the domestic races we can get him to."
For his first year in the Under 23 ranks, Finsterwald joins established teammates like Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Heather Irmiger, Sam Schultz, Willow Koerber, Dror Pekatch and Ken Onodera.
"I'd like to progress through the Under 23 races," said Finsterwald to Cyclingnews. "In the next two years, I'd like to be one of the top Under 23 riders in the nation." Finsterwald has been riding for his local bike shop's team, ProCycling.
He was part of the 12th-placed US team relay team at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia, and he also finished 41st in the junior cross country race despite a crash and a bent derailleur hanger. Finsterwald lives in Colorado Springs where he got started riding thanks to his aunt, who took him to ride in the local mountain bike park and who also took him to try racing about four years ago. "She got me riding in my first race, and I was hooked," he said.
This summer, in his second-ever national championships in Granby, Colorado, Finsterwald collected his first stars and stripes jerseys by winning both the cross country and the short track junior races. "It was amazing. I was really hoping for a top three - that was my goal, and to win was pretty awesome. Then winning the short track was a surprise," said Finsterwald, who excels at long climbs and longer-lap-type cross country races.
The young rider got his first taste of competition in Europe this summer - an experience that he says really paid off at nationals and the rest of the year. When not on the road, he sometimes trains with other locals like former mountain bike world champion Alison Dunlap and his neighbor, road pro Danny Pate.
"I went over to Europe with the national team this summer, and I raced both on the road and off road. I learned a lot - including how to start in the back and work my way up," he said. "I got to ride with more than the 20 juniors we usually have in the US. In one race, we had 85 juniors. The racers were a lot harder, and they were a lot more aggressive. They're going 100 percent the whole time. They don't just draft - they attack you, and the courses are more technical."
"I'm not sure about going back to Europe for 2010, but I'd like to go," said Finsterwald, who is still working out a detailed race schedule with his new team.
As he progresses toward finishing his final year of high school and applies for admission to Fort Lewis College, he expects to race the US ProXCT series and other major national events. "My goal is to be a top-three rider at Under 23 nationals, and I'd like to ride in the top-20 at the ProXCT Races." One of those events, the Sand Creek International, will be in his hometown.
One thing Finsterwald won't be doing for 2010 is racing the 24-hour nationals - something he tried in 2009 for the first time. This year, he was part of the winning four-person pro squad, but the racing format didn't appeal. "I didn't like waking up at 1:00 am and having to go race for an hour as hard as I could. I'll definitely be skipping that one next year!"
The Subaru - Gary Fisher Team will be riding only 29ers for 2010. This year, the team's riders had a choice in wheel format, but next year, it'll be all 29ers all the time. That's just fine with Finsterwald.
"I rode both a 29er an a 26er this year, but I rode the 29er a majority of the time and liked it more," he said.
The complete 2010 team roster is listed below.
2010 Subaru - Gary Fisher Team
Jeremy Horgan Kobelski (United States)
Heather Irmiger (United States)
Willow Koerber (United States)
Sam Schultz (United States)
Russell Finsterwald (United States)
Ken Onodera (Japan)
Dror Pekatch (Israel)