At 37, Mike Olheiser may be one of the oldest rookies ever to enter the US professional peloton, but the 18 national and world championship jerseys he's collected over his 11-year amateur racing career suggest he's anything but a new kid on the block this season.
After considering several offers over the years but ultimately turning them all down, the full-time coach and personal trainer from Huntsville, Alabama pulled the trigger on an offer from Competitive Cyclist, the new sponsor for On The Rivet Management's second-year UCI Continental team that features 2011 National Race Calendar overall winner Francisco Mancebo and is run by director sportif Gord Fraser.
"It just never seemed right before," Olheiser said of previous offers. "But everything really seemed to come together this time. You find the right mixture of team and personnel and management and everything else. I think it's a lot of everything, between Gord and (On The Rivet Management's) Josh Saint, and knowing that they're pulling in the right sponsors this year. You know, as my wife likes to say, it's the perfect storm, all the pieces just kind of fell into place to do it."
Olheiser is a good fit for a team that, while losing seven riders and adding another seven to keep a total of 13, was looking to add a little more experience and depth from its inaugural team. Olheiser won back-to-back time trial and road race elite amateur national titles in both 2009 and 2010. As he's progressed through the masters age groups, Olheiser has taken home 10 national championship jerseys. On the international stage, he's earned four rainbow-stripe jerseys for his performances in the masters time trial.
Fraser said Competitive Cyclist will be looking to use his time trial skills and big diesel motor help defend Mancebo's stage race dominance.
"We were looking for someone who can really add to the grunt of the team," he said. "We had a lot of days in yellow last year. Pretty much 90 per cent of our season was defending the yellow jersey for Mancebo. So you can never have too much horsepower in that line of work. And he seems to fit the bill quite well."
Olheiser will have to transition from a rider who often had to make his own breaks into a worker who is ready to lay it all on the line for the team leader. He said his experience racing against RealCyclist.com last year gave him insight into how important it was to beef up a squad around Mancebo, who he rode with on a composite team at the 2010 Tour of Utah.
"It seems like last year he'd get the jersey pretty early in a lot of the races, and then it was defending the jersey," Olheiser said. "That's truly the key in races; you don't want your leader to be isolated into a bad position where he's got to maybe overextend at some point. I think (Competitive Cyclist) definitely did step it up and add some personnel that should really help build a stronger team around the goal of winning stage races and putting Mancebo on top of the podium."
Fraser said that more than just adding needed horsepower to the 2012 squad, Olheiser's age and maturity will help provide leadership and a calming influence among some of the younger riders on the squad.
"It's always good to have older riders, there is a certain calmness and serenity to them and the way they do things," Fraser said. "The younger riders kind of pick up on the vibe. We've got some hotheads, some young guys who are hard to tame sometimes, so it's always good to have leaders on the road when I'm driving back in the caravan."
While understanding his worker role on the stage-race squad, Olheiser said he still has some ambitions of his own at the pro level, including taking a shot at winning a USPro stars-and-stripes jersey, one of the that he doesn't already own. He also pinned his hopes on the team getting invited to the big three US tours in California, Colorado and Utah. Those UCI 2.1 and 2.HC races were out of reach to Olheiser as an amateur, but they could be a reality now that he races for a professional team.
It could be a big jump for a rider to make in his "rookie" season. So how long does Olheiser think he'll be racing at this level now that he's made the jump?
"I'll probably keep doing it until I stop having fun," he said. "If you step up to the line and don't have butterflies in your stomach, then it's lost something. Because I still love stepping up to the line and your stomach's a little queasy and the butterflies are still going and you're nervous the night before. That's the feeling that I've had for the last 11 years. It's awesome."