Lucas Euser started riding a bicycle when he was in elementary school, rolling around on a BMX dirt bike in the Napa Valley. For years, he says, it was just something he did for fun. In fact, in the first mountain bike race he ever entered, he waited at the top of a hill for his friend to catch up with him. Needless to say, he didn't ride away from that one a winner. But while racing 10-speed road bikes in high school his eyes were opened to the possibility of biking as a career, and he's been pedaling with the finish in mind ever since.
â€œI guess I figured back then that I could be a pro cyclist,â€? he says, as he recalls the countless races he's competed in over the years. â€œIt just came a lot sooner than I thought.â€?
Euser, a 22-year-old industrial technology major at Cal Poly, has been riding pro for about a year now. Last summer he traveled with the US National Team to Europe, where he rode the Tour d'Avenir, a grueling 10-day, nearly 900-mile race through Belgium and France that gave him his first exposure to stiff European competition.
â€œIt was way over my head,â€? he says of the tour, which is kind of a pre-Tour de France for younger riders. â€œIt was the longest ride I'd ever done and Europeans ride a lot harder than Americans do. I got sick. I was cooked. But I finished and that was a huge accomplishment. It definitely made me stronger.â€?
Strong enough to be chosen to ride for TIAA Creff, a division-three team made up of some of the best young cyclists in the industry. He's especially proud of the fact that the team approached him even without the aid of an agent, though he's certainly not a self-promoter.
â€œI'm just getting started and it's an honor to get to ride with this team,â€? he says, with what appears to be trademark humility. â€œThis will give me a lot of opportunities. It will definitely take me back to Europe.â€?
But long before that, he'll be going places â€” although closer to home than he might ever have imagined. Euser has been chosen, along with six or seven other teammates, to ride in the Tour of California this February, a race that will travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles. At around 600 miles, it's considerably shorter than the Tour d'Avenir, but this premier, world-class event will pit him and his teammates against some of the world's best cyclists â€” older and more experienced riders, many of whom have already ridden the Tour de France.
Still, Euser is undeterred by the competition. â€œWe're going into this race to win,â€? he says with certainty, adding that there is more to bike racing than winning. Although only one member of one team can emerge as the winner, cycling might just be the ultimate team sport. As such, success can come in a variety of different ways.
Euser will ride as a â€œdomestique,â€? or support rider, one who works to help the strongest team member to the finish. He seems satisfied with this role, noting (like a good team player) that â€œan individual win is a team win.â€?
TIAA Creff is comprised of riders who range in age from 19 to 27 years, a group of athletes that director Jonathon Vaughters is hoping to shape into the next generation of riders.
â€œWe're a young team,â€? says Euser, acknowledging that maturity and experience are what often separate the winning cyclists from the pack. â€œBut we're really racing toward the future of cycling.â€?
The future may well start on February 19, as TIAA Creff and 15 other teams begin the eight-day trek down the coast of California, stopping at several cities along the way, including SLO on the 23 rd . And people everywhere are sure to notice them. The Tour of California is the biggest thing ever to hit the Golden State's cycling scene, and it will receive international coverage, including daily spots on ESPN. Participating in this event is a chance in a lifetime for any athlete, but for Euser the chance to ride in his own backyard might be the best part of all.
â€œOur team is scattered all over the U.S. Some are in L.A., training on an indoor track, some live in Boulder but they're training in New Mexico because it's too cold in Colorado right now. I'm lucky,â€? he smiles, â€œI already live in one of the most ideal places to train. Now I get to race here, too.â€?
Euser says his team will spend a week training together before the race. In the meantime, he spends about 30 hours a week riding on his own. The distance from his teammates doesn't bother him, though, as they're in constant communication with one another. â€œWe study each other and we know how each of us rides,â€? he explains. â€œPlus, we'll wear radios,â€? over which Vaughters will give them detailed orders, or â€œjobs,â€? throughout each stage of the race. For those eight days, Euser will be all ears.
As he ponders the finish line, he acknowledges that his cycling goals have changed over the past 12 months. â€œLast year my goal was to be in as many races, in as much competition as I could.â€? And now? â€œNow I feel like I can race less and focus on performing better.â€? And â€œbetter,â€? of course, leads to a discussion of the Tour de France â€” which he says he most definitely plans to ride, although not in the near future.
First things first. There's college, which Euser says is as important to him as cycling. He's planning on graduating in 2007, which will give him time to give 100 percent to both areas of his life and work on a degree that will place him somewhere in the field of cycling.
â€œNo matter what, when I'm 40 or 50 years old, when I'm done riding a bike, I want to have something to do with riding a bike.â€?
But that's a future not worth worrying about just yet. He's got this big race to think about for the moment. But, he admits, he's always thinking about tomorrow. â€œI spend four, five, six hours at a time on a bicycle,â€? he says with a slight shrug of his shoulders. â€œThat's a lot of time to think about the future.â€?âˆ†
New Times staff writer Alice Moss can't think of anything she loves more than riding her bicycle. Email her at email@example.com.