CBR interview: Rob Ehrman
When I heard that someone had won the Spring Prairie 4/5 race by riding solo for the entire last lap, I had two questions: How did my 20 teammates in the field let that happen? And what kind of maverick would even try such a stunt?
That maverick turned out to be Rob Ehrman (Vision Quest), 28, a longtime triathlete and fixed-gear aficionado off to a cracking start in his first season of road racing.
His season started earlier than most. This winter he placed 7th overall in the Tour da Chicago, an alley cat series, winning Stage 2 on a fixed bike and beating such Tour giants as Donny Quixote (All9Yards), Andrew Nordyke (XXX Racing-AthletiCo) and John Gatto (Darcy).
Ehrman grew up in Lake Forest but now calls Chicago home. He just wrapped up medical school at Northwestern and is now starting a surgical residency at University of Illinois-Chicago, so we might not see much of him the rest of the year, but there’s a good chance he’ll be going fast if we do.
How long have you been racing?
I just started bike racing this year, largely due to the cycling-heavy nature of Vision Quest. They always encourage the triathletes to race in the cycling races, and even vice-versa. So I thought I’d give it a try, since cycling is my favorite of the three disciplines. Spring Prairie was my first win.
Will you do more triathlons?
I’ll definitely do more. I have a few races coming up before long. I did Ironman New Zealand this past march, which meant lots of training over the winter, including 6-hour trainer rides, and 2.5-hour runs on some of the coldest and windiest weekends of the winter.
What’s your favorite training ride?
As a triathlete, I’ve spent a lot of hours on the bike riding all alone, and still enjoy that sometimes: riding 4-5 hours by yourself can be great and terrible, sometimes in the same ride.`I always learn something [at the Mafia Ride] because there are so many experienced riders there. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to ride smarter.’ But I’ve been more into cycling lately and doing more group rides, which I have enjoyed a great deal, and it so much easier to ride 100 miles with a group of 25 than solo.
As for my favorite ride, I’d have to go with the Mafia Ride.
It’s a whole other level of riding, or at least what i had been exposed to. There are a lot of cat 1/2 riders, and [former pro and Vision Quest founder] Robbie Ventura is usually there too, so it stays pretty fast and intense. Part of why I enjoy it so much is that I always learn something because there are so many experienced riders there. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to ride smarter.
How long can you hang with the Mafia Ride?
I usually ride near the front, taking my turn with the pacemaking and all. I’m usually able to stay up there, not that I chase down every attack, but I’ve never gotten dropped. I’m pretty well knackered at the end of the ride, and the time and distance goes by so fast because all I can concentrate on is not getting dropped. I’m definitely a stronger cyclist since I started doing this ride.
Help me get a bead on the Vision Quest experience at the 4/5 level. When you show up to race, are you a cohesive team, or are you just guys who happen to be clients of the same coach?
It depends a bit on how many VQ’ers there are at a given race. Robbie always gives a little strategy talk before the start for those that are interested. Before the Spring-prairie race, I did a recon lap with Robbie where he talked a lot of tactics with me. These tips proved invaluable in the race, and certainly contributed to my success.
Many of the 4/5 folks are triathletes that are just there for the fun of the race, so there is less focus on strategy with them. Plus, many of the 4/5s are less experienced (including myself) so it is sometimes tough to actually carry through with whatever the plan is.
Most of the actual cyclists that would be 4/5 ride the masters races, where there is definitely a focus on tactics and winning. But there are some younger guys at VQ now who want to cat up
so there will probably more race tactics coming into play.
You’ve just attacked and you’re all alone with 6 miles to go. What’s going through your head? How often are you looking back?
The attack kind of happened by mistake. I had gotten boxed in on the turn into the hill on the previous lap and wound up losing a lot of speed in the corner, which made the hill that much worse, and then I got stuck in the group and had to pick my way forward. So I decided that I’d try to be near the front on the next lap because I wanted to be at the front with a lap to go.
My actual plan was to attack on the back stretch. That section was slightly downhill, and I guess I had opened a little gap just trying to stay at the front. So I came into the hill and tried to go at a good tempo, again with the thought of being near the front of the pack for the last lap. I got to the top and there was no one around me. I looked back and saw that I had a decent gap. I hesitated for a second and then thought I’d just go for it. I figured I’d get caught pretty soon and would still have enough time to recover and attack again on the back straight.
There were some rolling hills that I went up pretty hard and I looked back a few times and I was shocked to see the gap increasing. Later I would learn that this was thanks to my teammate Luca blocking for me.
It was at this point that I decided to go all out for the win. I figured if I could maintain the gap on the hilly section I’d do OK because the rest of the loop was mostly downhill. When I went through turn 2 I looked back again and couldn’t believe how much space there was. I bombed the hills and through turn 3 and saw there was still a huge gap so I put my head down rode as hard as I could.
The last section was kind of curvy so I didn’t look back much. Then I hit turn 4 and started climbing. I was pretty beat, and then I hear people at the bottom of the hill screaming “Go XXX!” So I turned and looked and see the pack coming up the hill a lot closer than I thought. Perspective on a hill is tough, but they seemed a lot closer than I thought they were. At that point I thought I had blown it and was gonna get caught. I crested the hill and I was so tired and was sure that the pack was right on me.
In the home stretch I looked over my shoulder 5 or 6 times and was always expecting the see people blow right past me, and I knew I had nothing left for a sprint, so I was nervous. It wasn’t until about 10 meters to go that I realized I was going to win
I was so relieved!
Pardon my stereotype of the latte-sipping, sweater-vest-wearing, BMW-driving denizen of the North Shore, but how does a guy from Lake Forest end up doing the Tour da Chicago? And doing so well? What was that experience like?
First of all, I don’t own a single sweater-vest. Or drink lattes. Anyhow…
I don’t remember how I heard about the TdC, but it was a few years ago. It sounded like fun and I always wanted to give it a shot, but his year was the first year that I was able to do it. I love biking and racing and the idea of a stage-race alley cat seems like such a cool idea. Plus the fact that it is a winter race in Chicago adds to its mystique. And it was an awesome experience. The stages were really well planned and so much fun. Plus we got some true Chicago winter weather which was partly miserable, but again, that is part of the fun and allure of the race.
I actually missed two stages
but it’s easy to be seduced by possibility. I’ll definitely be back next year.
What’s your fixed-gear experience?
I’ve been riding fixed for about 5 years. I had a mountain I first started riding in the city for transportation purposes and that was just insanely slow. So I converted an old Peugeot to a fixed gear, mostly to be faster than an mtb but also cause I had heard that riding fixed was good for developing good pedaling cadence. And it was way cheaper than buying a road bike. Then I got kinda stuck on the simplicity and basic nature of having only one gear and it was easy to fix if something went awry.
What are your goals with the track, and how do you see the track figuring into your road racing?
I rode at the velodrome a few times in the past, but never competitively, just for fun. But this year I’ve been going to the clinics and Northbrook and raced a few times. I absolutely love racing on the track. Where else do you get to ride as fast as you possibly can with no fear? I feel like a little kid every time I get out there.
I’d like to upgrade to Cat 4 by the end of this year so I can race on Thursday with more experienced people, becauseI always try to look and listen to what others say and do and then incorporate it into what I do. Is that cheating? I always feel like you learn so much more just from riding with those that have more experience than I do. I always try to look and listen to what others say and do and then incorporate it into what I do. Is that cheating?
I don’t have the greatest top-end speed
but I hope to improve of the next few seasons and maybe be competitive in the Thursday races. But I’m really into track riding more for the fun than to win, and for the benefit it will have on my road riding, both in terms of handling skills and fitness.
Do you have a target road race for the rest of the summer? When do you plan to upgrade?
Unfortunately, since i am starting work as a resident, I don’t really know what my schedule will be, or when I’ll be able to get time off to race. I’m sure that I’ll race again in the summer, just not sure when. I’m hoping to put in an appearance at the Hersher 2-man time-trial next weekend. My prospective partner
is an absolute monster on the bike, so I think we could do really well, as long as he doesn’t blow me apart.
As for upgrading, I’d like to do it as soon as i can, but I guess I have to race in order to upgrade, so we’ll see.