Lucas Euser has had his share of ups and downs. I interviewed him back in 2005 when he was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and juggling an engineering major with a cycling career. Out of school, Euser made the jump to the Slipstream team (then becoming Garmin-Slipstream) and was racing in some of the biggest races on the calendar. In 2008, Euser had one of his best seasons posting solid results as well as winning the Univest Grand Prix held in torrential conditions. However his 2009 season ended before it really had a chance to take off. In May he was struck by a car while out training which effectively ended his season. Released from Garmin-Slipstream for the 2010 season, Euser is making his come back on the Canadian team Spider Tech presented by Planet Energy. His racing comeback is just the tip of the iceberg. He has also taken on the daunting task of educating both drivers and cyclists in his hometown of Napa Valley on sharing, not only the road, but the responsibility of being on them. Additionally he has thrown his support behind the Echelon Gran Fondo Napa. I spoke to Lucas about his accident, the rehab and the struggle it has been to regain his place in the peloton.
Browne: I interviewed you way back during your Webcor days in 2005. Do you look back at that kid and think, “What the hell was he thinking?”
Lucas Euser: Like I always say, if you look too much in the rear view mirror you are not going to get too far. You need to pay attention to what’s in the windshield. Everything I have done I do not regret. Everything that happens, happens for a reason. I’ve learned an immense amount of knowledge in terms of cycling and life in general. There’s nothing I would change. I don’t even think I would change being hit by a car last year. I think one of my best talents is to be able to pull positives out of really bad situations. Amazingly enough a lots of good things have come out from last year even though it was one of the worst years of my life. My career has been a series of ups and downs, as most people will say. When you are in an endurance sport your highs are higher, and your lows are lower than your normal everyday life.
Browne: It’s interesting to hear you say that about being hit by a car, such a traumatic injury and I have to imagine psychologically damaging in some regards.
Euser: It was damaging, but more on a psychological level. It stirred up so much emotion. I was able to think about what opportunities I had been given and what I was doing with them. I realized that I was almost taking them for granted. What I had earned. And I really needed to appreciate the life I had made for myself. I think I was caught up in a little bit of the “this isn’t good enough” mentality. It became easy for me to nick-pick and find things that were wrong. But I looked at the big picture and saw what I had going. It is an opportunity that very few people have.
Browne: Is this an attitude you always have had or is this something you have developed?
Euser: It was an attitude I grew up with, but I kind of lost track of it during my stint at Slipstream. The first few years I was a young eager kid. We were putting a lot of hard work into the team. They touted the fact that they were developing riders, but on our end, in a sense, we were developing the team too. There were long 8 to 12 hour drives in a camper across Spain or France. We were doing back-to-back races after those long drives, and just being absolutely screwed. We were doing every race we could get invited to. We laid the groundwork for the team. Once I’d made the cut for the step up, I think I lost track of a few things. I guess I thought I felt a little under appreciated. That breeds a little bit of anger and frustration. 2008 was a good year for me, but like I said, I got caught up in a little bit of that petty attitude of complaining too much and not being happy for the things I had been given and the opportunities I had. In 2009 someone out there decided to give me a slap on the face and threw me in front of a car. That really helped me wrap my head around the big picture. I am really happy right now and in a really good spot. I have a lot of good things happening.
Browne: You have a good 2008. In 2009 you get injured doing your job – training. You are trying to come back, and they don’t pick you up for 2010. Is there any sort of resentment toward the team?
Euser: Not one bit. I only say that because of what I just said. If I had gotten hit and did my rehab, returned to the team, there was no controversy and I was guaranteed a spot back, I don’t think I would have truly reflected on my career and what I was attempting. I would have been stuck in this same situation that I was in personally. When I say stuck I mean, it was a good opportunity. I’m in ProTour team and doing some of the biggest races in the world. But for me on a personal level I had to realize that I needed to take a step back to take that giant leap forward for 2011. I need to rehab and get healthy, first as a human being as opposed to becoming fit as a professional cyclist. I don’t plan on racing till March or April. There is a lot of hard work to be done between now and then. I don’t have any resentment toward JV [Jonathan Vaughters]. At some point you have to realize that this is a business. We are professional cyclists, but we are also in the world of advertising and that is a hard world to be in. I didn’t fit in to their picture. I wasn’t going to be a valuable player. I was a liability with my injury and frankly, it wasn’t going to be a good fit for 2010. However, I got a vote of confidence from JV. He said it wasn’t a talent issue and he is confident that I will be back in Europe in no time. That said, you sometimes can only take what people have to say with a grain of salt. It’s up to you as a professional athlete to make the most of the situation and your ability to perform. That’s what I’ve come to realize is that coming out of this injury I’ve had to stop relying on other people and rely on the knowledge base I have gained over the past four years. Now it’s time to put that to use. I can’t sit back and just say, “that was an experience [racing as a pro]”. It’s time to do things right.
Browne: You broke down being fit into two parts: fit as a human being and fit as a professional athlete. What do you have to do to become fit as a human being?
Euser: I have a large strength discrepancy between each leg. If I stop right now I would have a lifetime of problems with my knee. I would be at 40 years old hobbling around or at worst having my knees replaced. I don’t want that. I want to be how I was before the accident. After my rehab I want to be better than what I was before the accident. It’s a matter of getting my strength back and focusing on the rehab in a proper way so I don’t do any permanent damage for the future. It’s sunk in that my knee will never be the same. If you look at it, it is twice the size of my left one and that is just the way it is going to be. I have to accept that change and that is what life is sometimes about, accepting change. I have to work on getting my full strength and flexibility back and that is coming back really well. I am doing three days a week in the gym and getting a lot of strength back. I can do three to four hour rides pretty well. Not quite as hard as before, but I would definitely call them good training rides. The bike is one of the best rehab tools and is part of the rehab process. I also have to focus on diet, and doing things that are right for the body. The less stress it has the quicker it will heal.
Browne: Percentage-wise how far do you think your knee is rehabilitated?
Euser: I would say about 85%. It’s always that last 10% to 15% is always the hardest to get. That is going to be the majority of the next two months is trying to get that last 10%. That last 5% is going to be race fitness. Once I get to 100% then I can start training again. That last push is always the most difficult. Look at losing weight. It’s easy to lose five or six pounds, but losing that last 10 to 15 pounds is a lot harder.
Browne: We’ve spoken about the physical, how about the psychological damage from the accident?
Euser A couple of months after the accident I was riding a bike again real easy, so in early November I got my girlfriend a bike. Stars were not aligned in her favor and she was hit as well. Now her life changed quite a bit as well. Mentally I was dealt a even bigger blow when she was hit. I’ve seen a lot of carnage and crashes, as well as broken bones. When I got hit my first thought was, “Okay, I’m not doing my next race so how am I going to do the race after that?” That is just my mentality. But when you see it happened to a loved one who is not in that world and is just having fun on her bike it is so fucking frustrating. You ask the question “Why?” a million times. You just have to move past it and mentally that is the hardest part. It has taken some mental pressure off of my situation and I’ve been able to comfort her and reflect on her situation. That has helped me. We both have to move on and both have to realize that this has happened and things have changed forever. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. With anything there are always going to be successes. I’ll be honest, it’s been tough these last few months. But finally it is starting to come around. For her it was a really dramatic from a mental perspective. This isn’t part of her daily life. For me, you deal with crashes and you take the risk. Cycling is filled with calculated risks. All this has segued me into doing some nonprofit bike advocacy programs in Napa Valley. When I got home (Napa Valley) I found that roads were extremely unsafe. I hadn’t really been there during the summer almost since I was in high school. I came home and realized these roads were so dangerous and were actually keeping cyclists off the roads. I’m trying to make a big push to make the roads safer for cyclists. Mainly I will be working behind the scenes with CHP and the sheriff department, local politicians as well as the Napa Bike Coalition and the Safe Route to School program. We want to bridge the gap between cyclists and motorists and not put the fault on either one. As cyclists we have to realize that that we can be as much to blame as a motorist is. We are going to try and find a harmony between the cyclists and the motorists. We can’t wage a war against each other. We have to coexist. It’s a big task, but the people I have on board right now are really good and really motivated. We’ll start in Napa Valley and move to other areas in Northern California and you never know how far you can go. I’m also involved in a Napa Valley grand fondo.
I wanted to stay busy. I was approached by some guys about a Napa grand fondo. They asked if I wanted to help them and I said, “Sure why not?” I didn’t want to sit on my ass [during rehab] and I wanted to do something. I became a professional when I was in school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I remember is when you are busy from the morning till night and you set aside certain times to do things, a lot more gets done as opposed to the lifestyle of having way too much free time and squander too much of it. I wanted to use my brain again and that was something I was missing from racing in Europe. There is a monotony of it all [racing in Europe]. I would play on the internet, train, stretch, eat and play on the internet some more. That was very mind numbing and I was over that. I really feel that the grand fondo scene will bring cycling to the main stream. My vision of the grand fondo is that it is bringing the marathon aspect of running to cycling. It’s a challenge of the majority of the people and still a race. You can come out and race it and others will do it to have a good time. We are working with LiveStrong as our national charity and teaming up with local cancer hospitals: Queen of the Valley and Napa Valley Hospital have opened up cancer wards in the past year and are trying to get more publicity for their wards. We are also positioning it as a destination grand fondo. This is a place to come for a vacation and do this awesome bike ride with a great party afterward. There is still some logistics to figure out but I would have to say that we have made a lot of headway in the past two weeks. When the ball gets rolling it gets going pretty quick.
Browne: 2009 was a rough year for you but it looks like 2010 is positive: a grand fondo, your health is getting better and a new team. However, was there a point in 2009 that you wanted to give up? You are a unique person in the peloton as you have a college degree in engineering. Did you consider retiring, getting a job and becoming a local racing hero?
Euser: Let me reiterate something I said earlier which applies to this question. I realize that I need to take matters into my own hands and using my brain is something that separates me from everyone else. I can use my ability to be a friendly person and network, as well as my ability to think creatively and see those creative ideas through; and apply them to cycling, a sport I love, as opposed to doing something else and forgetting about my cycling career. I’ve been riding a bike since I was six at the Napa Valley BMX track, and the bike has been a part of my life ever since. To completely forget about it and leave the sport with a real gnarly injury would have been the wrong way to go. I need to correct those things and turn them into positives and make the most out of the situation. That means becoming more involved and letting my creative juices flow.
In part 2 of my interview with Lucas Euser, Euser discusses his new team, Spider Tech p/b Planet Energy, and the similarities between it and Slipstream as well as his own goals in cycling, which includes returning to racing in Europe.