Golf’s loss: A conversation with Eddie Anderson

February 15, 2021 § 3 Comments

Thirty seconds after finishing the 2019 Belgian Waffle Ride

I first learned of Eddie Anderson a couple of years ago when subscriber Ken West began sending me Eddie’s stage race reports from Europe and the Tour of Colombia. Riding for the U23 development team of Hagens-Berman Axeon, Eddie parlayed steady performances in some of the calendar’s most grueling races, including the Tour of California and the Belgian Waffle Ride, into a professional contract with Alpecin-Fenix, beginning this year.

I reached out to Eddie to see if he’d be willing to talk about his career and he graciously agreed. What follows is a candid discussion of his interesting career and how he went from golf to the world’s hardest sport.

Seth Davidson: How did you get into cycling?

Eddie Anderson: My dad. Growing up, my dad wanted me to be a golfer. One day, randomly he said he’d heard there were some trails along the James River where I live, and he took me mountain biking and I caught the bug. “When can we go again?” I wanted to know. In middle school I started mountain bike racing for fun, and in 8th Grade I entered my first mountain bike race. I raced solely MTB until my junior year of high school. The National Interscholastic Cycling Association was the platform for MTB racing and in VA we had spring and fall racing. When I joined the Hagens-Berman Axeon U23 team I had little road experience. A spot opened at the last minute on his team and Axel Merckx took a shot on me as a rider, and I’m forever grateful for that opportunity. I raced for them for four years and that brings us to today. I can’t imagine a better place to develop as a racer and a person. The chance to travel the world and meet people, and you see a lot even in the racing bubble, just learning to navigate airports and what to do when travel dates don’t go to plan, learning to live independently. I managed to continue my studies at the University of Virginia while racing for the team, but if I’d had to put college on hold completely I don’t think that would have set me back. I’d have been ahead of my classmates in many ways.

Seth Davidson: How did you make the team?

Eddie Anderson: While I was racing the NICA series in Virginia, my junior year I was pretty successful and in my senior year I won all the races in the fall, and the race organizers noticed. I went on training rides with some of the people heading up the cycling association for high schoolers in Virginia and they stuck their neck out and vouched for me to Axel.

Seth Davidson: How did you transition from mountain biking into a road career?

Eddie Anderson: I knew I loved mountain biking but didn’t see it as a possible career. I knew I would do it for the next five or ten years as an amateur, mountain biking in summer, skiing in winter, but it wasn’t until the opportunity to race for Axeon came about that I adjusted my ambitions to racing on the road. I didn’t have huge goals on the mountain biking or road side of things but when the opportunity came about, I jumped on it immediately and realized that this was something I could pursue. I wanted to see how far I could take it once the pathway was open.

Seth Davidson: What was a racing schedule at Axeon?

Eddie Anderson: From late February to end of the summer was the duration of the season. I’d race in Europe some in the spring and then raced in the US during the summer. Starting out I’d race Redlands, Tour of the Gila.

Seth Davidson: What were your first European races?

Eddie Anderson: Circuit of the Ardennes, Tour of Alsace. It’s a different ballgame racing in Europe. So often racing in the US is hard for thirty minutes, the break will go, you’re on wide roads, everyone kind of relaxes. Very textbook. The break gets pulled back and you go full gas on the last climb. In Europe you go full gas the whole time. My first few races I got my teeth kicked in. The favorite races with Axeon would be Tour of Colombia in 2019 and the Tour of California.

Seth Davidson: Why memorable?

Eddie Anderson: The cultural experience in Colombia more than the race. Cyclists are treated like royalty. The team presentation was in a football stadium with thousands of spectators, people asking for our autographs and asking to have pictures taken, but it was hard racing. The Tour of California was also an amazing race.

Seth Davidson: Why amazing?

Eddie Anderson: I had watched TOC growing up so toeing the start there I almost had to pinch myself because five or six years ago I never envisioned doing something like that, lining up next to the biggest names in the sport like Sagan; really, I had to pinch myself. What made it special is that you’re almost putting on a show; there’s so much media around the race it feels different. Feels more like a spectacle.

Seth Davidson: How was the racing with the biggest names in the sport?

Eddie Anderson: A lot of time it’s dictated by terrain. I’ve raced in European races that are more intense because everyone is jostling for position the entire time but in California there’s not so much fight for position, but it was one of the biggest weeks ever on the bike. Thirty-seven hours in seven days and the fatigue and load by the end of the race was different than anything ever. It was a slow burn, but when they went hard at the end it was really hard.

Seth Davidson: When did you start training with a power meter?

Eddie Anderson: 2016.

Seth Davidson: How was that?

Eddie Anderson: I liked it. I didn’t really start using it like I should until a year later, my first year with Axeon. It provides a structure to training that is nice. But I also have a gravel bike without one and it’s nice not to think about anything sometimes.

Seth Davidson: Does racing without a power meter increase strategy and risk taking?

Eddie Anderson: I’d agree, yes, it increases risk taking. If I know I can do x watts for twenty minutes and I see I’ve been doing that, and someone attacks at 50w more, you’re a bit hesitant. I know people who just cover up their power meter in a race. Mountain biking and cyclocross are raced differently; power meters will never be banned but that might make racing more interesting.

Seth Davidson: What is more challenging about racing in Europe, the racing or the cultural adaptations?

Eddie Anderson: Both are big challenges. I undertook them at different times. Because of that I’m not sure if it’s easy to compare because USAC provided me an opportunity to live in Sittard, in Holland, for a month and that provided a nice training ground and everything was taken care of for us, meals, lodging, so I didn’t have to think about the cultural immersion and could focus on racing and learning how to race in Europe. Last year, 2019-2020, were the first years I had to figure out lodging. I lived in Girona with a teammate and it’s sort of the Boulder of Europe; it’s easy to get acquainted and there are a lot of American riders and cyclists so it’s easier than a lot of places to get your way around. There’s a bit of a language barrier, that’s difficult as well, everyone talks about how you have to be okay with and enjoy the life of living in Europe, which I do.

Seth Davidson: What is it about living there that you like?

Eddie Anderson: The culture, the coffee shop culture, a lot of people focused on riding bikes, it seems like a simpler life. I wouldn’t say I like it more than living in  the US, I will always consider Virginia home more than I like living in Girona, and I love racing my bike.

Seth Davidson: What skills were most deficient when you started racing in Europe?

Eddie Anderson: I needed to be more aggressive and confident on the bike. When people are literally pushing you off the road, if you carry yourself with confidence and poise and show that in the peloton, then you’re more likely to be successful in fighting for position at the front. If you show any sign of weakness a competitor will recognize that and you’ll be at the back of the pack.

Seth Davidson: Show weakness how?

Eddie Anderson: If someone nudges you and you don’t nudge back or hold position or falter a little bit.

Seth Davidson: How is field sprinting different from in the US?

Eddie Anderson: Leadouts will start much earlier because if there’s a chicane with 2km to go you have to be at the front well before that. There’s more team organization because there’s strength in numbers and if Trek is coming up on the side with eight riders and EF isn’t as organized, then Trek will take over, string out the pack, but you don’t want to go too early. When everyone’s going 55kph it’s hard to move up once a team starts driving the pace.

Seth Davidson: How did you get picked up by your current team?

Eddie Anderson: I started talking with them in May because Alpecin-Fenix is multi-disciplinary and their riders do different disciplines; I did mountain biking and in 2019 did some gravel and road, and when I got 2nd at the Belgian Waffle Ride, that’s when they took note. They were looking to extend their program to include gravel as well. Eventually things worked out late in 2020 for which I’m really grateful. I’m excited to help them introduce gravel and to race for them on the road. And I have to thank Axel and Hagens-Berman Axeon that I was even able to race in 2020, but I did get to Europe and started a couple of races over there.

Seth Davidson: What do you say to people who say that the BWR isn’t really a race? And how do you feel lining up to race BWR when the majority of the participants are spectators, cycling enthusiasts who aren’t really racing to win the event?

Eddie Anderson: First, I’d strongly disagree that it isn’t a race. I think if you can crown a champion then it’s a race. Getting second place at the BWR was one of the hardest events I’ve ever done. I struggle with the idea that it’s not a competition, and even for the guy that’s finishing 457th it’s a competition against himself because he wants to get a personal best. I guess the short point is that it’s really good for the sport. It creates a connection between Joe the complete amateur who likes to ride and a pro like Peter Stetina, even if they don’t see each other in the race it creates a connection. You know the atmosphere and the community feel is like none other. You don’t feel that at a road race at all. You could strike up a conversation with Pete Stetina and maybe go for a group ride the next weekend. All areas of our sport are suddenly connected with this kind of event, and creating that connection is good for growth and the longevity of the sport. I think there are still 10 or 20 guys that could win the event, and I’m obviously focused on them.

Seth Davidson: What do you think that an event like the BWR is going to look like vis-à-vis participants in five years’ time?

Eddie Anderson: It could be even bigger, like an Ironman style event. I think gravel, because so many people are riding during covid, will grow, and I hope we have lasting effects from that. If you just like the outdoors you’d like the BWR. Who doesn’t want to spend their whole day outside riding their bike, fully supported? I’m someone who has loved the outdoors my entire life, from Boy Scouts to backpacking, hiking; the woods are my happy place and it seems like a return to my roots.

Seth Davidson: When you say that the BWR was one of the hardest events you’ve ever raced, what do you mean?

Eddie Anderson: I remember crossing the finish line and being completely exhausted. There are times I’ve gone harder and it’s been more intense but the sheer amount of energy it took rivals anything I’ve ever done. A photo they took of me thirty seconds afterwards, they sat me down and took a photo and you can see in my face how exhausted I am. I consumed a hundred waffles that evening, I bet!

Seth Davidson: What does it say for the BWR’s stature and difficulty that someone like Erik Zabel is closely aligned with it?

Eddie Anderson: It adds to the prestige of the event.

Seth Davidson: What was the decisive moment in the race for you?

Eddie Anderson: I got to the first single track section and got a flat so I thought my race was over. I have my teammate to thank, he gave me his wheel, Liam Holowesko, and if he hadn’t done that I can’t say I’d now be on the Alpecin-Fenix team. I was five, ten minutes down and stressed trying to get back with the pressure of having gotten his wheel and sacrificing his race for mine. An hour later I made it to the front group and then it was a war of attrition. There were a few hard sections but on Double Peak it was me and Peter Stetina, he gapped me by fifteen seconds to the top, but I caught him on the downhill so we had 10k to go and then I was thinking “I’ve crushed it, I crushed the nutrition game!” and all of a sudden Stetina attacked one more time and I fell apart with less than ten minutes to go. I unraveled. I don’t even know how to describe it. I went from chipper to destroyed in just a snap.

Seth Davidson: Are you going to race it again this year?

Eddie Anderson: Yes.

Seth Davidson: Are you going to do anything differently?

Eddie Anderson: I will try to eat a little bit more! Obviously there will be even bigger names. It’s not going to be an easy race.

Seth Davidson: What European races will you target this year?

Eddie Anderson: I don’t have my schedule so I can’t say. Hopefully this spring I’ll get over there and start racing. Really I think my goals are to help out the team as much as I can, bring success to the team as a domestique and however they need me, I’m there to help to reach the team’s goals.

Seth Davidson: What advice would you give to a 15-year-old thinking about cycling as a career?

Eddie Anderson: Keep it fun. It’s easy to lose sight of at the end of the day and to forget that we do it because we love it. Make sure you feel that passion especially at that age because I know when I was fourteen I wasn’t thinking about riding professionally at all. Definitely don’t get a power meter.

Seth Davidson: What are your thoughts about racial diversity in cycling?

Eddie Anderson: It’s not that good. I think that Justin William’s Legion of LA is doing fantastic things for getting more diverse people interested in the sport. I can’t say I have the solution, it’s an issue that has to be addressed for sure. Any movement is movement forward because at the high level there isn’t much diversity at all.

Seth Davidson: What should be done at the developmental level to bring African-American kids into the sport?

Eddie Anderson: The first step is get them involved in racing in some way, provide a platform at a young age, so perhaps the NICA League in Virginia could be extended to African-American communities nationwide and made more accessible; that would be great. In Virginia all the public schools in Charlottesville have cycling teams. If that could be achieved across the entire state anyone in high school could do it. Maybe there could be funding for the bike teams or to have bikes to lend. Charlottesville has done a great job. As you move up through the ranks a big barrier is that the sport is expensive, and until you make it onto a team you have to pay your way through. It will be interesting to see how USAC Olympic development academy can extend grants and scholarships to athletes that can’t afford it. Diversity is a fault of the sport. At the end of the day African-American cyclists have equal potential for sure so you need them to get involved early because teams will want the best riders. Having African-American teammates would be fantastic.

Seth Davidson: Thank you so much for your time.

Eddie Anderson: You’re welcome!


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