Taking a step back, Lucas Euser keeps his eye on the prize

Posted on 16. Jan, 2010 by in interviews

Last May, American Lucas Euser saw his promising career derailed in a second when he was seriously injured in a car vs bike accident while out training on the roads of Girona. He was so close, he “could taste it”, so close to riding his first Grand Tour but that was not to be as his season was abruptly cut short with with two broken ribs, a broken finger and a shattered patella.

With his leg seriously injured, Euser had to face months and months of recovery to get back to health, a process that is still ongoing. The recovery process forced him off the bike, a tough thing to acceot for a cyclist. In the midst of all this, he learned that his team for the past three years, Garmin had decided not to renew his contract.

The 26-year old is returning to the North American racing with the Canadian SpiderTech presented by Planet Energy, while keeping is eye on his main goal, a return to racing in Europe in 2011. His first big milestone this year is the Amgen Tour of California, assuming his team gets the invite, a year after his accident.

Lucas Euser (Slipstream) at the 2007 Tour of California

Lucas Euser (Slipstream) at the 2007 Tour of California

Why did you chose to sign with SpiderTech presented by Planet Energy?
I looked long and hard for a proper fit is what I did. I needed to take a step back but I wanted to take a step back in the right place in order to make sure my future career will still be intact and a chance to get back to the ProTour in 2011, so I looked around. Steve Bauer had contacted me back in September, we had talked, they were debating on sponsors and what they were doing and if they had room and it came to a point where Garmin wasn’t going to offer me a contract and it took a long time for that to come out but once that did, I contacted Steve and I thought that would be a really good fit. They are looking towards the future, they plan on being Pro Continental in 2011.

What appealed to me the most is the fact that they focus more on the America Tour as opposed to the NRC and they also have the ambition of doing a few races in Europe as well as trying to get into those two Canadian ProTour races so the opportunity to do bigger, better races that suited me more than doing races like Nature Valley or Redlands that are more crit-based or sprint-based or short time trial-based that really don’t suit me. I really like the longer harder stage races like the South American ones between seven to ten days that offer big climbs to conquer. So I’ve never really been suited to American racing which is why I made my way over to Europe when I did and found some success there. I want to continue that but with my injury right now I need to take a step back and definitely keep my future in mind.

You did you race with François Parisien in the past, right?
Me and Franky go way back. In 06 and 07, he was on Slipstream.

Is he the only one that you know on the team?
Personally yes I guess, but I’ve raced with a lot of those guys. I’ve raced with Martin Gilbert, Keven Lacombe, Ryan Roth. I’m really looking forwards to meeting the other guys, I’ve heard some really good thing about the team and really good things about Steve Bauer. I’ve actually never met him, we just talked on the phone. I’m really looking forwards to 2010, it’s a great opportunity and it’s exactly what I needed, it’s turning out to be a really good fit. And the fact that SpiderTech just came on as a title sponsor is even better because I was actually using their products before I even knew that they were a part of the team, so that’s cool. I’m going to be a bit of a guinea pig when it comes to using their products and I’m really excited about that. They’re going to be able to work directly with a professional cyclist that is injured. I’m really looking forwards to that aspect of it, working with the guys from SpiderTech and we’ll progress together, help me rehab and in turn help them make the best product they can make.

Let’s talk about your injury last May. How was your season going before the injury?
Let’s go back to middle of 2008, somewhere something happened in the middle of 2008 where I broke through a threshold and reached another lever in my career. I really started training properly and getting to the weight that I’ve always wanted to get to and climbing with the better guys and really showing that I could be a part of the European peloton. I can’t really pinpoint it to one thing, I think it was getting some time racing in over there and getting my body used to the European style of racing as opposed to the US style of racing. End of 2008, I really started coming around, I had some decent results as far European stuff goes, I was a good teammate for guys out there, Dan Martin especially like at Tour of Portugal we both had really good rides but it was me supporting him, the last guy in the mountains. We came back to the US, I was fourth place in US Pro Championships and if you go back and look, I rode off the front all day long, in the early break and in the final break in the end, I didn’t spend much time in the peloton that day. And then, the next weekend, I won Univest so that was my first win. I really wanted to carry that over, that success or whatever I had done that was making me feel and ride the way I was doing, I wanted to carry that over to 2009 and have a really good year.

I trained real hard over the winter, came to training camp feeling good, they decided to send me to Tour of Langkawi in Malaysia and again there, that was a great way to start the year, I was eighth overall there and finally saw myself climbing up Gentian Island with a lot of the better guys, it was nice to know that I had finally reached that point that I could climb with some of the better riders in the peloton. Then after, I faltered a little bit early on in the season but my main targets weren’t until May/June, I was really targeting the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya , and then shortly after the Dauphiné Libéré. I did Flèche Wallone, Liege and Tour of Normandie, again I had decent races and I was a good teammate in those, I can’t really say that there were any personal results in those. It was in between Romandie and Catalunya when I got hit, it really disrupted my season because my plan was Catalyuna, Dauphiné and Tour of Austria and make those a really big block, rest and then come back for the Vuelta a Espana. Unfortunately those plans were derailed. After the Tour of Portugal and at the end of 2008, the team really saw a potential in me and they wanted me to do a Grand Tour so we had set the Vuelta in the program from the get go, from all the way back from our November camp that year.

What happened that day in May?
I was out training with Dan Martin, we’ve become good friends and we train a lot together. I really like how good he is and how nice of a person he is. When you spend a lot of time training with a person like that, you become friends and your relationship when it comes to racing is a little bit more close. For me, being a good teammate, I want to see him do extremely well. So we trained a lot together and we were doing our intervals, we were doing flat 15-minute intervals. We always hate riding next to each other when we do our intervals because you always tend to push each other a little bit too hard and if either of us is behind the other, it’s a little bit too easy for the other person so sure enough we decided to spread out about 100 meters and do them together and meet up again after our 15-minute interval was done. At about thirteen and half minutes, we were on a road and there a pretty big gap in between us and a car decided to try and squeak in between us so it passed me on my left and then went ahead and made a right turn in between Dan and I. We were going pretty quick, I was probably doing about 35 mph and t-boned the car, I hit in in way where I tried to take it with my left side but unfortunately the momentum swung me around and slammed my knee into the car and I ended up shattering my kneecap. It was not a fun day, laying on the road by myself, it was really scary, it took over 25 to 30 minutes for the ambulance to get there.

So did that person stop?
Yes, that person did stop and a few others, there were all running off in Catalan. I speak a little Spanish but I have no idea what they were saying in Catalan, it was frightening. You do these checks in your head when you crash as a cyclist, you run from head to toe and usually, once the adrenalin has calmed down, you can get up and shake it up a bit, maybe have a broken collarbone or an arm whatever it may be. Unfortunately this time there was not shaking it off, it was much worse than any other crash I’ve ever had. From what I’ve learned and being in many other crashes myself, you just kind of lay there and don’t move because you never know what actually is going on. It could have been a punctured lung, it could have been a broken back you just never know. So I wanted for the ambulance, that was scary you know, something I’ve never been through. I got into the ambulance and the hospital procedures went on and the next morning, I had surgery done on my knee.

When did you know that it was that serious and that basically your season was over?
It took a little while for it to set in, it was an injury I had no idea what was going to happen. This whole process has been trial and error, the past seven months I’ve been trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and when it doesn’t work it sets you back a little bit. So it’s been rough and when I knew my season was done, I would say a few days after the accident, I started to realize that this is a lot worse that I ever thought it would be. I broke my scapula last year in ’08 and within three weeks I was riding a bike. You just deal with that pain and move on but when it’s your leg or your knee, it’s much different, those are our livelihood, those are what we need to win and to survive.

I kept pushing the comeback date later and later and then I realized that it wasn’t going to happen for 2009 and I had really to reassess my goals. Actually it wasn’t until about a month ago that I really realized that this was as hard as it was turning out to be, I think the only thing that I really know how to do from being a cyclist for so long was ride a bike. I was trying to rehab through the bike and it was just not working out because I couldn’t do the training that I knew how to do, I was getting frustrated so I had to take a step back and look at it from a different perspective. That perspective is someone that needs to get healthy first as a human being as opposed to an athlete that needs to get fit. So I sought some help trying to come at it not from an athlete’s perspective but from a human being’s perspective if you will, I know that sounds silly, I really just need to get healthy first and get my leg functioning normally before I can really tap into physiological benefits and become that professional I was before.

What was your injury exactly?
It was a broken patella, it was broken in three pieces. It looked like little pebbles scattered around my knee area when you looked at the x-ray. They were able to screw those back together, they were broken clean enough, there wasn’t any chipping or shards so they were able to put two screws down the middle of it and bring everything together. But what happened when you break your patella like that, the two major tendons in your knee are connected to the patella, so you have your patella tendon on the bottom and your quad tendon on the top, and those control the movements of your knee, they control that hinge, and also quad muscles attached to that tendon as well. So what happens when there is trauma there, it just shuts everything down, literally within five days, when I took my [removable] brace off, my leg was already atrophied. I couldn’t even get my brain to register that I had any muscle in my leg because if you flex your quad, you can watch your kneecap go up and down but I couldn’t get my kneecap to go up and down, I couldn’t flex my quad. There was this neurological loop from my knee to my hip that was not registering with my brain, it was almost like I had this dead leg.

That was the biggest challenge at first was to get my brain to realize that I had muscles there. This whole process has been guided by that, trying to get the strength back but not injuring the knee because the muscles are so weak, you could actually cause a lot more damage, you could cause stress fractures, little stress tears. You put too much pressure on it, you can completely blow your knee out, you rely on your major muscle group, hamstring, quads and all that stuff, to support the knee but those were not there so it’s been really finicky and something I’ve struggled with.

Especially for a cyclist, like you said your legs are your livelihood. You said that you need to figure out how to get healthy as a human being first, so what did you do at that point? What were the steps in your recovery?
All along the way I’ve been using a physical therapist down in San Jose, Curtis Cramblet of Revolutions in Fitness, he works with a lot of athletes. He’s nurtured me along the way, I like to call him as more of a healer as opposed to a physical therapist. Curtis has this ability to work with his hands that I’ve never really seen in anybody else, he can really feel what you feel. So he helped me get back at track, he’s monitored me all along the way, when things are frustrating he’s able to break it down in a way where it made sense to me and like I said it made sense as a person as opposed to a professional athlete. He was a major help in this, I went and saw him again about a month and a half or so ago. I have a few other guys that I’ve used along the way.

I really owe a lot of credit to Curtis, we go back even before that, he helped me with some imbalances back in ’07 and ’08, he also works with the Retul System guys and he’s actually done all the Garmin bike fits. And those two have done amazing things for me as far as bike fits go and helping me even before I had the injury to be more efficient on the bike and I owe a lot of that end of 2008 success to them. I’ve seen the Retul guys since I’ve had the injury as well, not just leaving it as bike fits but taking it beyond that, they really made sure that my knee was positioned well and that it was tracking properly so I didn’t cause any more damage that I’d already done which was quite a bit.

That helped with your physical recovery but what about your mental recovery? Were there any days that you said this is it, I’m not going to become a pro cyclist again?
Well ouf … Well no there wasn’t. It’s hard to say, clearly we all go through these ups and downs and these peaks and valleys. I found that being an endurance athlete that those peaks and valleys are much higher and lower than they were before I was an athlete so being in one of those valleys, it was really tough, it was mentally challenging. And there were times where I would go ‘man am I really going to be able to do this?’, you question it but deep down you know you’re going to get back and it’s going to happen. So I never said okay I’m done, I’m going to move on, I’m going to start looking for other stuff. I was too close to meeting the goals I had always set, since I starting riding my bike when I was thirteen and I had watched Lance come up and man I wanted to do the Tour de France. It was just too close to happening, the Grand Tour was coming up in 2009 and who knows what would have happened after that. There’s no way I can be that close and not come back and try again because you can almost taste it.

So where are you now with your recovery? And you are back on your bike right?
Yes, I am on the bike but after that whole thing where … you saw me at Levi’s Gran Fondo, I really wanted to do it but that wasn’t doing that much, it was making me a little bit fit, I could look fit and look skinny but that didn’t do anything for my leg. So I really had to cut back on the hours I spend on the bike and focus a lot more on the gym and doing strength routine. That strength routine has come from the Platinum Fitness guy in Santa Barbara, he’s taken it upon himself to write me daily programs and to make sure I stay on track. He checks in a couple of days a week and we’re really making some great progression. He’s really core-centric circuit training based as opposed to isolated machines although I have to do a few of those for the knee but we’re working on the whole body fitness as opposed to just rehabbing my knee. This is the time to take advantage of a lot of other things, so those imbalances that I did have, I’m not working those out. I really feel that only I’m going to come back, I’m going to come back a lot better than I was before and I can already feel now as soon as I get onto the bike. I’m much more efficient than I was before, I focus more on the peddle stroke than I ever did before because it’s much more crucial now to keep things even because there is a discrepancy. I’m only riding between twelve and fifteen hours on a bike, I’m spending probably between six and eight hours at the gym that’s a lot of work.

And not only that, I have a lot of other projects going on (laughs). When this all happened, it was definitely a very large slap in the face. It made me realize and appreciate what was being given to me and the opportunity that I had being on Garmin and being on Slipstream for four years and being able to ride in Europe and do some of the biggest races out there was one of the greatest opportunities I ever had. Unfortunately it was almost just becoming a job and that was silly and with a job comes heavy complaining and doing things that you shouldn’t be doing, you should be much more gracious and thankful. It made me take a step back and look at the big picture, it made me realize that I had this great thing going and I want that back. I want that back this time knowing that and doing it in a proper way as opposed to how I did it before.

Lucas Euser at the 2007 Tour of California post-stage press conference in San Luis Obispo

Lucas Euser at the 2007 Tour of California post-stage press conference in San Luis Obispo

So you’re saying that not only you’re coming back stronger but a better person.
Yeah exactly. I got hit in May obviously but also my girlfriend got hit by a car on her bike in November. It was unfortunate that we both had to go through this but I think we’ve both been able to pull out a lot of positives from it, it’s all you can do in this scenario where somebody’s taken something away from you that you didn’t deserve, you were abiding by the law and they were just not paying attention. It’s really easy to get frustrated and pissed off and angry at these people but you can also turn all that anger and frustration into something positive.

I’m embarking into some local bike advocacy projects. Once I came back to Napa, I realized that the roads here weren’t nearly as safe as they used to be when I was growing up, there are just so many people here now. I was able to be here during harvest from July/August through September and usually I was never here, I was usually in Europe or before that I was in San Luis Obispo at CalPoly so I actually hadn’t been home for a long time for the harvest. Frankly, I was hyper-sensitive to stuff out there after being hit, I saw things that should not be happening between motorists and cyclists so between her accident and my accident, it sparked interest into making the roads around here safer and making people really think about what they’re doing, that we’re human beings out there, we’re not just these obstacles.

And then, we’re kicking off a Gran Fondo here on May 23rd , the preliminary site is up and we’re refining things over the next two or three weeks. We do have almost three hundred entries and we haven’t done our big marketing push, we’re really looking forwards to it. We’re not trying to step on Levi’s Gran Fondo or anything, he has tremendous success with that, he’s already sold out for November. We’re taking a different angle, taking a charity angle and trying to bring people here to make Napa a real cycling destination and make it a safe cycling destination. It fits it with my message of making the roads here safer and making a place you have to go to ride your bike, kind of like Italy or France (chuckles), you have to do to Napa Valley.

Is your girlfriend okay? Was it a serious injury?
It was, she got really lucky. What happened, she ended tearing her vertebral artery which is the artery that runs inside your spinal column. There are four arteries that supply blood to the brain, two carotid in the front, two vertebral in the back. So when you tear a vertebral artery, you start having major concerns for a stroke and you have a big stroke like the ones that you hear about, it’s usually the carotid clotting or a clot going to the brain or the carotid artery closing or something like that. The vertebral ones are a little bit smaller and they have more long onset strokes so it was actually pretty scary for quite a while and it still is, she’s on heavy duty blood thinners for almost the next four months. So it’s definitely affected her lifestyle that’s for sure, she’s very active and when you’re on those blood thinners you can’t really do anything and it also affected her student teaching, she was almost done with her student teaching program at school and now she’s had a big setback because she couldn’t do it, she lost a whole semester just because she missed a week of school. She has to make up a lot of that so that’s really frustrating, she shouldn’t have to do that yet those are the things you have to deal with. I guess somebody laid this plan out for us and how we react to it and how we deal with the challenges set in front of us I think makes us into the human beings that we’re going to be.

2009 was a tough year for you guys.
It was, 2009 was very tough. Frankly I want to move on and I want to learn from it and really apply to the positive things, not only for myself I want to share those positive things with other people.

Let’s talk about this year and the future. So what do you want to accomplish in 2010?
The number one goal is to get healthy. I have my year long goal of making a comeback, ideally I’ll be racing before that just to get some fitness but I’d love to make that year-long goal really come to fruition with the Tour of California. I know that the team is fighting really hard to get an invite to the race and I think, for me being from California, being from Napa and having done the race before, it would be the ultimate reward just to be able to do it. And I’d like to do it well, by no means do I want to go and not finish, I want and represent the team and everyone that has supported me along the road to recovery and really come to make it all happen at Tour of California. I don’t think I’m going to be one hundred percent there, I can’t really count on major results or anything but I really want it to be a goal, something to focus on.

And then once I’ve met that goal, I really want to carry that on and progress to doing some of the bigger races that the team has planned. I know we’re fighting for some invites to the Tour of Ireland, maybe some races in France, to get over there and do some of those in late summer it would be great. If we can do the ProTour races in Canada, I’d clearly love to be fit for those, the team really cares about them, they are important to them. From a racing perspective that’s what it is. Like I said, this is uncharted territory for me, and it’s trial and error, it’s been like that the whole way. I really don’t know if that’s going to happen, I’m going to do everything I possibly can to make it happen, I may have to reassess along the way.

Without looking at results, do you set milestones throughout the year to see if you’re on track especially as a lot of it is trail and error?
I do work with my coach, Judd Van Sickle, he works out of the UC Davis Sports Medical Center. Jed has been my coach ever since I decided to make a push to actually be a good cyclist as opposed to one that was just goofing around on a bike. We’re monitoring my training. We’re doing, we’ve done one already and we’re going to continue to do, physiological tests like the indoor lactate threshold test and the VO2 test and monitor my performance. Clearly I have to do that with training tools and power meters but trying to figure out how it reacts to my knee. I don’t think anybody really knows, there aren’t too many cyclists with this injury. Trial and error meaning that I have to see if it works, I have to see if the training techniques that he’s given me are going to get me to where I want to be and if they don’t we have to reassess.

When are you meeting the team?
The team launches at the end of the month, in Montreal and Toronto. From what I hear, it’s supposed to be a blast and SpiderTech is really going to put on a show, I’m really looking forwards to it, not only meeting the guys on the team but meeting the sponsors that are involved. I’m kind of coming in as an outsider to this team, I’m sure they’ve all really bonded, they’ve been together for quite a while now. I really want to fit in and I really think I will, I can offer experience and/or a different flavor, a different aspect on racing. Sometimes it’s good having somebody from the outside come in.

You said that you wanted to go back to racing ProTour races in Europe, what needs to happen for you to meet your goal?
There’s the potential of it happening with Spidetech p/b Planet Energy with being a Professional Continental team and getting the right invites in Europe, it can almost be better than being a ProTour team. There could be less stress and you don’t have to do as many races and you can run a smaller squad. It could happen with this team and I would love that, they’ve given me a good opportunity. So to be able to come back in 2011 for them would be almost paying them back for the opportunity that they’ve given me. If that’s not the case then I’ll look onto other teams but I want to be back there in 2011 and really continue what I had going in 2008 and continue that success that I had found. That success I was getting to break through that threshold and becoming the cyclist that I’ve always wanted to be.

My final question, what makes Lucas Euser happy?
Sharing happiness with others is what makes me happy. I believe there was that quote in ‘Into the Wild’ , I think it’s ‘happiness is only worthwhile when sharing with others’ or something along those lines. I really like spreading my job and I think that really reflects itself in my ability to be a really good teammate and help other people succeed and help other people be happy. If I’m seeing somebody else happy is almost better than being happy myself.

[Note, the Into The Wild quote is “Happiness only real when shared.”]

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