After eleven years of racing on professional teams, Burke Swindlehurst has decided to shake things up and follow his dream to combine his love of road and dirt as a professional racer. In order to do, the 36-year has written the sponsorship script and is going solo. That’s right, no professional team affiliation but personal sponsors: “One Rider, One Jersey, Multiple Disciplines”.
Swindlehurst is the sole rider for Team Give/Blackbottoms fueled by First Endurance in 2010. I caught up with Tbird as he is known last Friday to get the lowdown on his adventure so far this year.
How are you?
I’m doing well. This season has definitely presented a lot of challenges that I hadn’t foreseen but I knew that was going to happen, I knew I was signing on for that sort of thing. I still have absolutely no regrets and I’m having a lot of fun so far.
That’s cool. A lot has happened since we last talked in January, you were still putting things together. My first question regarding that was what is like looking for sponsors?
You know it’s tough, it’s really hard. It was a lot harder that I imagined and I think that has to do with the economy right now more than anything because I’ve had a lot of people that were obviously excited about what I was doing and said they wanted to be involved. But when it came down to getting some money, it was always like ‘well things are really tight’ (chuckles) And that was pretty much across the board so that was a challenge. I got together enough resources that I can do it this year and I’m hoping that once the economy rebounds and I get this year under my belt when I hit the streets next year, things are going to be a little bit different.
So that means you are coming back for another year?
Oh yeah, I plan on it. One way or another I still want to be racing my bike next year and the year after.
I’m addicted to the sport, I love it.
So for the sponsors that did come onboard, why do you think they jumped into the adventure?
For the most part, most of the people that are involved I’ve known for quite awhile or they have a Utah connection for one thing. I’d say 80 percent of my sponsors are either based in Utah or have some sort of Utah connection so that’s definitely played in my favor. In the case of somebody like First Endurance, they were the first people to step up and say hey we’re on board, I’ve known the partial owner of the company for almost twenty years. So it’s been one of those things where friends have definitely stepped up to the plate and helped me out and then also, the local tie-ins and that kind of stuff. A lot of networking. I think people are still really intrigued by the idea and everybody is really waiting to see what Gila is going to look like, because that’s going to be the true test whether or not I’m able to be successful road racing without a team. And I’m as intrigued to find out as anybody to tell you the truth (laughs) I never started on this thing saying I’m looking for a better way to do things because I don’t think this is necessarily a better way it’s a different way and that’s what I wanted, I wanted to do it differently.
Well wouldn’t it be better for you at this time in your life maybe and not better for anybody else?
Exactly. I don’t think I was planning on turning the cycling world on its head by ‘hey look at me, I’m going to win all these races because I don’t have teammates and no responsibilities’. I know I’m definitely behind the 8-ball but it’s where I need to be for this time in my career.
You’ve done both road and mountain bike races by now, right?
Yeah I have.
How were you welcomed?
It’s been pretty good so far. My first event was the Callville Bay Classic near Vegas. That was a pretty good regional races that had a few guys show up, there were some Fly V guys there and my first impression was … actually I hadn’t seen Phil Zajicek in a while, we’d been teammates and friends for a long time and so I’m on the start line and I hear somebody say ‘Hey Burke nice bike’ and start chuckling. I look over and see that it’s Phil ‘yeah you might as well get a good look at it now because it’s the last time you’re going to see it’. Just some playfulness like that.
So far so good, I’ve gotten a lot of people that say it’s really cool what I’m doing and they’re glad to see that I’m still around so that’s been good. Then on the mountain bike, that’s been going pretty well for me. We have a local really good race series called the Intermountain Cup and they’ve had two races so far and I’ve won both of them. So I’m really happy about that particularly because the competition is really great. The rider who has been second both times is a very strong rider for the Cannondale Factory team and I wasn’t able to beat him last year in these events when I did them so I feel that I’ve definitely made some growth in my mountain biking in terms of my technical abilities and learning how to race mountain bikes. I’m still totally flabbergasted at how fast they start. (laughs) it blows my mind.
Well you need to do cross too. (laughs)
Yeah I guess so.
Maybe I’m wrong but I would think that racing solo in mountain bike races is easier than road races. Is that correct?
Yeah, for the most part mountain bike racing isn’t a team sport really. I think maybe in some of the stage races there’s a little teamwork that goes on but I think for the most part it’s kind of every man for himself. So yeah I would say it definitely suits the solo rider a little bit better in that respect.
Was it what you expected? And you said you faced challenges, what were those?
Oh, I actually for me the biggest challenge is probably more pressure I’m putting on myself. I really want to give back to the sponsors who have gotten behind me. I feel a lot of responsibilities to not only perform at the races but also promote my sponsors and just basically make sure that they walk away from the season and are really happy with what I’ve done which means not only spending a lot of time on the bike to prepare for the races but spending a lot of time of the computer and juggling a lot of different things at once. I knew that it was going to be the case but it’s a greater workload that I had even anticipated but I’m really enjoying every minute of it and I’m learning a lot as I go.
As far as the racing, had you forgotten certain things about what it’s like racing solo? Are you doing out of your car?
Yes I am. Doing all that stuff, that actually is not that hard for me. As a pro racer there’s always a few times, even when you’re a big teams, when you go to regional events on your own and you do that kind of stuff. So that’s not at all foreign to me and I’m really enjoying it. In fact, this last weekend at the mountain bike race, I actually camped with some buddies, working on my bike, sleeping in a tent and all that stuff. That’s exactly what I was hoping to be doing, it’s fun for me, getting back to my roots and how I started this sport and what made fall in love with it.
It’s been pretty much what you expected as far as the racing goes?
Like I said, I haven’t really done any big road races. Sea Otter coming up is going to be a test but Gila, I think, is going to be the true test because that does cater to my abilities whereas Sea Otter isn’t necessarily tailor-made for me. Tour of the Gila, if I can’t do something there, I shouldn’t say it doesn’t bode well but I have some great expectations on myself for Gila.
What’s the plan for Sea Otter? Are you still doing all road, all mountain bike, everything?
Yep, I’m doing all three road events and then I’ll be doing the mountain bike cross-country on Sunday.
That’s a lot.
I would be doing the short track but it coincides with one of the road events, the circuit race. So I choose to do the circuit race instead just because more bang for the buck. That’s one of the shocks I had at my first…. I went down to Fontana and they took the short track and shortened from 45 minutes to 15, and I was just like ‘wow’. That was a 7-lap race and I got caught in a pile-up in the first corner and by the time I extricated myself and got my bike ready, the leaders were coming around and so I was pretty much out of the race before it even started. I don’t necessarily know that short track is going to my thing. (chuckles)
Back to road races. Do you depend on the kindness of other teams to help you out in the feedzone?
I guess I’m going to cross that bridge when I get to it. I’ve only done Callville and there I just packed extra bottles and that kind of thing. But yes, I am hoping to call in a few favors but in terms of Gila I’m really excited because I get to bring my wife down with me and she’s going to be my support crew. She’s going to be in the feedzone for me, she’s going to be helping me out with dinner and maybe a little massage here and there. Like I said, it’s getting back to my roots, the last time she came to Gila with me was in ’98, that was the year before I turned professional so it’s kind of the same thing, she helped me in the feedzone, a lot of this is just going full circle.
It’s sort of the ‘if I knew then what I know now’ but you do.
Yes, exactly, I like that a lot.
I see that you’re still involved with Tour of Utah. Are you still helping out with the route?
Tour of Utah, I’m wearing a lot of different hats. Basically I’m kind of a catch all, when the new director Karen has a question that needs to be answered from the riders perspective I get the phone call. I don’t know that I necessarily have a job title per say but I’m definitely injecting as much information for her as I possibly can. But in particular I am helping out with the courses obviously and stuff like that, team selection I’m helping Chad Sperry who is the Technical Director. Just a little bit here and there, wherever they can use me.
Are you planning on racing in Utah? I guess it would have to be as part of a composite team.
Yes, absolutely. Last year at Tour of Utah we let Dave Zabriskie come in even though it was a team race. So we’re talking to maybe opening up eight slot for a composite elite team that would be for ProTour riders and riders like that that can’t necessarily bring their whole team. It would be a team on paper but necessarily a team within the race, it wouldn’t count as far as team GC, maybe myself, maybe Dave, maybe some Cervelo riders show up, who knows but that’s what I’m envisioning.
How hard was it to create your own jersey?
That was really fun, I had a lot of fun interfacing with the people that helped design my jersey and creating something that was esthetically representative of what I wanted to see but also incorporated my sponsors and that was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it took a while and things don’t happen as quickly as you want to so I don’t know if I’m going to have my jersey ready for Sea Otter unfortunately.
That’s too bad.
It’s coming down to the wire. There’s every possibility that I’m going to get a FedEx delivery the morning of Sea Otter that hopefully would at least my jersey in there.
Mr Musicophile. If you have to pick a song right now that illustrated this moment in your life what would it be?
Oh geez, that’s a great question I love that. I heard a song not that long ago and I can’t remember who sang it but the lyrics really rang true to me. It said ‘everything I do is going to be funky from now on’. I really dug the song, it was cool. I thought this is how I’m feeling right now.
Not long after our chat ended, Swindlehurst tweeted the song info in his Song Of The Day: Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky (From Now On) – Candypants