Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Interview with Chris Fisher

Chris Fisher is one of the true great American Cyclists. His name was not as well known as Armstrong, Hamilton or Horner but every pro knew when Fisher lined up at the start, fireworks were sure to follow. As a lieutenant for many team captains over the years, his job was to attack and destroy the legs and psychy of other teams, and thus setting up his captain to win. As we all know, inflicting pain on other riders typically means one has to be willing to accept pain. Chris was one of those unique athletes who was not afraid of suffering, believed in his team roll, and shared just as much in the victory as his captain and team. I would define Chris as the greatest asset a Pro team can acquire...a true team player.

The Interview

You had an impressive domestic pro career, can you give us a list of the teams you raced for throughout your career?

OilMe/Klein 1997-'98, Merlin/Hind '99, 7-Up 2000, Saturn '01-'02, and Jelly Belly '03. I raced for a Dutch "top team" (elite amateurs) in '95 and '96 called Wilton/Snel. That pretty much molded me into the type of rider I tried to polish and refine.

What was your role with these teams?

Usually my role was the "berserker". Often my job was to wreak havoc and tire out the other teams, soften them up for the leaders' coup de grace. I was often responsible for infiltrating breaks or realing them back, or generally taking care of my teammates. Sometimes, though, I was protected, usually in a longer, rolling one-day event that tended to be a race of attrition. Those usually suited me. If there was a lot of wind, bad weather, or general nastiness, the odds tended to run in my favor.

What type of rider are you...climber, sprinter , all-arounder?

I am, and was, definitely an all-arounder. I can sprint well, but not the best. I can climb fairly well, especially when my form is on, but I am not going to be able to hang with the little guys. I have a good amount of power, maybe like a turbo-diesel. My time-trialling is solid and seems to be improving since I have gotten back into competing. Give me wind and attacks and I am happy. I always really liked completely destroying myself for my teammates. If I could see the benefits of my actions, that was often as good or better than winning.

What was your favorite pro race?

Domestically I loved "Philly Week". That was the set of races in Lancaster, PA and Trenton, and Deleware that all culminated with US Pro Championships when they were in Philadelphia. Everyone was so keyed up. The euros would come over and want a piece of the big money pie, and of course for the Americans, there was a lot of prestige on the line. Those races were an absolute blast.
Looking back, though, I have to say that my favorite racing was in Europe. While with Saturn, I did the Peace Race, which crossed Poland, Czech, and Germany. That race was so hard and so beautiful. I loved racing in Poland. I won a race there (GP Welltour). The style totally suited me. I remember racing there with Damon Kluck and Tim Johnson. We were amazed. The racing is all about ripping your opponents' eyeballs out the entire time. Kill or be killed. It was nuts, and it was so fun. There is definitely a difference between domestic and European racing. I really enjoyed the old-school feel of Europe. Somehow the racing felt more real. Maybe that doesn't make sense, but it's hard to describe.

You retired in 2003, what have you been up to over the last few years?

I retired in '03, actually during SuperWeek. I remember the race. It was in Sheboygan. I was completely burned out. I was in a break that got caught with 12 laps to go. I pulled over at the beer tent, sat down next to a couple of my best friends, sipped some ice-cold Pabst from a plastic cup and said, "I'm done." Of course it took them a while to realize I was REALLY done.
Since then, I went back to school and got my second degree in Architectural Design, started a business with one of my teachers once I graduated, and put a lot of time and energy into the design world for a couple years. Then, in '05 my high-school alma mater, Salisbury School (a prepatory school in the northwest corner of Connecticut), asked me to come back and teach English and coach soccer, skiing, and cycling. So now I am still teaching in CT and living here, on campus, with my wife, Haylee and two sons: Bryhn (4) and Boden (1).

What motivated you to get back on the bike?

It's kind of funny that I am racing again. When I retired, I didn't want to look at a bike. I sold everything, all my bikes, clothes, you name it. I started hiking (we still lived in Boulder) and going to the gym. I was coaching the CU USCSA alpine ski team, which was a blast. Basically, I was doing anything but riding. Then all of a sudden, two years ago, I decided I wanted to go for a ride. I found a really old Cannondale in our attic and took it to a local shop to get new cables and housing, etc. put on. That was pretty much all it took. I remembered how fun it was to ride. I wasn't exhausted, mentally or physically anymore. It took me a while to get my legs back, but it was great to just pummel myself. It did wonders for my psyche. I started doing some local group rides and eventually found a bit of form. At the end of '06, I was invited to be a member of a team triathlon called the Josh Billings Race in Great Barrington, MA. I won the cycling leg and had so much fun I couldn't stop smiling for a week. My wife suggested that maybe the following year (last year) I should do a couple races. That was about all it took.

What race plans/goals do you have for 2008?

This year I am hoping to go to Elite TT nationals. Between now and then I just want to get as many races in as possible. With my teaching schedule, it's a bit rough because I teach six days a week. I can only race on Sundays. Once school is out, then I am free for three months, and I really try to pack it in. We bought a summer house in Michigan (Traverse City area), so I will be racing back there a good deal, hopefully crossing paths with Frankie.

Give me your opinion of the current domestic pro scene?

I think the current domestic pro scene is pretty healthy. There are a lot of very strong teams that have a fantastic list of races for them to do. There is some serious quality and depth out there, and that is great. I am amazed at what Vaughters has done with Slipstream, but at the same time, it shows what is possible. I see several domestic teams that are very close to being able to reach that next level, and that is exciting. We need that. The young guys need that.

Time to tap into you wisdom! What advice do you have for the young cyclist trying to make a career as a domestic pro?

When I look back at where I came from, the biggest piece of advice I like to start with is, "Listen to your heart". If you absolutely love what you are doing, do it. Don't let someone tell you that you can't do it. If someone tells you you can't make it, prove them wrong. Your passion will allow you to push yourself through serious amounts of pain, which in turn makes you stronger. Second, study what the successful pros do. Don't be afraid to talk to them and ask them questions. They were all young and inexperienced once too. Finally, figure a way to get yourself into the "warrior" mindset. This doesn't mean be a bastard on the bike, it means welcoming pain because it means "the other guys" are in pain too, and you can take it. You will be amazed at the amount of suffering you can survive.

In conclusion...

I have learned many, many life-lessons because of cycling. I wasn't the best professional, but I totally loved cycling, the racing. I loved competing, fighting for success. I am probably one of the most competitive people I know, and racing, even today, goes a long way to sating those competitive urges. Where I am in my life, now, I can give a lot back. I am coaching an awesome young group of guys who are motivated to race like madmen this summer and beyond. Seeing their enthusiasm and excitement is a blast. I cannot wait for my sons to give it a go. Passion is a powerful, powerful tool. Use it for all it's worth.

By the way, Chris's current power at threshold....415 watts. (HILLBILLY SPEAK COMING...) "THAT AIN'T NO SMALL NUMBER MY FRIENDS"