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Eric Wohlberg: Olympian, coach and rider at his core
2021-08-10
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All things considered, Eric Wohlberg would rather be riding.

"It's much easier to be a rider than a director or coach," suggested the 56 year-old Levack born three-time cycling Olympian. "If I had to choose between the two, I would choose rider, for sure."

Yet for as much as the eldest of three children in the family still makes it out almost daily, taking full advantage of a hyperactive cycling community in San Jose (California), as well as his role as team director with Rally Cycling, it is that latter position that offered the most natural evolution towards a lifetime involvement in the sport.

"This is pretty much a standard transition for any rider who gets a little long in the tooth, if you want to stay involved," said Wohlberg.

The fact that it is cycling that became the all-consuming passion is somewhat intriguing, as a stand-alone nugget, given the leanings of the Wohlberg children (Eric and siblings Shannon and Brent) in those early athletically formative years.

"Skiing was my first passion," said the man who captured the Canadian Cycling Time Trial Championships every single year from 1997 to 2003 (and ascended to the podium in 13 consecutive summers). "My dad (Elwood – mother is Marilyn) was very active with the Levack ski club, with all three kids."

"We got to a fairly high level, at least knocking on the door of the NOD (Northern Ontario Division) team. But coming from a small community and a small hill, even though we had wonderful community support, it was going to be difficult to go much further than what the three of us were able to pull off."

Turns out alpine's loss was cycling's gain.

The fact is the Wohlberg clan enjoyed a certain degree of natural athleticism – not to mention the interest and commitment to sport and training to go with it.

"Thanks to Clyde Sheppard (teacher) and our years at Levack High, we had a chance to do almost any sport that you wanted to," noted the Commonwealth Games (1998) gold medal winner. "That was the beauty of going to a small high school like that."

If the Levack/Onaping Falls region produced impressive alpine ski talent in those days, the same would hold true for nordic skiing, as well, thanks to the trails of Windy Lake and other assorted venues. Wohlberg would ultimately draw on a background that incorporated both forms of snow travel, even if his involvement did not engender an identical affinity for both.

"I despised cross-country skiing," said Wohlberg with a smile.

Thankfully, Ulf Kleppe did not.

"I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ulf," said Wohlberg. "He was very patient with me, showing me the ropes for cycling and helping me with my winter training with cross-country skiing. He kind of nursed me along with the cycling stuff and tried to bring me along with the cross-country skiing."

"It was a great form of cross-training."

Many a local cyclist has risen to prominence only after embarking on the phenomenally successful training regimen offered by coach Battista Muredda and the Sudbury Cycling Club. The Wohlbergs, by contrast, had already displayed signs of their potential on the bike.

"We were kind of bees in their bonnet," Eric stated. "We had no idea what we were doing, but we had enough training to put ourselves out there. Before I got involved with the Sudbury Cycling Club, we would mix it up in local races or some of the Sudbury Fitness Challenge events."

"One of the first was a St Andrews criterium," he added. "That was the first race that I won - I somehow managed not to crash myself. The whole Sudbury Cycling Club was there, and I was not one of their riders."

That soon changed.

But because he was a bit late to the party - Wohlberg participated in his first major races at age 25 – his window of opportunity was narrow. "I was lucky to make a very quick progression," he said.

"I had a year or two with the Sudbury Cycling Club before I quit my job entirely in the spring of 1991. I was committed; I knew that I was going to have to go full time. I only did a few races and was picked up by one of the teams out of Toronto."

For as much as Wohlberg is reticent to look back upon a riding career that would run through until 2008, a journey that would see the northern man inducted into the Canadian Cycling Hall of Fame ten years later with constant regrets, the fact is that competing clean in an era where such was the exception to the rule creates a dilemma of balance and, quite frankly, mental health.

Wohlberg is content with where he is at – which is not to say that he would not have appreciated a more level playing field. Rather, the areas outside of his control are not about to keep him up at night.

"Overall, I am very happy with my experiences, in general, but the opportunities that were taken away from me, you're never going to get those opportunities back. Unless you are really versed in the sport, you just don't realize how much the odds are stacked against someone."

"Competing clean" is left unsaid, though it clearly completes the sentence.

"I have to laugh because I kind of get a little closer to the podium every year as more and more of these doping confessions keep coming out."

And he has to laugh, simply because it ensures a healthy mindset, an approach to life that offers a sincere appreciation for all that he has enjoyed – with more still to come.

"When I started, I honestly didn't even know that you could make a full salary in the sport," said Wohlberg. "I thought maybe you got a free bike and your expenses subsidized for the races. I thought that was as good as you could possibly hope for."

To maintain that involvement at a time when most are contemplating retirement only adds to his ability to be in a really good place. Take one look at the man – he is far more Californian than Sudburian, these days.

"This is what I love to do – I love the sport," he said. "I like the community, have made some great friends." Wohlberg can boast a worldwide fan club, one that is highlighted by the lifelong sponsorship from Sudbury Video Transfer Services. His girlfriend is a full-time rider, a cycling partner on almost every day of the week.

"I think I can contribute and help grow the sport," Wohlberg continued. "I enjoy being out on rides, being a good ambassador. I'm more than just a guy who has won a couple of races here and there."

In so many ways, Eric Wohlberg is so much more than that – though still a rider at his core.

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