Ben Bostrom on Bicycles, Motorcycles, and Lance

Henny Ray Abrams | November 21, 2010

BROOKLYN, NY, NOV 21 – It’s one thing to fly to New Zealand and nearly win a World Championship mountain bike race, it’s quite another to beat the world’s most famous cyclist on his home turf.A few weeks after Ben Bostrom nearly won the Singletrack World Championships in Rotorua, New Zealand, he decided at the last minute, and at the urging of his fiancée Nikki Hale, to take on the seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong on his home track; the Mellow Johnny’s 6-Hour Mountain Bike Race was held at Armstrong’s Juan Pelota Ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas west of Austin on a course that Bostrom couldn’t stop praising. And by the time it was over, Armstrong had long since pulled out and Bostrom, riding for the Sho-Air Specialized team, was the new champion.”I like doing a few of the big events and I knew this one was a pretty cool course and I’ve never got to race against Lance [Armstrong] and thought this was a good one to race on home turf,” Bostrom said. “And everyone said the course at Juan Pelota is incredible, and it really is. It’s just like nine miles of single tracks, flowing through these valleys, climbing like 900 feet a lap. It was amazing, it was an amazing course.”I wasn’t going to do it, but at the minute Nikki gave me the push, she said, ‘You’ve got to get out of the house and go.’ “Traveling for Bostrom is almost as much of an adventure as racing and this trip was no different. He missed the first plane by five minutes because the airline wouldn’t let him check in his bicycle. Then he was routed through Dallas, where he sat for several hours. By the time he got to his hotel, he thought, ‘Man this isn’t worth it.'”By the morning he’d changed his mind. He showed up at the last minute to find crew members from Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop in Austin ready to provide support so he could concentrate on the race, and, specifically Armstrong.When the six-hour began, Bostrom made a few strong passes to catch up to Armstrong who he was just waiting to “start crushing the pedals. You always worry about a guy like that because he’s got such a big motor. But after following him on the first lap I saw we actually had a bit of an advantage. I was running 29-inch wheels and he was running 26-inch wheels and my bike would just cruise over rocks a lot faster than his, actually. And I realized, this guy’s definitely working 5 percent more than I am. My bike’s cruising over it and the few technical sections I could see Lance had to get off and run up and with 29-inch wheels I was able to ride up it. And I thought several laps of that’s going to wear a man down. It just is.”Long events are Bostrom’s forte, but he knew it was going to be a good fight.”He’s going to want to win and I like six hours and it should be a good battle and just an honor to ride with him as well.”Bostrom’s second lap was the fastest of the race and 36 secs. faster than that of Armstrong, whom Bostrom had passed at the end of the first lap. Bostrom said it was difficult to pass on the singletrack and he didn’t want to seem rude, but he also wanted to get to the front.”I just sat behind [Armstrong] for the first lap because I didn’t know the course and at least here, Lance is a pretty safe rider. He’s not tagging all the big rocks. So just followed his line and I wasn’t going to eat too much dust. Really affects you if you eat a lot of dust in the first hour and you’ve got to go five more hours. I just sat on Lance for the first lap and when it comes to the start-finish line it opens up for a couple hundred yards and onto the road and you can pass there.”He did just that and was never headed.Bostrom’s Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop pit crew told him that Armstrong was 41 seconds behind after the second lap, and it kept growing. At the end of four laps the lead was about two minutes when Armstrong withdrew from the race with sore knees. Armstrong wrote on Twitter, “Dnf here at the @mellowjohnnys 6hr. Been having a few knee issues of late and they flared up today. Quite a bummer. Was feeling pretty good.”Bostrom was also hurting all over; his back, his knees, his wrists, and, especially his eyes, which were “just bleeding because they’re scratched all to hell from the fine dust there in Texas.” Still, he won the race more than handily, completing laps in six hours, 33 minutes, 21.45 seconds. Second and third places were a lap behind.As always, Bostrom was humble in victory.”It’s just an honor to get to ride with these guys,” he said. “I think I’m lucky enough to be able to race with them and it makes the races so much fun. And they were so cool about it, and they think, ‘No, no, no we’re big motorcycle fans. It’s cool that you’re up here.’ But for me it’s such a highlight. It’s incredible.”As cool as it is, racing bicycles is also great training for Bostrom’s real job, which in 2011 will be racing a Suzuki GSX-R1000 for Michael Jordan Motorsports. His legendary training regimen has been intensified so that when he shows up at Daytona, “I’ll be ready to get off the bicycle and onto the motorcycle.”I think it’s making me more headstrong,” Bostrom said of his bicycle racing. “I thought I was already pretty strong-headed, but you just get more headstrong. When I was racing, when they said, ‘Okay, Lance dropped out, you beat him up.’ I though, ‘Hmm, I’m just going to keep my pace because now I’m racing myself.’ And I set my pace and it was after that I came out and watched that clock; I can’t let this thing get out of mid-to high 30s, I got to keep this pace. At least for myself I’ll set a pace and it’ll be a time set for next year. If I don’t make it next year there will be a goal for somebody to try and beat. I’m going to make it tough on them. I think it’s good for you. It’s the same way as when you’re clicking off laps. I was trying to pretend I was leading a Superbike race. And you say to yourself, they won’t catch up if you keep doing this lap times. That’s the computer, I think the same thing on the bicycle to start training myself now so when I show up to race I plan to take off at a few of these events to race my computer.”Another of Bostrom’s goals is to meld the two two-wheel worlds. He wants to incorporate his bicycling gear into his leathers design to recognize the legions of bicycle fans who are also motorcycle fans.”So people can cross reference it and the sponsors are on there so I’m going to go and Google it and they say, oh it’s AMA Superbike. And after Lance’s event we got a whole bunch of Facebook questions and fans and Twitter followers.”

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.