February 15, 2003 – Eric Wohlberg is a long-time member of the Canadian National Team, and currently races professionally for Saturn. Along with countless National Championships, Wohlberg has several top World Championship and Olympic results. We caught up with Eric after the recent Tour of Langkawi in Malaysia.
Pedal: Eric, you're back from Malaysia, and your team had a great race, taking the overall. Take us through the race.
Wohlberg: We basically used everything we had to win this race. I think we surprised everyone (including ourselves) with our victory. Each day we tried to cover all the moves for the first hour, or as long as it took to let a controlable break get away, then set tempo behind it with a small enough gap to keep the sprinters (and their teams) hungry. The plan seemed to work well.
Pedal: You've raced the Tour of Langkawi numerous times. Is it one of your favourite early-season races?
Wohlberg: I have competed at the Tour of Langkawi almost every year since it's inception, apart from 2001. I like the race as you can count on good weather (altho' sometimes it's too hot) and a variety of stage profiles. It makes for a great early season race environment as the stages are generally 150-180 kms, and you can always find a group to race with. However, it is getting more and more difficult as the UCI sanction improves and more Euro teams are taking part.
Ideally you need to have at least a couple weeks of riding before you start this event. This can be a challenge if you're stuck somewhere in the snow and can't train which happens to me on ocassion as my home is in Northern Ontario and I'm generally there with family and friends through the Christmas holidays.
1996 was the first year that Langkawi was held, and the field was composed primarily of National teams. The Aussies got wind of the terrific prize money, did lots of preparation, and pretty much slayed the field.
Over the years, the race has developed into a very high profile event, with some of the best teams in the World participating. I believe that the organizer used to put on the Milk Race in the UK. He has his act together, plus all of Malaysia (especially the government) really gets behind the race and the crowds are huge.
Pedal: What's your favourite stage? You've done well in the time trials, and this year was no exception, as you placed fourth. Wohlberg
Wohlberg: I've had some decent rides here in the past, but my fate is usually sealed on Genting highlands. It is a horrendous climb (39X25/27), on pretty much the last day.
If you have been active in the stages leading up to the climb (trying to cover moves/ride the front) you'll be in trouble as most teams try to save their climbers for that one stage. When they light it up at the base everyone is in a World of Hurt.
Realizing that I have little chance to get up Genting with the climbers, I'm usually one of the guys that will assume a active role in controlling the race (covering breaks, setting tempo) and help protect our climber(s) from the cross wind. If I go well in the prologue, I can also be used as a GC threat to neutralize breaks, and give the team a rest should one of us have the jersey.
Pedal: How was your form coming into the race? Where and how have you been preparing?
Wohlberg: My form coming into the race was okay, but not ideal. I raced late into November down Under, and then had some time off for a winter team camp (X/C skiing Dec 14-19th in Colorado), home to Northen Ontario for Christmas until January third. I try to get some xc skate skiing in on the Windy Lake Trails, lift weights at the NU Image Gym and consume lots of Tim Horton's products of course…
We had a second Saturn Camp Jan 14-25th where we do all of our promo materials, sponsor meet and greet, etc. The schedule makes it a little tough to get some good training in, but that's the situation and you just make the best of it.
Pedal: What's the heat like in Malaysia? How do you cope with that? Wohlberg
Wohlberg: The heat in Malaysia can be a real problem. As long as you're awake, you've got to drink. I remember Steve Bauer talking to us at the Olympics in Atlanta on the subject of hydration while competing in high heat and humidity. He said “Don't want to see any veins, so be drinking constantly.” Having your guts full of water 24/7 leaves you feeling pretty bloated, but it enables you to survive.
The sun is so intense, you need to be covered in sunscreen as soon as you step outside (this doesn't help the cooling problem). I've seen some guys having to wear arm and leg warmers due to heat rash/blisters.
Pedal: There is a long season ahead – what are your goals for 2003?
Wohlberg: My yearly goals don't change much from season to season. I need to contribute to my team (Saturn and National) in any way I can. I'd love to represent Canada in Hamilton and have a good ride there (I'd also like to keep my foot in the door for the 2004 Olympics). I think the World's course will be great, but very difficult at the same time. I've got to say though, judging from the start the Canadians had in Langkawi, we should have set the World's date for late January!
Pedal: Thanks a lot Eric, and good luck with the rest of the season.
Wohlberg: You're welcome, and thank you very much.