As sports fans, it is in our nature to live vicariously through the athletes we admire and follow year in and year out. While most of us know that we may never be able to reach that same peak of talent and skill as our heroes, we cannot help but hang on to any possible connection between the professionals and ourselves. Any similarities we can tease out serve as the slimmest thread of hope for our own potential. Along those lines, the hometown connection is one that holds an extra special level of significance. Whether you are from the same town, attended the same school, or simply connect through any number of degrees of separation, it is always a very proud moment when a local talent crosses the threshold into the professional realm. This is a link that allows us to somehow feel close to greatness.
Anyone who has been a part of the Midwest racing scene over the past few years will know the name Mike Sherer. He has steadily climbed through the ranks, across multiple disciplines, racking up wins on the mountain bike, in cyclocross, and most of all, on the road. His success has been impressive, to say the least, and although his road racing career began only a few short years ago, he joined the professional ranks as a member of the Kelly Benefit Strategies presented by Optum Health team for the 2011 season. After a roller coaster of a first year, marred by various injuries, he re-signed with the team for 2012 (now Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), and is looking to build on all that he has learned. With names like Zirbel, Creed, Anthony, Friedman, Bajadali, and Candelario alongside him, there is no question that the team possesses a wealth of talent, and has put him in some very esteemed company.
Clearly in search of elevation changes, the likes of which are not offered around these parts, Mike recently decided to move to Colorado. I had the opportunity to catch up with him before he left, and find out a bit more about this homegrown fast man on his way to big things.
How did you get your start in cycling? And in racing?
I was always fascinated about cycling at an early age. I think what I liked about it most when I was a kid was the freedom it gave me. The places I could ride were endless. I started getting serious about cycling when I was 12 years old; I got my first mountain bike and was hooked. I started racing that summer and really enjoyed the thrill of racing. I raced mountain bikes for the next 6 years until I went to college at Indiana University where I discovered my love for road racing.
If I’m not mistaken, Glencoe, IL is your hometown? You’re obviously moving to Colorado for a reason, but any thoughts on Midwest cycling/racing/living?
I actually grew up in Winnetka, which is the next suburb south of Glencoe. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Midwest. I honestly think it is the best place to be if you are an up and coming amateur racer. There are races every single weekend from March through December, all within a few hours drive. The Midwest also has quite a few larger races, which attracts riders from all over the country. The only thing the Midwest lacks is good riding. Yes, Wisconsin, Southern Indiana, and some of Ohio has some great riding but that’s about it. The weather is also not the greatest. But with all that the Midwest hosts, it is one of the biggest cycling communities in the country. I will always look forward to coming home and racing in the Midwest.
How significant of a role in your racing career/development was your time at Indiana University?
My college experience was my jump-start to my cycling career. College is where I discovered road, track, and cross racing. The reason behind this was my involvement with the Little 500 and collegiate racing. I raced the Little 500 for three years for the dormitory team, Dodds House. I learned a lot about cycling from this amazing intramural race. I also competed for IU at track, cross, and road nationals.
Any major influences/inspirations in your life?
Many little things have influenced me over the years; I have always had the drive and desire to become a professional cyclist. There have been many people that have stood behind me over the past couple years, which has made all the difference. I want to keep growing as a cyclist and as a person. I want to take my cycling as far as I can; I am unsure where that might be, but I am going to take it year by year.
Mike’s early road career began as a part of the Pony Shop team run by owner Lou Kuhn. Although he moved onto other teams as he quickly began climbing through the road categories, he has remained a part of the dominant Pony Shop Cyclocross team until this year.
We’ve seen Mike grow and really part of that is his ability to excel at all types of cycling. He has progressed from a mountain biker, to road, track, and cyclocross. Being well rounded has opened up opportunities for him with support from multiple teams.
I think Mike’s focus and his support system have really been to his benefit in becoming a pro cyclist. He obviously has natural talent, but it’s his drive and the support of his family, friends, and fellow cyclists that have pushed him over the top.
You have been connected to the Pony Shop for many years, what is it about Lou and his setup that has kept you on board for so long?
I started working at the Pony Shop back in 2002 when I was just a little high school punk. I worked there for seven years off and on when I could. I have raced cross for the Pony Shop for the past five years and it has been amazing. Lou could be one of the greatest guys I have ever met. He has been there for me through thick and thin. He has been one of my greatest supporters over the past couple years and I can’t thank him enough. That is why I have been so loyal to him and his shop over the years. I am upset that I will not be racing for him in 2012, but I have obligations with the team to race cross for them.
You’ve always been a pretty successful Cross racer as well. What is it about Cross?
I got into cross back in 2007 and I was instantly hooked. I flew up through the ranks with ease but when I got to the UCI level, it stopped. I have discovered that cross is very hard at the top level and it takes a lot of time/dedication to be good at it. I have not taken it too seriously because of my focus on the road for the past 2 years, however, I plan on racing a full cross schedule this upcoming fall season. It is a fun sport with a great following, and it’s really on the upswing.
Favorite training ride, local and beyond?
I have two favorites. The forest loop and the 90 loop both in Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomington has some amazing rides but those are my favorites. I always like coming back to Chicago and doing the Judson ride as well.
Tro Bro Léon in Brittany, France
Best moment on a bike?
There are many, but the best was winning the Glencoe Grand Prix back in 2010 in front of all my family and friends.
Mike had a dominant season in 2010 riding for the Verizon p/b ABD U25 team, topped off by his Glencoe win. It was at that point that he received the call to join the big leagues, and accepted it with open arms.
From Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies Performance Director, Jonas Carney:
Mike was first recommended to me by a friend of mine, Billy Dwyer. I kept an eye on him and his results for a year or so. Mike was winning lots of local races and getting good results at events like Superweek and America’s Dairyland. They were solid results for a young guy who was not racing full time. At the time, we needed a couple more crit guys. Mike is an excellent crit racer and he came with good references, so we picked him up.
Last year was tough for Mike. His first race was the Tour of Taiwan, which is a very tough ten-day stage race, and it didn’t get a lot easier from there. He suffered a lot at those early races, but he showed some real toughness. Then, just when he was starting to benefit from all that work and come into some good form, he broke his collarbone. He really didn’t have much of a chance to show what he could do last year. However, I have no doubt that Mike is going to develop into more than just a criterium racer. He has the talent and the mental toughness.
So, how was the first year as a pro?
My first year was quite the experience. I learned so much about bike racing and about myself as a person. I went through many hardships throughout the year. I have never suffered more in races and never experienced so many amazing things on the bike. I had many injuries and illnesses this year, and I am hoping for a more problem free year in 2012.
Any significant lessons learned, experiences had?
Too many to list…
What is the team like?
The team is a great group of guys from all walks of life. The vibe is very laid back but when it comes to racing, it’s all business. We have a wide variety of talent and skill levels on the team. It has been very helpful to be on a team with so many guys that have been around for years in the scene. They have endless knowledge and stories.
How about a list of your injuries this past season? Any major revelations developing from your experiences through the healing/recovery process?
Recurring Staph infections
Plenty of road rash…
I have tried to stay positive through all these injuries. It is just part of the sport I guess. I have gone years with not crashing once and then I have years like I did this past season. I just try to keep my head up and focus on the future.
I know the life of a first year Pro is not the most lucrative in terms of income and such, but how rough is it? How does a neo-pro make ends meet?
It can be rough at times but you get used to a low income style of living. I don’t take as many things for granted as I used to. I have had lot of help and support which made 2011 possible. Living at home made it quite easy, too. My Dad and Stepmom cooked me meals and put a roof above my head, which I can’t thank them enough for.
What kind of support system does a Pro cyclist need, on and off the bike?
I have had so many friends and family there for me this year. Food, money, doctor’s visits, mechanic help, moral support, etc. The list goes on. Without all of their help, none of this would be possible. I thank everyone that has helped me out this year in one way or another.
Any major goals for the 2012 season? And beyond?
First goal is to have a healthy 2012. Second goal is to win a NRC race. Third and most importantly is to have fun and take it all in.
Word on the street is that you love to fish. How long has that been a part of your life? What is it about fishing?
This is a true rumor that you have heard. I am an avid fly-fisher. I have been fishing my whole life but have been really serious about fly-fishing the past 6 years. I am not sure what it is about it, but I really enjoy it. It might be that it’s so different from cycling, or that I just love that feeling of catching a fish. I will always be on the hunt for the next big fish. Plan is, after my cycling career is over, I want to travel the country for a year and hit up all the best fishing spots.
How’s Layla? Is she looking forward to CO?
Layla is amazing. She is miniature Australian shepherd who is an amazing little dog. She is my best friend and I hate leaving her every weekend to go race. She loves it out here in Colorado. I look forward to taking her mountain biking and on many hikes.
Any advice to anyone looking for success on or off the bike?
Stay focused, train hard, and have fun with it.
Any parting words for the Midwest and the scene that has witnessed you kick ass all these years?
Thank you everyone for supporting me over the years. Without you guys this would not be possible. I’ll hopefully be back this summer for Glencoe Grand Prix and Dairyland. Thanks again!
Thank you Mike! We will definitely be keeping an eye on him as he no doubt continues his rapid rise to success. Best of luck for a great season and beyond.
Follow Mike and his endeavors at www.sherermike.com
You can check out the rest of the 2012 Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategy Team at www.optumprocycling.com
Photo credits: *KBS/Optum Health and State Champ photos – Eric Goodwin *Glencoe win and muddy Cross photos – Nikki Cyp *Fishing and Layla photos – Mike Sherer