PEZ-Clusive Interview: Kirk O’Bee
Kirk O’Bee of Navigators Insurance is enjoying a great run of success over the past few months. After a little reworking of his season goals due to illness earlier in the year, he is coming on strong – just in time for the San Francisco Grand Prix!
By Christine Vardaros
PEZ: I first want to congratulate you on some fine finishes this season. I’m particularly impressed with your recent form that earned you success at CSC Invitational, USPRO’s Watchovia, Cascade, Tour de Delta, Tour de White Rock to name a few! Also, you just had a near-miss at US Crit Championships last Sunday (August 21) at Downer’s Grove, a crown you’ve won in the past. Your textbook-perfect attack, resulting in a good-looking break with John Lieswyn (Health Net-Maxxis) and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Kodak/Sierra Nevada) failed in the end. What went wrong?
KO: The break definitely had strong riders but with John Lieswyn there I knew the odds of it staying away were slim. I was surprised he pulled through at all, but it was in his teams best interest to have the break sit out in front for a while and let the other teams that missed it chase it back. John was pulling the least as Ben J-M was working well. In the end we came up a few laps too short for it to go all the way. Those last 3 laps are the fastest of the race and if the break wasn’t going to full tilt to the end, it was too easy to close the gap on us which is exactly what happened. The other problem is that we were out there for too long. I think I attacked with around 16 laps to go which is a solid 16 miles. On that type of hilly course, it’s a lot of effort to put out. The wind was blowing a bit as well which made it hard to roll sections of the course. We got a strong head wind the stretch just before the last corner and then a slight head-cross all the way up the hill through the start/finish and feed zone.
PEZ: It seems as though you1re coming onto form just in time for San Francisco Grand Prix (SFGP.) What are your thoughts on this?
KO: My plan has been to be in the best form possible for SFGP. Since the USPRO Championships in June, it’s been the race I’ve been looking forward to. Ever since SFGP first happened I knew it was going to be a good race for me and I’ve wanted to win. I took a big break in June – bigger then I’ve ever taken in the middle of the year. I guess I needed it as my form has been going well ever since. It’s been hard to keep on top of things as I haven’t had much racing since the end of July. Before USPRO Criterium Championships, I had no racing for a month so I’ve really had to rely on my training to keep me in top race form. The hard thing for me is to keep mentally sharp for racing – without racing. I can train all I want but without any racing feedback it’s hard to know where my form stands compared to everyone else’s.
O’Bee attempting to bridge a tough gap at the GP Rennes earlier this season.
PEZ: How has your preparation for the SF Grand Prix been so far? What do you think your chances are for the win this year – you obviously seem to be building some great form for the conclusion of your season?
KO: Since the end of July I’ve been preparing for SFGP. Elmo has tailored my training program to specifically target the race. Next to USPRO Champs in Philly, it’s the biggest one day race in North America. Philly is great because it’s the US Champs on top of a big race but SFGP is a much more demanding circuit with twice as many spectators and atmosphere. The course suits me well, as it’s a race of attrition with power climbs. Almost every year the guy who wins is one of the strongest on the day. You can’t fake your way through this race. I’m going to the race to win and I know I’ll be a favorite but I’m sure the media won’t see it that way. It’s going to be my last race of the year so I want to go out on top.
PEZ: I assume you will be one of the protected riders for Navigators? Can you comment on what sort of strategy the team might use for a race like this, with a very selective course where it can be difficult to control the field?
KO: I will be a protected rider but it’s a hard race to control and I don’t think my team will be strong enough to control so I’m going to have to key off some of the other favorites. It’s a bit of a hard race to read; if an early break with enough guys get a big lead on such a demanding course, it can be hard to close big gaps down at the end of the race. Going in an early move can greatly reduce the odds of being in the front group for the final. Like most of the other favorites, I’ll be patient for the first half of the race.
PEZ: Sometimes you’re pegged as a sprinter, and obviously you possess a vicious acceleration, but many would see you as more of a hard-terrain single-day specialist with a wider array of weapons, as you’ve shown to some degree even since your amateur days in Belgium. The SF Grand Prix would seem to appeal to your abilities. Can
KO: You’re the first person to interview me who has recognized that. Most people do think I’m a sprinter or field sprinter and I’m not. I haven’t won a field sprint in a long time if ever in a major pro race. It’s just not my thing. I hate sitting around in the field all day not being active and waiting for the last 300 meters to start racing my bike. I’ve always seen myself as a single day, hard-terrain specialist – the harder the race the better! At least that way the race comes out with the best rider on the day – not the strongest, mind you! The strongest doesn’t always win; it’s a combination of being strong and being smart.
PEZ: How did the race go for you last year?
KO: The race went well until the last time up Taylor Hill. I was in the front group and played it smart all day but I couldn’t match Charles Dionne up Taylor – for that matter, no one could. Last year I was on the tail end of my form and I didn’t have the top end form needed to win a race like SFGP. I was sprinting for 3rd at the line but couldn’t come up with the power to come around (George) Hincapie and settled for 5th. I was disappointed but I knew I had had a long year and I’d be back this year.
O’Bee came agonizingly close in the Ronde van Drenthe this Spring.
PEZ: Whom do you see as the favorites for SF Grand Prix?
KO: Chris Horner, as I think he’s motivated and he’s won here before. I don’t think he’d be coming all the way from Europe and going back afterwards for a training ride. George Hincapie – if he’s in good form. Among those who are traveling from Europe, it’s hard to say who will be motivated to race. It’s the end of the year for a lot of guys and some of the big names showing up are ready for a vacation. As far as domestic riders, I know there will be a few strong guys like Chris Wherry. But personally I don’t know who’s gong well or motivated for the race as I haven’t really seen the other guys racing in the past couple
PEZ: How has your season gone to date?
KO: I’d say average to a little bit above average. I expect a lot from myself and when I don’t accomplish the big goals it’s hard to see things as a success. The first half of the year in Europe wasn’t as successful as last year so I saw myself a step below. USPRO Championships in Philly was better then last year but I went into that race with no other expectations than to win – especially the (National Championship jersey. So fifth place may seem like a decent result, but to me I came up way short. Since then, I’ve had more wins then I’ve had in the past 5 years but realistically they’re all smaller races and aren’t much to jump up and down about. A win is a win and it’s nice, but my future goals include racing in Europe full time and the smaller wins don’t really contribute to that goal.
PEZ: Going into the season, what were your goals, and did you accomplish any of them? What are your goals for the remainder of the season?
KO: I wanted to get some good results in Europe. As I’ve already said my goal is to race there full time so I needed to perform while I was there this spring. I did a lot of bigger races and had the opportunities but for the first couple months in Europe my health wasn’t so good and I couldn’t capitalize. My biggest goal of the year was to win the jersey in Philly. Other than that, SFGP is the next on my list. Then it’s vacation time.
PEZ: All of us racers suffer from “woulda-coulda-shoulda” regret when things haven’t played out quite as we planned. Have there been occasions when you had the legs to win but made a costly tactical mistake, or were maybe too patient?
KO: Oh yeah! Too many times in the last couple years. Last year I had 3 big “w-c-s” moments. This year I had a couple in Europe as well where I had the legs to make the podium and tactically I made huge mistakes. I try to learn from those mistakes and carry them over to the next race but I think there’s always going to be moments when I second guess myself if the end result isn’t a win. A lot of the times that I’ve won races, I look back and don’t remember thinking about tactics so much as remembering just reacting on instinct to get myself to the finish line. Hard to say if those decisions are instinct or that sometimes the instinct works and sometimes it doesn’t.
PEZ: I’ve heard that you suffered from a persistent virus during spring season. Has this or any other illness or injury played a factor in your race schedule or results?
KO: I was really struggling from the start of the year in January at the Tour Down Under with a chronic viral infection. Some of it was my doing as I didn’t take the time off necessary to really nip it in the bud. I really wanted to perform in Europe so I kept training and racing through it. I hoped that I would come out the other end virus-free and with victories, but it never works that way. Because of that untimely illness, I spent the whole spring season through April feeling like I was unable to hit any type of good form and hold it.
It might not have been a win, but the podium ain’t too bad either.
PEZ: Will you be with the Navigators in 2006?
KO: Don’t know yet. I’ve been with them for the last 5 years and the team has improved every year. They’ve put a strong focus on Europe the past couple of years which I like – no other domestic based pro team has done that.
PEZ: What will be your focus for 2006?
KO: Not sure yet. It will depend on where I’m racing and who I’m racing with.
PEZ: Do you hope to show your stuff at next year’s Spring Classics?
KO: I sure hope so as I’d like another chance with good health and one more year’s experience with those races.
PEZ: What about any goals for the remainder of your career?
KO: Long term racing in Europe – full time in the Spring Classics.
PEZ: What races would you call your “fetishes,” as we say in the vernacular?
KO: Belgian Spring Classics; Tour of Flanders, Het Volk, KBK, and most other racing in Belgian with cobbled climbs and cross winds.
PEZ: Tell me something about you that your fans would be surprised or excited to learn.
KO: I have a 3 year old son. He keeps me on my toes
and he’s just starting to ride a bike with training wheels but in no way am I trying to push him down any path. If I’m not training or racing, I’m trying to keep him entertained. He’s at the age where he’s starting to demand things from me like, “Daddy play toys with me!” It’s a great experience watching him grow up.
PEZ: We’re both coached by the same eccentric. He re-names all of us right off the bat with goofy nicknames, probably to put us in our place. I think he calls you Mr. Darcy, after Jane Austen’s great character who mainly keeps his mouth shut and, so to speak, lets his legs do the talking. Is that a fair comparison?
KO: Sounds about right to me. I haven’t actually read the book yet but I’ve been told it’s a fair comparison. One of my first coaches told me to talk with my legs in a race and that will go farther then anything you can say on the bike or off. I guess I should read the book though.
PEZ: Thanks for your time and best of luck at SF Grand Prix! We’ll be out there cheering for you!
2nd Ronde van Drenthe – Holland
1st KOM Ronde van Drenthe
(results below are from last 1 Ѕ months)
2nd CSC Invitational – Arlington, VA
5th USPRO Watchovia – Philadelphia, PA
1st Cascade Cycling Classic, Stages 4 & 6 – Oregon
1st Tour de Delta, Overall GC & Stage 2 – Canada
2nd Tour de Delta, Stage 3 – Canada
1st Tour de White Rock, Stage 3 and KOM – Canada
2nd Lonsdale Classic Criterium – Canada
2nd Yaletown Criterium – Canada