PEZ Interviews: Tyler Wren
Colavita-Sutter Pro Cyclist Tyler Wren is set for a “breakthrough” year according to his CTS coach Jim Lehman. Wren is known on the domestic circuit as “Wrenegade,” a name given to Wren by Health Net Pro and soon to be Jelly Belly rider Mike Jones. A veteran like Jones wouldn’t give Tyler such a tough name if he didn’t deserve it. Let’s find out what makes this Princeton Graduate and Economist tick.
Study To Pass, Ride To Win
PEZ: At 25 and having not started cycling until college, do you ever feel like you’re behind the euro-pros or seasoned domestic riders who started at a much earlier age?
TW: No, I have “fresh” legs. I had a good fitness background from being a runner in high school. I was fortunate to be involved with collegiate cycling where there is a big emphasis placed on learning about the sport. There were several clinics to work on riding skills and many group rides, and during college I was able to be on the bike year round. College isn’t a 9-5 job. There is time during the day to train. I definitely abided by the official Princeton Cycling Team Motto, “Study to pass, Ride to win.”
PEZ: So you entered Princeton University and soon started to race your bicycle. Was your family supportive of your decision to take it to the next level?
TW: My family has been very supportive. My mom was a professional ballerina for 15 years, having dropped out of college to pursue that. Both her and my father understands the importance of pursing passions and non traditional endeavors.
Early on when I was without a team and without support, not getting paid, they definitely provided me a lot of emotional and financial support. After I graduated from school I lived with my mom for a while. They always come out to the races that are local and my father came out for the Tour of California last year. They are definitely very supportive.
PEZ: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
TW: I have a sister and she certainly got the art gene from my father which I did not receive. I then got the sporting gene from my mother which my sister did not receive. My sister is a photographer. I’m going to do cyclo-cross nationals in Providence which is where she lives so she’ll come out and take some shots up there.
PEZ: During some of the hard times did you ever think to yourself that being a professional is a hard, mostly thankless job, and that with an Economics degree from Princeton that maybe it was time to get a “real job?”
TW: I was never really tempted to go out and get a real job. I was always certain that I wanted to get my degree. I knew that if I didn’t do that at the time that it would be harder and harder to go back and get it done. I’m motivated by different things. If you’re in the sport of cycling then besides the top half percent of the riders you’re not in it for the money.
Even the guys who are making a decent wage in the states can be making more pretty easily elsewhere. We’re all here because we enjoy the lifestyle and love racing our bikes. I never really had to make a big decision since I had a contract with Colavita since my senior year so I didn’t have to race on my own or without a contract when I finished school. The timing of things was seamless for me.
The Princeton grad sure knows a bit about marketing. My wife had me go out for some Sutter Home wine to go with it.
PEZ: How did you handle the success and transition from being a collegiate athlete to a Professional?
TW: I was on the Mercury roster in 2002 and I definitely felt rushed and didn’t feel like I belonged there and only did a few races for them. I got involved with Colavita during their first year as a professional team. I had started with Colavita during my senior year of college but didn’t graduate until June.
For a few months I was in school while traveling to races which was pretty difficult. My senior thesis was due the Monday following the Tour de Georgia. During the race, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in terms of mileage and level of riders, I was working my senior thesis at night but was completely wasted.
(ed. Tyler received and A- on his Senior Thesis which covered the topic of “Brain Drain” in Pennsylvania. Why economic talent leaves the state and solutions to keep it. He also finished the Tour of Georgia, his goal for the race.)
At Colavita we didn’t have any big names and we were all around the same level. I felt like I fit in fine with and the team grew along with me as a rider. It’s really been a perfect match for me the last few years.
PEZ: What was your best moment on a bike?
TW: Collegiate Nationals in 2001 was a moment of awakening for me. During the road race in Colorado Springs I was going into the last corner with two other riders and 300 meters to go and I started the sprint with the other two on my wheel but they crashed into each other so I just rolled to the line for the win and the other two guys had a running race to the line due to bike problems. That result was unexpected and a huge moment for me. That’s when I thought that maybe I had a future here and when I thought about taking it more seriously.
Life In Philly
PEZ: How is your off-season going?
TW: It’s going well so far and it’s good to be here in Philadelphia. I have a lot of balance in my life now. I’m in a good neighborhood and have a good non-cycling group of friends. It’s good to have balance. It’s always good just to have a solid chunk of time at home. I’m actually headed to Hawaii on January for some training with my friend Pat Zahn from Princeton who was the captain of the cycling team when I was a freshman. I went there last year as well and the weather is perfect; there are no compromises to be made for the weather. It will be good to have a solid block of uninterrupted training before the season.
PEZ: What is your main goal for next year?
TW: I’d like to win an NRC race but mainly I like to just feel like I’m a part of every race entered. I like to feel consistent through out the year and feel like I’m making a difference. Whether it’s helping my teammate or doing something on my own it’s just the bigger picture throughout the year which I use to measure my success.
There are certain races which I have more of an attachment to such as Fitchburg and Philly, especially now that the Philly (ed. The Commerce Bank Triple Crown of Cycling – Philadelphia Championship) course is just a block away from my house.
Philly has always been a special race for me. It’s been a part of my life for a long time. My first year racing in it, 2003, I was excited just to be there. Unfortunately I crashed and had a concussion along with no memory of having done the race. I said to myself that I finally made it here and now I can’t even remember it. Slowly the memories came back but I still can’t remember the crash or anything from that lap at all.
PEZ: What’s the most painful workout prescribed for you?
TW: I think the steady-state (SS) workouts Jim Lehman prescribes are the worst and give me the most trouble. (ed. Tyler’s 20-minute SS intervals are at 340-350 watts..wow)
PEZ: Your Carmichael Training Systems coach, Jim Lehman, is an old friend of mine. I asked him about you and he said you “have been progressing through the ranks over the past few years and have always been a valuable teammate on Colavita.” Jim went on to say “I was excited for the 2007 season because I believe Tyler will have some breakthrough performances.”
PEZ: How has it been working with Jim?
TW: I started with Jim in the fall of 2003. It’s going on over three years now. Jim is very good about challenging me but also making it doable. I get 90% of the intervals done that he prescribes but it’s always a challenge. He’s been a great influence and I’m really happy with my relationship with him.
PEZ: Would you submit a DNA sample if asked?
TW: It would depend on who was paying the bill for it. I am happy to be tested, but what people don’t really understand is that testing cost money. As an economist I look at it that If you’re going to DNA test everybody then somebody has to pay for it which might mean less salary for us, less prize money, or higher licensing fees for racers. You can do the best testing everywhere but there is a cost and you can’t really have ubiquitous DNA testing.
I’ve only been tested once in the U.S. and I’ve done 75-80 races per year for the last four years. That’s not a very strong system. It seems they spend a lot of money going to certain rider’s houses for testing as opposed to testing at events. My teammate Mark McCormack gets tested five or six times a year but someone like me is tested so seldom. Perhaps they could spread their resources a little bit.
PEZ: According to velobios.com you’re 5’11, 142 lbs. To me that would make you a climber. What do you consider yourself to be?
TW: That’s how I started out but not being a team leader I need to be effective in every race. As a result my style has changed over the last few years. I feel that I’m most effective in hilly, difficult road races but I’ve definitely improved my criterium riding and flatland ability. But, the races I really like the best are ones similar to the Cap Tech or the Waterbury circuit in the Tour of Connecticut with tough, repetitive climbs. Most of the suffering eventually fades away and when I look back my fondest memories from races like these.
PEZ: Speaking of suffering was this your first year doing cross?
TW: It’s not my first year but it’s the first year that I sort of knew what I was doing. My good friend Alistair Sponsel from Princeton gave me a clinic, all the basic skills and also discussed the theory of how to race a cyclo-cross race. I think it’s not intuitive at all. It’s unique in that the start is so important.
Also, the best guys use most of their energy by going hard through the difficult sections like a run-up or a technical section. It seems that they ride hard and carefully on the sections where they can gain the most time and float through some of the flat or easier sections. Since my skills aren’t so great it seems like I’m always going hard on the flat sections to catch up to the guys. They’re getting a bit of a break while I’m pegged the whole time.
At the MAC race in Ludwig’s Corner, PA (ed. Wissahickon Cross- Verge MAC #2) I had the opportunity to follow Ryan Trebon after being lapped by him with half a lap to go. He was just cruising at that point so I just trailed behind him. That just shows you how important bike handling skills are to cross. Trebon just took the perfect line through every corner and every time I took the wrong line or made a mistake he would have five or ten bike lengths on me immediately and I’d have to sprint to catch back up to him. He used a lot less energy to get through the same sections. It was impressive.
If you’re in control or you have the fitness to go fast but can stay in control and carefully pick your lines then that’s the key. It’s really an art form. The zen-like feeling that Trebon gets for the entire race I might have for 45 seconds. There is no one thing that he does that I couldn’t do but he’s just flawless throughout the entire race.
I’m really looking forward to Cyclo-Cross nationals in Providence. I’ve had a lot of fun and already thinking about next year’s cross season. The scene is so much warmer and more laid back then the road scene. It feels like the collegiate race scene in a way.
PEZ: Thanks Tyler. Good luck at Providence and Aloha. Please keep PEZ updated on your season.