“I WOULDN’T HAVE IT
ANY OTHER WAY”
MARCO TALKS EWS RACING,
SPONSORSHIP, AND OF
COURSE, JET SKIS
Interview & Photos by Ryan Cleek
“I WOULDN’T HAVE IT
ANY OTHER WAY”
MARCO TALKS EWS RACING,
SPONSORSHIP, AND OF
COURSE, JET SKIS
Interview & Photos by Ryan Cleek
For the better part of the last decade, the enduro racing scene has gained momentum across North America like a fanny pack-fueled avalanche. One rider whose racing career has grown stride for stride with the now ubiquitous presence of enduro-style bikes and equipment is Marco Osborne. One of the United States’ top professional enduro racers, normally this time of year the 28-year-old Novato, California, native would have just wrapped up a season of traveling the globe testing his skills through rally-car-like stage racing against heaviest hitters of the Enduro World Series. However, since the elite enduro racing season was turned on its head with international travel restrictions and ultimately an abbreviated race schedule, the two-time Trans-Provence champion is taking full advantage of the downtime by enjoying the incredible outdoor lifestyle his Truckee, California, residence has to offer.
I recently caught up with Marco on his home turf to chat about how he spent his “summer vacation,” his journey from never really racing to doing it for a living, the latest on his recovery from a series of injuries which hampered his 2019 racing campaign, and the lowdown on his sweet ‘87 Kawasaki jet ski.
This guy knows how to live. A stone’s throw from Donner Lake, Marco’s Truckee, CA, garage brims with dirt bikes, a jet ski, and of course, race-ready mountain bikes. Photo by Ryan Cleek
LIVING IN THE TRUCKEE / LAKE TAHOE AREA PROVIDES A TROVE OF INCREDIBLE OUTDOOR RECREATION. IS THAT STUFF KEEPING YOU SANE DURING THIS DOWNTIME?
Being home on lockdown for so long allowed me to enjoy the trails in the area, riding a ton of moto and snowmobiles, plus a lot of digging and trail building. I’ve lived in Truckee for the past three years, and the Tahoe / Truckee area for about eight years now. It’s a great spot for someone like me who loves to escape into the mountains to camp, fish, and ride dirt bikes. I wouldn’t normally spend so much time at home from the spring to the fall, so it’s pretty cool to spend time at home during those months.
OTHER THAN A HANDFUL OF DOMESTIC RACES, THE 2020 RACING DIDN’T REALLY HAPPEN FOR YOU. SO, LET’S DIG INTO YOUR BACKGROUND A BIT. HOW HAVE YOU GOTTEN TO THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER?
I didn’t start competing until I was 20 years old. Growing up, my two best friends were Thomas and Chris Ravina, and they were racing mountain bikes all through middle school, so I was familiar with the sport through them. They introduced me to Mark Weir and Ben Cruz, and other riders in that WTB / Novato crew, and they sort of brought me under their wing at an early age.
GOING FROM CASUALLY RIDING FOR FUN TO REGULARLY RIDING WITH SERIOUS RIPPERS LIKE WEIR AND CRUZ MUST’VE BEEN AN EXPERIENCE?
As a kid, riding with Weir was eye opening. I remember thinking how wild it was that I was riding with the local pro who my dad would show me newspaper articles about growing up. The next thing I knew I was riding his pumptrack and local trails, doing little odd jobs around his house in exchange for bike parts, and other fun stuff like that. It was awesome seeing how fast the pros were, and trying to hang onto their wheels and getting dropped taught me a lot about how to ride a bike. Then, becoming teammates with Jerome Clements was just wild. I’ve learned so much from him and am forever grateful for all he’s taught me throughout the years.
DID YOU EVENTUALLY GET THE RACING BUG THROUGH THE NOVATO CREW?
With my best childhood friends growing up racing, and then riding a lot with racers like Weir and Ben Cruz, me racing was just a natural route and I decided to give it a try. I raced one of the local CCCX races in Monterey and got third in the pro class behind Ben and Weir. A few days later Ben told me to come over to Weir’s house. They had one of his old bikes sitting there for me and they said, “You’re on our team now.” I had actually been talking to another Bay Area brand about sponsorship, but they kept dragging their feet and wouldn’t make any decisions, so Weir just decided to hook me up kinda grassroots style with some of his supporters. The next year, Weir introduced me to Cannondale and got me set up on that program with a contract. Thanks, Weir!
FROM THE TIMELINE YOU’VE DESCRIBED, IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU BEGAN TO MAKE RACING A FOCUS AROUND THE SAME TIME THE ENDURO WORLD SERIES BEGAN TO TAKE SHAPE.
That’s right, when I was beginning to race seriously the EWS was just getting off the ground. I did my first EWS that year  on one of Weir’s old bikes, and recall I finished 19th and he finished 20th. Looking back, I’ve pretty much been a part of the EWS since it’s started. The series has evolved quite a bit, however. Between the level of competition, the amount of media attention at the races, the burliness of the tracks, it’s just gotten huge.
HOW HAS THE EWS GROWN OR EVOLVED SINCE YOUR FIRST SEASON ON THE CIRCUIT?
The level of riding is so high these days, plus the dedication to training everyone is doing pushes the riding to the next level. Each race has basically become a weekend full of World Cup Downhill races on trail bikes. The riders are very hungry, and I think that’s coinciding with a lot more money coming into the sport. The whole evolution has been awesome to watch and and is great to be a part of as it grows.
Memories of races past. Not many 2020 plates are likely to make the wall. Photo by Ryan Cleek
FOR NOT REALLY RACING BEFORE GOING “FULL ENDURO,” DID YOU HAVE A BACKGROUND IN RIDING DOWNHILL TO AT LEAST HAVE A BIKE HANDLING SKILL SET TO DRAW FROM?
Before getting into enduro, I did a couple of downhill and super d races, and at the time enduro wasn’t even a thing in North America. I’ve only ever raced a downhill bike once, and that was one I borrowed from my friend Thomas Ravina for a race just outside of Vegas at Bootleg Canyon. Although, now that I ride for Transition, which has a downhill bike in their line, I might do some DH events for fun.
THERE’S ONE REMARKABLE DOWNHILL WIN OF YOURS I’M AWARE OF, BECAUSE I WAS AT THE EVENT. DESCRIBE WHAT HAPPENED AT MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN A FEW YEARS AGO.
Back in 2014, I was racing the enduro at Mammoth Mountain, which also coincided with the US National Championship series (Pro GRT) downhill race that weekend. I only had my enduro race bike, but figured why not race downhill, too. I thought of it as just a fun, bonus race for the weekend.
I hadn’t done any National Series downhill races that year, so in the finals I had to come down first and went immediately into the hot seat. I sat there as faster and faster riders kept coming through the finish line, until ultimately the fastest qualifier came through last. That rider didn’t beat my time, so after sitting in the hot seat all day, I won a US National downhill race on a bike with a Lefty fork. I remember being on the podium and Bubba Warren teasing me saying, “No, you can’t bring that thing up here.” I said, “Sorry, but you guys just got beat by a Lefty.”
Caption: A quick Shimano lever bleed for the new Transition. Photo by Ryan Cleek
INJURIES ARE A PART OF RACING. HAVE YOU RECOVERED FROM THE ONES WHICH WERE A SETBACK TO YOUR 2019 SEASON?
Most of this entire offseason was spent working back from my injuries. In September of 2019, I kicked a rock while racing a local DH race at the Northstar bike park and had two avulsion fractures in my ankle and a broken talus, so that kept me out of the Trans Cascadia event I was looking forward to. The ankle took a lot of rehab, and it wasn’t until the February of 2020 did I start to feel strong again.
A few months prior to the ankle injury, also at Northstar (which, I now call “Curse Mountain”) I had a crash and ended up going to the hospital for my wrist. The x-rays came back negative, so I thought it was severely sprained. I toughed it out, taped it up and rode the EWS races at Northstar and Whistler. I was able to ride ok, but wasn’t able to push like I wanted to, as it was all I could do to hold on with the condition of the wrist. However, after my ankle had healed and I started riding again, which I’d injured several months after the wrist, I realized the wrist was still getting worse and not healing. I got an MRI and it showed I had a broken scaphoid this whole time. So, this past New Year’s Eve, I had surgery on the wrist and the doctor put a screw through the bone so it could heal properly. It’s all good now, but that was a long series of injuries to deal with.
WORLD CUP DOWNHILL TAKES A TOLL ON BIKES AND RIDERS. YET, IN AN EWS EVENT THE BIKES HAVE LESS SUSPENSION TRAVEL AND ARE OFTEN CHARGING EQUALLY NASTY TERRAIN. WHAT’S IT LIKE TRYING TO KEEP A SINGLE-CROWN, ENDURO BIKE RUNNING THROUGH SIX OR SEVEN WORLD-CUP-LEVEL DOWNHILL RACES IN ONE WEEKEND?
Some of the EWS events are real death marches with a lot of carnage, because the tracks are physical and very technical. It can definitely be brutal on the rider and on equipment. My first couple of years on the EWS scene, I was struggling to make it to the end of a race, whether from a mechanical, crashing out, or crashing and breaking something on the bike. I eventually shifted my goals from going all-out to finishing races and then see where that pace puts me. Over time, I’ve found out that if I have a smooth race and get through each stage without mechanical or big crashes, I would be sitting pretty good, maybe top 20, in the overall EWS standings. It takes some time to find the limits, but once I know the limits the races are really all about minimizing mistakes, staying smooth, and trusting my speed to get me through the weekend.
DURING YOUR CAREER, YOU’VE HAD FACTORY TEAM SUPPORT, AND NOW THE SUPPORT OF A MORE GRASSROOTS-STYLE PROGRAM. WHAT’S IT LIKE THESE DAYS TO MAINTAIN YOUR FOCUS ON RACING, BUT ALSO HAVING TO FEND FOR YOURSELF FOR REPAIRS, FOOD, AND LODGING?
When I was racing for Cannondale, we had the support of a factory team with a full-time mechanic, and the lodging, meals, and travel all sorted for me. I’m basically doing my own program these days with the support of several great brands, but being on my own is definitely a lot of extra work and puts opportunities I’ve had into perspective. Running my own program has also shown me the EWS in many ways is a big family. These days, I generally pit out of Fox suspension, but I’ve met so many great people over the years at the races who are really willing to help. My old mechanic, Matteo Natti, now works for factory GT, and he always has my back.
Also, some of the brands that support me, like Transition and WTB, will occasionally have international distributors help me out when I’m out of the country racing. I would really describe my program as more family style racing than a factory team. This type of program is definitely more my style. I don’t have someone to wipe my ass, pack my bikes, make me food, and all of that other stuff, but I do have a ton more freedom during my travels. If I want to camp at an event or go fishing when the racing is done, I can do all of that stuff and just plan it into my race weekend. The combination of the support I have from Transition and the freedom I have to kind of make my own season is a dream come true, and I wouldn’t want it any other way right now.
GOING FROM BARELY RACING TO PURSUING IT FULL-TIME AT THE PRO LEVEL, WAS THERE A BREAKOUT RESULT WHICH TOLD YOU THINGS WERE GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?
On the EWS circuit, it’s been really challenging to climb the ladder and find consistency. I’ve got two top-10 overall finishes so far, and also a few top-three stage results. My confidence really improved once I was able to learn to maintain consistency and remain mentally composed during a grueling EWS weekend.
One highlight of my racing career has been the week-long Trans-Provence enduro in France. I’ve done it three times, and won the event in 2017 and 2019. It’s become a special race for me, because back when I started riding with Weir and Ben, that’s the style of racing they were doing in Europe. I was always looking up to them, and then one year I got to do the race with Ben, which was pretty special.
It’s an awesome and very difficult race, but what I love about it is the full-on adventure experience around the event. There are brutally long days in the saddle that require someone to really dig deep and find who they are, and it takes grit and determination to finish. Every day we race blind and there’s no practice before the events to see the terrain. There’s no watching GoPro footage the night before, like an EWS race. After each day, we camp and it’s a pretty loose setting. Maybe we have a few beers and hang out with friends, and then get up early and ride all day on amazing, super-technical trails. This style of event is so fun, and really taps into the adventure aspect of mountain biking, which I love. It’s more of a week-long adventure than a full-on enduro race.
HOW DO THE LOGISTICS FOR AN EVENT WHERE YOU’RE RIDING ALL DAY AND CAMPING A NEW LOCATION EACH NIGHT OPERATE?
When someone buys an entry to the race, they get a package deal, which includes catering and support from the organizers to move your tent and bags from camp to camp. Each morning, we pack up our bags, put all our stuff in a pile, and while we ride to the next camp, they drive it all in a van to the next camping area. It’s a really well-run experience with incredible riding.
SINCE THE 2020 RACE SEASON WAS LARGELY TURNED UPSIDE DOWN, HOW DID YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FREE TIME AT HOME?
One of my favorite things to do when I’m not riding is building trails. It allows me to build terrain to push my limits and keep my skills fresh for the EWS races. An opportunity came up for me to work with the Sensus R.A.D. trails program in Oregon at Windells bike park, and I was up there for a few weeks working and riding what we built.
My friends and I also like to have a good time in the lakes nearby. I recently bought an old 1987 Kawasaki 550 jet ski from my buddy, Duncan. It required the motor to be rebuilt before we could use it, but it’s a great way to cool off after riding hot and dusty trails all day. My friends and I will head over to Donner Lake, have a few beers and cool off. I’m really still a big kid who likes to play. We only get one shot at this life, so might as well enjoy it!
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