Sunday, February 8, 2009

Larsen goes Online with

When it comes to pro athletes, there are egotists (just a few), but mostly there are a ton of cool cats. And then there is Steve Larsen.

First, he’s a legend on two wheels. If it consists of racing, he has won a national pro title at it. NORBA mountain biking, junior road racing, cyclo-cross, whatever. Then he delved into triathlon, finished fourth at his first big race at Wildflower, and won his first Ironman at Lake Placid in 2001, blazing the bike on that hilly course in 4:33.

That year, Larsen opened Steve Larsen’s Wheelworks in Davis, Calif. and learned something I learned before my magazine days; retail bike storefronts are hard, hard work, especially when you’re training full-time and raising five kids. (OK, I didn’t have the kids or wife, but hey, I can sympathize that fitting athletes, installing bike racks, changing flat tires and explaining the merits between chamois A and chamois B is taxing. Remains involved in commercial real estate as well.
So he stands as a rare, rare bird—I mean, can you name another athlete who has represented America in world championship events in five disciplines: road, mountain biking, cyclo-cross, track and, of course, triathlon? Didn’t think so.

The guy has done so much, his brain is a fountain of knowledge, and he more than happy to share it. He’s always been approachable by age groupers (even when he was retired for a brief respite and participated an age grouper) who wanted his opinion on the best wheel setup for Lake Placid, or advice on bike position. Even my wife, who very rarely seeks advice, has taken some good advice from Larsen.

Now he puts that experience to work with his new online retail portal, All the good things about selling bike stuff, absent the storefront, staffing and other encumberances. Certainly he wouldn’t sell anything that he wouldn’t realistically use on his own, so that’s a level of endorsement in its own right. At the same time, Steve is available to customers to help them with their purchase, whether its his opinion about an aerobar, tire pressure. It’s like getting cooking advice directly from Bobby Flay.

I had a chance to ask Steve a few questions, simply because I wanted to know what his plans are for this year, how his new online site affected things, and hoped to be present for any of his races. For as much as I’m impressed when Normann or Torbjorn put the wood down on the bike, I get a special kick when I see Larsen—as he did at Oceanside last year—ride through a bunch of pro men like they are standing still. I hope to see him get back on the podium again in Kona—a sure thrill for fathers of five everywhere.

How much fun was it delving back into the race scene after five years away from it and how jazzed was your family seeing you racing again?
It was a lot of fun. We travelled a lot with my two oldest kids when I was racing professionally and I always imagined what great experiences those would be for them. As it turns out they remember very little of those trips so I thought it would be fun to get out and compete and share with them the good I think comes from sport and a healthy lifestyle. And although I still have high expectations, it was important to show them that winning was not what was most important, but instead embracing the opportunity to compete and challenging yourself to be your best regardless of your ability or time available to train.

How would you rate your season? You had a tough run in Kona, but short of that, you had what I would think to be a successful campaign; a nice podium against a solid field at Vineman 70.3, a solid qualifier at Ironman Coeur d'Alene, and a good swim/bike in Kona... before that run grabbed you.
Performance-wise, Kona was a disappointment as I know I was trained to go much faster. But aside from that, that race and this season were very gratifying. As a father of five kids running two different businesses I was very proud of what I was able to accomplish in those races against the world’s best endurance athletes. Without a doubt my result at Vineman, finishing behind Bozzone and Alexander was the most gratifying. It showed me that when it all comes together I still have the ability to compete amongst the best, which was something I wasn’t totally sure of until that point.

What spurred you to start a new online retail storefront? I'm sure it will be much easier than doing the true storefront thing.
I have been looking for a way to stay involved in the sport of triathlon for the long term. I enjoy what I have created with Steve Larsen Properties on the real estate brokerage side, but I am much more excited about the opportunity to educate consumers and share my passion for triathlon and its healthy lifestyle. We ran a successful brick and mortar store and were well aware of what that entails on a daily basis. Through online sales we can reach a much broader audience while maintaining a more flexible schedule than a retail storefront would allow.

How involved will you be with dialogue with customers? No doubt, your personal experience and insights is worth a lot for the guy who is considering Wheelset A versus Wheelset B.
I will be very involved, specifically in selection of the products we sell and doing my best to be available to answer customer questions. We are taking our time in building our product line and are committed to only selling products we have used and believe in. No matter your ability, we hope to offer good insight and recommendations that will allow you to perform at your best without breaking the bank. Over time, we will have very specific choices to help guide your buying depending on where you are currently in the sport. The newbie triathlete does not need a $6,000 dollar bike and $600 dollar wetsuit to enjoy our sport. It may not be what the manufacturers want to hear, but I know if we give people sound and honest feedback they will be customers of ours for the long haul. And if there is one thing I have it is endurance, so I am looking to help customers from their introduction to the sport to their eventual Kona qualification, not just one sale and done.

How will this new venture, along with your real estate workload and being dad adjust your race sked for ‘09?
As with everything, things can change, but what is in your crystal ball for races? For my own motivation (like many others) it is important to commit to racing each season. It is a different challenge for me now but one I look forward to nonetheless. My hope is to compete in three or four 70.3 races, perhaps one Ironman (I am thinking Canada), and a trip back to Kona. Best case, I would add two Xterras as they are still some of the best events around.

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