Todd Yezefski has been many things. In his early days, he was a pudgy but suprisingly quick Junior track racer, who at least has a t-shirt from Junior Worlds. Once described as “Pantani on donuts,” Todd slimmed down while leading Dartmouth College to three consecutive national road titles. Since then, he’s plied his trade on roads and boards across the North American continent, all while somehow conducting research into something or other at the University of Chicago. A man of humor and words, Todd agreed to give us just a wee little bit of insight into what (kind of) being a pro racer is like.
Cyclocosm: For the record, please state your full name, age and location.
Todd Yezefski: Todd Yezefski, 23, Chicago, IL
CC:Explain to all the readers out there how exactly you were rescued from a lifetime of lab slavery by Team TIAA-CREF.
Todd Yezefski:Well, I’m not exactly sure I’ve been rescued from a lifetime of slavery by Team TIAA-CREF. To start with, I’ll be riding for Team Nerac.com next year, so they will be the ones arranging for my freedom from lab every once in a while in 2006.
I guess what you’re getting at is how I was selected for Team TIAA-CREF. Weeks before the 2003 Collegiate Road Nationals in Madison, WI, TIAA-CREF had stated that they were going to choose the winner of the Div. I omnium to be their 13th rider. Well, that rider already had a team lined up, same with the next person, and the next person, and so on. The team was solely U-23 at that time, many of the riders were also too old.
They finally got to me, which was quite surprising due to my dismal performance in the crit. Jonathan Vaughters approached me and said I was next in line and would have the spot if I wanted it. I had a team at the moment, but this was too good to pass up and I hadn’t signed any sort of contract with the other team. Of course, I agreed and got presented with a TIAA-CREF jersey in front of hundreds of people wearing short shorts that barely covered my, well–yeah.
Later I learned that after being presented the jersey, a TIAA-CREF employee who was there asked JV if he was really sure that I was a good choice. I guess those shorts weren’t quite a turn-on for everyone. Additionally, when going over the potential list of riders, JV asked Matt Murphy of USA Cycling if he knew anything about me. And, well, Matt told him the truth. “He was a great junior track racer, but I don’t know if he’s done more than one race over 20 km.” And that sure changed. Yes, I’m still working in lab, but it sure is nice to take a trip every few weeks and take a break from staring through a microscope all day looking at cancer cells.
CC: What was the TIAA-CREF pay like? Better or worse than the grad student stipend? Did the team buy your chamois cream for you, or were you on your own for that?
TY:You had to ask that. As the team had 18 riders, and only 16 are allowed on the UCI roster, I was one of the odd-men-out. Meaning, I didn’t get jack. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t get “paid,” but all expenses were covered when I went to a team race. We also got nice little expense accounts that could pretty much be used to buy anything remotely related to cycling. So yes, I had to buy my own chamois cream, but it wasn’t really my money.
CC: What about sweet prototype gear? I gave Tim Duggan a ride back to the start after his disqualification this year at Boulder Stage Race, and he was rocking a sweet pair of tubeless wheels. They ever let you play with those?
TY: I did get to ride some of the new stuff. At Elite Road Nats out in Park City, UT, I got to rock the Dura-Ace Carbon wheels before they were available to the public. Let me tell you, they’re sweet. They’re light, stiff, and they look damn cool. I got to ride the 2nd generation tubeless wheels at Univest. There were some quality control problems with the first ones made, but those were supposedly straightened out after a while. I can’t say they were the best wheels I’ve ever ridden, but I also wouldn’t say that I would never ride them again.
CC: Tim Clement stole the TIAA-CREF jersey that you were going to give to me. (Just thought I’d get that out there to make Tim look like a jerk. How’s it feel to look like a jerk, Tim? Maybe next time you won’t steal my jersey, yeah?) Did they just hand those things out to you like candy, or were you expected to repair your own crash damage, etc.
TY: Dude, I don’t ever remember saying that I was going to give you a TIAA-CREF jersey. The only person I remember asking for one was Tim. And I gave him what he wanted.
[Editor’s note: Todd’s been known to land on his head when he crashes, so he may be a little more forgetful than he used to be…]
We got our first supply of clothing at the training camp in February. It was like Christmas. I’ve never gotten so many free clothes and other great stuff at once. We also got some more clothes at the beginning of the summer, so I was pretty well stocked throughout the season. Of course, you have crashes, you forget to mark your clothes with your initials so your teammates unknowingly take them, etc, so maybe I don’t have as much stuff now as I started with.
CC: Now, when you got selected to Team TIAA-CREF, year and a half ago, you got a Carbon/TI Lemond. Now you guys are on Javelins. What happened to that Lemond? Is it still around? Maybe, uh, you’re not using it and, you know, maybe one of your old teammates could borrow it for a while…
TY: Unfortunately, the Lemond wasn’t the Carbon/Ti model. It was just aluminum. And pretty much, it’s just sitting in the storage locker of my apartment. Can’t say it’s really worth the effort to get that frame out and do something with it. The Javelins that we rode this year, however, are amazing. It’s an aluminum/scandium mix with a carbon rear. I’m not the biggest fan of aluminum bikes, but this thing is sweet. Not once did it let me down, and I’m pretty hard on my bikes.
CC: Apparently Ian MacGregor has a bit of trouble, uh, passing fluids while in the peloton. I hear you were pretty much the guy designated to bring him back the field after he goes.
TY: That kid either has the biggest bladder of all time or the smallest urethra. For those non-medical types, that’s your pee-tube. It was at the Espoir Nats road race in 2004, and we were in the break. Given that he was one of our designated leaders, I figured I’d give him a hand and push him while he relieved himself. Little did I know, he had never pissed on the bike before.
When I started pushing him, we had a litte bit of a tailwind, and I was in about the 53×15. Then we went around a turn, the wind shifted, and we had a slight uphill. I was dying and a gap was opening between us and the break. I was pedaling as hard as I could, and finally he finished. I shoved him like he was a freshman running around the bonfire, and he quickly made it back. I, however, worked my ass off for what seemed like miles before I caught on.
CC: I am more aware than I’d like to be about your tendency to go the bathroom in places most people would never think to. Have you at least been able to impart some of your secrets?
TY: Truthfully, I can’t piss on the bike. I’ve tried so many times, but it just doesn’t work. Ask Steve Weller about pushing me 5 or so times in the Coll. Nats RR this year. I don’t even think I got a drip out.
CC: When Jon Vaughters came and spoke at the Beanpot Pasta Banquet back in 2004, he talked about beating up the TIAA-CREF kids on team rides. Was that all just blather or can he still rock it like its 1999?
TY: That guy can drop it like nothing. The first day we got to training camp, we had to ride to the top of a huge mountain to get our pictures taken. JV led us there, for what he said was going to be an easy spin. Granted, I had been in the Midwest for a few months and hadn’t seen a hill bigger than an overpass. But when the Colorado guys started complaining about how hard it was, I knew it wasn’t just me who sucked compared to Vaughters several years into retirement.
CC: How was it riding for JV? I’ve only met the guy once, but I’m guessing that It’s pretty sweet. I can only imagine that you’ve also pulled a prank or two on him?
TY: JV’s a funny guy. He’s crazy smart, especially when it comes to business sense. The guy just knows how to finish a deal. So in that regard, he made sure that we always got the best support possible. He’s also a damn funny guy. Being around the pro peleton for as many years as he has, he has a lot of amazing stories of himself and other riders. And some great stories of the trouble he used to cause back in his rebel days. He really likes to do impersonations of other riders, trying to copy their voices the best he can. I don’t know if he realizes it, but he talks pretty funny himself sometimes and is often the subject of some impersonations. Ian does a great JV impression.
All that being said, the guy expects a lot from his riders. We’re at races to get a job done, and when someone isn’t performing how they should be, they hear about it. And never, ever, think about dropping out of a race unless you’re lying three-quarters half-dead on the side of the road. But hey, it makes you strong, and he certainly gets results.
CC: I seem to remember someone telling me that the TIAA-CREF worked for Mike Creed at last year’s Cascade Classic in return for free donuts? Is this sort of collusion, in your experience, commonplace in pro racing?
TY: Damn it, we still haven’t gotten those donuts. Creed was in the lead last year at Cascade and, as Postal only had 3 or 4 guys, enlisted our help to control things during the circuit race. Damn, that was a hard circuit to begin with, and being at the front to chase breaks only made it harder.
As for whether this is common, I’d have to say yes. Especially when a team isn’t at a race at full strength and needs the help of another team who might not have too much to lose from the effort.
CC: Learned any sweet new tricks from riding on the team? Insider tactics? Really annoying things to do to people on group rides?
TY: New tricks? If I told you about them and how to do them, I wouldn’t be nearly as cool as I am now.
Insider tactics? Well, then you could win too. Here’s a tip–train your ass off.
Annoying things to do? Well, half-wheeling has always been annoying. And us fat guys always like grabbing the saddle rails of the climbers when going uphill.
Sort of related, what I find super annoying when I’m riding is when some old fat guy, who’s clearly going slower than you, blows himself up to get on your wheel
when you pass him. Then once he recovers, he tries to pass, gets about 3 bike lengths in front, then blows again. I hate those people. My latest trick is to
blow lots of snot-rockets and spit a lot when people do that. Just pretend you don’t know they’re there.
CC: Tell me you guys sprint for town lines.
TY: Of course. Except that I don’t know where any of them are.
We had a great ride one time when we were doing sprint training. It was very Roger Brown-style. Someone would pick a random sign as the marker, and we’d have to sprint to that. Of course, the person who called out the sign always yelled it as he was jumping, so he’d always win. But it was still fun.
[Editor’s Note: US Ski Team Member Roger Brown has been described as “the worst person to go on a ride with.” His favorite thing to do is shout out “SprinttothenextroadsignnoshiftingGO!” and follow it up with a wild spint, as frequently as possible.]
CC: Ok, one serious question: earlier this year, TIAA-Cref’s former team doctor made a few sweeping comments about doping practices and some big name riders. Then the next day he retracted those statements and immediately resigned. Sounds like maybe the team wasn’t too happy with him. Do you have any additional information on this?
TY: Yeah, umm, uh-huh. Prentice is a very outspoken guy when it comes to doping. He claims he was fired from Postal when several riders approached him and asked for drugs but he wouldn’t provide them. Believe it or not, Tyler was one of them.
So he’s certainly made a few enemies in his days, and this recent situation couldn’t have helped. He is, however, firmly committed to stopping doping in cycling, which is truly admirable. There is more to the story than you know, but it’s not my place to tell any of it.
CC: While we’re on the topic, are you still waiting on that silver medal from ’04 Track Nats?
TY: I assume you’re talking about 2003 Track Nats Team Pursuit. My team got bronze, but the gold medal team was later DQ’d when one of their riders tested positive for EPO. I believe it was Adam Sbeih.
So the short answer is, no. Damn Feds.
CC: We’re all well aware of your track background, but I heard you got the ok to do some ‘cross racing for TIAA-CREF this fall? Some other Dartmouth alums were skeptical, given your history of, well, falling off your bike.
TY: Hey, I don’t really fall off the bike that often. I’ve been averaging around 1 crash a year for a while. When I do crash, though, I do it with style. And that style usually involves a trip to the hospital.
Now there’s an understatement if I’ve ever heard one; at least one of those trips to the hospital has been in a helicopter. Here’s to keeping the rubber side down in the future, Todd.