Features Interviews

Theo Obholzer interview: top dog

James McKay speaks to the surprise winner of the first National B race since 2019

When men’s national road racing returned to the UK at the Return to Racing for Big Dogs last weekend, the field was understandably packed with some of the finest domestic riders, eager to make their mark after the longest of road racing of pauses.

But the winner wasn’t a UCI Continental rider, a GB Senior Academy talent, an established elite rider, or even an upstart junior. Instead, it was the relatively unknown under-23 rider Theodor Obholzer who triumphed, outsprinting his breakaway companions on an uphill finish.

Obholzer may be new to most cycling fans, but his name has a rich heritage in the sport of rowing. Theodor’s father is an Olympic bronze medallist and former Boat Race winner, his uncle finished fourth at Seoul 1988 as part of the British eight, while his brother Gabriel broke the 2000m junior record last year, before lowering it even further this year. Athletic ability clearly runs in the family. But with Theodor’s physique not lending itself to rowing, he instead seems to have found his niche with cycling.

I definitely think I can improve a lot more, there is still a way to go

The Dolan Ellesse rider had already shown promise before Sunday’s surprise result. In 2019, for example, he was second in the Ponteland GP (Nat B), and last year he was 6th at the Eddie Soens Memorial, a race that always features a quality field. His win in Yorkshire seems to marks a progression that could well see him step up to the Continental level before long, should he continue to show such form.

Keen to find out more about this relatively new kid on the block, James McKay caught up with him earlier this week…

Theodor (right), with team mate Jack Crook, after his win at the Return to Racing for Big Dogs Photo: James Little

Elite sport runs in your family. Can you tell us about that?

Both my parents used to be rowers back in the day, and so was my uncle. They rowed to quite a high level. Both my brothers are rowers as well. 

Did you try your hand at rowing too?

No, never. I was always really small as a kid. The rest of my family are all over six foot, so I always thought I was a bit short for that.

I guess it’s all relative. So how did you get into cycling?

I used to cycle a bit when I was younger. I had a red B’Twin that I used to cycle to football training but then I put it away. When I was in sixth form I came to it again, on the same bike, on a holiday in France.

How would you describe yourself as a rider? And what would be an ideal race for you?

It’s hard to know not having raced properly in nearly two years, but I would say I’m more of a sprinter. My best power numbers are all under a minute. 

An ideal race would probably be a bit easier than the one on the weekend. Probably something ending in a 20-30 second uphill sprint. That sort of finish [suits me].

Theodor sprints to the win. Photo: James Little

Tell us about your team, Dolan Ellesse. Is it new for this year?

We were supposed to launch last year right as the first lockdown struck, so the team has effectively been put on hold until now. It’s a few guys mostly in the North West, where Dolan [the bike brand] is based. There’s me, my housemate Jack Crook, Connor McKinnon, Declan Hudson, and a few more who I haven’t met yet.

And it’s an under-23 team? What are the goals of the team?

Not only, but the main focus is under-23s and juniors. I think they have applied for that elite development team licence. The aim is to become one of the elite teams in the UK; to be competitive in Nat Bs and Nat As. 

The cycling club at Durham University looks good. They always seem to be well represented in local races…

Yeah it is. Myself and two mates, Jack and Steve, all got into racing at the same time in our first year. We did all those races together. We did our first Nat B together and the BUCS team time trial. It’s been good to have a nice group to train with up at Uni, it’s not a big town so there’s not a lot of other cyclists training here.

Theodor getting interviewed post-race. Photo: James Little

You had a promising result at the start of last year, finishing 6th in the Eddie Soens Memorial. Do you feel you have progressed considerably since then, or do you think you would have been winning Nat Bs last year if you’d had the chance to race a full season?

The winter before 2020 I had tendonitis in my left hamstring so I came into that season really undercooked fitness-wise. So I actually think I was a lot stronger the season before [in 2019], but I was much better at racing [tactically, in 2020]. Over lockdown I got quite a lot stronger, so I am definitely at a much higher level than I was before.

How did the race on Sunday go?

It was a bit of a funny one, being the first race in such a long time. I went off on my own on the first lap. I just rolled off the front on a flat section, I looked back and someone literally waved goodbye to me! I got caught but went again on the next lap in the same place. No one followed me, but after three or four minutes on my own, a group of four bridged up with my teammate Jack. That was it really; we never saw the main field again.

I turned up on Sunday thinking if I get to the end, on that uphill sprint, I’d back myself

There were some pretty big names or “big dogs” in the race. Were you surprised at how you fared against such a strong field? 

Not really to be honest. Over this winter I’ve been down in London and have been training a lot with Zeb [Kyffin] and Charles [Page]. We’ve been doing some race sims. I know the numbers are up there. So I turned up on Sunday thinking if I get to the end, on that uphill sprint, I’d back myself. 

So you’re not intimidated by racing conti guys?

I don’t feel intimidated by them. I looked at the start list and there were a lot of strong riders. The best sprinters were Matt Gibson and Joey Walker, but Gibson is a bit heavier than me so I was hoping that the uphill sprint finish would suit me more than him. I was quite confident going into the race.

Theodor pre-race. Photo: James Little

I think that was justified with the result! Do you have goals for this season, or what there will be of a season? 

I don’t really know because I don’t know what is actually going to go ahead. Whatever Nat Bs I do I’m going to want to win. I would like to ride Nat As for experience, especially the flatter ones – although I don’t think there will be any of those this year.

There is the Otley Town Centre circuit race…

I’ve got an entry for that. But it’s my first Nat A crit so I’m not going to put any pressure on myself. But in answer to your original question, just to race what I can race.

Where do you think you can take things in the sport?

I try not to set goals that are outside of my control. I definitely think I can improve a lot more, there is still a way to go. But where I will end up, I couldn’t really say.