Cycling is a sport for specialists. Some riders are sprinters, others climbers or time trialists. You’d need at least three words, however, to sum up what Emerson Oronte brings to the table. He is Rally UHC Cycling’s Swiss Army Knife.
On some days, the 29-year-old from Massachusetts must shepherd his team leader into a race finale, whatever the terrain or the conditions. On others, he’ll jump into the breakaway, which means an afternoon of endless pedaling off the front. No matter what the pre-race plan looks like, he’ll gladly be a part of it, even though it often means being, as director Eric Wohlberg puts it, “an unsung hero.”
It’s hard work, but that’s okay with Oronte. He’s been at it for a while, and along the way, he has discovered his own keys to success, on and off the bike.
His current motto? “Respect the opportunity and live moderately.”
It’s a perspective he has developed over time. Oronte will tell you he fell into bike racing through a combination of skill and luck. He was competing regularly while he earned an undergraduate degree in business at the University of Colorado and happened to turn the right heads along the way, leading to his first pro contract.
Bike racing wasn’t something Oronte ever dreamed he’d be doing professionally. Now that he’s here, he’s determined to thrive in whatever role he is asked to play, and there’s a lot more to that than just training hard and racing harder.
Last year, Oronte and his teammates got a taste of racing in Europe with some of the world’s biggest teams, and that has continued into an ambitious 2019 campaign. It is hard enough competing at that level. Getting what Oronte calls “tunnel vision,” focusing too much on training and racing, only made it worse.
“I think it’s very easy to fall into this mindset where you view living your life and performance as these zero-sum tradeoffs,” he says. “Last year, with the stress of racing over in Europe and really wanting to perform well, I found that sometimes I lost that moderation and my performance suffered as a result. You have to live your life.”
Oronte is quick to point out that there is a time and a place where that focus is critical to success as a pro athlete. Just the same, sometimes “it’s cathartic to just be a regular guy.”
What does that mean for Oronte? For starters, he and his wife just bought a house in Berthoud, Colorado. A new place means a new vegetable garden, and you’ll be sure to find him spending plenty of time exercising his green thumb out back.
Growing some of his own food is a way Oronte can focus on his diet while enjoying a longtime hobby.
“It’s something I was really into as a kid growing up. My grandmother was really into gardening, and I got into it through her,” he says. “It’s nice to have something to come home to that’s relaxing and also productive.”
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Amazing the difference three weeks makes. Came back from the Tour of Turkey to find Spring has sprung here in Colorado. Made the most of the jet lag by getting started on this Summer’s vegetable garden. Planted an apple tree, a cherry tree, four raspberry starters, some blackberries, spinach, kale, carrots, pole beans, peas, beets, fennel, onions, and a few varieties of potatoes. Garlic that was planted last fall has continued to grow. Following the ToC I’m hoping to get in some peppers, tomatoes, herbs, corn, and some hops. Doesn’t look like much now but I’m excited to see what happens. Given past experience, plants are surprisingly resilient and good at not dying (despite my best efforts). Hopefully that trend continues!
Staying mentally sharp is another off-the-bike objective for Oronte, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has met him. Spend five minutes with Oronte, and you’ll learn something. His appetite for knowledge has helped him throughout his career on the bike, and it keeps him balanced off of it.
These days, that means listening to audiobooks, taking on any and every topic under the sun. If there’s an interesting nugget of knowledge out there, Oronte will take the time to dig it up.
“I read a book once about the shipping container. Like, the history of the shipping container, the metal box,” he says with a laugh. “It had more of an impact on the world than I thought.”
Often, living moderately is even simpler than that. For Oronte, it’s hard to beat the simple joy of a date night with his wife. He credits her with keeping him grounded.
“I met my wife when I was 25 and totally entrenched in the cycling world. At the time, she was a teacher. It was really an epiphany moment of the world outside of bike racing,” he says. “That’s one of the things that really put me down that road of like, ‘Oh my God, I am woefully behind understanding life outside of myself.”
Oronte is proud to say he calls his mom every day, too. Spending time with family and friends may not seem like much, but Oronte says that having something to anchor to back home is the only way to stay level-headed out on the road.
Oronte and his teammates are currently in the middle of a slate of tough events in Europe, with more on the horizon. Even with a year of experience under the belt, going up against the best in the world is as hard as ever. There will be plenty of work to do out on the road as the season rolls on, and that will put Oronte’s approach to the test.
He is looking forward to the challenge however things play out. Accepting the trial and error of life as a pro is just another piece of the puzzle. Oronte says his last few years have involved plenty of time spent embracing the constant learning experience that is life as a bike racer.
“I think it would be naive and a bit self-righteous to say that my experience is the experience, and my mindset is the mindset,” he says.
He acknowledges that there is still so much he doesn’t know, but the way he puts it, “At least I know I don’t know—that has to be a win, right?“