Competitor Profile: Team Blake’s Josh Rovner
Five years ago Josh Rovner left his job in film to become a bike courier. Today, at 25, he is not only a messenger for Clementine Courier, a small messenger-owned and operated company in New York City, but he is also an impassioned competitive racer.
“I hated my job to enough to decide I was going to start working because I was enjoying what I was doing, not because of money or what I thought could be a career path,” Rovner says, “and I just remembered what I really liked; I just always really liked riding a bicycle, so I was like ‘Yeah, I think this might be a pretty good fit for me.’”
Rovner’s voice rings cool and bright as he recounts his path into racing from the middle of Wisconsin, halfway through the Tour of America’s Dairyland. It is day six at one of the country’s most challenging stage races, consisting of 11 days of criterium racing, and the background rumbles with encouragement and cheers as the narrowing field ascends a grueling climb in the last race of the day.
Rovner is there with Lupus Racing, an elite racing development team of Cat 1/2 racers, where he will compete in 10 races over the 11 days.
“I’ve crashed two of the five days, and I’ve got five days to go,” he says. “I’m not broken and neither is my bike so I’ll keep going. Every day is a new crit.”
His love for racing bikes is effusive, even over the phone. The New Jersey native found himself first racing bikes at 21, one year into falling into courier work. The transition was as natural as his move to the Big Apple; it started with alleycats, then came Cyclocross. This year he is in his second season of racing road, and active on the National Crit Circuit (NCC).
“I moved up the ranks pretty quick,” Rovner says. “I started because of my friend Sean, “Maestro”—he’s this messenger in San Francisco and he owned a bike shop with his wife Gina called King Cog—he wanted to start a bike racing team. He totally got me into it.”
Now he is hooked, and his days and nights are filled with hours on the bike, whether it be working, training or racing.
“It can totally consume your entire world,” Rovner says. “It can consume your time, whether it be training, or eating right; it can consume so much mental energy—and it can be really discouraging or really positive, but in one way or another people become totally obsessed with racing bicycles, and it’s addictive.”
Rovner won’t pretend he’s not competitive, but there’s more to racing than that, he says.
“You can develop relationships based on racing bicycles that are stronger than a lot of other relationships in your life.”
Those relationships are what drew him to the crit last year, where he knew he’d be able to take to the course with friends he’d met in other cities, and have a chance to get a little more time in on the streets of L.A.
“I was out for the Westside Invite when it was in L.A. [in 2012] and we did this crit downtown through one of the tunnels. I thought it was super neat and when I found out Don [Ward] was throwing this race I thought it would be super fun for us to all go out there.”
Rovner came out to the Civic Center Crit last year with Austin Horse, and Stephan Hoffman, fellow NYC bike messengers. This year the trio is returning, and will race under Team Blake as ode to their friend, Blake Bedoya.
“It’s kind of our tribute to him just getting really positive and having a really healthy perspective on racing bikes,” Rovner says, “especially because it’s something that people can lose track of. It’s a world that people can get totally caught up in and Blake is a grounded dude, so we thought it would be pretty funny just to put his name on a jersey and his face is on the back of it.”
Rovner and his Team Blake teammates strive to keep the big picture in mind when they get in the saddle. The discipline, the adrenaline, and the places racing takes him are all a part of why Rovner is hooked on racing, but there is one greater element to it that really makes the magic in racing.
“Racing bikes is about people,” he says, “It’s not so much a physical game as it is psychological, and it’s totally intriguing. I don’t need to be stronger than you, I just need to be smarter than you. Understanding people gets you a lot farther than being faster. That being said, you have to get to know people to do that.”
Racers’ personalities bare themselves when every competitor gets up close and personal in the peloton, where strengths and weaknesses become evident. As the body of racers that is the peloton travels through the course, the sprinters, climbers, power breakway riders show themselves. Those working alone and with their teams are exposed over the inches and seconds as the lap count creeps upward.
“Understanding people’s personalities, especially in the peloton, is what drives bike racing,” Rovner says. “Not only do i get to know these people on the bike and how they ride and what they’re good at, but I get to know them off the bike too, and you become completely sympathetic for these people in a way that when they’re suffering alongside of you—I don’t know if you can form that relationship not in that circumstance.”
At the first Civic Center Crit in 2013, Rovner competed in the road category, which was single-handedly turned on its ear by 14-year-old Sean McElroy.
“When you don’t know racers you don’t know what they’re capable of,” Rovner says of young dynamo. “Nine times out of 10 if you’re riding off the front of the race solo, you’re gonna get caught. When I watched [Sean] ride off the front I was OK with him riding off the front. I don’t think he will be allowed to do so this year.”