By Brice Minnigh
Photos by Ale di Lullo and Jake Hamm
The first thing one notices when meeting Marco Osborne is his mellow, unassuming demeanor. Though the lanky rookie member of Cannondale’s OverMountain enduro racing team is clearly an athlete, he doesn’t project any airs of special importance. His modest, deferential approach to conversation suggests a maturity that is well beyond his 22 years, and it certainly doesn’t hint at the fierce competitor he is shaping up to be on the enduro circuit.
Just a couple of years ago, the Novato, California native was working the lifts at Lake Tahoe, following his passion for snowboarding and adrenaline-fueled excitement, but with little direction to his future. Fast-forward to today and he has a major bike sponsor, a travel budget and some seriously talented teammates who also happen to be his close friends.
Osborne’s lucky break came a couple of years ago, when he reconnected with his old friend Ben Cruz, the young enduro-racing phenom whom race veteran Mark Weir took under his wing a few years back. In the same way that Weir recognized Cruz’s raw talent and decided to help him channel it into something bigger, Cruz recognized the potential in Osborne, and the two started riding and training regularly.
“Once Ben and I started riding together, we became super-close friends and built a close friendship around mountain biking,” Osborne said. “I became just another piece in the puzzle of Novato’s riding community.
“Then last spring we went to the Central Coast Super D Series to see how we could do. I had a good result, finishing fourth behind Ben and Mark [Weir]. The next week, Ben said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to come over to Mark’s, we’ve got something for you.’ They had a barely used Jekyll for me and said, ‘This is your bike, you’re on the team.'”
“The whole of last year I was sponsored through Mark, grassroots out of his garage, with a Cannondale bike and WTB tires.”
This year, at the recommendation of Weir and Cruz, Cannondale made Osborne an official member of its ‘OverMountain’ enduro-racing team. In an instant, he had become a professional mountain bike racer. And not only would he race alongside his friends Cruz and Weir, he would join the ranks of veterans Jason Moeschler and Frenchman Jerome Clementz, who just so happens to be the reigning Enduro World Series Champion.
And if recent race performances in Spain are any indication, Osborne could be a podium threat this season. In a two-stage enduro teaser race co-organized by Cannondale Bicycles and Big Ride last week, Osborne took first overall, narrowly beating Clementz. And over the weekend, in the Big Ride-organized enduro race in Ojen, Spain, Osborne took second place behind Clementz.
“It feels good [to come out ahead of Clementz], but it wasn’t really an official race and I’m not sure if Jerome was really going 100-percent,” Osborne says. “So it doesn’t really matter. But it feels good to be racing with him and Ben.”
Last week’s trip to Spain with Cannondale was the young Osborne’s first time overseas, and the wide-eyed rookie was making the most of it. Though he has a naturally shy disposition, Osborne was going out of his way to meet new people and make friends.
“It's a whole new experience for me,” he said. “This is my first time out of the country. It's a great opportunity for me—a good way to build my skills as a professional.”
For Osborne, the enduro race format is the ultimate showcase of overall riding ability, and is exactly where he wants to be.
“Enduro allows you to spend your whole day on your bike and ride numerous downhill trails as quickly as possible,” he explains. “It shows a well-rounded rider who can hold his lines and still pedal and throw down the hammer when necessary. It’s a true measure of a great all-around mountain biker.
“And it’s basically what most of us do every day as mountain bikers.”
As a rookie on the Cannondale OverMountain team, Osborne still needs to prove himself, so his travel budget is limited, and he will mostly focus on North American races this year.
“My main focus will be the North American enduro tour and the Big Mountain stuff,” Osborne said. “I’ll also do all of the California enduro races, and hopefully three or four Enduro World Series events, depending on budget.
“My goal going into this series is to make a name for myself and get myself introduced to the Enduro World Series. But first I have to prove myself in North America and maybe go for an overall in the North American tour.”