I remember when I first saw him during one my weekly rides. He looked fierce,with the body language of someone who has ridden a bike hard for many miles. Afterwards I couldn’t help it and went to introduce myself. He proceeded with the friendliness of someone I’ve met years ago. He answered every question with a detail and passion, that which is only found in people whom are happy doing what they love; riding a bike.
Former professional cyclist Sergio Hernandez may seem intimating at first glance, swagging out his hair on a ‘Man Bun’, patchy mustache and Aztec profile, but after a few words you’ll get to know a humble, down to earth and very easy-going man.He has been through everything, success, fame and defeat. Easy Endurance sat down with the guy they call “surge” to talk about his journey in bike racing, injuries, doping in professional cycling and living in Puerto Rico.
Sergio was on a bike as soon as he was able to pedal. His brother built a bike for him when he was 9 years old and the rest is rock and roll history. “It was a 20 inch with training wheels that fell off, but I was madmen after that.” That bike became an instrument of self-expression and an escape. You can feel the power of his voice when he says “(it was) an adrenaline rush, a form of expressing myself, riding my bikes makes me feel more empowered.” That feeling made him want to practice more, so much so that friends were always pushing him to try road racing while he worked at a local bike shop where he rode BMX . It was back then when he watched his first cycling race and was hooked, the idea of guys crashing all over the course fascinated him.
Without the support of his family and a lot on his mind, Hernandez made up his mind and lease a bike from the shop’s owner, that’s when the real Sergio was born. With split parents, a mom that focused more on his sisters – which gave him lot of freedom at such a young age – Sergio started riding his bike to success. He had a dream, he wanted to become good but not everything was peaches n crème. At the time, Sergio admits to being a party animal, making bad choices and having the wrong people around him. When he realized how much he liked the attention he received and the motivation he could provide as a cyclist, it sent himself into a relentless pursuit of improvement. When priorities changed, his friends started drifting away, the calls stopped, many of them ended-up in a jail cell, he recalls.
Sergio found his north and started winning races. His acolytes earned him professional cycling contracts at the continental level with teams such as Rock Racing, Jelly Belly and Incycle predator. One of Hernandez’s more cherished moments came in 2011 when he was selected to race at the Amgen Tour of California. “Riding, racing the tour of California on home turf in California, I had a lot of pride in that.” The races on his palmares are equally impressive, including the Tour of Colorado and stops in New Zealand, China, Mexico, Puerto Rico, USA, Colombia, Dominican Republic and South Korea. “One of my biggest regrets is never getting to race in Europe” Sergio added. But don’t take him wrong. Sergio spent some quality time training in Spain alongside accomplished peers such as David Millar, George Hincapie and Michael Barry. Soaking in the lifestyle in one of the worlds cycling’s mecca’s.
From 2007-2015 “Surge” was very successful and scored significant results in all major domestic and international races he entered. You can see his results HERE.
I always wonder what it’s like to be in the big scenario, to race the top guys in the UCI, is it frightening even for continental PRO’s like Sergio? “Basically I’m not the big dog in the peloton anymore. The energy of the person next to you is huge, you know he is a monster, the confidence needs to be higher, we are closer but the respect is bigger. There is so much confidence in the person next to you. Sprinting is dangerous but it’s even worst at the domestic level.”
Some of those BIG guys were Sergio’s best friends and teammates. They were later related to one of the biggest doping scandals in the history of professional sports; Operation Puerto in 2006. Oscar Sevilla, Francisco Mancebo and Tyler Hamilton amongst others were accused and later pleaded guilty of using performance enhancing drugs. This network of blood enhancement and steroids usages was directed by spanish Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. The scandal also included other personalities in sporst like football and tennis. When asked about the topic, the 31-year-old lean figured Hernandez responded with brutal honesty and a sincerity:
“IF YOU BELIEVE LANCE IS, WAS CLEAN AND HE’S A GOOD GUY YOU’RE PROBABLY GONNA VOTE FOR TRUMP”
“Maybe this is why I didn’t make it but I get affected by negative things really easy, so maybe it was a coping mechanism but I KIND OF IGNORED THAT WHOLE THING, I wouldn’t worry about dopers, I was very happy with my level. Never put much attention on the topic, never made it an excuse, they used to have one meeting with me and then ‘another’ meeting without me. They did what they needed to do. It’s something to me which I don’t try to get too attached mentally with, I have a guilty conscience and if I want to cross the finish line first I want to feel it. I want to scream, I want to laugh, I want to feel all the emotion. The Sergio you see in a bike race is the real Sergio, I race the same whether I’m fit or not, I never feel a need to dope.”
“If I can’t take my Flintstones pill at the same time everyday, I have no business cheating”
For cyclist and athletes in general “injuries” is one of those factors that can make or destroy your career. For Sergio it wasn’t different, you could feel his voice stumbling as I addressed the topic: “that’s a hard topic to talk about”.
Sergio is clearly overwhelmed with the topic because he always crashed when he was the most in shape. In 2014 he raced very well at La Vuelta Independencia Nacional in the Dominican republic and placed in the podium at almost every domestic race he entered that year, before crashing and breaking his collarbone. He stayed focused and embraced the 5 week recovery process diligently before his next race where he ‘SKID’ his back wheel, causing his tubular tire to roll-off the rim and sending him over the handlebars onto another broken collarbone. Not only is it bad luck but some blame also goes to the team’s mechanic (whom he accuses of irresponsibility, including gluing tubulars with contact cement from Wal-Mart) which cost him their friendship, this being the foundation of an angry retirement. After his rebel phase a few months later he decided to give it one more try on a borrowed bike. As he started gaining fitness he got crossed by a car during a training ride. Trying to protect someone else’s bike, he clipped the brakes causing him to crash again. The game was over, Sergio was done and dusted with cycling.
With injuries and problems things started to go downhill for the Los Angeles native. He admits he needed to check out of the cycling scene after one of his biggest friend and team manager let him down. At the same time he was dealing with a lot of personal events, he was struggling to resume his pro career and needed to recharge his batteries. The opportunity came when a teammate offered him a job at his bike shop in Puerto Rico, which he did. “It was a f*** it moment! I just said let’s do it!”
While in Puerto Rico Hernandez immediately impacted the racing scene and was adopted quickly by the local cycling community. He has always been an aggresive rider, even out of shape and with a lazy training regimen – that looked more like an excuse to kill some free time – he won races. This is a guy who is used to racing many of the best athletes in the world, on some of the toughest courses.
“I’ve really come to love, and I feel part of the puerto Rican culture and the people here”
About racing in the island he reflects: “there is a lot of passion for the season…these guys deserve more. I’ve seen the potential and the passion that all the Puerto Ricans have and it can be use in a positive progressive way…I see people with money here, there is a lot of enthusiasm just being thrown to the recreational side of it, that can help individual riders with potential…When I was getting good, I would go to group rides and announce my plans, I would come back with f***ing stacks of money, emails, phone calls, My Space. I got to my level, doing those sacrifices and asking for help!”
“Puerto Rico should have more pride, tienen la misma sangre, el mismo cuero que todos los demás, there is not reason why Puerto Rico can’t have a guy in the Tour De France”
I asked Sergio’s advice for young children and athletes who want to make it deep into the sport. His reply was composed on a canvas of raw reality but a profound desire to see them achieve it:
“Make your dream a reality but be prepared to take the good with the bad. Be prepared to have some really hard times, but if you really want to accomplish it you got to fight through hard times, it’s all mentality, how you take a setback and the exciting parts come with going through the journey. Appreciate and be aware of your successes…where you come from and the people who helped you get there. Appreciate the good times, work through the hard times, stick to the people that you trust, you can’t do it on your own. Learn what you can from somebody, say thanks, appreciate it and move on, use them!”
This speech seems to be in sync with one of cycling’s biggest misconception, which Sergio knows well;
“It’s a lot harder than you think probably more mentally than physically. Cycling looks fun and easy on TV, and feel like you can do it to, but it’s a huge sacrifice. (People think) he continues: “That you become a pro and you’re gonna be rich forever, a celebrity, but those pro guys are 5% of the cyclist in the world. Many start and then realize how much sacrifice it really takes…. If you’re in the pro tour, you deserve it and you earned it.”
During this conversation I got the feeling that he is not done with the sport yet. I see the fire in his eyes. His legs still have fuel in them, he just needs something or someone to fire them up:
“(it will take) Everything, Passion, Desire. It will come back, if I let it, every time I try to leave something gets presented to me.” “I can still do it, si verdaderamente yo quiero lo voy a hacer! I have to re-invent myself and I have to be real, realistic…Am I capable of being in the world tour? is that my level? Yes, absolutely. I don’t think too highly of myself, I don’t give myself too much credit, but when a fact is a fact, I embrace it”
Prior to this interview, I told Sergio during a training ride: “It comes a time in real life where we need to re-invent ourselves!” now he reminds me and realizes that he has reached that point. “Cycling is not helping anybody, it helps your ego, it’s fun, you’re getting something out of it and I understand it can motivate people, you can use your power to help the world and influence, but at the same time I feel like it doesn’t help society being a cyclist when I can make something different to make a difference”.