Most professional motocross riders live in Florida or Southern California, where they can train in the warm weather, ride the same tracks together and work out with fitness gurus.
Eli Tomac is not like the others. He trains in Cortez, not far from the Four Corners in southwest Colorado. He has a unique training regimen, his own track and his own workout guru: His dad.
“It’s a pretty unique situation as far as the normal for our sport,” Tomac said. “We still work really well together and it’s worked up until now and I don’t plan on changing it. He has great insight both on and off the bike, which is something you need. I trust his word.”
Tomac’s rise to stardom on a motorcycle has been pushed along by his father’s professional career in another two-wheel sport
The 25-year-old Eli, who grew up Cortez, has staked a claim to becoming motocross’ next big star following the retirements of Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey. Tomac has won half the races he’s entered in Supercross and motocross the past two seasons and became the first rider since Ricky Carmichael in 2005-06 to win consecutive outdoor titles with his championship this summer.
John Tomac is a retired professional cyclist who competed in multiple disciplines. The rider known as Johnny T made his biggest mark on a mountain bike, earning a spot in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame following a 15-year career.
Eli did not follow his father’s tire tracks into mountain bike racing, his affinity being for motorized dirt bikes from a young age instead. John trained other mountain bike racers and when Eli got into motocross bikes, he started building training regimens for his son using some of the same principles.
“One of things I thought about was keeping him motivated when he got a little older, about time he was going to turn pro, which was 17, 18 years old,” John Tomac said. “From that point, basically building him a training program that was based on physical training on the motorcycle and off the motorcycle as well.”
John has taken some of the basic tenets of mountain bike training and applied those to motocross training. Eli’s workload includes plenty of cardio work, including mountain bike riding, but there’s more cross-training due to the demands of riding a motorcycle.
Mountain bikes and motorcycles are similar in that both have two wheels and take body control to race, but motocross bikes are heavier and engine-powered. Motocross also is a sport where there’s much more time in the air off jumps and riding in packs with other riders, so control is paramount. Because of that, motocross riders need a combination of cardio, strength and stamina to be successful.
Eli also has the added benefit of being in Cortez, which is around 6,100 feet, and can get to much higher elevations within an hour for high-elevation training, boosting his cardio even further.
John’s ability to find a balance between cardio, cross-training and riding time on their home track has been a key to Eli becoming arguably the best motocross rider in the world.
“They are different sports, but at the same degree you just have to be the fittest athlete you can be,” Eli said. “He put himself to the test in his day and kind of knew what works and what doesn’t. They’re pretty similar in how much cardio we do. Motocross is a little bit more of a sprint and physical instead of a long endurance, but they cross pretty well.”
A big benefit for Eli is having his own track.
The Tomac family has a 100-acre alfalfa farm and John built a track next to it so Eli could ride. So while other riders may have to go to a public track and ride alongside other riders — risking injury — Eli can hit the dirt anytime he wants, just by walking out of the family home and climbing onto his bike.
“That definitely has benefited Eli to be able to ride at home on a pretty high-quality track as he was growing up,” John Tomac said.
That and having a father/trainer who was a two-wheeled professional athlete himself.