When the successes of his amateur days failed to carry over into his professional career, things became bleak for Zach Osborne. The industry criticized his speed and work ethic, or apparent lack of, and the well of contracts with top-tier teams dried. Many did not realize Osborne was battling an energy sapping illness and the only major team interested in his services was a small group in Europe that offered only a two-ride deal for 2006. Fast-forward to present day, where Osborne is now one of the most praised riders in the small-bore class and has landed a ride with the powerful Geico Honda squad. His first races with the team have not gone to plan, as injuries and crashes have kept him from joining the small pack of leading the 250 West Coast races, but consistent finishes at both A1 and Phoenix have put him fourth overall.
After a few seasons competing in Europe, how does it feel to be back in the United States fulltime and how do you feel your time in Europe went?
It’s going great so far with the team and it is great to be back in the US. I got married at the end of October and it is going really well for me, and I am really happy with everything. Europe went well, considering I went there on a two-race deal and stayed for five years. It is pretty incredible to see how it has all panned out for me and see where I have come in those five years. It definitely saved my career and brought me to a new level not only as a racer, but also as a person.
Last year you competed in the first few Supercross races and around that time people started linking you to the GEICO Honda team for this year. How did your deal with the team come about?
I contacted Mike LaRocco after a few races and then flew out in the middle of February to test the bike and did the letter of intent. I got the contract shortly after, and that was it.
Geico’s bikes are becoming known as the most competitive bike in the 250 class. How does it compare to the works Yamaha you raced in Europe?
Well, my bike in Europe was really good, but I wouldn’t say it was “works.” It was all built with things that most people can purchase, except for the engine. The only thing that was works was the carbon subframe, but if you have enough money, you can buy that as well. The Geico bike has been awesome and the thing I have been most impressed with is the handling. It is really good and huge step up from where I was last year.
You had to miss a few rounds of the GP season, correct?
Yeah, my bike blew up on a jump during preseason testing and I broke my collarbone. I smashed myself up pretty good and it took me out of the first seven GPs.
But when you came back, you were right there…
Sweden was my first race back and I got two fifths, which was okay. My speed was there and I was second in the timed practice. On the trip east to Latvia and Russia, I had two terrible weekends, but after that, I was pretty on point. I had three podiums and I don’t think I finished out of the top-five in the last three GPs.
What was the biggest difference between Europe and America?
As far as racing goes, you don’t really fly a lot, you do more driving and you do the riding and training during traveling instead of flying back to your home base and then back out. In everyday life, it is so different with the pace of things, the food you eat, and the things you drink. It is such a different lifestyle.
When did you get back into the United States?
I raced all the way until the weekend of the des Nations, all the way through September. My season didn’t end until after then, and I came back the fifth of October. I started testing with the new bike on November sixth. It was a pretty quick turnaround.
And you got married in the time between?
Yeah, we got married and went on the honeymoon, so it definitely not a month off, by any means (Laughs).
How did the offseason prep go? Did you stay back east and ride or did you come work with the team immediately?
Right after the honeymoon, I came straight to California to work with the team and get things going for the season. I bought a house here, so I will be half here and half there for the season. The whole team is in California for the first six months.
How has it been to work the entire Geico team?
It has been awesome. They are all super-cool guys and dedicated to work endless hours to make it happen. Working with LaRocco has been a huge benefit because he is so knowledgeable and solid to be around. Everyone on the team works well together and that is part of their huge growth spurt over the last few years. They are all pulling in the same direction, which is to win.
Was the plan to always race the West Coast or did it come together after Justin Bogle was injured?
There was never really a plan. At first, we were talking East Coast, but it came down to it and I was ready and healthy. I felt good about it, so we decided to race because it would be eight more weeks until the East. And there is a lot of riding and a lot of risk to take. I was healthy and ready to roll, so we just let it hang out.
How do you feel the first two rounds went?
They have both been worst-case scenario rounds, but a seventh and a sixth isn’t so bad. They aren’t what I have been looking for, but I went from a crash on the start to seventh at Anaheim One and then my crash in practice at Phoenix to sixth. I didn’t ride the second practice at all and didn’t think I was going to ride, but I salvaged some points and now I am in fourth. I’m nine out of third and 14 out of first. I feel like I have a podium package that can happen at any point, I just need to put it together. I was ready and glad I raced the West Coast, but I need to get it together soon.
When Eli came over on you down the start at Anaheim One and blew your disc guard off, did it damage your brakes at all?
It blew the disc guard off, but it didn’t mess anything up. I went into the first turn and squirreled out on my own before the pile-up. I gained a few spots from that and it put me in 15th. By the end of the race, I was in seventh, but I feel if I had a few more laps, I could have made more passes.
You are taking this week easy to heal your shoulder for Saturday night. Is there a definite break or injury to it, or is it more strained and bruised?
It is a muscle and tendon strain and tear, but it isn’t something that won’t heal itself. It’s not like something I need an operation on, just more like a major “ding.” It should be at 90-percent this weekend and 100-percent before Oakland. From Saturday to now, I have seen improvement, but I feared the worst.
With this weekend, Oakland, Anaheim Three, and San Diego, do you feel that you have a podium or race win in you, or are you taking it how the season comes?
Even this weekend, I feel that I can be on the podium. I still feel like I have a podium package and that I can win if all of my cards are there from the beginning. Before the break, I would like to have four podiums and be there for wins. The goal doesn’t change with the injury I have, because it isn’t something that is major. I just want to put myself on the podium and be in contention for good finishes. I know that I am there and I have the speed to win.