Chris Case – Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Wed, 17 Jan 2018 17:49:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Chris Case – 32 32 Diagnosis: How many base miles do you really need? Tue, 02 Jan 2018 18:59:19 +0000 A young rider is looking to go professional, but he struggles with finding the right amount of zone 2 base training in the off-season.

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Editor’s Note: “Diagnosis” is a monthly column found in the print issue of  VeloNews. It is a collaboration between the editors of VeloNews and the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center. The anecdotes found in “Diagnosis” come from actual patients, and the names of these patients have been changed. 

A 25-year-old Cat. 1 cyclist — we’ll call him Max — visited the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center in November 2015 in preparation for the 2016 season. The previous year he won one race, placed on the
podium twice, and had 20 top-10 finishes.

Max had been self-coached for several years but did not have a well-structured training program. Desiring more structure, he began working with a coach. He also aspired to turn professional.


Max performed a physiological test with the center’s director of sports performance, Iñigo San Millán. His maximal power output at the conclusion of their test protocol was 330 watts and 4.7 W/kg. His metabolic parameters suggested he had much room for improvement in his aerobic base, fat-burning capacity, and lactate-clearance capacity.

San Millán advised Max and his coach to develop a solid aerobic base with a large amount of Z2 training (~60-65 percent of his total training volume per week) during the winter, while including no more than five percent of higher intensity intervals. During the season he could dip into Z2 intensities at least twice a week for a total of ~20-25 percent of his volume.

Both Max and his coach believed the amount of advised training at Z2 was too much and the amount of high intensity was too little. Therefore, Max didn’t do much Z2 training (~20-25 percent), and increased high intensity to ~35-40 percent during the pre-season. Once the season began, Z2 accounted for only five percent of total training time.

In August 2016, Max returned to the Performance Center for another evaluation; he had been underperforming throughout the season.

San Millán observed that his physiological and metabolic response had deteriorated slightly compared to the off-season when they should have improved significantly. His maximal power output dropped to 320 Watts and 4.5 W/kg. His lactate clearance capacity had become slightly worse, and his fat utilization (oxidation) had also slightly deteriorated.

After evaluating his training regime, it became clear he hadn’t dedicated enough time to building a proper “aerobic base,” which would explain the poor results and drop in form.


San Millán educated Max and his coach on several key, complex concepts of the physiological and metabolic adaptations of aerobic base training.

First, an increase in base training volume improves mitochondrial size and function. This adaptation affects oxidative enzymes, which increase fat-oxidation capacity.

Second, aerobic training improves lactate-clearance capacity. As exercise intensity increases, glucose utilization increases, since fat cannot synthesize the energy one needs fast enough at higher intensities. The result of increased glucose utilization is an increase in lactate, as a byproduct. (Lactate is one of the best fuels, in fact, and should not be thought of as a waste product.) With lactate accumulation comes an accumulation of hydrogen ions associated with lactate production. These ions interfere with muscle contraction through different mechanisms and significantly decrease the force and velocity of muscle contraction and, therefore, power output. “[Max] felt empowered by these concepts, and changed his training regime for the next season,” San Millán says. Max also hired a new coach with a better understanding of physiology. Together they followed San Millán’s recommendations and developed a solid aerobic base that winter.


Max’s transformation was outstanding. During the 2017 season, he won eight races, placed on the podium nine times, and had 21 top-10 finishes. In August 2017 San Millán performed another physiological test. He documented a significant improvement in Max’s physiological and metabolic parameters. His maximal power output increased to 370 Watts and 5.4 W/ kg. His weight decreased from 70 to 68 kilograms. Both his lactate-clearance capacity as well as his fat-burning capacity improved significantly.

For example, at an intensity of 4 W/kg in 2016 his lactate was 5.6 mmol/L, slightly above his so-called lactate threshold. In 2017, at the same intensity, his lactate was 2.1 mmol/L, which is slightly above what San Millán calls “resting levels.” Previously, he was not burning any fat; now he was burning plenty. Fat can only be “burned” in mitochondria, so the observed increase in Max’s fat-oxidation capacity corroborates an increase in mitochondrial function as a result of increased Z2 training.

“This significant improvement in metabolic efficiency was key to allow him to ‘travel’ through the competition with a much lower metabolic effort, and therefore save lots of energy for the last part of the competition, since he was able to burn a lot more fat,” San Millán says.

Max’s successful season helped him obtain his first professional contract.

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Explainer: Salbutamol, asthma, and what comes next for Froome Tue, 19 Dec 2017 17:40:33 +0000 Asthma expert Dr. John Dickinson explains Salbutamol, exercise-induced asthma, and how Froome will try to prove his innocence.

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When it was revealed that Chris Froome had returned an adverse analytical finding at the Vuelta a España, exceeding the limit for asthma drug Salbutamol, it set off a wave of alarm through the cycling world. Was he cheating? Was he not? How can an elite athlete have asthma? Can he prove his innocence?

VeloNews reached out to Dr. John Dickinson, a leading expert on asthma in sport and head of the respiratory clinic at the University of Kent’s School of Sport and Exercise Science for help in understanding the science of exercise-induced asthma (EIA). In 2014, Dickinson led a study that revealed more than 70 percent of Britain’s top swimmers and nearly one-third of Team Sky riders were afflicted by EIA. Furthermore, the British physician has objectively tested Froome and confirms the four-time Tour de France champion has asthma. Due to doctor/patient confidentiality, he is not able to divulge how severe Froome’s asthma is.

Let’s turn to the science.

What is exercise-induced asthma?

In exercise-induced asthma (EIA), rapid and heavy breathing causes the same symptoms as asthma, in which a person’s airways become inflamed, narrow, and swollen, producing extra mucus, making it difficult to breathe.

The effect can be exacerbated by atmospheric conditions, particularly cold, dry air. It is thought that because elite athletes are pushing themselves to their limits, they tend to use lung capacities that normal people never use.

Dickinson said that it probably isn’t fair to call those with EIA full-blown asthmatics.

“It basically means they have an asthma response to doing high-intensity exercise,” Dickinson said. “It’s not necessarily the exercise that’s the problem, but rather the volume of air that they breathe and the amount of time that they stay at that level.”

He explained that most of the air elite cyclists breathe travels through their mouth rather than their nose, meaning the lungs are having to constantly condition the air by warming and humidifying it in the lower airways with every breath. Typically the nose would do that. This high air volume drives an inflammatory response. Some athletes are more sensitive than others and will develop extreme muscle constriction around their airwaves.

“That’s asthma, in a nutshell. EIA is a form of asthma, but it is possible that it might be the only form of asthma that an elite athlete has,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson and his research team are focused on trying to objectively test for asthma in athletes. First, they measure baseline lung function when an athlete is breathing as hard and as fast as possible to determine how open the airways are (or not). To test this (known as FEV1), doctors measure the volume of air that a subject can exhale in one second. This determines a baseline level of performance. Next comes something called a eucapnic voluntary hyperpnoea challenge, which replicates breathing rates during a hard effort for six minutes. Finally, lung function is measured again, at three, five, 10, and 15 minutes after performing the challenge. If FEV1 drops by 10 percent or more at two of those time points, an athlete can be diagnosed with some form of EIA.

“What that means in terms of exercise detriment, we don’t know,” Dickinson said. “There’s very little research that has looked at the impact of EIA on performance.”

What does Salbutamol do?

Salbutamol is the most common form of so-called bronchodilator drugs. In someone with EIA, it is used to prevent asthma symptoms and bring that athlete back to a baseline level of lung function.

“When someone takes Salbutamol, it won’t give them super-lungs, but rather maintain function as if they didn’t have asthma,” Dickinson said.

For a WorldTour cyclist, WADA permits Salbutamol to be taken through inhalation only, in limited amounts. Through an inhaler, athletes with asthma can take up to 1,600 micrograms every 24 hours but cannot exceed 800 micrograms within 12 hours. The permitted concentration of Salbutamol allowed in a urine sample cannot exceed 1,000 nanograms per milliliter. (The sample in question, given by Froome at the Vuelta, contained 2,000 nanograms per milliliter.)

How does an athlete secure a TUE to use Salbutamol or other treatments for asthma?

According to WADA’s TUE physician guidelines for asthma, it is recommended that all athletes who may be prescribed asthma medications seek a clear diagnosis from a respiratory specialist. They should also undergo the appropriate tests to optimize management and to exclude other possible diagnoses. This is mandatory if a TUE is being sought to prescribe a systemic glucocorticoid (GC) in-competition or a prohibited inhaled beta-2 agonist (such as Salbutamol) in- and out-of-competition.

The medical file required to support an application for an asthma TUE must include the following details:

– A complete medical history as described and clinical examination with specific focus on the respiratory system;

– A spirometry report with flow volume curve;

– If airway obstruction is present, the spirometry will be repeated after inhalation of a short-acting beta-2 agonist to demonstrate the reversibility of bronchoconstriction;

– In the absence of reversible airway obstruction, a bronchial provocation test is required to establish the presence of airway hyperresponsiveness;

– Exact name, speciality and contact details of examining physician;

– If the athlete reapplies for a TUE that has expired, the application should include the documents that confirm the initial diagnosis as well as the reports and pulmonary function tests from regular asthma follow-up visit.

What happens in the case of an adverse analytical finding?

The presence of Salbutamol in the urine in excess of 1,000 ng/mL is presumed not to be a therapeutic use of the substance and will be considered an adverse analytical finding. The athlete would then need to document the details of his/her medical condition and medication use. The athlete may then be required to prove, by a controlled pharmacokinetic study (see below), that the abnormal test result was the consequence of the use of a therapeutic dose of inhaled salbutamol.

In this particular case, according to Dickinson, Froome and Team Sky will collect evidence from the team doctor and others to try and demonstrate what he did on the day he returned the adverse finding. This would include details on his hydration status and the amount of salbutamol he presumably inhaled.

Research indicates that intense effort, fatigue, and dehydration can affect urine concentrations of Salbutamol in doping tests. Everyone excretes and metabolizes Salbutamol in different ways. Some individuals may have a greater metabolism and excretion rate that may cause the Salbutamol concentration to be increased.

Interestingly, WADA does not correct for an athlete’s state of hydration when measuring for a concentration of a substance. However, an athlete’s hydration status can be determined from the initial urine sample, which could inform the conditions that would need to be recreated during the pharmacokinetic test.

What is involved in a pharmacokinetic study?

WADA lays out exactly what is involved for a controlled pharmacokinetic study as follows:

  1. The study shall be conducted in a controlled setting allowing a strict and independent supervision of the drug administration (route, dose, frequency, etc.) and sample collection (matrix, volume, frequency) protocol.
  2. A wash-out period should be established in order to collect baseline urine or blood samples just prior to the administration of the drug, i.e. the athlete should not be taking the medication before the test. Necessity of the drug for health reasons as well as the known pharmacokinetics of the product will need to be taken into account, if necessary.
  3. Collection of urine samples shall occur whenever that athlete wishes to deliver samples but no less than every two hours during the monitoring period. Sampling periods should be adjusted to the known pharmacokinetic of the product (e.g. every 30 min. or night collections might be considered, if justified).
  4. The athlete shall take the drug in accordance with the treatment course (dose, frequency, route of administration) declared in the doping control form or, alternatively, following the therapeutic regime indicated on a granted TUE, if any. The administered dose shall never exceed the maximal dose/frequency recommended by the drug manufacturer or a safe level prescribed by the athlete’s physician.
  5. The samples shall be analyzed in a WADA accredited laboratory with the validated relevant anti-doping method. Correction for specific gravity shall be applied in accordance with the provisions of the International Standard for Laboratories and related Technical Documents.
  6. The WADA accredited laboratory will issue a comprehensive report indicating the results of the analyses and interpretation, if needed. If deemed necessary, review of the results by an independent expert can be sought by the Testing Authority.

“If he were able to recreate the findings on the day in a study setting, there’s a chance he wouldn’t receive a doping violation,” Dickinson said. “But it can be quite difficult to demonstrate that that is what happened.”

Furthermore, there could have been other issues that on the day exacerbated the problem — a chest infection, for example — that would be extremely difficult to reproduce for the study.

“It’s a bit of a risk, really,” Dickinson said. “Because if he can’t reproduce what he’s hoping to reproduce, there’s not much to back up his story, really. It weakens his evidence and his story quite substantially.”

Could Froome have taken an oral dose of salbutamol?

From limited research, it has been shown that an oral dose of salbutamol may produce gains in strength and power, not endurance. It does this by improving the efficiency of muscle contractions.

“If we’re speculating, it doesn’t necessarily scream out why he would choose to take an oral dose of this,” Dickinson said.

Secondly, WADA can actually differentiate between an oral and inhaled dose of salbutamol through analyzing metabolites in the urine sample.

So, in Dr. Dickinson’s opinion, what is the most plausible explanation for what happened?

“In a best-case scenario — and I always like to think in those terms — a lot of this could be put down to a mismanagement of the [EIA],” Dickinson said.

“Now, if you’re symptomatic with asthma, asthma is a dangerous condition. We want asthmatics, at the first sign of symptoms, to take their inhaler — that should help improve the symptoms. And if it doesn’t improve the symptoms, take it again.

“In an elite athlete, you want them to follow that protocol because you don’t want them to have a catastrophic event. Now, if that’s happened on day one, there are certain things that could be put in place for day two that could involve improving the level of preventative therapy. For example, he could have taken more of an inhaled corticosteroid, or a longer-acting beta-2 agonist. That would have meant the use of Salbutamol would have been reduced on the second day, and reduced the risk or providing this adverse analytical.

“The last thing to consider is, if his asthma is that bad and he keeps having to use that level of Salbutamol, then you’ve got to look at it from a health point of view and go, ‘Actually, are we endangering this athlete’s health by allowing him to compete if he’s continuing at that level of Salbutamol.’ That is, is there a point at which the team physician needs to step in and say, ‘Look, your asthma is not under control for the last three days, that’s not healthy. Maybe we need to withdraw you from the race.’

“If you’re an elite athlete, that’s probably not what you want to hear. And if you’re a doctor, that’s an awful big call to be making when your star rider is in the leader’s jersey.

“The situation with Bradley Wiggins last year doesn’t help. Because the next step after inhalers is to get a TUE to use a stronger form of medication, like an oral corticosteroid. But because of all the issues that came up with Wiggins last year, there could potentially have been some hesitation to go down that road as well.

“All of that leads me to believe this is a case of a mismanagement of an athlete with asthma.”

Listen to our discussion of the Froome case on the VeloNews podcast:

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Q&A: Kristin Armstrong helps Team USA toward gold in Tokyo 2020 Tue, 19 Dec 2017 14:05:35 +0000 The three-time time trial Olympic gold medalist chatted with VeloNews about her new director role at USA Cycling.

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Three-time time trial Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong has taken on a new role as Endurance Performance Director at USA Cycling. Along with several other performance directors, including the recently retired Greg Henderson, she will work with some of America’s best cyclists to achieve the team’s goal to garner seven gold medals in Tokyo set out by USA Cycling CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall.

VeloNews caught up with Armstrong, 44, during USA Cycling’s National Team launch in Colorado Springs to better understand her new role and how one of America’s greatest cycling Olympians plans to use her expertise to help younger talents win medals.

VeloNews: What do you bring to your new position as Endurance Performance Director at USA Cycling?

Kristin Armstrong: On one of my teams, they used to call me “Type Triple A” — not just type A. [laughs] One of my strengths is that I’m all about accountability. In this National Team program, we give a lot to the athletes, and they are in turn accountable for giving something back to USA Cycling.

One of the most crucial elements of this is the Athlete Development Plans. Now that I’m 40, I’ve been to four Olympic Games, I can look back and ask myself, “How did I make it to the podium?” And it was all because I had a plan. I had a plan! It wasn’t that I showed up to a race and I happened to have a good result, and then I hoped I’d get noticed, and then I hoped that a selection committee would choose me. My plan was deeper than that. My plan was, “What’s the course? How am I going to have the lightest bike out of all my competitors? Oh, by the way, what’s our criteria?” Because I wouldn’t even make my race schedule until I knew that criteria when it’s posted 18 months before the Games.

I know this is a cliché, but, “An athlete doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.” So if they don’t know that they have to look at criteria, why would they look at criteria? They might not even know where to find it. So what I want to do at USA Cycling is make all of my athletes as knowledgeable as possible. I want to teach athletes to take ownership and control over their own destiny. I’m really hoping to help athletes set a plan. That’s number one. Establish priorities. Help them get to the wind tunnel if they need it, sure, but first understand if they’re on the best equipment, if they’ve had a good bike fit, and so on. Build a method for the progression.

VN: How have you taken to this new role?

KA: It’s been a lot more of a natural progression than I had imagined. Sometimes when you retire from sport and you’re transitioning from athlete to coach — and maybe it’s because I’ve retired a couple of times — I’m not having a difficult transition this time around. Sometimes people retire and you don’t hear from them for years because they need time to decompress. I feel like I had those times already. I never knew what closure was, and that’s why I came back.

This time around, I fully know what closure is. When I see women do a test in a lab or I’m helping a woman and they tell me their goals are to win an Olympic gold medal, in the past it would be like, “It’s not your turn to do that, that’s my gold medal to win again, right?” In the individual time trial I was very possessive of that. It would have been really hard for me to see somebody win a gold medal for America just a couple years ago. Now, a year and a half after Rio, I know I felt that way because I didn’t have closure until then. I know I’m done now.

I know I have closure because now I’m just throwing out my knowledge. Never before have I been like, “Here, here’s everything I’ve done.” I always have a vision every four years. The vision I have now is there’s nothing that could be better for myself — and it would just build on the legacy that I want — if I were to go to Tokyo and help a national team member on their journey and have them win a gold medal. I would just be elated.

VN: What other strengths do you bring to this job?

KA: Time trial knowledge. I am such a geek. My husband is such a geek. He’s an engineer. The testing we’ve done on tires, wheels, and so on. We just love to make bikes go faster. I went to Bergen worlds just to observe, and I walked around in awe. There are so many areas where people could be improving — low-hanging fruit. So I’m really looking forward to helping our current time trialists improve.

And I’m also really excited about, “How are we going to find our next time trialist?” We’ve had a real long run of given potential medalists. It’s just been this constant. And now we have Chloé [Dygert]. And we have other great time trialists too. But we need to identify people for beyond Tokyo.

I’m also intrigued by the fact that when women and men become time trialists, typically they hop into road cycling and maybe do a TT and go, “Oh, huh, I did this time trial and I’m pretty good at it.” Then they race a full road schedule, maybe do a half-dozen time trials throughout the season within stage races, and then hope to do well at worlds.

I’m intrigued by looking at it in a different way. When was the last time we had an athlete say, “I’m a time trialist — first.” I think there’s something to be said for that full focus, because I think we have a lot of women and men who are on the cusp of being really good. But in order to be your best, you’re going to have to back out on some of the road obligations. The road is really important for your time trial fitness, but when do you work on all the other aspects of the TT when you’re on the road that much?

VN: What is important about this new National Team program?

KA: I was in the sport for 14 years, from 2002 to 2016, with a couple retirements in there. What USA Cycling has brought to this program is all of the services that I, as an individual athlete, was managing on my own. None of it was managed by USA Cycling prior to right now. The riders have a chamber here where they can go to sea level, go to altitude, make it humid, make it hot. For my heat training, I was going to hot yoga classes, wearing extra clothing. I’ve chosen to lean in and support this awesome effort, and lend my expertise and help close the gaps for some of these athletes. Here I have a lot of confidence and I’m bringing a skillset that is very valuable. I can really change someone’s life, and if I only change one person’s life in Tokyo, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

Watch a video of the U.S. team training in the altitude chamber >>

VN: How has it been working with former rivals?

KA: I started September 1 and soon after went to Bergen worlds. I was on the other side, and the athletes were looking at me like, “Oh!” But barriers came down between athletes who we’d previously been competitive with one another. It was interesting sitting down with Amber Neben and going over the course with her. What a different role that is [laughs]. I appreciate the fact that athletes like her, who have been around for a long time, are accepting me in this position and opening their arms and saying they want to learn what I have to offer.

VN: What will be your greatest challenge in this role?

KA: If someone told me your goal is to win a medal, OK, I can do that. I’m controlling myself. Now my challenge is that we have this goal to win seven medals across four disciplines, and I have to help somebody else, that I’m not in control of, win a medal. “How am I going to do that? It’s not my body!” That’s the challenge that I’ve set out for myself. I operate by having that inner challenge. And so I broke it down and made certain that I can work with an athlete’s coach or team or both, in helping them design their development plan. I’ve learned in life — and it took me 40 years — that if you have continuous communication with athletes and coaches, then you’re going to succeed together.

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Diagnosis: Relieving that pressure Thu, 30 Nov 2017 13:32:43 +0000 We examine the case of a rider who struggled with hand numbness, shoulder tightness, and occasional arm numbness.

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A male recreational cyclist in his mid-50s — we’ll call him Billy — was gearing up for a long charity ride over beautiful mountain terrain. He arrived at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center complaining of hand numbness, shoulder tightness, which sometimes led to arm numbness, and soreness occurring across multiple saddle options.

He had undergone multiple knee surgeries on both knees, including meniscus and patella repair. His ankle had also been repaired, resulting in a loss of range of motion.

The center’s cycling biomechanist, Charles Van Atta, worked with Billy to adjust his position in an effort to alleviate each of the issues.


Using the Specialized Body Geometry saddle fit system (casually known as the Ass-O-Meter), in which a patient sits with knees elevated on a memory foam pad, Van Atta discovered that Billy had wider than average sit bones (ischial tuberosities) for a male. His existing saddle was also wider than average. Billy did not exhibit a difference in leg length, and his pelvic shift was only mild. Billy’s hamstrings and hips were somewhat tight. He exhibited mild “scapular winging,” indicating there was room for shoulder strengthening. He also had mildly limited range of motion in his neck.

Van Atta mapped the saddle’s pressure points using the Gebiomized system. Using this method, a sensor pad is wrapped around the saddle and the rider is brought up to a moderate workload (either in the lab or on the road). A live version of the mapping captures data, and then a recording is replayed to determine pressure relief and any rhythmic weighting and unweighting of each side. Areas that do not see pressure relief are at risk for ischemia and saddle sores. A static version of the mapping illustrates any centers of pressure, indicating how a rider is transferring pressure from side to side. For example, riders stuck on the nose of the saddle will see very minimal weight shifts. Unstable hips can produce very large and/or random tracings.

In Billy, the test determined that he experienced left-sided pressure on the ischial tuberosity extending toward the pubic rami, a thin, flat portion of the pelvis bone.


Van Atta used the Retül system to acquire Billy’s biomechanical data and adjust his fit accordingly. “It is very important to us that we balance the influence of data with the knowledge we have acquired in the evaluation of the subject, and our assessment of their behavior on the bike through the filter of years of experience,” says Van Atta, who has conducted fittings for 15 years.

At the Performance Center, a smart trainer is used to deliver a subjectively moderate load during data capture, and is held consistent before and after positional changes are made.

“Attempting to adjust fit specifically based on power output can be a bit dubious, since you would need to control for heart rate and fatigue level, and would not have allowed any time for adaptation to occur on the altered position,” Van Atta cautions.

Billy habitually kept his heel low and was accustomed to riding a relatively high saddle height, producing eight to 12 degrees of knee overextension. In the interest of protecting his knees from excessive pressure, or making the pedaling feel unfamiliar, Van Atta lowered the saddle 34 millimeters to the point where his knee was only two degrees overextended with the heels still low.

“We are often balancing multiple priorities in our fits, such as his knee history and his concerns about saddle pressure,” Van Atta says.

Other specific changes included swapping Billy from a wide comfort saddle to a moderately padded medium-width women’s saddle, shortening his stem by 10 millimeters, and increasing its angle from +6 to +30 degrees. This raised his handlebars 20 millimeters and decreased reach by 30 millimeters.


Billy’s torso was now more upright by four degrees. His saddle pressure distribution went from a pattern of near full left-sided support throughout the pedal stroke to a significantly more balanced pressure transfer during pedaling.

Though his peak pressures increased slightly, the loaded area changed from the pubic rami to his ischial tuberosities, structures that are more tolerant of loading.

Billy’s posture also improved from a slightly forward flexed position to a more aligned spinal posture, which reduced pressure on the hands.

Billy left the session feeling immediately more comfortable on the bike.

“Diagnosis” is a collaboration between VeloNews and the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center. Subscribe to VeloNews >>

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Q&A: Jeremy Powers coping with heart issues that sidetracked CX season Mon, 20 Nov 2017 20:13:43 +0000 Former U.S. 'cross champ Jeremy Powers opens up about the ongoing heart issues that have dogged him all season in 2017.

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In early November, Jeremy Powers, 34, let the world know, via Facebook, that he had been experiencing some issues with his heart. Since that time he has posted further updates about his condition. As the author of “The Haywire Heart,” a critically important guide to heart care for athletes and the first book to delve into the relationship between long-term endurance athletics and heart health, I was particularly intrigued to learn more about his condition and prognosis. Here are excerpts from that interview.

VeloNewsJeremy, take us back to when this all started.

Jeremy Powers: I remember the first time I had a palpitation very well because it freaked me out. It was at the USGP in 2007 [the first USGP event Powers ever won -Ed.], and I was coming around this corner when I felt a jolt in my chest that made me go, ‘Oooooh, okay, okay.’ That was the first time I noticed something with my heart. And I had palpitations for a long time after that, that I had looked at many, many times, including with Holter monitors and things to make sure there wasn’t anything significant or dangerous going on. Most of this, after about 2010 or 2011, was at Mass General Hospital with Dr. Aaron Baggish. They’ve worked with a lot of cyclists and are the place to go in this area of the country.

This spring I was getting these run-ons: I was doing base training, and doing a lot of climbing at about 150bpm, and then suddenly it was at 200bpm. The first time it happened, I thought I had a panic attack. I had never had a panic attack before, but I came home and I looked up what that was. I remember it well: I was laying in the yard beside this guy’s house and he had the Confederate flag blowing there. And I remember thinking to myself, ‘Okay, this is how it ends!’ [laughs] I was out in the middle of nowhere, this flag is blowing in the wind, and I’m just laying there freaking out. I couldn’t get my heart rate to go down. It probably lasted five or six minutes like that.

I was pretty spun from that. I stopped doing big loops away from the house and instead did micro loops to see if I could get it to happen again around the house. It would kind of happen and I’d back off, and then again and I’d back off. I didn’t really think much of it. I just assumed it was about stress because I was about to become a father. ‘Maybe I’m going through this and it’s all just anxiety.’ I went to the doctors, they offered some solutions, but I didn’t want to take them up on them — they offered me ‘chill pills’ essentially. They thought for sure it was anxiety related. I started meditating instead. We didn’t even talk about the heart stuff.

[Coincidentally, as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, female heart patients in their 50s and younger are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed than our male counterparts. -Ed.]

It’s not a revelation to say that I’m a pretty high-strung, type A personality. But I think I’m also well-balanced and have gotten a lot better at that. I’m a big proponent of people that do have anxiety, consider therapy. I immediately went to therapy. ‘I’m dealing with this, this sucks, and I don’t like what’s happening here so I’m getting help.’

VN: This season has been up and down, and you’ve been dealing with more issues.

JP: After doing a number of things to fix some gut issues I was having, I felt a lot better. I didn’t have any palpitations basically after that until this September at Rochester. I went really deep. During that race, I had another run-on, and I just faded to the back of the group. I just thought it was a fluke thing because it had never happened to me in a race. I just assumed it was stress; I had not thought it was a heart-related thing in any way until this race when it lasted about a minute. But I had been reading up on some of this stuff and I remembered reading about this maneuver where you bear down like you’re going to go to the bathroom. [The Valsalva maneuver is performed by moderately forceful attempted exhalation against a closed airway, usually done by closing one’s mouth, pinching one’s nose shut while pressing out as if blowing up a balloon. – Ed.] I did this in the race as hard as I could, and it went away. I ended up sprinting for third, but even after the race, I couldn’t get my heart rate down. I obviously went really deep, but I said, ‘ God, I almost died in that race!’ My heart rate was over 220bpm. It was insane.

It happened again but in a slightly different way at the Friday night race in Iowa before the World Cup. It happened again in Baltimore on the first day [where he finished second in a sprint -Ed.], and by this point, I was wearing my heart rate monitor all the time so I was able to capture it. I did the [Vaslsalva] maneuver again during the race, it went away, and I just kept on, I didn’t stop. I sent the data to my doctor. He said it looks like low-risk supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) and would be surprised if it was anything else. That’s based off my history, the data from the Holter monitors, and so on. What’s interesting is that my heart rate will be at 178bpm, then it goes to 213 and stays there for the duration of SVT, and then it drops back directly to 178bpm.

It happened again at the Pan Am Championships in Louisville. I think the one constant about all of these incidents at Rochester, Baltimore, and Pan Ams, is that the races took place in 70-degree weather, or much warmer. Another thing that could be triggering these episodes is that when I hit the ground with my foot when mounting or something, that can start them. From other cyclists I’ve spoken with, that is something that triggers things for them too. Maybe they hit a walnut in a corner and had to put their foot down, and that is enough to provoke the SVT.

In Louisville, I actually smacked my face really hard to try and make it go away. My doctor says that was the wrong thing to do because it produces more adrenaline and can make it worse. If I had stopped and done a handstand, that would have been an appropriate thing to have done.

At this point, since this had never really happened to me at this level at this intensity in a race, I could only, unfortunately, go toward ‘what ifs.’ That’s the worst place to go. I stopped in the pit with my mechanic.

VN: You recently went through another battery of tests. What did you find?

JP: I’ve had an echocardiogram and a stress test done every year there, and all of those things show no change this time compared to what has been seen before. My echo from five years ago is identical. During my stress test, I went so deep, just to try and mimic a cyclocross race, for an hour. I’ve never done that much of an effort in my life on a trainer. I almost vomited. And nothing happened. During the test, I even got off my bike and jumped up and down and started stomping on the ground. I just couldn’t get it to do it. Which was actually nice for me, to have that confidence that it may or may not happen to me.

Basically, it came down to the fact that I can either ablate or not ablate.

[Catheter ablation is a minimally-invasive procedure used to remove or terminate a faulty electrical pathway from sections of the hearts of those who are prone to developing cardiac arrhythmias. -Ed.]

VN: To ablate or not to ablate, that is the question. What is your current thinking?

JP: We’re just going to roll with this for the time being. As I’ve gotten a little more educated, I’ve concluded the perceived danger is not as great as what I thought before I became educated. [Read about the warning signs and symptoms of heart arrhythmias here.] When this happens to you for the first time, it would be unnatural for you to not have a nervous response to that. Now I know the maneuvers and other things about it, and I know even when it happens, I’m not going to die from it. I think most people at first say, ‘Holy crap I’m having a heart attack.’ At least I did! [laughs]

I may deal with this down the road especially if it gets worse. If I was told this would stop the palpitations too, I’d definitely do it. The palpitations are annoying; they’re really obnoxious, and they can get really bad. But that’s not the case. I’ve spoken to a lot of riders and none of them thinks that it’s a big deal. Everyone that I’ve talked to has had a successful ablation.

What has really been beautiful is how many people have reached out to talk to me and tell me about what they went through. It’s been really cool, and humbling in a sense.

I’m in a place in my career where I understand my place and the impacts I can have, and I didn’t ever really think much about the heart thing other than explaining why some races have gone well and some races haven’t. I just wanted to let my fans know that I’ve been going through this, and it’s not allowing me to ride at 100 percent all the time. Because I constantly have people asking me how I’m doing, I wanted to bring attention to the fact that there’s something else going on and I’m working to figure it out. I was really green when I wrote that initial post on Facebook. Then, 100 emails later, I realized this type of thing is a lot more common than I ever thought it was.

I’m almost certainly not going to have an ablation before the national championships. I don’t yet think it’s necessary. That said, mentally I’m getting back to pushing myself. In cyclocross you have to go really deep, you have to go insane. I’ve just been feeling like I’m holding back a little. It put a little block on my mental fortitude. I want to ease my way back into this mentally and physically.

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The beautiful duel: Van Aert and van der Poel light up World Cup ‘cross Thu, 16 Nov 2017 13:24:13 +0000 Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert have been fierce foes for much of their young lives. Their rivalry rages on — but for how long?

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Editor’s note: This feature was previously published in the October issue of VeloNews magazine.

The most pivotal moment in cyclocross’s recent history took place during the 2016 UCI world championships, held on a muddy course around Belgium’s Heusden-Zolder auto racetrack. Cyclocross fans know this moment by name: “the tangle.”

Two of the sport’s rising stars, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, jostled relentlessly for much of the race. During the fifth lap, on a tricky uphill off-camber left-hand turn, van der Poel’s rear wheel slid out, forcing him to dismount just as van Aert sped up from behind. As van der Poel stepped backward, his foot became hopelessly lodged in van Aert’s front wheel.

In a moment that has been replayed thousands of times on YouTube, the two performed an uncomfortable dance to free the Dutchman’s foot. Other riders passed as the duo fumbled to untangle body parts from bike parts, for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, they extricated themselves from their tangle, but valuable time had been lost.

The race was far from over. Van Aert produced a Herculean effort to ride back into contention; he chased down Dutchman Lars van der Haar in the last lap to win his first elite world championship title. Van der Poel made a valiant charge, but fell short of his rival’s success, finishing fifth.

After the race, van Aert cheekily complimented van der Poel for the gaffe. “I have to actually thank him, because afterwards I got the extra push to get into a high rhythm.”

Translation: “Thanks, my biggest rival, for helping me win worlds.”

Although the two had raced head-to-head dozens of times before, that awkward moment galvanized the van Aert and van der Poel rivalry as the storyline to take cyclocross into a new era.

For nearly two decades, cyclocross fans fixated on the sport’s biggest celebrity, Belgium’s Sven Nys, and his battles against a cadre of rivals. When Nys retired from the sport in 2016, fans looked deeper into the ranks for new stars. They found a collection of young riders with boyish faces, powerful legs, and impeccable skills. Two super-talents, van Aert and van der Poel, rode at the head of this generation. Nys’s retirement opened the door for the pair to take cyclocross into a bold new future.

Since then, the two have battled relentlessly on the World Cup, in Belgium’s Superprestige series, the DVV Trofee series (formerly the BPost Bank Trophy), and at the world championships. Depending on the week, the course, and the conditions, either man is capable of besting the other.

Yet both riders, with their preternatural talent, feel the tug of road cycling, with its million-dollar contracts and fame. Both van Aert and van der Poel have already won major races on the road, and appear destined to graduate to the professional peloton in the near future.

Could the 2017-’18 season be the last time the two men square off with regularity on a cyclocross course? This season might prove to be the final opportunity for fans to witness cyclocross’s beautiful duel.

“Cyclocross needed a new duel, like back in the old days — especially after the retirement of Sven Nys,” van der Poel says. “A lot of people said cyclocross would be less popular, but when I see the crowds now that are coming to see the duel between me and Wout, it’s really something special.”

2012 cyclocross world championships
Van der Poel won junior worlds in 2012, beating van Aert and Frenchman Quentin Jauregui, Photo: Tim De Waele |
2014 cyclocross world championships
Van Aert won U23 worlds in 2014, beating van der Poel and Belgian Michael Vanthourenhout. Photo: Tim De Waele |

WITHIN THE ARRAY OF cycling disciplines, perhaps none is better suited to producing individual rivalries than cyclocross. Across the mud and sand, drafting rarely overcomes a rider’s superior handling skill or raw power. The hour-long races are too short for complex team tactics. A rider with top-notch technical skills can mount a formidable challenge against one with stronger legs.

In cyclocross’s epicenter, Belgium and the Netherlands, the fervor surrounding ’cross is akin to America’s love affair with major sports, from the NFL to the NBA to the NHL. Rivalries have brought incalculable energy and excitement to those leagues: Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson; Wayne Gretzky versus Mark Messier; Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady. The same is true on European shores; there, however, ’cross is often the biggest game in town.

Roll those famous American sports rivalries into one and you understand the importance of a high-caliber ’cross rivalry —
heaped with hype, showered with praise, and packed with the pressures of stardom. Not to mention the TV attention and money that comes along with dramatic storylines.

The sport’s history has been defined by great rivalries. Belgians Eric de Vlaeminck and Albert Van Damme battled for the national and world title in the early 1970s. The 1980s saw Belgian Roland Liboton in a fierce duel with Dutchman Hennie Stamsnijder.

No man better understands cyclocross’s need for rivalries than Nys, whose professional career spanned from 1999 to 2016. During that time Nys was pitted against multiple rivals, from Erwin Vervecken and Bart Wellens, to Niels Albert and Zdenek Stybar.

When VeloNews spoke with the retired champion, he was preparing his Telenet-Fidea pro team for the 2017 season.

“In cyclocross, it’s always about two riders going about their duel,” Nys says. “That’s something we’ve seen the last 20, 25 years.”

Among the great rivalries, the battle between van Aert and van der Poel is special because of how different their styles are, both on and off the bike, Nys says. Frequently, the victory is decided by a heroic feat of strength or a risky line choice.

“What I like about this duel is the battle between the two guys, mentally, physically, and especially in the last lap — who is going to do a special move, choose a special line, who is mentally strongest,” Nys says. “People [are attracted] to a certain rider that they like — how they talk, how they react after they lose a race, how they react after they win. And those things are completely different between Wout and Mathieu, and that’s what makes this duel so special.”

It wasn’t always that way. As juniors, van der Poel often had the edge on van Aert. The playing field became more level once the men entered their late teens. Then came a string of great victories by the Belgian, including his first of two consecutive elite world championship titles in early 2016. He was just 21 at the time.

During the 2016-’17 season, the duel raged across the entire season. Van Aert started the season strong, with back-to-back World Cup victories in the U.S. — van der Poel sat out the early rounds while recovering from a knee injury. Van der Poel returned with top form, winning the World Cup stops in Valkenburg and Zeven.

In the 26 races when van der Poel and van Aert went head-to-head, the pair finished one-two on no fewer than 18 occasions. In those races, van der Poel got the best of his Belgian rival 14 times. Van der Poel only finished outside of the top two on three occasions. Van Aert only finished outside the top five on one occasion. The duel lasted until the very last race of the season.

Wout van Aert
Van Aert won Schaal Sels, a UCI 1.1 road race in Belgium in 2016. Photo: Tim De Waele |

LIKE MANY BELGIAN CHILDREN, van Aert gravitated toward soccer and spent his childhood running around the pitch. He received a mountain bike as a gift for his first communion. When he accompanied a schoolmate to a race in the Netherlands, he finished second and was immediately hooked. By the time he was 13, van Aert turned his full attention to cycling. And he began to win.

After his early success, his peers began to grow faster than him, and winning became more difficult. Van Aert rose among a talented group of kids from Belgium and the Netherlands. The Sweeck brothers, Laurens and Diether, and van der Poel — all of whom are still van Aert’s biggest rivals — routinely got the best of him in the junior ranks.

Still, his speed, perseverance, and talent were readily apparent. In 2012, when van Aert was 17, he finished second at the junior world championships. Two years later he won the under-23 world title, beating Michael Vanthourenhout and van der Poel. He was destined for the elite ranks.

His stardom soared after his first elite world championships in Heusden-Zolder, and flew higher still after he successfully defended that title in Bieles, Luxembourg.

“I never thought I would be a double world champ even a few years ago,” van Aert says. “It’s been like a rollercoaster in the past seasons. My drive is to stay hungry. It’s my personality. I always want to be the best, in every competition, so every year I want to win as much as possible.”

Now just 23 years old, van Aert’s palmarès is already on-par with the sport’s all-time greats: two elite world titles; two World Cup titles; three DVV Trophy titles; two elite Belgian national titles; one Superprestige title.

While van Aert required a few years to discover cycling, van der Poel grew up surrounded by the sport. His father, Adri van der Poel, is one of the most decorated professional cyclists to ever come out of the Netherlands. During his 20-year career, he won the Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Amstel Gold Race, and several other semi-classics. Unlike the sport’s modern heroes of the road, Adri was also a star of cyclocross. So while his two Tour de France stage victories earned him mainstream acclaim, his world championship and World Cup overall title in cyclocross made him a national icon.

Mathieu was born in 1995, the same year Adri won his fifth of six Dutch national cyclocross titles. Mathieu had a natural mentor in his father.

Van der Poel never rose through the sport; rather, he just arrived and started winning. He won dozens of races as a teenager. During his 2012-’13 campaign, van der Poel won all 30 races he entered, including the junior national title. In 2015, at 19, van der Poel stepped into the elite ranks and won the world title.

It has been much of the same since then. With masterful, on-the-limit technical skills and the speed and power to back it up, van der Poel made winning look easy. Maybe it’s too easy?

“It’s never too easy,” laughs van der Poel. “Especially with Wout, it makes it very hard. We challenge each other to search our limits. No, it’s not boring or easy — never.”

In 2017, van der Poel took his impressive engine outside of cyclocross and turned heads with otherworldly results. In May, he outsprinted Tour of Flanders champion Philippe Gilbert from a small bunch to win stage 2 at the Tour of Belgium. He abandoned the race before the next day’s time trial to travel to Germany. There, three days later, he took a few practice laps on the mountain bike and rode to second place in the World Cup cross-country race in Albstadt. Who could beat the wunderkind? Only Olympic and world champion Nino Schurter.

For all the praise that is heaped on him for such panache, he responds with reserved enthusiasm, a nonchalance that comes from having been in the spotlight almost his entire life. Besides having a famous father, his grandfather is Raymond Poulidor, known as “The Eternal Second” for having finished the Tour de France in second place three times and in third place five times.

“Pressure is not something I fear,” van der Poel says. “Ever since I was a kid, I was the ‘son of van der Poel’ and the ‘grandson of Poulidor,’ so the pressure was always there and something that I got used to. It doesn’t really affect me.”
His prodigious talent had been on display for years before his late-May escapade. However, until that point, he hadn’t beaten a multi-time monument winner on the road and nearly bested one of the greatest mountain bikers in history, in the span of four days. Swapping between mountain bike and road is no simple matter. Van der Poel made it look effortless.

“It was a very special week and month for me. I wanted to prove that I could compete with the best guys on the mountain bike as well,” he says. While van der Poel’s exploits outside of ’cross have received more attention, perhaps for their audaciousness, van Aert is quietly building his road racing palmarès. He hasn’t had nearly the success as he’s had in ’cross, but he’s no slouch either. He has a number of wins in UCI 1.1 category races in Belgium.

Naturally — inevitably — it has raised that simple question: What next? Will they continue to dabble in road and mountain biking to build form for ’cross season? Or will they make the jump à la Zdenek Stybar to a WorldTour team full-time, for a shot on the road?

For now, each continues to search for his limits on his own terms.

Matheiu van der Poel
In May, van der Poel out-sprinted Philippe Gilbert to win stage 2 of the Tour of Belgium. Photo: Tim De Waele |

IN RECENT YEARS, CYCLOCROSS has seen some of its biggest talents graduate to the road ranks and never look back. Lars Boom won six Dutch titles and one elite world title before switching to road racing in 2009. Czech rider Stybar won three world titles, six Czech national titles, and the overall series title in the World Cup and Superprestige each once. Then, in 2011 he joined Quick-Step to forge a career on the road.

Van Aert and van der Poel now face a similar decision. Van Aert has spoken with Stybar about what it would take to race both disciplines at a high level, or even if it can be done.

In the past three seasons, van Aert focused on ’cross beyond the world championships, through the end-of-season races in February. He’d then return to road racing by May. “I think the combination [of ’cross and road races] like I did in previous years is always possible,” van Aert says.

The plan is different in 2018. For the first time, van Aert will attempt to return for the spring classics on the road, after completing a full ’cross season.

“The combo with the spring classics will be very difficult and maybe it’s not possible to do both on a good level,” he says. “But that’s just what makes it interesting. I see this as a huge challenge. The classics are a learning process. It’s not yet about results but about getting experience and getting stronger.”

A complete move to the road is not yet his ambition. It’s what everybody is expecting, he says, but he still loves cyclocross and plans to continue with it for at least a few more years.

It helps that on his Veranda’s Willems-Crelan team, van Aert is given the freedom to balance both ambitions. With its Pro Continental status, it also affords him the opportunity to hit some of the bigger races on the road calendar. The team, run by former Tour of Flanders champion Nick Nuyens, formed in late 2016 as a merger between the Belgian Continental squad Crelan-Vastgoedservice and Veranda’s Willems. Former world ’cross champion Niels Albert oversees the ’cross squad.

For now, van Aert is content where he is. He has two more years on his contract and believes he can explore his limits on the small Belgian squad.

Van der Poel says he has not reached out to his predecessors to ask about splitting time between two, or three, disciplines.

“It’s a big compliment when someone calls you a ‘Sagan’ these days, but I’m just doing my own thing,” van der Poel says of a compliment Nys paid him recently. “I do think I have a bit of the same spirit as [Sagan] — cycling is about having fun and training very hard. And it’s easier if you’re having fun to go to your limits on training rides.”

Van der Poel’s Beobank-Corendon team races at the Continental level, so WorldTour races are not available to him. It’s one reason he jumped at the opportunity to race the mountain bike World Cup. Should the road squad stay at the lower level, van der Poel says, he may focus more on mountain biking.

“I’m having fun right now, for the moment,” van der Poel says. “To be honest, I think a little bit about the Olympics in 2020, to compete on the mountain bike. It’s really something special to go to the Olympics, and maybe mountain bike is my best chance to get a medal.”

At some point, van der Poel and van Aert will need to decide which discipline to follow. Nys had the opportunity to race on the road and chose cyclocross instead. He believed he could maintain a high level in cyclocross for more than a decade; he was right. In road racing, Nys saw a sport where success depended on too many factors that were out of his control. He made the right choice, for him.

“I not only had a great career, but I also helped my sport to be bigger,” Nys says. “For me, that’s what made it so special. But for every rider it’s different. Every rider builds his own career.”

PERHAPS NO RACE BETTER showcased the dramatic excitement of the duel between van Aert and van der Poel than the World Cup round in Namur, Belgium, in December 2016. Neck and neck, shoulder to shoulder, the pair churned through thick mud, flicking globs of sludge into the air as they relentlessly attacked one another. It all came down to the final lap. Across a tattered, off-camber embankment strewn with ruts, van der Poel went low, while van Aert stayed high, kicking at the saturated soil to propel himself forward. Riding the ragged edge, the Dutchman passed van Aert using his outstretched leg to balance, skating between trenches.

Another minute up the course, a steep climb forced both men to dismount and run. Van der Poel’s four-second lead vanished as van Aert powered on foot up the greasy slope. Moments later, they reached another punchy climb, and van der Poel attacked from the front. It was vicious and unrelenting. He was gone.

“In this duel, the key word is respect. If you look at what each of us has accomplished so far, you can only have respect for one another.”
– Wout van Aert

“Wout’s strength is that he’s really strong and he never gives up,” van der Poel says. “It’s very hard to have someone like him chasing you. You know you’re going to have to go full-out to the finish line to win.”

Van Aert also benefits from his ability to power through heavy mud. By contrast, van der Poel has greater technical skill, and his explosive power allows him to dance through loose and fast sections.

While van Aert might be able to power away through a section of slop, there may be one technical descent where van der Poel, with his bravado, can take huge risks and come back to him. That, says Nys, is what people enjoy.

“They are really young but what they show to the people is amazing, and special,” Nys says. “It’s important for our sport that they’re so young, because sponsors, TV, the press already have an interest for the next few years. That’s because of Wout and Mathieu, for sure.”

While van der Poel pushes van Aert to train harder and work more diligently on his weaknesses, the same is true in the opposite direction. Without each other, neither rider would be so damned good.

The two are complete athletes, says Nys. They are always trying to be the best, while always trying to improve. In Belgium, there is a saying: “It’s not something you see every 10 years.” Now, there are two athletes at that extraordinary level.

“In this duel, the key word is respect,” van Aert says. “If you look at what each of us has accomplished so far, you can only have respect for one another.”

“They are both really special athletes; it all comes down to the details now.”
– Sven Nys

Each rider has a distinct style. Van der Poel is more playful — jumping, doing tricks on all types of bikes, having fun. Van Aert is the consummate road racer — meticulous in his preparation, serious in his approach. Now that van der Poel has matured to adulthood, Nys believes he has the edge.

He also believes that because van Aert is the two-time world champion, there is more pressure on him to defend. Van der Poel can use that to his advantage, as an inspiration.

“They are both really special athletes; it all comes down to the details now,” Nys says. “When they come to the final lap together, Mathieu, for the moment, has something more. He has something special, especially mentally — more explosiveness which can help him win more big races.”

At such a young age, van Aert and van der Poel face immense pressure, given their place at the top of the sport and, at least in part, as a replacement for Nys, who was seen by many in Belgium as a cyclocross god. Having been a part of numerous great rivalries, Nys knows the feeling of having to perform weekend after weekend, on and off the bike.

“It’s not easy,” Nys says. “Sometimes you’re banging your head against the wall. The pressure is on every moment you are racing. Maybe you win on Saturday, you lose on Sunday, and the pressure is there again. Sometimes that’s harder than the physical parts of a season.”

In cyclocross, fans cheer or jeer, inches away from the action. The media attention is unrelenting. Crowds gather for their idols at team vans, seeking autographs, jostling to take photos. On and off the bike, there’s no letting up. By season’s end, a rider will be completely empty, mentally and physically. According to Nys, the crucible of pressure and the ability to deal with it are what make a top cyclocross rider so special: every moment you must be prepared to handle the stress.

Thus far, van Aert and van der Poel have met that pressure with one amazing performance after another. And so their beautiful duel rages on.

“Their level is incredibly high. Cyclocross has always lived by duels,” Nys says. “Van der Poel and van Aert both have their own qualities, and I think there are still many beautiful duels to come.”

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Patagonia Black Hole Backpack 25L Fri, 10 Nov 2017 20:10:43 +0000 Patagonia’s Black Hole Backpack is deceptively spacious with enough room to carry all your daily essentials.

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Powers and Petrov: ’Cross brothers from another mother Wed, 01 Nov 2017 12:47:49 +0000 Spencer Petrov, 19, is finding success racing for Jeremy Powers' Aspire Racing outfit.

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BALTIMORE, Maryland (VN) — Spencer Petrov sat hunched on the ground, his legs spread wide, sweat dripping from his brow, eyes glazed in a post-anaerobic stupor, with a hint of disappointment.

Just after crossing the finish line on day two of the US Cup-CX/Charm City, Petrov (Aspire Racing) slumped to the dirt and leaned back against the course’s fencing. It was a race that came down to a last-lap battle with reigning national champion Stephen Hyde ( The 6-foot-2 Petrov relished the duel, but ultimately lost the race: When Hyde slipped out in a corner, the two became tangled, and Hyde was able to remount faster and pin it to the finish.

“I just need to keep pushing myself, just find where the new fitness is, where my roof is,” Petrov said just after finishing the race in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park. “Today was one of the closest times that I got to it. But there’s more work to do.”

Spencer Petrov
Spencer Petrov sprawled on the ground after a huge effort in the US Cup-CX/Charm City race. Photo: Chris Case |

Under the tutelage of Jeremy Powers, and within the supportive atmosphere of his Aspire Racing outfit, Petrov, 19, is quickly taking all of the raw talent and potential that had been evident for years and turning it into unfettered success. On multiple occasions this season, he has outperformed his “boss,” four-time national champion Powers. He has scored several second-place finishes behind established veterans of the sport.

For Petrov, it comes down to being in a place that allows him to thrive, both personally and professionally. The team offers him the atmosphere to balance being who he is — an energetic, social, sometimes zany kid — with the discipline it takes to be an elite professional athlete, where training is serious business.

“[The team] have labeled me as, ‘Okay, this person has what it takes to be successful and is showing great promise.’ And so we’re surrounded by people who help us do the little things that save that percentage point of energy that we can’t waste so we can be at our best when we race,” Petrov said of his new team. “Everything about it is what I dreamed of and better. I was already a hard worker, but now I’m motivated to work even harder because they’re all working so hard for me.”

Powers closely followed Petrov’s racing for years, becoming an informal mentor before finally hiring the developing star in July. Conversely, Petrov’s initial star-struck idolization of Powers as a 12-year-old gradually evolved into professional admiration. Now, the two have a dynamic relationship that is bringing both of them success in different ways.

Onto the radar

When Petrov was 12 years old, his mother Malissa sent Powers a letter describing her son’s adoration for him. She asked if Powers would send some signed posters to her family. Of course he would. That was how the little kid from the Ohio Valley first came onto Powers’s radar. Thereafter, when Powers attended the three-day Cincinnati races, he’d always hear about how this Petrov kid was annihilating the masters racers.

Spencer Petrov
Spencer Petrov was a fan of Jeremy Powers from an early age. Photo courtesy Jeremy Powers

“He looked like he was in Pampers,” Powers said. “Seriously, he was like a child, but that was the moment when I started to pay attention. When someone has that much talent at such a young age, that means something.”

Powers paid attention for years. Racing in the Ohio Valley afforded Petrov the ability to shine in a growing hotbed of the sport. Among the many great mentors who shaped who he is, none were more important than his parents.

“Jeremy has even mentioned that, ‘You have amazing parents. And that means you’re easy to work with,’” Petrov said. “They put a good head on my shoulders, and I worked really hard too.”

Some may have been surprised that Powers chose Petrov — who previously raced for Cyclocross Alliance — to join his Aspire Racing squad. After all, the stated goal of Powers’s professional team is to provide a place for his JAM Fund development riders to aspire to get to. (Hence, the name.) In that way, the JAM Fund serves as a ladder, per se, toward Aspire. If a rider can dedicate enough time to become a professional, if he can make the sacrifices necessary to make it happen, then Powers wants those talents to have a place to go, he said. It’s something he didn’t have as a developing rider.

“I’m very interested in development, I’m very interested in young riders. That’s the direction I’d like to head with all the things that we’re doing,” Powers said. “Spencer fit the right mold. I knew him; I knew that his energy was right. I knew that personality-wise, he was going to be a good fit. That stuff is important in a team.”

In their time spent together, from riding trainers in team mechanic Tom Hopper’s garage in the weeks before Boulder nationals in 2013 to the many interactions they had at races in Ohio and beyond, Powers realized something about Petrov that kept him invested: energy.

“I see a lot of things in Jeremy: friend, older brother, mentor, sometimes a boss.”
– Spencer Petrov

“We got the same ‘crazy’ going on up in the head all the time!” Petrov said. “It’s really funny when we start going off — we get each other, and everyone else in the car is like, ‘What are you talking about?!’ We get it, and that’s all that matters.”

Powers also noticed from years of watching Petrov that his disciple had an “insane work ethic.” In short, in his combination of determination and boundless energy, Powers saw a lot of himself. Over the years the mentor has downloaded much of what has helped him balance those sometimes contradictory qualities, schooling the student in the nuances of dealing with a very active brain.

“I see a lot of things in Jeremy: friend, older brother, mentor, sometimes a boss, and sometimes someone who is looking out for me, and someone I can go to for help in life, in my racing, and my training. I have it really good here,” Petrov said.

In person, the similarities are easy to see, from the silliness to the distractibility to the poise. Ellen Noble, the third member of the Aspire Racing family, has a front-row seat for all of it.

“They’re both really, really silly,” Noble said. “The two of them play off of each other really well. I think Jeremy wanted that goofiness and that friendship with me but I couldn’t really give him that [laughs]. So to be able to grab Spencer, put him in a headlock, and give him a ‘noogie’ while I’m reading my book in the corner is the perfect dynamic.”

Spencer Petrov
Powers saw Petrov’s potential several years ago, and he also recognized a bit of himself in the youngster’s enthusiasm and energy. Photo courtesy Jeremy Powers

Into the future

While Powers and his contemporaries, riders such as Tim Johnson and Jonathan Page, had sporadic success at the World Cup level, things have changed. According to Powers, programs now exist to help riders like Petrov go much further. Geoff Proctor’s EuroCrossCamp, for example, exposes young riders to that eccentric, cutthroat world of European cyclocross, and it makes them better riders, if only by awakening a sense of how difficult it will be to succeed in such an environment. Petrov first attended the camp when he was 13.

In such a setting, Powers said, the necessary work ethic becomes ingrained, as does the sacrifice it takes to make it. Petrov already has several top-five results at high-caliber European junior races, including a fourth place at the Namur World Cup stop in 2015.

“Now [riders like Petrov] have a good understanding of what it’s going to take,” Powers said. “I think Spencer’s going to have a way easier time being able to be there, be comfortable there, be accepted by his peers there … That process is already well underway and he’s only 19. I hadn’t even stepped foot in Europe at his age.”

But first, Petrov is having plenty of success in the U.S. On four occasions this season, he finished second in UCI races: day one of the KMC Cross Fest, day two of Charm City, day one of Gloucester, and day one of Cincinnati. Each time he has outridden Powers.

As he puts it, this season is about what he calls ‘living:’ being serious while being funny; relaxing and working really hard; remaining on schedule and being ready to adapt; and keeping relationships with parents, friends, and sponsors going smoothly.

“It’s the circle of life: you have to be in flow,” Petrov said.

“Spencer has already over-exceeded expectations by being on the podium multiple times at the pro level.”
– Jeremy Powers

Powers does not hesitate when asked if Petrov will one day exceed what he was able to accomplish. Oh, yes, he said. Given where he is now, the teenager could be a “multi-generational rider,” able to race with three generations of riders, with enough natural talent to take it to the world level, Powers said.

“If he were from Europe and had that amount of talent, he would be on a big professional team,” Powers said. “I am in a position to help him here. As a business owner, from where I stand, Spencer has already over-exceeded expectations by being on the podium multiple times at the pro level.”

The Aspire team has become Petrov’s new home. He has moved to the Northampton, Massachusetts area to ride and train with his teammates, as well as those by extension, on the JAM Fund squad.

“He fits in really well because that’s how Jeremy and I are: We’re all fun-and-games but we have that switch and take our racing very seriously,” Noble said. “Having Spencer fall seamlessly into that approach has been better than we could have anticipated.”

’Cross is Petrov’s devotion. The inevitable question about choosing between a road or ’cross career? He simply suggests you look at the pro team he’s racing for. He wants an inaugural win in the pro field in the U.S. (It seems only a matter of time.) He wants success in Europe: In his mind, he’s going to win a U23 world championship.

Powers says that confidence is the most important quality he looks for in aspiring racers.

“More than anything, he wants it,” Powers said. “He has ‘the kill,’ as I call it. You really can’t train that mentality, that desire. He has it.”

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Q&A: Ellen Noble on college, Olympics, and zipper controversy Tue, 31 Oct 2017 15:12:48 +0000 Few Americans show more potential than cyclocross racer Ellen Noble. She's also a vocal advocate for female racers.

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Few American cyclists show more potential for greatness than cyclocross racer Ellen Noble. At 21, Noble has already won three under-23 national titles, and last year she won the U23 World Cup overall title. Based on her early results, Noble stands to have a long and fruitful career in cycling’s muddy discipline.

Noble is also a public health major at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She’s eloquent and introspective beyond her years and a vocal advocate for female athletes.

Yet in September 2016, Noble was at the center of controversy within the cyclocross scene not for her brains or brawn, but rather for her body. During Iowa’s Jingle Cross World Cup, she donned the white World Cup leader’s skinsuit, which is thicker than traditional skinsuits due to its see-through potential in wet weather. As temperatures soared into the 80s, Noble partially unzipped the skinsuit to stay cool, exposing her sports bra. Photos circulated the Internet.

For weeks Noble was pestered with criticism for appearing immodest. She eventually took to her Facebook page to battle the critics.

“When someone tells me to zip up or get a bigger sports bra, that’s sending the message that I should worry more about how I look, and how people will perceive me, than doing my job and racing my ass off,” Noble wrote. “It’s not your job to sexualize my body. Only I can do that. And I’m choosing not to because my body is a machine, made for work. Not viewing pleasure or hate. My body, my rules.”

We caught up with Noble to talk ’cross, body shaming, and the importance of education.

VeloNews: You have grown up with social media at your fingertips for your entire life. How do you think that has impacted who you are and how you express yourself?

Ellen Noble: I love trying to use social media as a platform for things that I believe in. I don’t always want to be on the soapbox preaching stuff, but now that I’ve got a pretty big following I feel like the things I write about are actually reaching people. There’s nothing that makes me happier. I don’t really want to say that the things I’m writing are controversial; I dream of a world where the things I write are no longer controversial: ‘Hey, weird concept, we should treat female bike racers and women in general equally.’ And people are like, ‘Oh my god! This is revolutionary!’ Or, ‘Hey, let’s stop body-shaming women for what they do while they’re doing their job.’

What I’m writing now is still edgy enough that people are still taken aback by some of the things I write and are like, ‘Wow, that was super brave that you would say that.’ But I’m just speaking what’s the truth for me. I love that I have this platform that I can write this stuff. If you know the way to approach it, you can actually change someone’s perspective. And isn’t that we want: to learn from other people, hopefully, broaden our horizons, and expand our perspective, and, in turn, hopefully, change other people’s perspectives that could benefit them and the people around them.

VN: You’re referring to the controversy of the partially unzipped skinsuit. In retrospect, was the incident a positive thing? Was it the impetus for you to be more outwardly feminist?

EN: It was absolutely a positive thing. I don’t really see a negative about it because I have nothing to be ashamed of. It was eye-opening for me — to realize there’s a much bigger double standard in this sport than I ever could have imagined. I also realized that many people in cycling, and those in the public eye in general, want to take the path of least resistance. I absolutely do not blame them; I never wanted to be a shit-stirrer, poker of the bear, but I am exceptionally opinionated and very passionate about equality in general, not just when it comes to women.

I took a risk with that post. That was the first time I posted something where I was like, ‘I have no idea what people are going to say to this, but something needs to be said.’ The positive response was so much greater than I could have imagined, and it opened the door for me to feel more confident in voicing my opinions on the things that matter to me.

Ellen Noble
Ellen Noble won the 2017 under-23 World Cup cyclocross title. Photo: Tim De Waele |

VN: Who has influenced you the most, and what impact has this had on your worldview?

EN: The majority of it really did come from my parents. My worldview was shaped by them — but I can’t even really say ‘shaped,’ because that would imply they were actively pushing. But my parents were just … super chill.

When I was 16 I remember I Googled feminism because I had heard people saying it like it was a really bad thing. I was afraid to ask my parents what it was because I didn’t want to ask them what a bad word meant. And I was completely taken aback by the fact that being a feminist was how my parents raised me. There were no ‘men’s-only’ rides. I went with my dad to the men’s ride. Having my dad push my mom and I to be like, ‘You are equals; you guys are strong. If you can’t do something it’s not because you’re a woman, you just need to keep doing it.’ There were no gender issues; my parents just…loved.

VN: Why is it important to you to get a college degree?

EN: I just think higher education is really valuable. It’s just something I felt really passionate about doing early on in life. I’m really passionate about helping people, and that’s why I chose public health. I feel like the best way that I could help people and get the jobs that will allow me to help people live better and healthier lives, I needed to get this degree, and that was what I was willing to do.

I chose to do it right now because I’m still young and feel so far away from my physiological peak that I figured why not get it done while I’m still limited by my age — I know I’ll naturally improve simply as I get older. Then as an elite, I can really make a full run as a professional bike racer.

I could also still have that fun college experience. I got to live on campus for two years and I met a ton of amazing people, many with much broader opinions and perspectives than I have. And, really, the truth of it is I wanted to have one traditional experience in my life, and go to college at the time that most people go to college.

VN: Where do you see yourself in five years?

EN: In a perfect world I would love to have been to the Olympics for cross-country mountain bike. The big dream would be ’cross national champion. And then trying to find that balance between racing ’cross and cross-country, and finding that program that will allow me to race the mountain bike World Cups and the cyclocross World Cups together.

I feel like every day I love ’cross more and more, and as I grow older I’m finding more reasons to love it. But really, five years from now, who’s to say. I want to be doing my absolute best and have unlocked a new level of suffering. If I’m doing that and I’m training my butt off and I’m suffering so hard in every race — whether that makes me world champion or a podium finisher at nationals — would be good with me. I’ll be happy with it because I will have a healthy perspective on bike racing.

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Diagnosis: Finding fast in just one season Thu, 26 Oct 2017 16:18:16 +0000 Slight refinements to a training plan can yield substantial gains over the course of a year. It’s all about execution.

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A 35-year-old category 1 mountain biker — we’ll call him Joe — wanted to make a huge leap in his racing fitness over the course of one year. He had never worked with a coach before. He sought the expert advice of Ryan Kohler, the manager of sports performance at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center, to guide him during a 12-month period of regimented training. When he began this period, the 6-foot-3 athlete averaged approximately eight hours per week of riding.

Joe’s case study presents an opportunity to answer the question: How much can you improve in 12 months, and what does it take to get there?


In October 2015, after the racing season ended, Kohler conducted a full physiological test. Joe displayed good baseline lactate values (around 1mmol/L) through 200 watts, and he showed a significant change in lactate accumulation at 266 watts (3.5 W/kg). Maximal blood lactate concentration values were 6.6 mmol/L. It was late in the season, and his body’s capacity to store glycogen was compromised, his aerobic function trended marginally downward, and his lactate accumulation was high at race pace. His threshold power was 247 watts (3.3 W/kg) at a heart rate of 160 beats per minute.

Kohler concluded that, after a full season, Joe was over-trained and in need of rest.


Using a heart-rate distribution model composed of three zones, Kohler reduced the quantity of Joe’s high-intensity workouts. Zone 1 involved purely aerobic work. Zone 3 was above threshold. Zone 2 was everything in between. In this model, about 75-80 percent of Joe’s time should have been spent in zone 1, and just 15 percent in zone 3. Effectively, Kohler wanted Joe to do more base training, tying HR to lactate production. Over the next 12 months, Joe spent nearly 10 percent more time riding in zone 1, where his lactate level was below 2 mmol/L. Joe spent just one percent less time in zone 2 (between 2mmol/L and 4mmol/L of lactate) between his aerobic and anaerobic thresholds.

Kohler’s plan consisted of three main periods, the first of which consisted of eight weeks of base training with an average of six to eight hours per week. Rides were 45 minutes to three hours in length, always within zone 1. Only a few sessions included intensity.

The second period comprised 12 weeks of sweet spot training, broken up into three build periods. These included blocks of overload followed by rest to provide an intensified training stimulus. They were paired with recovery and base rides. Workouts included two-by-20-minute, three-by-20-minute, and one-by-15-minute intervals to progressively increase time at intensity. Subsequent blocks progressed to higher intensity sessions, in zone 3, that included four- to six-minute intervals with total work times ranging from 15-25 minutes. This period led into Joe’s race season. Then, Kohler had Joe complete short, intense intervals to simulate race demands as part of a maintenance period.

Finally, a third period of eight weeks was used to provide specific race preparation. Joe’s long rides increased to between five and seven hours. Workouts were utilized to mimic the demands of racing. After this last block, which concluded at the end of June, Joe’s threshold power increased to 306 watts following a series of races.

All training after this point followed a race/recovery method.


Kohler performed a second test in October 2016. Joe’s baseline lactate production was down, and he had made significant improvement to his lactate clearance capacity at threshold. His baseline threshold rose significantly to 280 watts (3.7 W/kg) at a heart rate of 165 bpm.

Joe’s lactate metabolism improved across the board. He showed a lower lactate response through 2.5 W/kg. The lower concentrations of lactate seen at 3 and 3.5 W/kg allowed for improved sustainability at these workloads and reduced the perception of his efforts. He also improved his maximal capabilities, as indicated by higher lactate production at 4 W/kg. Finally, his heart rate showed a reduced response throughout.

Joe’s fat oxidation improved greatly, and was sustained through 2.5 W/kg, allowing for improved performance at moderate intensities. While the point at which his carbohydrate oxidation dominated occurred at 2 W/kg in 2015, it rose to 3.5 W/kg in 2016. This will allow Joe to slightly reduce carbohydrates per hour at these intensities.

Joe accomplished all of this by only slightly altering his total training hours. He increased his weekly mileage from 79 to 90 miles, and an increase of 27 total hours for the year, or just 2.25 hours per month and 11 additional miles each week.


Joe’s case is applicable to athletes across a range of sports. With a slight increase in the duration and distance of his riding, combined with a re-formatting of his training, Joe saw improvements in his fat oxidation, lactate metabolism, and endurance capabilities over a 12-month period. Much of his performance increase was a function of the off-season preparation period when he focused on building aerobic fitness at appropriate intensities.

“This shows how you can improve training distribution and recovery without massively changing volume and still see some great gains,” Kohler says. “But it takes focus to do this. There is good reason to have a coach to guide you.”

“Diagnosis” is a collaboration between VeloNews and the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center.

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Kaitie Keough’s focus on details brings 2017 success Wed, 18 Oct 2017 15:59:38 +0000 Focus on details like bike fit and setup has vaulted young Kaitie Keough onto the cyclocross World Cup podium.

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BALTIMORE, Maryland (VN) — Eight years ago, a 17-year-old Kaitie Antonneau (now Keough) was driving around the U.S. in a minivan racing cyclocross for the Planet Bike team. She was young and having fun. While she gathered some impressive results for her age, she, admittedly, wasn’t concerned with what would come next. It was all jump on the bike and go.

Today, Keough is in her seventh season with Stu Thorne’s powerhouse team. And she’s having her best season yet.

At both the Jingle Cross and Trek World Cup rounds, Keough finished second. In Waterloo, that second place came behind world champion Sanne Cant (Beobank-Corendon). As of this writing, she had five other race wins to her credit, including both days at the U.S. Cup-CX/Charm City.

It’s no longer jump on the bike and go. In the past seven seasons with the Cannondale team, and especially over the past year, Keough has become meticulous about the details, especially her bike setup. It’s a result of working closely with several influential people in her life, including new husband and coach Luke Keough.

“As I’ve gotten a little older and started to compete at a higher level — everyone is fast; everyone trains really hard — you need to start paying attention to those little extra details,” Keough said. “Those are the one or two extra percent over someone else.”

Keough has paid particular attention to her fit, down to the millimeter. While she’s still learning and experimenting with the details, including a recent change to her crank length (down to 165 millimeters), she says she’s learned a tremendous amount over the past year.

“It’s really been helping in how my season’s been going so far,” Keough said.

Assisting her in the minutiae is team mechanic Gary Wolff, who is in his first year with the Cannondale team. Wolff, however, is as experienced as they come, having spent the past 20 years working at the highest level for a host of talented mountain bike and ’cross stars, including Alison Sydor, Geoff Kabush, and Jamey Driscoll, among others.

“A normal human being wouldn’t notice at all,” Wolff said of Keough’s ability to feel subtle changes in position. “But because she and these riders are on their bikes so much, they notice every millimeter of change. A lot of people think that’s crazy, but they notice right away.”

As Wolff notes, not every athlete is the same, and it takes time to understand the character of a particular rider and what they like or dislike. Sometimes a mechanic can deliver too much information to a certain athlete. Wolff knows, for example, that current national champion Stephen Hyde is comfortable being told everything from bike setup changes to things that need to be repaired because they broke. While Wolff and Keough continue to hone their working relationship, his ability to make the former U23 national champion feel comfortable has already paid dividends.

“I like to say he’s my Buddha mechanic because he’s so calm, and he just doesn’t stress,” Keough said. “Being around him, it just kind of oozes out of him. That’s really good for me mentally and I really enjoy working with him. He’s awesome at what he does.”

Wolff pre-rides almost every course each weekend. It’s something Keough has never had with any previous mechanic. According to rider and mechanic, it makes any discussion about bike setup that much easier.

The final factor in her success this season, according to Keough, is working with a new coach, who also happens to be her new husband, Luke Keough. Luke’s brother Jake, is also helping with coaching duties. (Previously, 13-time national champion Katie Compton coached Kaitie Keough.)

The change has made a significant difference for the Wisconsin native. Luke and Jake grew up racing ’cross and know the sport well, she said. Thus, the brothers can relate to the demands of cyclocross, as well as the nuances that effect technique and training.

“They’re just dudes who love to ride their bikes and race so it’s nice to be in that environment. I’m having fun again racing my bike,” Keough said. “Last year was a big struggle for me. Now I’m having fun, I’m riding well, the team dynamic is amazing. Cyclocross is, like, my favorite thing ever, I just love it.”

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Q&A: Georgia Gould on motherhood and returning to racing Thu, 12 Oct 2017 19:23:44 +0000 Olympic medalist Georgia Gould is a mom. She returns to the 'cross racing with a new perspective but the same love for racing.

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BALTIMORE, Maryland (VN) — Georgia Gould doesn’t need much introduction. A bronze medalist at the 2012 London Olympic Games mountain bike race, she has been at the top of off-road racing for over a decade, winning multiple mountain bike national titles, as well as scores of races and series in mountain biking and cyclocross.

In June, Gould gave birth to a daughter, Quinn. Now, she has returned to racing, taking baby steps back into the cyclocross scene.

VeloNews caught up with Gould at the U.S. Cup-CX/Charm City Cross where she started at the back of the field and worked her way to 17th Saturday and 11th Sunday.

VeloNews: First, tell us about motherhood.

Georgia Gould: It’s a lot, it’s overwhelming, it’s very cool. I’ve been having such a good time with her; it seems like every day there’s something new, just leaps and bounds. To see everything from the perspective of someone who’s never seen anything is awesome. The first time she was awake in the grocery store, just looking around, like, ‘Oh, that’s a lot of cabbages! Different colors!’ You realize all the stuff that we filter out. You just adjust your perspective. I’ve had a really good time. Sure, you don’t sleep the first little bit there. I think, ‘Oh, I think I’m recovered from that,’ and then I’ll put cereal back in the fridge. ‘Whoa, I’m clearly not all there!’ All my energy is going toward keeping this person safe and fed and healthy and then everything else kind of falls apart a little bit. But so far so good.

VN: Was it always your intention to return to racing this cyclocross season?

GG: I always knew I was going to race again, but I didn’t know what that was going to look like because I’m not sure there is a market for, like, new moms, ‘We want to pay you a lot of money to race your bike even though you’ll probably be at the back of the field!” If there is, please feel free to contact me! You can find all my contact info through VeloNews.


I knew I would come back to racing in some capacity, I just figured it would be kind of a weekend-warrior type of scenario. Which is fine, because I love racing — I’ll always do it in some form or another. But I didn’t put a timeline on that because there’s just so much stuff that can happen. I wanted to make sure that my baby was my focus, especially during those first few months. I felt totally okay to put racing and training fully on the back burner, and I’m glad that I did. And it’s also been fun to come back without any expectation and almost start all over again. Called up in the back, I’ve got one bike — I don’t even have a pit bike, just one set of wheels that I always forget to pick up after the race. Back to my roots!

VN: What’s it like to be the mother of a four-month-old on race day?

GG: It’s a whole different pre-race routine. ‘Okay, I’m going to pre-ride, and then I’m going to feed the baby, and …’ What’s nice for me is that, since I haven’t been training — I’ve been riding a little bit but not what I would consider training to be ready for a race — I don’t have an expectation going into race day. It’s, ‘Hopefully I can pre-ride! But who knows! I might not be able to, and that’s fine too.’ It almost fits in perfectly with being a new mom. I’ve found you kind of have to have a plan, but be flexible. There’s a balance between trying to have fixed habits and be flexible so you aren’t just like a robot. Your baby isn’t a robot so you’re going to have to give and take a little bit. At this point in my life, it’s about going with the flow.

VN: You won a bronze medal at the Olympics. Now you’re starting at the back of the field in local ’cross races. Is that at all strange or disappointing to you?

GG: No, not at all. Again, if I’d been training and felt like I deserved to be at the front of the race, then, yeah, that would be disappointing to be in the back. But I think it depends on the perspective that you have. When I decided to jump into a few races, I did it knowing it was going to be really hard — I hadn’t done any race efforts, you know. ‘Knowing all that and that I’m going to be in the back, do I still want to race? Do I still like racing for the sake of racing? Or do I really just care about winning races?’

The season after the Olympics I had my worst season ever. After a couple rough seasons, I had to have that talk with myself anyways. ‘Do I want to retire because I’m sucking in the races? Or do I keep going and, even though I’m not doing as well as I’d like, is there still something there?’ I realize that I do like racing for racing’s sake. I think that made this a lot easier for me. You have to earn to get up to the front. You have to earn it every time. It’s not like once you win a race you belong up there. No, you have to earn it every single race — again, anew.

I’m happy to sort of start that process over, and of course, it’s in a different way because I’m not getting paid to train and race my bike. But I love it. People are still racing in the back. It’s still a challenge. That’s sort of what I wanted to do. I missed that. It’s funny, the very first race I did was just a local race in Colorado. Earlier that morning I was folding up laundry and the baby was there, and it was ‘Oh man, I’m racing later!’ And I got butterflies. I mean full-on, ‘I’m racing, oh my god!’ Seriously? I haven’t even prepared for this. ‘Oh my gosh, how’s it going to go?’ I think that’s how you know that you still want to race. For me, it’s not really about the results.

VN: Have you begun to daydream about the time when you can take Quinn out for her first bike ride?

GG: Well, yes it’s already been so much fun. We have a little bike trailer and just going out and cruising around on the bike path. There’s a little screen that comes down and I didn’t put it down, it was a little wet out that day, and we get back and there’s like dirt all over her and bugs in her hair! [laughs] Ooh, not the mom of the year! But doing anything with her is so much fun because it’s the first time. ‘Look, this is an apple!’ So, of course, it will be so much fun to teach her how to ride a bike or a motorcycle and start over again from her perspective. That will be really cool.

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How Charm City Cross keeps pushing cyclocross forward Wed, 11 Oct 2017 20:09:23 +0000 Fifteen years ago, Kris Auer brought his New England cyclocross roots to Baltimore. Now, Charm City Cross leads the pack.

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BALTIMORE, Maryland (VN) — Fifteen years ago, Kris Auer brought his New England cyclocross roots to Baltimore, Maryland. After moving from Keene, New Hampshire, where he grew up racing and training with the McCormack brothers, Adam Myerson, Jonathan Page, among other pioneering talents in the sport, Auer saw a scene that, as he describes it, was a bit of “jungle cross.” It was fun, but it wasn’t structured.

He missed his New England community, so he set out to build a new one in the Mid-Atlantic. He began teaching clinics every Wednesday from August to November. (He continued to do so for the next 13 years.) He started a race and called it Charm City Cross. (In 1975, at a meeting of advertisers, the nickname “Charm City” was given to Baltimore in an effort to improve the city’s reputation.)

Next, he started a team, and then he opened a bike shop, Twenty20 Cycling. The day he opened, he had a 50-rider club and a small pro team that supported the likes of Laura Van Gilder. They hit the ground running and worked diligently and methodically to craft their marquee event.

For the past 13 years, Charm City Cross has continued to evolve and push forward the notion that ’cross can be a professionally run, dynamic sport for both amateurs and professionals alike. Now it’s part of the Sho-Air U.S. Cup-CX, a new national series that is reinvigorating ’cross.

“I knew the type of product Kris put together — it’s very professional,” said series director and former pro Ryan Trebon. “I knew it’s a race that we could come into with the series and it would be an awesome show. It would make what we’re doing look good, and hopefully make him look even better. The Mid-Atlantic tends to get forgotten in the national scene, but it has a great history of races with fantastic events. This is a race that, now being here and seeing what it is, I’m bummed I never got to race.”

VeloNews caught up with Auer to discuss his and his club’s efforts to push ‘cross forward while standing under the gargantuan flyover that sat at the center of the Charm City course in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park.

In 2014, Twenty20 Cycling put up money to provide equal payout for the women’s field at Koppenbergcross. How did that come about?

That was Helen Wyman and myself. [At that point, Wyman had won the Charm City race four times consecutively, and Auer and Wyman had become good friends. -Ed.] I was over in Belgium during the Christmas period taking care of some of my riders. We were just chatting and she asked, ‘Do you think anyone would be interested in equalizing prize money in Europe, because the Koppenbergcross is interested in having this discussion?’ I immediately was, ‘I’ll do it!’


Because it needed to be done. There was no other reason than — okay, ego speaking — it’s really cool. I was like, ‘I can be part of one of the biggest races!’ The flip-side to that is, over there when you see an event, when the women can’t park where the men park, when they are literally making a tenth of what the men make. So it makes sense, and if you’ve been following ’cross for the last few years, quite honestly, the women’s races have been — in one guy’s opinion — better races. It’s not that the men aren’t talented and fast and exciting to watch. But the women’s races are not open and shut — you’ve got to learn it; you’ve got to watch it and know any one of 10 or 12 women could win. You never know who it’s going to be next. That’s really cool, and it’s more exciting as a fan. They’re providing the sport with great entertainment and great racing, and so we should provide for them.

I think it was good that an American did it because a lot of folks in Europe were like, ‘That’s not cool.’ So it made them think about it for a second. It made them say, ‘He did that? Wait a second, how’d that work out?’ It’s ridiculous that a bike shop in America sponsored one of the biggest cross races in the world. It’s absolutely absurd.

(After two years of supporting the race, Auer had sold out of Twenty20 Cycling. Even though he had the option to continue supporting the Koppenbergcross, he decided to pass. As the driver of the initiative, and guarantor of the monies, it was time to step back. Now, as he notes, it’s part of the culture and the UCI rulebook.)

What did Twenty20 get in return?

Primarily the satisfaction, and the fact that, I believe, we were able to take a step forward and get the ball farther down the field. We weren’t able to monetize that, but we really didn’t try to monetize it. We operated more along the lines of, ‘Hey, it’d be rad if … and people bought some bikes because of it.’

On the other hand, in my travels across the country and around the world, every now and again someone will unexpectedly say, ‘Oh, hey man, I know that. I know what you did.’ That’s really cool. Even though I don’t think it spread even through the cyclocross community completely, enough people got it that they respect it and the push that’s still needed. Now C1s offer equal payouts, C2s are equal, and now Trek has equalized a World Cup for the first time, and prize money is increasing. Helen Wyman has been a huge, huge factor in that.

How did the relationship with the U.S. Cup-CX come about?

Ryan [Trebon] gave me a shout. I’ve known Ryan for a few years. He hit me up and asked me if I’d be interested if this comes together. It was the same thing as with the Koppenberg. ‘Yup!’ He said, ‘I don’t really have anything but broad strokes.’ I said, ‘No problem, all good.’

The U.S. needs a series and I was like, ‘Why not?’ It’s being well received. There’s probably going to be some good feedback. Sho-Air is awesome to that relationship. They’re a huge supporter of cycling and I’m psyched they’re in ’cross now. It may not be that my race is perfect; it may not be that the series is perfect. Certainly nothing in bike racing is perfect. But we learn every time to do things better; I think the potential here is huge.

I hope we’re part of the series going forward. It’s important for the series to have a [UCI] C1 race. That might not honestly be something we can continue to do. It does almost eliminate all possibility of any profit. I’m not talking about profit that allows you to go to Hawaii. I’m talking profit — in dollars — that helps you continue to grow the race. We didn’t achieve that last year as a C1. And no one gets paid. It’s all volunteers.

I think it’s important for the U.S. to have a series. Our problem with ’cross is scheduling and the size of the country. We need to have big races to have the best people at them. For our race, the pros are just the cherry on top. For a series, we need the professionalism that something like the U.S. Cup brings.

What did it take from a race organization perspective to be part of the U.S. Cup-CX?

There’s a little bit more infrastructure and amenities — an air-conditioned media tent, for example! [laughs] We’ve never even had a media tent before. We may not get the full-on national respect here in Baltimore; we just try to focus on the product and aren’t maybe the greatest self-promoters. But the series helped motivate the staff — even though we didn’t know what the U.S. Cup was going to be — to take that extra step forward. We’ve always thought about the ways to make the event bigger and better — an infield with food trucks and a kid’s race with a mini-flyover — and this really helped push us forward. While it didn’t monetarily cost us anything, per se, to be a part of the series, it made us move forward.

Whose idea was it to build the mammoth 20-step flyover this year?

That was me and Jay Lazar, my partner in the race. The opportunity came up through one of our sponsors, who had a connection with this scaffolding company, and we talked about how we could do it. Believe it or not, it’s smaller than we were going to have it. In hindsight, maybe it should have been a bit smaller still [laughs]. This was four full days of work — it was labor intensive.

We had just over 1,600 pre-registered athletes this year, which is just slightly higher than last year, and I think that’s because we were a C1 and part of the U.S. Cup-CX. Hopefully, after this year people will get the message — I think we did something special. We may have overcompensated a little bit this year, in a good way [laughs].

Basically, we had this silly idea. It was a ridiculous thing to do. And so we had to do it. I’ve never seen one this big in the States. I’m not trying to outdo anybody, I just thought why not? It shows opportunities. We’re always trying to push it forward.

What’s your philosophy as a race director?

To me, ’cross is about getting off your bike. If no one got off their bike on this course, I wouldn’t be interested. Here, depending on how skilled you are, you may be off the bike five times a lap. It teaches people to have skills again. Not just strength. I want both. Strongest, smartest, and most skilled wins: That’s my dream winner. There’s a place for grass tracks, so to speak, but I want to see people dismount, I want to see people screw up a remount, I want people to have to think things through. So much bike racing is formulaic, it’s nice to see something more dynamic.

I like to believe that people see what we do and they think about their courses, even if it’s for five more minutes, and add a feature or something to their course that makes it better. I hope that’s what’s happening. If you put on a race tomorrow and put up a bigger flyover than us — which I wouldn’t recommend to anybody [laughs] — I would think that was the raddest thing in the world. I’m all for us going back and forth with every club in the area and blowing things up. It’s not like we want to be better than you, it’s about all being better together.

You’re a soft-spoken person. What has made you so successful as a leader?

I’m a quiet guy most of the time, but put me in a bike race or put me around bike people, my people, and I’m an opinionated son of a bitch. I’ll put my opinion out there. It’s not always right or popular, and eventually, I see my faults.

But more importantly, I genuinely appreciate every volunteer here. It sounds idiotic, but I usually give a little speech at the end of the race weekend, and I damn near bust out crying every year because it’s everybody doing this. That’s rad. We live in such a huge country, with so many people, to find a community you can be in and be tight with even if you don’t always agree, is really meaningful to me.

What’s the story behind the name, Charm City Cross?

I came here for a summer and I stayed for 15 years. It was a really great place for me to be; it was a really easy place to create something. That’s a lot of what still goes on in Baltimore. Baltimore is just not recognized, people look down on it, and people here use that as a strength. Trust me, it’s not without its issues. Coming here from New England, I heard the name Charm City and I just didn’t get it at first. But two years in, forget it. I don’t know about the advertiser thing, but it really has its charms. We call it ‘Smalltimore,’ and a few other less nice names at times, but the community is so easy to get into here. You can create here. There are no shackles.

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Pro Bike Gallery: Stephen Hyde’s Cannondale SuperX Mon, 09 Oct 2017 16:00:33 +0000 Stephen Hyde rides a red, white, and blue Cannondale SuperX as reigning national champion. He won day two at Charm City.

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Hyde's Cannondale Hyde's saddle Hyde's cranks Hyde's top tube Hyde's cockpit Hyde's tire Hyde's tread Hyde's down tube

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US Cup-CX/Charm City Cross: Keough, Hyde take Day 2 Mon, 09 Oct 2017 00:00:16 +0000 Kaitlin Keough and Stephen Hyde were victorious on day two of the Sho-Air US Cup-CX/Charm City Cross in Baltimore, MD on Sunday.

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BALTIMORE, Maryland (VN) – Kaitlin Keough (Cannondale p/b doubled up at the Sho-Air U.S. Cup-CX/Charm City Cross, winning day two in an impressive tactical battle with Canadian national champion Maghalie Rochette (Clif Pro Team).

Though Rochette was able to pull a two-bike-length lead heading into the last half lap, Keough ran the final small staircase halfway through the lap slightly better and was able to jump in front. She then powered her way through the latter technical, wooded portion of the course to pull out a three-second victory. Keough’s Cannondale teammate, Emma White, nabbed the final spot on the podium.

“Maghalie raced really smart today,” Keough said. “Emma and I worked well together again. Maghalie didn’t go to the front until the last lap. I really had to fight for that one.”

Keough thanked some hecklers in the woods for fueling her fire late in the race.

In the men’s race, Stephen Hyde ( took the win in another exciting, tactical battle with Spencer Petrov (Aspire Racing). In the last lap, Hyde’s front wheel slid out while in the lead. Petrov rode into the fallen national champ and the two became entangled for a brief moment. Hyde was able to remount a bit faster and the chase was on.

Petrov slipped a pedal on one of the last remounts of the day, hitting his leg. He let out a yell that Hyde heard, and that’s when Hyde gave it everything. He motored in for the win with a four-second lead over Petrov. Kerry Werner (Kona) rolled across the line soon after to round out the podium.

“That was some of the best racing I’ve ever done in the U.S.,” Hyde said. “The way that race played out, and how hard everyone was going, it never happens like that. I’m really excited with the win.”

Men’s Top-10

  • 1. Stephen Hyde, (USA), 59:56
  • 2. Spencer Petrov, (USA), 01:00:03
  • 3. Kerry Werner, (USA), 01:00:10
  • 4. Tobin Ortenblad, (USA), 01:00:17
  • 5. James Driscoll, (USA), 01:01:21
  • 6. Curtis White, (USA), 01:01:53
  • 7. Jack Kisseberth, (USA), 01:02:07
  • 8. Cooper Willsey, (USA), 01:02:08
  • 9. Tristan Cowie, (USA), 01:02:27
  • 10. Justin Lindine, (USA), 01:02:36

Women’s Top-10

  • 1. Kaitlin Keough, (USA), 44:13
  • 2. Maghalie Rochette, (CAN), 44:16
  • 3. Emma White, (USA), 44:51
  • 4. Caroline Mani, (FRA), 45:14
  • 5. Rebecca Fahringer, (USA), 45:39
  • 6. Crystal Anthony, (USA), 46:24
  • 7. Kathryn Cumming, (USA), 46:33
  • 8. Stacey Barbossa, (USA), 46:43
  • 9. Jennifer Malik, (USA), 46:57
  • 10. Cassandra Maximenko, (USA), 47:17

How the women’s race unfolded

Kaitlin Keough (Cannondale p/b won again on day 2 of the Sho-Air U.S. Cup-CX/Charm City Cross to sweep the weekend. Photo: Ricoh Riott/Peloton Sports

Rebecca Fahringer (Stan’s No Tubes) powered her way to the lead on lap one, closely followed by Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing), White, Keough, and Rochette. The full field was strung out behind.

By the midway point of the second lap, separation crept between the top-five women and the pack, with White on the front of the group. At the end of lap two, Keough moved up to join her teammate at the front, with Fahringer and Rochette close in tow. Noble began to fade while a charging Caroline Mani (Van Dessel) was joined by Crystal Anthony (Shimano-Maxxis) as they worked their way back to the lead pack.

Halfway through lap three, Keough, Rochette, and White began to pull away, leaving Fahringer five seconds back. Noble pulled into the pits and her day was done. Anthony and Mani were working together another 10 seconds back.

That order stayed locked until the middle of lap four when Keough and Rochette measuredly began to pull away from White, with the pair charging ahead to build a six-second lead with three laps to go. Meanwhile, Mani began to distance Anthony. Fahringer continued to dose her effort, staying alone in between the two groups, seven seconds up on Mani.

Keough seemed content to lead, accelerating hard out of every corner. Rochette stayed glued to her wheel.

Heading into the flyover—which was used to reverse the direction of the second half of the course in Druid Hill Park—Keough attacked to try and break the grip Rochette had on her wheel. The Canadian charged back and made contact by the top of the course’s first big climb.

“I really struggle in the heat, and yesterday I had a hard time,” Rochette said. She changed her strategy for the race, pouring water over her head and skipping any warm up. “And I took it mellow and didn’t take any pulls. I hesitated late in the race—I thought I should go but I didn’t, and Katie did. That was the difference.”

In the end, Keough rolled across the line with a three-second margin over Rochette. Further back, White rolled home comfortably in third, and Mani charged past Fahringer for fourth.

How the men’s race unfolded

Hyde, Tobin Ortenblad (Donkey Label-Santa Cruz) and Curtis White (Cannondale p/b led the pack through the first half of lap one. Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) settled into the 10th spot as he worked his way through the twisting, grassy course.

Halfway through the second lap a group of seven formed at the front, containing Hyde, Ortenblad, White, Werner, Michael Van Den Ham (Garneau-Easton p/b Transitions Lifecare), Jamey Driscoll (Donnelly Cycling), and Petrov.

Soon after, things began to fall apart, as Werner took charge of the pace. Driscoll and White began to lose contact. Next, Hyde took the lead, with Ortenblad, Petrov, and Werner, in that order, charging forward.

Werner wasn’t done. He took the lead as the pace eased ever so slightly, allowing Driscoll back in.

Powers, who had continued to drift backward, dropped out at the midpoint in the race.

Petrov was the next to attack, over the barriers, and extended his lead to 10 bike lengths by the flyover. It grew to five seconds by the small staircase on course. Meanwhile, Driscoll suffered a mechanical and ran his way to the pits.

Forty minutes in, with three laps to go, Hyde clawed his way back to Petrov, and Werner made contact another quarter lap later. Ortenblad, jersey unzipped and visibly suffering, somehow found a way to grind his way to the back wheel of the Kona rider another minute later.

The four held a lead of over 45 seconds to Driscoll. Petrov sat up to stretch his back and Hyde took the lead. The four were riding in lockstep for the remainder of the lap, until Hyde struck out yet again. Petrov was the only one who could keep pace.

At the start of the final lap, the pair had quickly built a seven-second lead. Ortenblad and Werner settled in for their fight for the final podium spot.

“I gave it my everything for the last lap,” Hyde said. “My plan from the first lap was to hit it as hard as I could to hurt [Tobin] Ortenblad. There’s a lot of elevation gain here; and he has a lot of snap to him. I just needed to break his spirit today.”

The plan worked. Ortenblad was distanced in the finale and his streak of wins at the U.S. Cup-CX was broken at three. Petrov crossed the line to take his second second-place finish in the series.

“I just need to keep pushing myself,” said the 19-year old Petrov. “Just need to find where the new fitness is, where my roof is. I think today was one of the times I got close to it. I was really looking forward to that last lap if we had gone to the steps together.”

Men’s full results

  • 1. Stephen Hyde, (USA), 59:56
  • 2. Spencer Petrov, (USA), 01:00:03
  • 3. Kerry Werner, (USA), 01:00:10
  • 4. Tobin Ortenblad, (USA), 01:00:17
  • 5. James Driscoll, (USA), 01:01:21
  • 6. Curtis White, (USA), 01:01:53
  • 7. Jack Kisseberth, (USA), 01:02:07
  • 8. Cooper Willsey, (USA), 01:02:08
  • 9. Tristan Cowie, (USA), 01:02:27
  • 10. Justin Lindine, (USA), 01:02:36
  • 11. Cody Kaiser, (USA), 01:02:49
  • 12. Michael Van Den Ham, (CAN), 01:03:08
  • 13. Samuel O’keefe, (USA), 01:03:11
  • 14. Gunnar Holmgren, (CAN), 01:03:21
  • 15. Byron Rice, (USA), 01:03:21
  • 16. Scott Smith, (USA), 01:03:44
  • 17. Scott Mcgill, (USA), 01:04:05
  • 18. Evan Murphy, (USA), 01:04:13
  • 19. Trevor O’donnell, (CAN), 01:04:18
  • 20. Daniel Chabanov, (USA), 01:04:46
  • 21. Nicholas Diniz, (CAN), 01:04:55
  • 22. Bjorn Selander, (USA), 01:05:05
  • 23. Troy Wells, (USA), 01:05:26
  • 24. Kevin Bradford-Parish, (USA), 01:05:50
  • 25. Andrew Giniat, (USA), 01:06:26
  • 26. Dylan Postier, (USA), 01:06:53
  • 27. Tyler Cloutier, (USA)
  • 28. Jared Nieters, (USA)
  • 29. Christopher Rabadi, (USA)
  • 30. Jesse Stauffer, (USA)
  • 31. William Sheftall, (USA)
  • 32. Mike Festa, (USA)
  • 33. Jules Goguely, (USA)
  • 34. Samuel Kieffer, (USA)
  • 35. Jeremy Burkhardt, (USA)
  • 36. Merwin Davis, (USA)
  • 37. Trent Blackburn, (USA)
  • 38. Andrew Bailey, (USA)
  • 39. Ryan Dewald, (USA)
  • 40. Ryan Grenier, (USA)
  • 41. Scott Myers, (USA)
  • 42. Matthew Tyler, (USA)
  • 43. Patrick Miller, (USA)
  • 44. George Schulz, (USA)
  • 45. Christian Ricci, (CAN)
  • 46. Jon Fields, (USA)
  • 47. Matthew Reeves, (USA)

Women’s full results

  • 1. Kaitlin Keough, (USA), 44:13
  • 2. Maghalie Rochette, (CAN), 44:16
  • 3. Emma White, (USA), 44:51
  • 4. Caroline Mani, (FRA), 45:14
  • 5. Rebecca Fahringer, (USA), 45:39
  • 6. Crystal Anthony, (USA), 46:24
  • 7. Kathryn Cumming, (USA), 46:33
  • 8. Stacey Barbossa, (USA), 46:43
  • 9. Jennifer Malik, (USA), 46:57
  • 10. Cassandra Maximenko, (USA), 47:17
  • 11. Georgia Gould, (USA), 47:32
  • 12. Hannah Arensman, (USA), 47:40
  • 13. Lily Williams, (USA), 47:56
  • 14. Rebecca Gross, (USA), 48:02
  • 15. Emily Shields, (USA), 48:12
  • 16. Laura Van Gilder, (USA), 48:23
  • 17. Rachel Rubino, (USA), 48:26
  • 18. Nicole Dorinzi, (USA), 48:28
  • 19. Natalie Tapias, (USA), 48:42
  • 20. Julie Hunter, (USA), 49:03
  • 21. Leslie Lupien, (USA), 49:13
  • 22. Taylor Kuyk-White, (USA), 49:39
  • 23. Beth Ann Orton, (USA), 49:56
  • 24. Avanell Schmitz, (USA), 50:06
  • 25. Elisabeth Sheldon, (USA), 50:16
  • 26. Julie Kuliecza, (USA), 50:46
  • 27. Karen Talleymead, (USA), 50:58
  • 28. Sophie Russenberger, (USA), 51:01
  • 29. Erica Zaveta, (USA), 52:25
  • 30. Philicia Marion, (USA)
  • 31. Samantha Brode, (USA)
  • 32. Dana Gilligan, (CAN)
  • 33. Taryn Mudge, (USA)
  • 34. Kelli Montgomery, (USA)
  • 35. Elisabeth Reinkordt, (USA)
  • 36. Siobhan Kelly, (CAN)
  • 37. Kathleen Wulfkuhle, (USA)
  • 38. Anya Malarski, (USA)

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US Cup-CX/Charm City Cross: Keough, Ortenblad take Day 1 Sat, 07 Oct 2017 23:36:11 +0000 Kaitlin Keough and Tobin Ortenblad were victorious on day one of the Sho-Air US Cup-CX/Charm City Cross.

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BALTIMORE, Maryland (VN) – Kaitlin Keough ( led for nearly the entire race at the Sho-Air US Cup-CX/Charm City Cross Day 1, winning solo with a 25-second lead over her teammate Emma White. Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing) charged across the line for third.

The two teammates, along with Noble, quickly separated themselves from the rest of the pack under unseasonably warm conditions at the UCI C1 event in Baltimore, Maryland. The mostly grass track was seared from the day’s previous groups, which included almost 1600 pre-registered athletes for the weekend.

“This comes at the end of a big block of racing for me so I’m definitely feeling it,” Keough said. “It’s also been really hot for the past five weeks and it’s taking its toll. I just wanted to end this block strong, and dig, and get more points at this C1. I’m really happy with the win.”

In a thrilling men’s race, strategy played an important role in the outcome, as Tobin Ortenblad (Donkey Label-Santa Cruz), Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing), Stephen Hyde (, and Kerry Werner (Kona) charged into the last lap together, battling for position until the last corner of the race. Ultimately, Ortenblad sprinted to victory, passing Powers at the line, with Hyde completing the podium. Werner, who rode until the final quarter lap amongst the fold, rolled across the line soon after in fourth.

“That finish straight is so short we actually put smaller chainrings on because we knew the wind-up was going to be very important,” Ortenblad said. “There was a moment when [Powers] came back, and I was like, ‘Come on, this is a UCI C1!”

Men’s Top 10

  • 1. Tobin Ortenblad, (USA), 1:00:14
  • 2. Jeremy Powers, (USA), 1:00:14
  • 3. Stephen Hyde, (USA), 1:00:16
  • 4. Kerry Werner, (USA), 1:00:18
  • 5. Spencer Petrov, (USA), 1:00:57
  • 6. Curtis White, (USA), 1:01:18
  • 7. Tristan Cowie, (USA), 1:01:26
  • 8. James Driscoll, (USA), 1:01:36
  • 9. Cody Kaiser, (USA), 1:02:34
  • 10. Justin Lindine, (USA), 1:02:48

Women’s Top 10

  • 1. Kaitlin Keough, (USA), 0:44:27
  • 2. Emma White, (USA), 0:44:52
  • 3. Ellen Noble, (USA), 0:45:14
  • 4. Crystal Anthony, (USA), 0:45:21
  • 5. Rebecca Fahringer, (USA), 0:45:36
  • 6. Caroline Mani, (FRA), 0:45:51
  • 7. Arley Kemmerer, (USA), 0:46:32
  • 8. Hannah Arensman, (USA), 0:46:46
  • 9. Lily Williams, (USA), 0:46:54
  • 10. Kathryn Cumming, (USA), 0:46:59

How the women’s race unfolded

Maghalie Rochette (Clif Pro Team), Noble, Keough, and White led the pack around the first lap of the race, just gapping the rest of the field. By the end of lap one, White had gone to the front, bringing Noble with her. Keough was close behind. Crystal Anthony (Maxxis Shimano) led the chasing pack.

White, Noble, and Keough gained even more separation by the end of lap two. Anthony, Caroline Mani (Van Dessel/Atom Composites), and Rebecca Fahringer (Stan’s No Tubes) chased 15 seconds back. Soon after, the Cannondale pair went to the front and began to distance Noble. Meanwhile, Fahringer gapped her group over the barriers and set off in chase of the leaders.

Midway through the third lap, the gap was five seconds. Noble was caught in no-man’s land and struggling to hold the gap steady.

“I know how I race in the heat, and it’s not good,” Noble said. “I got to that point that I knew if I kept going that same pace that the race would be over and I would be back at the team tent and I wouldn’t finish. I pulled the plug early so I could keep going. Once these ladies rode away I knew it was just defensive racing to stay on the podium.”

At the line, the gap was nine seconds, as the two Cannondale riders took turns on the front throwing in digs. Fahringer was another 10 seconds back with Anthony closing the gap with every pedal stroke.

With two laps to go, Keough finally broke the stranglehold, distancing her teammate by five seconds by the time they cleared the barriers. Noble began to fade even further but still held a 12 second lead on Fahringer and Anthony.

At the bell, Keough held a 10-second lead over White. Noble was cruising another 20 seconds back. Anthony had by this time passed and distanced Fahringer, and was another 10 seconds behind the final podium spot.

Keough now leads the Sho-Air US Cup-CX Series over White.

How the men’s race unfolded

Tobin Ortenblad outsprinted Jeremy Powers to win the third round of the Sho-Air US Cup-CX in Baltimore, MD. Photo: @pinnedgrit

In the men’s race, Ortenblad took the holeshot to lead the group. Through lap one, nearly the entire field was strung out single-file, with Ortenblad still in the lead, as they twisted through the grassy knolls of Druid Hill Park.

At the start of lap two, Stephen Hyde surged as the group swelled. Slowly but surely, the group began to splinter. Jeremy Powers and teammate Spencer Petrov (Aspire Racing), Kerry Werner (Kona), Hyde, Curtis White (, and Ortenblad comprised the front group with five laps to go.

Jamey Driscoll (Donnelly Racing) dangled a few seconds back.

The race stayed in that formation for another lap, with Powers on the front for nearly the entire loop.

Midway through the next lap, Hyde took the lead and opened up the throttle. Driscoll was the first to be popped. Soon it was Werner’s turn to attack. White was put into difficulty and the gap began to grow. The lead group was down to five: Werner, Hyde, Powers, Ortenblad, and Petrov.

“At one point, I was thinking, ‘One of us is going to die,’” Hyde said. “The heat was getting to all of us. Either one of us was going to crash or die of heat stroke or win, and that’s how it worked out.”

With two laps to go, Petrov, 19, was the next to struggle to hold the front group. Still, he held the pace, until just before the last lap began when Hyde threw down a vicious attack. Still, the group remained intact.

On the last lap, Powers attacked into the 20-step flyover to move into second place behind Hyde. Out of every corner, Hyde snapped into high gear, and Petrov was dropped. It was down to four.

Aggressive racing saw the four swapping leads, blocking, and positioning themselves for a sprint finish on the last half of the last lap.

“I’m never good running with my bike awkwardly beside me in the sand, so I just dictated the pace and slowed it down just a bit,” Powers said. “Last year I sprinted Dan Timmerman to [second place] in this same exact way. I knew leading it out was going to be my best shot.”

Powers led onto the paved finishing straight, but couldn’t hold off a charging Ortenblad. The Santa Cruz rider leads the overall in the Sho-Air US Cup-CX Series, having won all three rounds that have been contested.

Men’s day 1 full results

  • 1. Tobin Ortenblad, (USA), 1:00:14
  • 2. Jeremy Powers, (USA), 1:0014
  • 3. Stephen Hyde, (USA), 1:00:16
  • 4. Kerry Werner, (USA), 1:00:18
  • 5. Spencer Petrov, (USA), 1:00:57
  • 6. Curtis White, (USA), 1:01:18
  • 7. Tristan Cowie, (USA), 1:01:26
  • 8. James Driscoll, (USA), 1:01:36
  • 9. Cody Kaiser, (USA), 1:02:34
  • 10. Justin Lindine, (USA), 1:02:48
  • 11. Jack Kisseberth, (USA), 1:03:01
  • 12. Michael Van Den Ham, (CAN), 1:03:13
  • 13. Cooper Willsey, (USA), 1:03:36
  • 14. Daniel Chabanov, (USA), 1:04:06
  • 15. Bjorn Selander, (USA), 1:04:24
  • 16. Nicholas Diniz, (CAN), 1:04:41
  • 17. Jules Goguely, (USA), 1:05:02
  • 18. Scott Smith, (USA), 1:05:15
  • 19. Evan Murphy, (USA), 1:05:16
  • 20. Byron Rice, (USA), 1:05:16
  • 21. Jordan Snyder, (USA), 1:05:41
  • 22. Kevin Bradford-Parish, (USA), 1:06:03
  • 23. Merwin Davis, (USA), 1:06:09
  • 24. Trevor O’donnell, (CAN), 1:06:13
  • 25. Gunnar Holmgren, (CAN), 1:06:36
  • 26. Christopher Rabadi, (USA), 1:06:38
  • 27. Tyler Cloutier, (USA), 1:07:32
  • 28. Alex Ryan, (USA)
  • 29. Andrew Giniat, (USA)
  • 30. Andrew Wulfkuhle, (USA)
  • 31. Jordan Villella, (USA)
  • 32. Jeremy Burkhardt, (USA)
  • 33. Samuel Kieffer, (USA)
  • 34. Scott Mcgill, (USA)
  • 35. William Sheftall, (USA)
  • 36. Matthew Tyler, (USA)
  • 37. Thomas Borner, (USA)
  • 38. Brendan Mccormack, (USA)
  • 39. Christian Ricci, (CAN)
  • 40. Mike Festa, (USA)
  • 41. Gregg Griffo, (USA)
  • 42. Ryan Grenier, (USA)
  • 43. Scott Myers, (USA)
  • 44. Andrew Bailey, (USA)
  • 45. Jesse Stauffer, (USA)
  • 46. Trent Blackburn, (USA)
  • 47. Patrick Miller, (USA)
  • 48. Christian Sundquist, (USA)
  • 49. George Schulz, (USA)

Women’s day 1 full results

  • 1. Kaitlin Keough, (USA), 0:44:27
  • 2. Emma White, (USA), 0:44:52
  • 3. Ellen Noble, (USA), 0:45:14
  • 4. Crystal Anthony, (USA), 0:45:21
  • 5. Rebecca Fahringer, (USA), 0:45:36
  • 6. Caroline Mani, (FRA), 0:45:51
  • 7. Arley Kemmerer, (USA), 0:46:32
  • 8. Hannah Arensman, (USA), 0:46:46
  • 9. Lily Williams, (USA), 0:46:54
  • 10. Kathryn Cumming, (USA), 0:46:59
  • 11. Maghalie Rochette, (CAN), 0:47:05
  • 12. Cassandra Maximenko, (USA), 0:47:12
  • 13. Jennifer Malik, (USA), 0:47:19
  • 14. Stacey Barbossa, (USA), 0:47:24
  • 15. Laura Van Gilder, (USA), 0:48:30
  • 16. Emily Shields, (USA), 0:48:37
  • 17. Georgia Gould, (USA), 0:48:42
  • 18. Laura Winberry, (USA), 0:49:04
  • 19. Julie Hunter, (USA), 0:49:12
  • 20. Rachel Rubino, (USA), 0:49:13
  • 21. Gray Patton, (USA), 0:49:39
  • 22. Avanell Schmitz, (USA), 0:49:40
  • 23. Elisabeth Sheldon, (USA), 0:49:46
  • 24. Beth Ann Orton, (USA), 0:49:57
  • 25. Natalie Tapias, (USA), 0:50:07
  • 26. Nicole Dorinzi, (USA), 0:50:13
  • 27. Dana Gilligan, (CAN), 0:50:44
  • 28. Karen Talleymead, (USA), 0:50:58
  • 29. Rebecca Gross, (USA), 0:51:08
  • 30. Anya Malarski, (USA), 0:51:12
  • 31. Leslie Lupien, (USA), 0:51:22
  • 32. Erica Zaveta, (USA), 0:51:43
  • 33. Erin Faccone, (USA), 0:51:49
  • 34. Julie Kuliecza, (USA), 0:52:37
  • 35. Samantha Brode, (USA), 0:52:55
  • 36. Alexandra Campbellforte, (USA)
  • 37. Barb Blakley, (USA)
  • 38. Taryn Mudge, (USA)
  • 39. Sophie Russenberger, (USA)
  • 40. Siobhan Kelly, (CAN)
  • 41. Elisabeth Reinkordt, (USA)
  • 42. Philicia Marion, (USA)
  • 43. Kelli Montgomery, (USA)
  • 44. Lauren Festa, (USA)
  • DQS. Allison Arensman, (USA)

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Rusch rides Ho Chi Minh Trail to find fallen father Fri, 29 Sep 2017 11:44:13 +0000 In 2015, Rebecca Rusch rode 1,200 miles along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to find where her father’s plane crashed during the Vietnam War.

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Forty-three years after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War, Stephen A. Rusch met his daughter.

She came searching and found him beneath a curious-looking tree in a thick Laotian jungle, far from her Idaho home. She rode her mountain bike over more than a thousand miles of gnarled landscape, across three Southeast Asian countries, to get there. She meticulously assembled a team of people to help her do, and film, it all. She had pondered for years about who this man was, how she could ever find him, if she could ever know him.

Somehow, she found the very spot where he had been waiting all this time. For the first time in her life, she felt her dad. She felt whole. Tears filled her eyes, the crunch of leaves beneath her feet and her gentle sniffles the only perceptible sounds in this jungle.

To understand what it took for that daughter, consummate endurance athlete and mountain biker Rebecca Rusch, to find the very spot where her father was buried, beneath that special tree, would be to believe in destiny. At least that’s how Rusch sees it.

“I wouldn’t have told you I believed in destiny until … now,” Rusch says. “I can look all the way back through my career — it was all leading me there. I was meant to go to that tree and find that spot.”

Rusch’s emotional and physical journey is documented in the feature-length film “Blood Road,” which won the Audience Award at the Sun Valley Film Festival in March and was released online in June. It is screening at festivals and events through the fall.

We go behind the scenes of the making of “Blood Road.

Rebecca Rusch
Rebecca Rusch’s father’s plane was shot down when she was three years old. Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool/Josh Letchworth

THIS STORY BEGINS ON March 7, 1972. On that day, U.S. Air Force pilot Carter Howell and weapon’s systems officer Stephen A. Rusch were flying an early morning mission over Southern Laos in their F-4E Phantom II fighter-bomber, Gunfighter 61.

Below, sprawled across more than 12,000 miles of roads, footpaths, and waterways, was what Americans dubbed the Ho Chi Minh Trail, after the North Vietnamese leader. The Trail was the main supply route constructed and used by the North Vietnamese to move soldiers, equipment, and ammunition during the war. Starting in Hanoi, the main city in the north, it stretched thousands of miles to Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City). The U.S. wanted it destroyed and launched a five-year operation of covert bombardment.

According to the account of the crew of Gunfighter 60, which flew beside Rusch’s plane that day, it wasn’t long before muzzle flashes lit up the jungle and tracer bullets from anti-aircraft guns flashed through the air.

Then came an explosion. Gunfighter 61 dropped, crashing through the thick jungle canopy, gouging the hillside below as it came to rest near the village of Ta Oy. There was radio silence.

Rebecca Rusch was three years old.

For 35 years, Stephen Rusch was considered Missing In Action. And Rebecca lived life not knowing her father, or if he perished. For years she had recurring dreams that one day she’d meet him while he was playing music in a coffee shop; they’d sit down and talk about their lives.

In 2002, Rusch traveled to Vietnam to compete in the Raid Gauloises adventure race. She found herself wondering if the brutal jungle conditions she faced with her teammates were similar to what her father and his fellow soldiers encountered during the Vietnam War.

Later that same trip, she visited Da Nang Air Force Base, where her father had been stationed. Her mother, Judy, accompanied her. She visited the demilitarized zone and Khe Sanh, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war. There, on what is now a beautiful coffee plantation, Rusch’s tour guide pointed out the Ho Chi Minh Trail, across the border in Laos. Knowing that her father was shot down over the trail, Rusch’s mind began to turn: “It was a fleeting moment. I took a photo, but I said, ‘I want to go there someday,’” she recalls.

She didn’t think about it again for many years.

In 2007, a search and recovery mission finally identified her father’s remains at the crash site. She received its GPS coordinates. The news confirmed that he had died in the crash that day in 1972. He had never been a prisoner of war. Rusch was relieved to find out he hadn’t been tortured or suffered in any way.

The discovery sparked her curiosity yet again. She contemplated planning an expedition. Around this same time, though, adventure racing was quickly drying up, and Rusch made the leap to mountain biking. She immediately began to dominate the sport. She was focused on winning the Leadville Trail 100, Dirty Kanza 200, and setting records. Though she was again inspired, an expedition remained just a thought.

It all changed in 2013. As a Red Bull-sponsored athlete (something she’s been for over 15 years), Rusch is asked to pitch the company with ideas for amazing adventures. During a long bike ride, a friend suggested she pitch them the idea to ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Suddenly, it all became clear.

Rusch first approached her Red Bull athlete manager, who typically helps with reviewing and planning expedition ideas. Initially, Rusch wanted to do this for the adventure of it, and she needed logistical support.

She was turned down.

It’s something she’s glad happened in retrospect. If they had accepted the idea when she first pitched it, she believes, neither she nor the production team would have had the skill to take on the journey’s challenging logistics. “I’m glad they turned it down, because it made me think about it more, made me want it more,” Rusch says.

After further research, and building a better pitch, Red Bull Media House (RBMH) became involved. Eventually, the project made its way to Nicholas Schrunk, the creative director of the RBMH production company. He loved it.

“When I heard that logline for the first time, it gave me goosebumps,” says Schrunk, who became the film’s director. “In the sports world, there are so many great stories, but a lot of them fall into doing the unknown, or the bigger-faster-stronger type films. This pitch caught me off-guard: something that hadn’t been done before, but also had an emotional journey, something that brought in the idea of war, of family, while still being this incredible expedition, on a bike, through the unknown.”

In 2014, “Blood Road” was a go. Rusch’s attitude about the project, says Schrunk, sealed its fate.

“She came to us saying, ‘This is a story I’m willing to tell; I’m willing to open myself up; I’m willing to make myself vulnerable; I’m willing to share this journey because I want and need the support of a lot of people to put this together,’” Schrunk says.

FOR THE NEXT NINE months, Rusch, Schrunk, and the Red Bull Media House team got to work researching how to execute on such a daunting and thrilling plan.

Crucial to that research was finding Don Duvall, an American cartographer, sailor, and adventurer who has made it his life’s mission to map the braided network of trails that comprise the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Duvall began mapping in Laos in 1999, after sailing to Southeast Asia to explore the area. Using Department of Defense maps produced in the late 1960s (the most detailed topographic maps of many of the areas) and his own GPS data — and extreme amounts of time — Duvall has created something that proved crucial to the success of the project.

“Collecting data, organizing it, and making a final product is a monumental task that would normally take a team of people. And has taken me years,” Duvall says. The extensive research laid the foundation for deciding what could and couldn’t be ridden on mountain bikes, how best to access the crash site while sticking to the most historically accurate route, and choosing a portion that could be completed in a month’s time.

The team decided to follow the historical trek from North to South, and begin the route outside of Hanoi in the small town of Tan Ky, where the official start of the trail once was. (A Zero Kilometer monument now marks the spot in the center of town.)

The 1,200-mile route comprised a mix of all types of terrain, from paved roads to remote jungle footpaths where machetes would be needed to break trail. It traveled through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The crew would end the expedition in Ho Chi Minh City on the grounds of the Independence Palace, which at the time of the war was the official residence of the President of South Vietnam.

Duvall’s devotion to mapping the region, as well as his determination to guide the team to the crash site despite breaking his shoulder along the way, was not lost on the team or himself. As he states in the film, it was one of the most important projects he’s ever worked on.

“It was a dream come true to have Rebecca and Red Bull Media House do this documentary so the world could see this little-known and very important part of history — how the war changed the lives of so many people and is still impacting everyone living in the area of the Ho Chi Minh Trail today,” Duvall says.

A second critical element to the expedition was finding a teammate for Rusch. The prevailing feeling was that riding with someone from the region would help Rusch better understand the country and experience the ride with a completely different perspective. Through research and word of mouth, they discovered Huyen Nguyen, one of the most decorated cyclists in Vietnam’s history, a four-time winner of the Southeast Asian Games.

Typically Rusch knows her expedition partners. Going on the biggest ride of her life with a complete stranger was concerning. Little did the team know that Nguyen’s athletic achievements, though important, would pale in comparison to the companionship she provided Rusch during the challenging expedition.

Having lost her mother when she was eight years old and her husband seven years before the expedition began, Nguyen possesses a deep understanding of loss. Her kindness and empathy toward Rusch’s emotional journey are strikingly apparent on film.

“I feel blessed to be able to ride alongside Rebecca to the place where her father fell in the war,” Nguyen says. “And with that, maybe I can partly share her agony and sorrow.”

Though well decorated, Nguyen had been retired from mountain biking for a decade.

She raises her children, son, Huu Nhat Thanh, and daughter, Nguyen Bao Ngoc, as a single mom while working at Ho Chi Minh City University and coaching the junior Vietnamese women’s cycling team. Yet the chance to ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail carried great meaning. She jumped at the chance.

Rusch was the great beneficiary of Nguyen’s addition to the team. Most importantly it helped the American learn to slow down and express her emotions more openly.

“What was my biggest fear going into the expedition turned out to be my biggest gift,” Rusch says. “While I was teaching her on the trail, physically, she helped me grow emotionally. I wasn’t always recognizing it in the moment. But I look back now and read the full translations of her interviews and see, ‘Wow, she really was devoted to me, devoted to my cause, very patient with me.’ It warmed my heart to know she was doing and feeling and saying all those things without me even knowing it or being able to say those words to each other.”

Rebecca Rusch
Rusch and Nguyen started the expedition as complete strangers and quickly grew close. Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool/Josh Letchworth

METICULOUS PLANNING WENT INTO how to film an expedition of this scale, through jungles and remote villages, with delicate modern film equipment, all while dancing around a pair of incredibly talented endurance athletes.

Schrunk allowed Rusch to detail the expedition from an athletic standpoint on her own. For that authentic experience you see on screen, it had to be a true expedition, he believed. Yet, for the purposes of catching it all on film, Schrunk and his crew couldn’t take such chances.

“We needed a cheat sheet because there’s no way you stay in front of one of the world’s best endurance athletes by accident,” Schrunk says. “We didn’t want to leave things unto chance. As a filmmaker, you want to be able to capture all of it: the villages, the streams, the rivers, the jungles, while capturing the story in a genuine and real way.”

Thus, for three months, over two trips, Schrunk scouted the route. On his second and third trips down the planned course, he, Duvall, and director of photography Ryan Young established GPS waypoints where they could film the two riders coming or going, beautiful shots of the landscape and villages, as well as places to charge batteries, get water, and so forth. The giant bank of waypoints became their cheat sheet.

“In any documentary, the pre-production process is where the genius lies,” Schrunk says. “It’s how you get more chances to get more creative elements.”

The crew was never in the same place twice — there were no do-overs. Furthermore, most of them had never seen these places before. Most importantly, they had high aspirations for the cinematography and storytelling. And the one thing they couldn’t ever replace was Rusch’s reactions and her discoveries for the first time.

The ask was high: Rusch and Schrunk shared a strong but sometimes conflicting desire to succeed. While her concern was to respect her family and fully address the unexplored, both physically and emotionally, Schrunk’s ultimate responsibility was to document all facets of the journey, and in particular to capture the raw human emotion.

It didn’t always work out the way they hoped.

The small crew Schrunk directed — a team of six, including two cameramen, an audio specialist who doubled as the drone pilot, a gimbal operator, a producer, and himself — could only shoot one scene at a time.

They were often constrained by their small size.

One morning the crew awoke in camp to witness a beautiful golden sunrise — light rose in the jungle, reflecting off a river while a nearby waterfall cascaded down. They couldn’t resist shooting what Schrunk describes as a once-in-a-lifetime moment. They sent the drone into the sky. (Little did they know at the time the footage would be used to open the film.)

Meanwhile, Schrunk looked over to see Rusch embracing a teary-eyed Nguyen. The two women were deep in conversation about Nguyen’s late husband’s tragic death. It was a cathartic moment. Meanwhile, the drone flying above destroyed any chance of capturing quality audio from the touching scene.

“It’s like you’re handcuffed watching hundred dollar bills fly in front of you on the ground. You can only really grab one of them,” Shrunk says.

It wasn’t the only time the film crew missed an opportunity to capture a human moment.

Filmmaker Nicholas Schrunk went to great lengths to scout the route. Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool/Josh Letchworth

ONE SCENE THAT WASN’T missed, and the film’s most surreal, was the encounter in the village of Ta Oy. As viewers of the film, we watch as an aghast Rusch learns she is sitting across from the son of the former village chief who discovered her father’s fallen plane. Mr. Ayr is now the village chief.

The chance meeting took the air out of the room.

“Complete shock,” Rusch says. “I was saying to myself, ‘How is this happening? How did we find this person?’ He welcomed me into his home. My dad was dropping bombs on his family, and for him to still have the kind spirit and openness to welcome me and be glad to see me and say that we’re family, it made me sad for what we’ve done in our wars and all the f—ked up things that happened, but it also made me realize how good humanity is, how forgiving they are.”

In the eyes of Rusch and Mr. Ayr, they are family. Off camera, Mr. Ayr told Rusch, “We’re brother and sister. You’re part of me.” That’s because Mr. Ayr’s mother was pregnant with him at the time of the plane crash. The village shaman told his family the spirits of the dead American soldiers were born in him — when one spirit dies, another is born. She was floored.

As a filmmaker, moments such as these are what Schrunk dreamed of capturing. He moved his cameras back and let the scene unfurl.

While Rusch believes it was destiny, Schrunk has a more pragmatic view of the outcome. “I remember calling my editor and saying, ‘You’re going to think I’m lying but I swear to god this just happened.’”

He reasons that if you analyze the situation, it doesn’t appear to be so miraculous. The region has changed little in the past 40 years — people still grow rice, live with their families, remain in the same villages, live a life similar to the way they did during the war — you start to understand how it could happen. If you were a village chief and a plane fell out of the sky, of course, you would go out and see what would be there. And a village chief’s son would, of course, likely become the village chief once his father passed away. With coordinates in hand, perhaps it was only a matter of time before Rusch found Mr. Ayr.

It sounds so simple now. Yet, there is no denying the moment bears a tinge of the miraculous.

THE LOGISTICS OF FILMING in rugged jungle terrain while constantly on the move presented a serious challenge. Doing so with such a small crew was grueling. That meant the entire team adopted a fluid production style — everyone had multiple jobs. The gimbal operator also managed equipment and drivers, while the drone pilot arranged audio equipment, and the cameraman maintained the motorcycles.

Those motorcycles, specifically dual-sport dirt bikes, were the only way the team could traverse the terrain. On singletrack jungle roads, everyone’s bikes were loaded with survival equipment, supplies, and camera gear. This, of course, created an element of danger that required the team not only be talented in filmmaking, but also skilled moto riders.

Audio was incredibly challenging to capture within the harsh environments. It was made more difficult because the film crew couldn’t be with Rusch and Nguyen for most of the day. They used audio equipment to record the riders in order to capture more than 150 hours of conversations.

Moisture and heat were the two main enemies in the jungle. Both variables struck with little warning. Moments after clouds would clear, the temperature often rose 20 degrees, pushing the crew’s equipment to its limits. If any moisture made its way into the RED Dragon 6K cameras or lenses it would take days to fix. They had to waterproof all their cases and gear, and shelter everything before the sun came up. Then there was the most crucial task: not falling off a motorcycle into a river with 60 pounds of delicate, expensive, and irreplaceable gear.

Of the many challenging moments the team faced, none tested them as much as the nine-hour traverse of the Xe Bang Fai River cave.

When the teams’ senses were taken away and the element of the unknown introduced — how long is this cave, how long will it take to get through it, do we have enough battery life in our headlamps — every emotion was exaggerated.

The team was late entering the cave, for many reasons. Rusch, a seasoned veteran of adventure races in extreme conditions, was accustomed to being more in control. Her default mentality of pushing even harder didn’t get them anywhere faster. They had arrived during the dry season, which meant the river was low. It led to five portages over sharp and slippery rocks, hauling bikes, camera gear, and rafts, in eerie darkness. When they turned on headlamps, strange white bugs swarmed them. To top it off, this was just before the halfway mark of the trip — there was still a long way to go.

Rusch broke. She lost her composure. The typically poised veteran of such situations unleashed a tirade. (Viewers catch only a brief glimpse.) The team was cracked.

But sometimes it takes being broken in order to rebound and know where everyone stands as teammates. When the protective layers are removed, the experience becomes something more genuine and real, says Schrunk.

It was a pivotal moment in the making of the film. For Rusch, it was an educational moment. Soon after her outburst, she felt embarrassed. She apologized to Nguyen and the crew who had seen her at her worst.

“While I’m not proud of how I was in the cave, I think it was a good lesson for me,” Rusch says. “I knew I had to communicate better, slow down. It took us to another level in our friendship and working relationship. We started as strangers and now we’re like brothers and sisters.”

WHILE THE MOMENTS WITHIN the cave were raw and unfiltered, there was no more touching and poignant scene than when Rusch stands at the very tree where her father was buried.

The film crew knew this was going to be a powerful moment no matter how it played out. They wanted to avoid dictating anything about how Rusch experienced it. Schrunk chose camera angles that were purposefully set back so that she wouldn’t have any distraction. There could be no moving around; there could be no pressure on her to do or say anything in particular.

“This was her moment,” Schrunk says. “I told her, ‘We’re going to get it, and no matter what you feel or how it goes about, it’s going to be great because it’s going to be genuine to you. This is your moment. You live it how you want to.’”

Father and daughter were reunited. After so many years, Rusch felt her dad. It was the crux moment of an incredible journey. The true meaning of it all, however, wouldn’t immediately strike Rusch.

A few days later, she and the team visited a dusty, drab temple, one of hundreds along their route. Rusch opened the door to the sanctuary and entered another world: like going from a black and white movie into Technicolor, she says. Incredibly vibrant Buddhist scenes covered the entire room, some 50-feet square. It glowed. Across the back wall was a hand-painted scene of the Buddha sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, where he is said to have attained enlightenment.

“That’s when it struck me: My dad’s tree was my Bodhi tree. That tree in the middle of Laos was…finding myself, finding enlightenment, finding a purpose.”

The messages had been coming at her for years. She hadn’t been listening. Finally, her father broke through.

“In his letters, my father laments over having to drop bombs and not understanding why. Why did he bring me here? In order to help heal, close these wounds finally. He’s brought me there to try to fix it.”

Purchase a copy of “Blood Road” >>

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Diagnosis: How to fine-tune diet for racing Thu, 28 Sep 2017 13:33:08 +0000 We looked at the case of a professional triathlete who wanted to improve her race-day performance through her diet.

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Ellie was a 23-year-old professional triathlete who was preparing for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2016. Like many athletes, Ellie believed she could improve her race performance by refining her body composition and pre-race fuel strategy. Both of these goals meant she’d need to change her diet. Ellie was unsure of how to do this without hurting her training or her taper for the big day.

Ellie posed this challenge to Ryan Kohler, manager of sports performance at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center. Kohler had already worked with Ellie for 1.5 years and knew she possessed disciplined eating habits.

How does an elite athlete refine her diet without impacting performance?

The two needed to devise a hyper-focused diet that maximized glycogen stores leading up to her race, without negatively impacting body composition or weight. The pair also needed to determine the appropriate timing and amount of carbohydrates to include in her diet, while allowing for her caloric needs and adjusting for her taper.

“It was just a matter of including additional objectives to focus her nutrition around specific times of the season,” Kohler says.


Kohler and his team initially performed a skinfold body-composition measurement and gathered body weight and food-log information. Then, they used MuscleSound software to accurately and non-invasively determine Ellie’s stored carbohydrate. MuscleSound was co-developed by Dr. Iñigo San Millan, the director of the Performance Center and a prominent physiologist with decades of experience working with professional cyclists.

It works in conjunction with a portable ultrasound device to calculate relative glycogen concentration, tissue thickness, body fat percentage, and lean mass. It does this by automatically detecting fat-muscle boundaries. If you imagine your muscles as fuel tanks, the ultrasound allows you to see how much gas is in the tank.

The rectus femoris muscle was used as the measurement site. Studies in endurance athletes have shown this muscle provides a good assessment of lower-body storage, and can reflect small to large changes due to nutrition, training, or recovery interventions.

The MuscleSound test revealed Ellie was approximately 70 percent “full,” meaning she was adequately storing carbohydrates for her daily training needs, and she had additional room to super-compensate — in this case for the priority event.


Kohler prescribed a carb-rich diet, slightly above what Ellie was accustomed to eating. She tried the new meal plan for one week, and combined specific food suggestions. For example, she ate things such as oats, yogurt, and egg whites for breakfast; lunch might include a deli sandwich and salad; and dinner could be fish, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.

Then, Ellie spent a week eating whatever she wanted, so long as it supported her training, was low in fat, and allowed for maximal carbohydrate storage. She ate 2,600 kilocalories per day, broken down into six grams per kilogram of carbohydrates and 1.7-1.9 grams per kilogram of protein.

Ellie maintained her total caloric intake (while reducing fat intake) by consuming additional calories from (1) carbohydrates, to support training and provide additional substrate for glycogen re-synthesis; and from (2) protein to support recovery and increase satiety in the absence of additional fat. Kohler focused the timing of Ellie’s carbohydrate doses to provide the additional energy when necessary.


Ellie followed the experimental diet for one week. Then her glycogen stores were retested under the same conditions. The ultrasound revealed that her proverbial fuel tank was at 90 percent of its glycogen capacity (which Kohler considered to be near the maximum attainable), and she reported having increased energy levels. Over the one-week trial, Ellie also experienced a one percent decline in body weight and five percent decline in body composition.

Because the test was conducted five weeks prior to worlds, Kohler returned Ellie to her usual training diet to allow carbohydrate levels to return to normal.

The week before her big race, Ellie went back on the carb-rich diet. She finished 11th at the world championships.

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Q&A: Mileage world record holder Amanda Coker Thu, 14 Sep 2017 12:47:34 +0000 Amanda Coker rode a staggering 86,573.2 miles, for an average of 237.19 miles per day for 365 straight days.

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How many miles did you put on your car last year? On May 14, 2017, Amanda Coker, 24, set a new world record for the most miles ridden in a year. (The UltraMarathon Cycling Association oversees the mark, referred to by the acronym HAM’R, or Highest Annual Mileage Record.) She rode a staggering 86,573.2 miles, for an average of 237.19 miles per day for 365 straight days.

You’d imagine she took a nice long nap after that. Wrong.

Coker kept on riding. She had her sights set on another record: accumulating 100,000 miles faster than any human before her. She accomplished that feat in 423 days, on July 11, averaging 20.31 miles per hour.

The numbers alone are stunning. When you consider that six years ago Coker suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit on her bike from behind by a distracted motorist — which left her with a multitude of debilitating symptoms, including depression and anxiety — it seems unfathomable.

It isn’t. Every day, for 423 consecutive days, Coker awoke before sunrise to set out on one of three bikes — a road, TT, or recumbent bike — allowing her to use slightly different muscle groups (that’s legal, according to UMCA rules). Efficiency and economy were crucial to Coker’s efforts. That, in part, led her to choose Flatwoods Park near her home in Tampa, Florida, as the venue for the large majority of her miles.

That’s right, she rode nearly every one of those 100,000 miles around a seven-mile loop in a wooded suburban park. Her devoted parents, mother Donna and father Ricky, supported her during 13-hour-long days. It also helped her inspire hundreds of other park users. So many decided to set personal records that a celebratory poster was created to document the so-called 100- and 200-mile club.

We caught up with Coker just days after she completed her monumental ride.

VeloNews: First of all, how do you feel? Physically? Emotionally?
Amanda Coker: Emotionally and physically I feel amazing! I’m in the best shape I’ve been in my entire life. I am excited to be an actual world record holder, and am already looking forward to new challenges.

VN: Why did you want to do the HAM’R? When did you decide to go for the 100,000-mile record?
AC: After I competed at Sebring in the 12-hour race in February 2016, several fellow cyclists suggested that I should attempt to set a women’s HAM’R. In 1939, the Guinness World Record was set by Billie Dovey at 29,603.7 miles, for 365 days. I was already riding 100 miles several days a week and felt sure I could push that average for a year. I didn’t know how far I could push so there was only one way to find out, and that way was to go for it. In all reality I wanted to push my limits every day to the max without injuring myself. So once I was in that rhythm I just continued on with as many miles as I could do.

I decided go after the 100,000-mile record more than a month before I finished my HAM’R attempt. Estimating what my final total for the year would be, my parents and I calculated that I would “only” need about 14,000 miles to reach 100,000 miles. Figuring I’d more than likely never be that close to the 100,000-mile record again, we decided why not go for it.

VN: Was there ever a time when you thought, “This is a waste of my time?”
AC: Never!

VN: What did you think about? How did you keep yourself entertained?
AC: Believe it or not, I was never bored. I truly enjoyed spending the majority of my record at Flatwoods, away from vehicles, where I could concentrate on the task at hand. Over time I got to know many of the people that frequented Flatwoods, and we all started to motivate each other. I still can’t believe the amount of people that have approached me who are thankful for the inspiration I gave them. Inspiration is contagious! During the many hours that I was riding solo, I did listen to a random mix of music.

VN: What hurt the most?
AC: Other than saddle sores, which I’d rather not go into detail about, there were several injuries related to crashes that hampered my well-being. Even though I was in pain, I chose to keep rolling and pushed through.

The discipline and mental fortitude it takes to put in the enormous amount of miles day after day was an even bigger challenge to overcome, but I did it.

Photo courtesy Amanda Coker

VN: Speaking of fortitude, how did you possibly have the strength to do this every day for 423 straight days?
AC: Not long ago my cycling career was abruptly ended, almost permanently. Sitting and slowly recovering between each surgery, I had a lot of time to think about missing cycling. I vowed to myself to never take it for granted if I could ever get back on the bike. Anytime I hit a wall during my attempt I remembered back to those times sitting sedentary, wishing I were riding, so I dug deep and just kept pedaling. I used those horrible memories as motivation.

There were no days off; that was not an option for me.

My shortest day was 55 miles during Hurricane Hermine. If it were up to me I would’ve kept riding, but for safety reasons my parents persuaded me to stop for the day.

My longest day was 402 miles. It took me a little over 19 hours and a lot of self-motivation.

VN: How did this effort impact your recovery from the TBI?
AC: You never really recover from a brain injury; your brain learns how to adapt. Pushing my mind and body to the maximum limits day after day provided me with therapeutic endorphins, which in turn played a major part in the neurological healing.

VN: When you were at your lowest moments after the crash in 2011, did you ever imagine you would be able to set world records for riding your bike?
AC: Absolutely not. I honestly thought I would never ride my bike again, which just goes to show you if you want something bad enough, you can find a way.

VN: What has this journey taught you about yourself, and how will you use what you learned going forward?
AC: I’ve learned that every person has problems and challenges that must be overcome, to be as good as they can be. I have learned to do that myself, and am eager to share it with others along the way. We can grow and overcome together. I have also learned that I really enjoy inspiring others and that more and more people take courage from the things accomplished in my own journey, and I find that to be a rich and rewarding experience.

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Diagnosis: What caused this racer’s crippling fatigue? Wed, 16 Aug 2017 17:26:40 +0000 Editor's Note: “Diagnosis” is a new monthly column found in the print issue of VeloNews. It is a collaboration between the editors of

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Editor’s Note: “Diagnosis” is a new monthly column found in the print issue of  VeloNews. It is a collaboration between the editors of VeloNews and the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center. The anecdotes found in “Diagnosis” come from actual patients, and the names of these patients have been changed. 


Overtraining is becoming all too common as endurance athletes push themselves to their limits. The consequences can be significant.


An elite cyclist—we’ll call him Racer X—arrived at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center laboratory complaining of serious fatigue. Racer X regularly placed inside the top-10 at the beginning of the season. By mid-season, he was struggling to even finish a race. His coach increased his training intensity in an effort to improve his form. Racer X’s training volume ranged from 22 to 28 hours per week.

His coach had heard that restricting carbohydrate intake and slightly increasing fat intake a few days a week might help Racer X with energy consumption. Racer X restricted carbohydrates two to three days a week coinciding with his long rides or high-intensity workouts. Additionally, Racer X wanted to lose five pounds, so he then decreased carbohydrates even further. Surprisingly, he gained three pounds after restricting carbohydrates.

Racer X’s power output decreased. His heart rate did not rise in proportion to his high-intensity workouts; on easier (zone 2) training days, he needed to increase his effort substantially to achieve the prescribed heart rate. Feeling frustrated, Racer X consulted the Performance Center and its director of sports performance Iñigo San Millán.


Millán conducted a battery of tests, including comprehensive blood analysis, physiological and metabolic testing, as well as skeletal muscle glycogen assessment and a nutrition evaluation.

Blood analysis revealed decreased red blood cell and hemoglobin levels, with normal ferritin levels, significant muscle damage, decreased testosterone levels, and increased cortisol levels. In addition, tests showed elevated levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and C-reactive protein (CRP).

Other tests showed that Racer X’s maximal power output had dropped to 315 watts (4.5 W/kg) from 350 watts (5.0 W/kg) before the season. His lactate clearance capacity significantly worsened. As an example, at 250 watts Racer X’s blood lactate concentration was 2.6mmol/L in the winter and at mid-season 5.3mmol/L. His maximal lactate was 6.8mmol/L versus 10.7mmol/L in the winter. Finally, his maximal heart rate was 173bpm; before the season it had been 187bpm.

Racer X’s fuel efficiency had dropped. His carbohydrate oxidation (how much fuel he burned) was lower than in the winter, while his fat oxidation was higher. So, at 250 watts Racer X was burning 0.45 grams/minute versus 0.30 grams/minute before the season.

His body composition showed a three-pound decrease in muscle mass and a six-pound increase in body fat.

His diet comprised a carbohydrate intake of approximately 1 g/kg/ day (grams per kilogram per day) on his easy days and 2 g/kg/day on his hard and long days.

Non-invasive glycogen assessment (via MuscleSound, which we detailed in “Diagnosis” in May 2017) revealed a very low glycogen content. His preseason Muscle Energy Score (MES) was 72 (out of 100) and during his visit it was 15, confirming his diet was poor in carbohydrate given his workload.


Racer X presented a typical, though severe, case of overtraining. He also had anemia (low red blood cell count) and a catabolic situation caused by excessive training, poor nutrition, and poor recovery. Long story short: Racer X was doing more harm than good with his training.

Racer X’s red blood cell capacity had decreased by approximately 15 percent due to the reduced quantity of red blood cells (RBCs) and hemoglobin production. (Every day our body destroys some 200 billion RBCs and needs to replace them. If the body enters a catabolic state, the ability to regenerate enough RBCs is impaired, leading to anemia.) His ferritin levels (iron stored in the body) were normal, indicating his anemia was not caused by iron deficiency.

The detection of several muscle enzymes in the blood indicated that Racer X had developed muscle micro-tears. This was likely due to the combination of low glycogen content from carbohydrate restriction and high intensity training.

Around 95-97 percent of energy during exercise comes from fats or carbohydrate and a small percentage (~3-5 percent) from protein. During high intensity exercise, energy cannot be synthesized fast enough from fat, so muscles rely exclusively on carbohydrate from glycogen stores. When these stores are low, protein contribution can increase up to 20 percent. The problem is that most of this protein comes from skeletal muscle, so muscles start “eating themselves to feed themselves,” as Millán describes it.

This elicits the catabolic situation and muscle damage seen in Racer X. Damage was confirmed by elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that is involved in muscle catabolism and the main mediator of it. The catabolic situation also explains the decrease in muscle mass compared to preseason. These two factors were mainly responsible for Racer X’s decreased power output and significant increase in blood lactate. His muscles became weaker and, thus, could not contract as powerfully. Metabolically they were working harder for a comparable power output.

New research shows that muscle damage impacts glycogen synthesis and storage. Scientists don’t know why; one hypothesis compares it to trying to “grab” water with your hands. Racer X’s decreased capacity to store glycogen, on top of the low carbohydrate diet, meant he had less fuel to power his workouts. Furthermore, the muscle damage, along with the slight increase in fat consumption, may also explain Racer X’s increase in body fat. This is because when glycogen levels are full, carbohydrate cannot be stored and it is converted to fat.

The slight increase in C-reactive protein (CRP) indicated the presence of inflammation, likely due to muscle damage.

“In our laboratory we see chronic muscle damage in many endurance athletes,” San Millán says. “Therefore we see chronic low-grade inflammation, which from the study of other diseases has been correlated with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.”

Racer X also had low levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced in the pituitary gland and stimulates the thyroid. Thee disorder hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone production) is becoming more prevalent within the endurance community; usually it impacts obese people with co-morbidities. It is very rare to see this condition in lean, healthy athletes without any family history. The athletes who are diagnosed with hypothyroidism are often prescribed thyroid replacement medication.

“Unfortunately, in our center we see about one athlete each week who has been ‘wrongly’ diagnosed with hypothyroidism, when in fact he or she was quite overtrained,” San Millán says. “The problem here is that when an athlete has been on thyroid medication for several years, TSH function shuts down from the pituitary gland. That athlete needs to be on thyroid medication for the rest of his or her life. In most cases it was never needed in the first place as there was not hypothyroidism but significant overtraining.”


San Millán explained the disorder to Racer X. He told the athlete to thoroughly rest for two weeks, after which he could resume training for two weeks for approximately 1.5 hours per day without any intensity. He told Racer X to pay close attention to his heart rate, noting if it rose easily, and listen to his body and sensations. He taught Racer X about nutrition, telling him to normalize his carbohydrates to 4g/ kg/day (~280g) every day for the following month, then increase this amount to 6-8g/kg/day (~480-560g) once he resumed normal training and for any long, hard training days.


One month later, San Millán performed another blood analysis, physiological test, and muscle glycogen scan. All the parameters in Racer X’s blood analyses returned to normal. Anemia was corrected and there was no sign of catabolism. His hormonal profile was completely normal.

Racer X’s glycogen scan was completely normal, with an MES of 80. Finally, his body composition improved. He lost five pounds of fat and regained the three pounds of muscle mass he had lost.

His physiological and metabolic tests showed very similar results to what he obtained in the winter. His maximal power output was the same as in the winter. His lactate clearance capacity improved significantly, although it remained slightly lower than in the winter. His fat oxidation was lower than what it was in midseason and also slightly lower than what it was in the winter. His carbohydrate oxidation was slightly higher than what it was in the winter. Every week he felt better with no signs of fatigue or overtraining. After a four-week training block, he resumed racing after being on the sidelines for over two months. By the end of the season he was very competitive, finishing with multiple top- 10s, two thirds, and his first victory of the season.


The case of Racer X is not an isolated one. What he and his coach learned was to always listen to science-based information when monitoring performance. They also learned to stick to a training program that emphasized building a robust base, increasing intensity and duration properly, and allowing ample recovery time. Another important lesson was nutrition, and to ignore fashionable diets. Finally, Racer X learned to listen to his body for signals of overtraining or fatigue.

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