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Winter Training in Maui: The pros’ secret

"Six years ago, the bigger racing names started coming over more often. Some visitors include Lance Armstrong, Svein Tuft with the whole Symmetrics team, Andy Hampsten, Connie Carpenter, Tom Danielson, Jeff Louder, Tyler Wren, Chris Wherry, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski ..."

It’s hard to say much about cycling in Maui without starting off with Donnie Arnault. Arnault moved to the island in ’99, just after retiring from directing and racing for a small domestic pro squad.

“I’d never even ridden here before moving. I had no real bike plans, I was just riding to stay fit. Tourists kept running into me at the beach, would see that I have shaved legs, a biker’s tan, maybe a PowerBar cap on or something and, over and over, would ask, ‘You ride bikes … where can we ride? Where can we rent a good bike?’ There were definitely lots of great rides, but no place to rent a decent bike. I was just doing these rides by myself all the time, nobody else was out there.”

That got Arnault’s brain turning. Ten year’s later, his Go Cycling Maui tour business is still going strong, he has opened the Maui Cyclery shop in Paia and has a fleet of Scott and Litespeed road bikes available to rent. “I wanted to do something a little different from everybody else: ride with the clients for a few hours in the morning, then they’re free to go do their own thing in the afternoons,” said Arnault.

Customers of the guided tours need only bring shoes and pedals — nutrition, helmets and even team kits are provided. “We treat it more like a pro cycling team, where you’ve got support out there, the riders are all working together.” Rentals are $250 for the week and guided tours, which include the bike, are $140 per day with price breaks for subsequent days. Custom mountain bike tours are coming soon. With most airlines charging $175 each way for a bike (exceptions are Hawaiian, $100, and Alaska, $50), skipping the hassle of boxing and reassembling your bike becomes even more appealing.

Arnault has caused quite a ripple effect in the island’s cycling scene. Big name riders began to realize that Maui isn’t just great weather and beautiful beaches — there are incredible rides all over. “Several Telekom riders came out a while back, including Erik Zabel, Rolf Aldag and Jan Ulrich. ONCE brought some guys over here back then too,” said Arnault. “But six years ago, the bigger racing names started coming over more often. Some visitors include Lance Armstrong, Svein Tuft with the whole Symmetrics team, Andy Hampsten, Connie Carpenter, Tom Danielson, Jeff Louder, Tyler Wren, Chris Wherry, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski … Michael Eisner, who used to promote the Coors Classic, came over with Todd Gogulski. It’s still a small chunk of guys, overall, but a lot of high-profile people are coming over to ride.”

Mark Howe, former pro mountain biker and 1992 cyclcocross national champ, now specializes in coconuts.

Several notable riders have worked for Go Cycling Maui — the current lineup includes Evan Lawrence, owner of 53X11 coffee, and Mark Howe, former MTB pro and 1992’s cyclocross national champ. Add Shonny Vanlandingham, Tyler Wren and several other young American and Canadian pros to that list from the past several years.

Garmin-Transitions pro Ryder Hesjedal had never considered Maui as a training destination until he met Arnault at Interbike in 2005. He made his first winter trip that year, lengthened his visit the next winter, then bought a house in Maui in 2007. “Donnie’s super-friendly, always willing to help,” said Hesjedal. “There are lots of great people there, and that’s their style — it’s a place that wants to give to you, see you do well.”

“Last year, I did all of my winter conditioning in Hawaii, then took that fitness over to the Tour Down Under,” said Hesjedal. “The guys down in Australia are already flying by then, but my training propelled me to an eighth place on the hardest stage and to 11th in the overall G.C.”

“I was able to get back to Maui last May, too. I had a break after Liege-Bastogne-Liege, went home to Canada for a bit, then headed back to Maui to build my training back up,” Hesjedal continued. “I went straight from there to the Tour of Switzerland, where I was able to get a top-20. Obviously that can’t all be attributed to Maui, but it certainly helped.”

Hesjedal hopes to roll this year’s early season fitness into a strong start to 2010 at the Tour of the Algarve, improved performances at Tirreno-Adriatico and a good showing in the Ardennes classics–particularly Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where he finished 11th last year.

Two of Hesjedal’s Garmin-Transitions teammates joined in on this winter’s Maui training plan. Christian Vande Velde came over for three weeks in December and Svein Tuft spent a good chunk of January both training and riding with an organized camp organized by two of Canada’s top triathletes, Simon Whitfield and Peter Reid.

According to Arnault, Vande Velde confessed to typically being much more excited to race than to train. “But when he was here, he said that he was just so stoked to be out on the bike and so motivated, he had more miles in his legs this winter than he has ever in the past,” said Arnault.

The trickle down effect has been evident as more locals have now taken up the sport, too. Several events have sprung up, joining Cycle to the Sun, where Garmin-Transitions director Jonathan Vaughters set the record for the ascent of the Haleakala volcano in 1993, at 2:38. (Hesjedal broke his boss’ record by five minutes in 2009.) – Josh Liberles