What's Cool In Road Cycling

CHRIS CARMICHAEL: Pez-Clusive Interview

Chris Carmichael is Lance’s coach, and the founder of growing chain of coaching facilities. I first met Chris at a friend’s wedding and along with being in awe of this former TDF rider, I wanted to know more about what made him tick. Here’s what he said…

Dave: Chris, thanks for taking the time to talk to PEZCycling News. Tell me, how often do you check out pezcyclingnews.com and what do you think? Give it to us straight!

Chris: I like to read through several endurance-sports sites each week, including cycling, multisport, running, motorsports, and adventure racing. I was recently exposed to PEZ so now it is definitely in that list. I’d say I visit two or three times a week. Most recently, I liked the article series on the benefits of coaching.

Chris alongside his most famous “student”.

Dave: Okay – enough about us! What got you started in coaching and how hard were those “early years?”

Chris: The seed probably got planted during my recovery from a broken femur in the winter of 1986. During that time, Dr. Ed Burke was instrumental in teaching me to tease the practical information from scientific literature, and I was so impressed by his ability to make highly technical sports science information accessible to real-world athletes. That spirit still drives the way I educate young coaches; I want the athletes they work with to be more knowledgeable and more fit as a result of working with one of my coaches.

Those early years were hard, but they were fun. There was a lot of travel; I took a ragtag group of teenagers (Hincapie, Armstrong, Julich, Larsen, McRae) all over Europe because I believed that was the experience they needed in order to develop into top professionals. It worked, but I’m not signing up to wash water bottles, fill musette bags, drive in the caravan, and live out of a suitcase again. I think it’s time for the more experienced among us to teach the next generation of coaches so they, in turn, can help more young American riders make the jump to international competition.

Dave: Were you the “go to guy” for advice/training back in the 7-11 days?

Chris: There was a lot of sharing of ideas on that team; I don’t think there was any one rider who was considered to have all the best information. It’s important to be open to new ideas, to innovations in training and equipment. At the same time, you have to maintain a balance between innovation and consistency. If you change everything all the time, you’ll have no idea what worked and what didn’t.

Dave: In what ways has being a rider helped you as a coach?

Chris: Racing taught me that you have to take risks in order to achieve anything great. Being too conservative leads to mediocre performances, and that is true in training as well as in competition. Many athletes are more capable than their results demonstrate, and helping them gain the confidence to push beyond their comfort zones often helps them reach more of their full potential.

Dave: I hear you coach Lance and have been pretty successful (laughs). After the next year or two, where do you see that relationship going?

Chris: Our relationship has evolved over the past 14 years, and it will just continue to evolve as lifestyles change and opportunities arise. My main responsibility as Lance’s coach is to develop and monitor his daily training. I also recruit the “best and brightest” into Lance’s performance team to help with various aspects necessary to produce the best results possible. Of course, when Lance retires he will not need me as his coach, but our close friendship has withstood many challenges, so I expect this aspect of our relationship will never change.

Dave: Where do you see the coaching market going in the next five to ten years?

Chris: The coaching industry is very healthy right now, and I think it will continue to grow. The number of professionals who are choosing to make coaching their career is rising, the educational opportunities for new coaches are expanding, and the awareness of coaching’s benefits is increasing among consumers. I believe we will see endurance athletes working with coaches as the norm, rather than the exception, in the near future.
I think the development of sport-specific performance centers that offer physiological testing, biomechanical analysis and hands-on coaching, along with nutritional consultations, are the next phase in coaching. We have two CTS Performance Centers, one in Aspen at the Aspen Club and Spa, and another opening on April 30th in Philadelphia at the Cadence Performance Cycling Center. We expect to open a third location in Atlanta in October.

Dave: We talked about getting my wife started, but she’s just learning how to balance a bike and get comfortable in traffic. Where does she need to be before a real plan can be worked out?

Chris: See, that’s the root of a major misunderstanding about coaching. There’s so much more than workouts to a coaching program, and we spend a lot of time training CTS coaches to educate athletes at the same time they improve their fitness. Your wife is at the beginning or in the middle of steep learning curve. We all had to learn the skills and techniques she may be struggling with, like dealing with clipless pedals, feeling comfortable in traffic or in large groups, eating while riding, etc. Coaches help people learn the best ways to do things the first time; not everyone should have to struggle through the trial and error process.

Dave: What parameter do you prefer to monitor a cyclist’s or athlete’s training? Lactate, HR, VO2 max, or Power?

Chris: For many athletes, a real-world field test is the most practical and useful means of performance testing. It’s easily repeatable, non-disruptive, and most important, it gives you a clear indication of progress. “Are you faster than you were before?” is a much more relevant concept to most athletes than “Has the inflection point on your blood lactate curve moved to the right?” I really like the Powertap power meter, because it has made accurate and user-friendly information accessible to a broader range of cyclists. For cyclists who don’t use power yet, and for runners, triathletes, and other endurance athletes, I like Nike’s new line of Triax heart rate monitors, the same heart rate monitor that Lance uses. And for those that thrive on data, at our CTS Performance Centers, we provide VO2max, lactate threshold, anaerobic power test and sport specific biomechanical analysis for bike fits and running gait analysis. The more data that can be used practically by a coaching; the better, and these tests are helpful.

Dave: Is training at the elite level similar across nations and coaches or are there different schools of thought?

Chris: The biggest divide is between the athletes who integrate sports science into their training and athletes who train on instinct, and I think the latter group is diminishing in size. Sports science has made training more precise, and reducing the amount of wasted effort in an elite athlete’s program is critical to success. There is always more than “one way from point A to point B”, but we know our methods are successful, so we stay focused on our methods and systems. Successful coaches, like successful athletes, deserve respect in regards to the various methods or systems they employ to help their athletes.

Dave: What three things could WADA and the UCI do to make drug testing more effective? Does the continued abuse piss you off?

Chris: I believe the testers should do everything legally possible to find and catch the cheaters. This means increased money spent on better testing, more testing, and education programs for young athletes on the dangers of performance enhancing drugs. But the testers must not loss sight of maintaining the integrity of each athlete that participates in the sport; meaning you are innocent till proven guilty (found positive). But currently, it is a perception that simply because you are a professional cyclist, you MUST be taking performance enhancing drugs. This is wrong. This is not the philosophy that is at the foundation of our legal system, so why should it be different for our sport federations and/or drug testing agencies?

Dave: Have you ever had a client use anything and how did you handle it, what would you say to them?

Chris: I’ve made it very clear, since I was a young man, that I do not tolerate cheating in any form. A coach-athlete relationship is built on trust, and lying to me is unacceptable. My athletes and my employees know that if you lie to me about anything, whether it’s about training, your personal life, or what you had for breakfast; you’re gone. I make that so clear to prospective clients that the cheaters just move on, and it’s a policy that has worked for a long time.

Dave: Living in Philly, I’ve been around the Corestates/Wachovia USPRO Championships for 20 years and cycling is big here. Was this the reason for choosing the City of Brotherly Love as the first CTS Coaching Franchise, Cadence Cycling?

Chris: Cycling is definitely a big deal in the Philly area; you have the “Corestates/First Union/Wachovia” Series and USPro Championships, the Lehigh County Velodrome an hour away, and lots of high-quality amateur and training races. Having a CTS Performance Center in Manayunk is a perfect fit for us, and we’re really happy to have Brian Walton running the center. Without doubt this CTS Performance Center will be a huge success. The CTS Performance Centers in Cadence Performance Cycling Center and in the Aspen Club in Aspen, Colorado, are great assets to cyclists, runners, triathletes, and other endurance athletes of all ability levels. My goal is to have 15 CTS Performance Centers around the country in the next few years.

Dave: Do you see more branching into other sports? Can you use the same coaching methods for sports like baseball, basketball, and football?

Chris: This area of our business is growing rapidly and I expect it to continue. The coaching methodology I built CTS on can be easily and effectively applied to any endurance sport, and we’ve proven that with Superbike, motocross, and Indycar racers; cross-country skiers, swimmers, rowers, and football players. Right now, my coaches are working with Superbike racers like Miguel Duhamel and motocross racers like Timmy Ferry, and we’re signing up amateur and professional motorsport athletes pretty rapidly.

Team sports is one of the places I see the most potential for development. The training methods being used in a lot of amateur and professional team sports are archaic. There’s a lack of original thinking and individuality in most team-based training programs; and if you can change that, and start addressing each athlete’s individual needs, you can build a team that can far outperform the competition.

Dave: Okay, I’ll give you some random words, and you tell us the first thing that pops into your head…
Outdoor/Indoor: Where I want to be/Where I have to be
Rollers/trainer: Cycleops
Vespa/Honda: Ducati
Erik/Mario: Fighting for second and third
Julich/Tyler: Proud of both and not surprised of their performances.
David Bowie / The Lemonheads: Give me Johnny Cash any day; I am a country red neck to the bone.
Jan/Vino/Cadel/Gilberto/Manny, Moe, Jack: Respect, Respect, Respect, Respect, ??

Dave: Finally, if you’re in town for the Philly races, will you come to my party? George Hincapie, Mike Sayers already confirmed, and Bobby J’s getting back to me…

Chris: Sure, I’ll brush up on my Philly accent. Let’s see, it’s “wooder”, “cawfee”, “tarrible”, “New Joizy”, “awrange”, …

Thanks for talking with us Chris!

Check out the Chris Carmichael website CHRISCARMICHAEL.com

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