Pro Shop: Kiefel & Carpenter Talk
Nowadays, masters cyclists are often the biggest pack in most races, and it’s hard to believe that 30 was once considered ancient for a top-level cyclist. We talk with two of the top American stars of the 1980s Ron Kiefel and Connie Carpenter about how training has changed in the past 25 years, and how the acceptance of older athletes has changed through the years…
Rip van Winkle
At times we need to be reminded how we got to this point of cycling information overload. We are fortunate to have television stations like OLN, which broadcast the Tour “24/7” or popular cycling news sites (Pez) which bring us daily events in the cycling world, keeping us informed through both training techniques and current events.
Well, a long time ago in cycling world far, far away, (where we could have never imaged cycling coverage like we have today), there were (and thankfully still are) athletes like Connie Carpenter and Ron Kiefel. Connie and Ron are just two of the many that blazed the path for what cycling is today in the US and the world.
When these two talk, we listen, and Pez is fortunate to have them as guests in our Pro Shop series. So sit back and relax. They have many good things to say which conjure up memories for some and for others provide valuable information which can be applied to your current training programs:
American Trail Blazers
First, let’s remind ourselves who they are:
Connie: Connie is best known for winning the 1984 Olympic Road Race on July 29th, 1984, the first-ever Olympic RR for females. Prior to that, she competed in the 1972 Winter Olympics as a speed skater. Her victories are numerous and she helped make women’s cycling what it is today in the US. She and her husband, Davis Phinney (remember him!), currently own and operate their BikeCamp company in Northern Italy.
Ron: Super man from the original 7-11 team that first took an American team over to Europe to compete. Among his many accomplishments, he is a seven-time Tour de France competitor, the first American to win a stage in the Giro d’Italia and a 1984 Olympic bronze medalist. He now owns and operates the legendary Wheat Ridge Cyclery in Wheat Ridge, CO.
The Masters Shift
Pez: Today, older riders (30+) are winning important races and in general are a lot fitter as a group (i.e. Masters), than back in the 70’s and 80’s. There was always the notion that if you were in your late-20’s, your career was in the later stages and only young riders had a chance to win. What do you think has contributed to the shift in older riders being successful and Master’s being such a large part of what makes up bike racing?
Connie: There was more pressure in the early years to retire from racing and get on with life because we weren’t as well-supported or sponsored. A racing career can be viewed as a more socially acceptable lifestyle now, even in the sport of cycling.
The world itself seems to be a lot smaller too — we’re all connected via cell phones and the internet. Back in my day – we had neither. The life was more isolated, and lonely. I think that’s part of why it was a difficult profession to sustain; now everyone’s connected.
How about the proliferation of cycling specific sites like Pez Cycling News and the incredible coverage of the Tour by OLN? Imagine life in the void before all of that. When Davis won his first stage in the Tour de France, I heard it via the wire service report that was announced at a charity event over the PA system. It took him days to track me down by phone. That was then….
Ron: Back in the day, the older riders were considered dinosaurs. Most pro riders felt that their racing career would be done by age 35. When Joop Zoetemelk won the Worlds in 1985 at age 38, that was considered an amazing result for such an old guy. So why the change? It’s no longer considered foolish to race past age 35. A career in athletics is now widely accepted and even envied. These “old” guys have the knowledge and tools to take care of themselves. The many years of training and racing experience have served the older rider well; it’s not always the strongest that wins, but the smartest.
Pez: You had your specific training program and techniques that worked for you when you were in the peak of your career. Do you think you would train differently today, given current knowledge about training?
Connie: There are certainly more training aids and coaches available, but our bodies are still the same. I had a very scientific approach to training in large part because of my speed skating background. I learned the value of intervals, what type of intervals work and how to use the heart rate (with finger to the pulse) as a gauge in training and at rest. I kept a detailed training diary which proved helpful over the years.
Certainly the addition of the computer brain to training output (handlebar computers, power meters, heart rate monitors) has increased the information available. However, it appears to me that most cyclists are still unaware of basic training principles – and how to apply them. I got my undergrad degree (BA) at UC Berkeley studying exercise physiology with Dr. George Brooks in 1980 – before I won the Olympics. I was well-schooled in training principles.
One addition here: I may have stayed with cycling longer had I had the support that many of the riders have today — not only the training & racing support, but the lifestyle support and easy contact with friends and family via email. I retired July 29, 1984 at about 12 noon, right after I won the Olympics. I was 27 years old and ready to move on.
Ron:I would train somewhat differently, but not entirely different. Now we have better power measuring tools and the athlete can be more specific in their training methods. We better understand the mechanics of recovery and can monitor and measure that all important recovery. However, what many young riders forget while they are focused on their next interval set or periodic training schedule is the enjoyment of the sport. There’s nothing like riding 4-6 hours with your teammates, exploring new terrain, talking and solving the world’s problems as the miles roll by. My fondest memories of “training” began with an unplanned right turn onto the goat path. Another overlooked area is the focus on riding skill. A rider needs to learn how to corner correctly, sprint in a bunch, spin comfortably at 100 rpm, and bump handlebars, bunny hop curbs, draft in the gutter and fight for pack position. A rider that is confident with their cycling skill will be able to save a great deal of energy.
Let’s summarize and see what useful information can be applied to our training programs:
• We definitely live in a different athletic world than the previous generation. Today, it is possible for athletes well into their late 30’s and beyond to not only participate in sport, but also make vast improvements and succeed (and make money). We are now just beginning to scratch the surface as to what “older” athletes can accomplish. Most research studies done are more focused on younger athletes. In time, a lot more studies will be done on master athletes that will show how our bodies age from an athletic point of view. More importantly, as both Ron and Connie pointed out, cycling and athletics in general are much more socially acceptable for the older athlete.
• “Older” versus “younger” athletes. As we age, we definitely lose something physically. It may be power; it may be the ability to recover. It’s different for different athletes. What is important to understand, is that what we may lose physically we can offset with added experience; bike racing is particularly well suited to rewarding the more experienced rider. As we race more, we form that all important “knowledge base” of experience and tactical savvy. Bike racing is not like a triathlon or a marathon in that the winners of bike races have a combination of fitness and “smarts.” So, as you age, focus more on the tactics of the sport in order to successfully change your approach to racing.
• There is one certainty in sports: training is an inexact science and finding that perfect physical program is a never ending quest. As an athlete it’s not only important to focus on your weaknesses and improve them through the latest training technique, it is just as important to go out and have fun and just ride your bike. I loved what Ron said about his best training ride. That is what it is all about!! Having fun, going out and just riding your bike. A good program will have a balance between both structure and as Ron put it; “riding with teammates and solving the world’s problems.”
• The complete bike racer will have the both the physical components and skills to be successful. These all-important skills are things like riding in the gutter in a crosswind, holding position in a pack, descending at super fast speeds. I have seen super strong riders fail because they do not have these types of skills. I have also seen not so strong riders win bike races because they do have these skills. There can be too much focus on the physical side of the sport. Use this off season to also improve your racing skills.
Successful athletes will take in information from many sources and experiment with new techniques. They will take an honest look at their complete program and work on their weaknesses. They will set realistic goals and when they don’t accomplish those goals, they will re-evaluate their programs and make the adjustments. Listening to legends like Connie and Ron is something that can help all of us, younger and older, become better cyclists. It’s important to remember who blazed the trail and how we got to this point. Thank you Connie and Ron!
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com