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Chris Carmichael Joins RBA

April 4, 2013
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The June 2013 issue will be the biggest issue RBA has ever printed and among the wide array of bike and product tests, you’ll also find a feature story on Chris Carmichael as well as his introductory column on all things fitness and training. The following is an excerpt from the longer interview you’ll find inside the June issue.

“After more than 40 years in the sport of cycling I understand the value of a good fit, and that’s why I’m happy to be joining the team at Road Bike Action. I started racing in 1969 and although my relationship with the bike has evolved over the past few decades, at my core I will always be passionate about cycling. I was drawn to RBA because this is a magazine created by and for serious cyclists. That doesn’t mean we all have to be super-strong racers or fit some unrealistic ‘pro-style’ stereotype; it means cycling is a core component of our identities.” – Chris Carmichael

RBA: Of all the 7-Eleven riders, you’ve probably gone the furthest in terms of having a successful career in cycling. How did it all start?
‘I used to ride my Schwinn Stingray down to the shop just to hang-out. But one day it was stolen and so I decided to go into the shop and ask for a job so I could make enough money to buy a new bike. The shop was a pretty eclectic place and the owner was a guy named Bill Woodall. He had long hair, wore tye dyed t-shirts and lots of Mayan jewelry, but he gave me a job for $1 an hour fix flats and keep the place clean. From there it wasn’t long until I moved up from a BMX bike and started riding a real ten speed. A few years later I entered the Tour of Coconut Grove and got a trophy for finishing third. After that I was hooked. At the time n the early 70’s Florida was a real hot spot for training and racing and I started riding with the Cuban Cycling Club and those guys were really structured which was a great learning environment to get started in. 

The road scene in Florida in the 70’s included moments like this when Chris (second from right) was joined by locals Doug Martin (second from left) and Chris’ brother Kevin (left).

“Of course the European scene had a big influence on all the kids who were into racing bikes and we would scramble to read the Euro mags like International Cycle Sport to see what they were riding and who was winning. When I was 15 I realized I knew I had to be over there and luckily my parents knew some people in Holland and we did a kid swap. The next thing I knew I was racing myself and watching the best riders at the time racing the post-Tour de France crits. It was when I saw them in person that I knew that being a bike racer was what I wanted to be. My parents were okay with that idea, but only after I finished school. I never saw school as being a part of my life and I mean, how it could be if I had to be in Europe racing!

“In 1978 Eddie ‘Eddie B’ Borysewicz became the new coach at USA Cycling and he was really responsible for identifying and bringing along the new generation of young American riders like Greg LeMond Ron and Kiefel. Greg was a year younger than me, but he was clearly a notch above the rest of us and he proved it when he won the Junior Worlds in 1979.”

RBA: At this point in your career training would have definitely been a key part of your program.
: Yeah, by then I had come far from the days of making energy drinks out of honey and warm water with the Cubans. Eddie shaped everything we were doing back then. It’s funny to look back at how we did things back then. I mean, I don’t think any of us could’ve imagined that level of performance monitoring that would be available as it is today. With things like SRM power meters, recreational athletes today have access to training equipment that was beyond what the best pro riders ever had back then.

                Chris leads out his Gazelle team on a training ride somewhere in the south of France.

RBA: How was it different from the training now?
We have so much more science that can tell us the reasons behind performance now. Back then it was all about simple periodization ? just build a big base then go racing. The problem was that in America we didn’t have the kind of races that reflected the intensity and frequency like they had in Europe.


RBA: Following the Olympics the 7-Eleven team was formed and with it American racing.
Turning pro with 7-Eleven was the plan, but the whole thing was still pretty iffie because something like this had never been done before. Sure there had been American riders like George Mount and Jacques Boyer who had raced in Europe before that, but this was the first time a full American team had made the jump to race in abroad. We had two station wagons full of equipment with 7-Eleven stickers on the side. It was pretty primitive compared to how teams travel today.

I can’t imagine anyone over there had any real expectations for us, but then Kiefel finished second in a stage at the Tour de Mediterranean and that was a huge lift to our morale. Two weeks later at a race in Italy we used the same tactic in a race to put Ron up front and this time he won. We had champagne that night and that was really significant because back then most of the teams ate in the same hotel dining rooms and we had always seen the other teams do the same after they’d won a stage and we would always be sitting there wondering if we would ever get the chance to do the same. I’ll never forget when one of the other team managers walked by our table and said ‘Complimenti!’ I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for us, that gesture was huge.

RBA: Thinking about how iconic the 7-Eleven team was and knowing the place in history that it still holds, how do you reflect on being a part of all that?
It’s funny, but at the time I’m not sure any of us thought that what we were doing was so special, but today I still draw on the memories and lessons I learned all the time. Back then our biggest goal was to just not get in the way, but slowly we got the confidence to put some results in place. It’s the camaraderie I have with all my old teammates now that is the most important to me. We have reunionnnns every few years ? I mean how many teams still get together like that? Sure, all the stories are remembered differently each time we meet and by whoever is telling it, but we made some history and had a good time doing it. I always had Bob Roll as my roommate, I don’t know if that would be considered getting the short straw or not, but besides being unbelievably messy, Bobke would keep me up all night telling story after story. I just remember laughing so hard that I couldn’t get to sleep.

RBA: Eventually your racing days came to an end and you transitioned to coaching.
I had broken my femur in a crash in 1986 and by 1989 I knew it was going to be hard to keep a Pro contract in Europe. So I came home and got a ride with the Wheaties/Schwinn team for a year. I remember my dad telling me that following my years in Europe I had ‘a PhD in cycling’ and that I should make that work for my future. It was a time of real transition in coaching so I got a job with USA Cycling. By 1992 the older ‘Eddie B’ methods of training that focused on riding were changing to include much more actual sports science where we were looking at an athlete’s performance through a more evolved lens that looked at things like altitude training, nutrition, hydration, and core temperature monitoring.

Following a disappointing Olympics in 1986,I started to have thoughts about starting my own coaching practice so I left USA Cycling in 1997. That was around the same time that I started consulting with Lance in his post-cancer period.

RBA: Speaking of Lance, what do you say about the accusations that are there about your own history with doping?
While I know that it did occur, I never saw it occurring. Also, I never doped any of the athletes I worked with.  It’s clear that doping has been around a long time. It didn’t start with Lance. Still, I’m convinced that Lance won the Tour de France seven times. I think it’s important to consider the totality of a person and Lance did an awful lot of good. I know he trained hard and did the work.  It’s hard to go back and change things. It’s unfortunate that the sport has this history, but one thing I’m most proud about of my time with 7-Eleven is that it never took place there. For me personally, maybe because I was never one of the best riders it never came up with me and I never felt I needed to do it. I know that magnificent performance can be achieved without doping and that’s what we try to make happen with CTS.

RBA: So what’s the basis of the CTS business now?
We have about 2000 clients all with different levels of fitness and who participate in different sports.  Our headquarters here in Colorado Springs with annex offices in Arizona, California and North Carolina. We have 40 coaches located throughout the country and they all work from work from a CTS playbook. There are four different levels of coaches that people can have access to and we can use different coaches to tune the work to the clients evolving goals. While we realize that not all coaches are the same, we think it’s important that they speak the same language and that’s where the playbook comes in. It’s not like eating at McDonalds, but the goal is for each coach to be able to apply a level of standardization to create a foundation for the athlete to build on. It’s also important because as I said, at any time one of our clients might need to utilize another coaches’ specific skill set and we want to make sure that there’s no conflict in the training philosophy used.

In addition to the coaching program, we run a variety of different camps and what we call of Epic Endurance Bucket List which is more exclusive than the camps because the events really require a greater level of fitness to accomplish.

For the full interview with Chris, be sure to check out the June issue of Road Bike Action.

Chris receives a celebratory Coors Light from Eddy Merckx after winning the Morgul-Bismarck stage of the Coors Classic in 1986.

Photos: Courtesy CTS


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