BEING PRO: ROBIN CARPENTER — TIPS FROM THE PROS

Team: Rally Cycling

Age: 27

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Can you give our readers a recap of your cycling career? 

Well, this could be long or short. My first UCI Continental license was valid for 2012 with Garmin-First Solar, the Slipstream (now EF) development team. After that I spent five years with the Hincapie team before moving to Rally for the last three years. I’ve really enjoyed the privilege of staying in one spot on one team for longer periods. I have really strong bonds with people from both Rally and Hincapie. I’d say I had breakout results that landed me on Chipotle that first year—a fourth place at a stage in the NRC (now PRT) Tour de Toona and a top 10 at the NRC one-day race Univest GP at the end of the season. 

As for highlights from 2016, I can say that high among them is not dying in a Qatari hospital. I’ll elaborate: Everyone knows it is quite hot in Qatar, pretty much at any time of the year. I was well-prepared for the heat coming from San Diego where it stays hot quite late in the year if you train inland away from the ocean. However, a combination of factors led to hyponatremia (low blood sodium), which is very dangerous and can be life-threatening. I had been drinking a pre-load hydration drink (a specially formulated drink mix with more salt) in the days before the race. Consuming more salt can increase the amount of salt that you sweat out. When the race split in the crosswinds, I was out of drink mix, and the only hydration that I was able to get in a 100-degree all-out echelon was plain water from the neutral support car. I drank way too much water during that time and then finished the 6-plus-hour race on fumes. I remember Taylor Phinney carrying me into the hotel, but still being forced to go through the metal detector at the entrance. It took a while before I realized that the problem was only getting worse, and fortunately was taken to the local hospital where I took down a few liters of saline via IV.

“Start at the front and stay at the front. Or, if you can’t start there, get there ASAP. There’s no use dawdling around in the middle or at the back waiting for the ‘right’ time to move up.”

I really have enjoyed racing in Europe these last three years. You only get better by getting your butt handed to you, and I’ve felt every aspect of bike racing improve dramatically, whether it’s skills, knowledge or strength. Besides that, as I said before, I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to coffee; hunting down good cafes in the old-world countries we visit is a good way to pass the time between races.

 Do you incorporate strength training to improve your fitness on the bike? 

I don’t do it every year, but probably once every two years in the off-season I have gotten into the gym to do some heavy lifting. I should do it more often, but sometimes it’s hard to find a gym that I like. Often, I prefer doing dynamic lifts, like squats and deadlifts. They are simple, require focus and work a lot of muscle groups at once. Cyclists have very different goals than bodybuilders or the average person in the gym seeking overall fitness and/or aesthetics. What we need is an efficient workout that doesn’t concentrate on building muscle mass but more on neuromuscular activation. What it comes down to is lifting heavy for lower reps. That said, you have to be careful. A lot of us are very goal-oriented and mentally trained to push through pain and to always hit the last rep hard. To be honest, a lot of cyclists are fairly weak, but we like to push. If a cyclist wanted to go down this route, I’d say take whatever weight that you think you can lift for the reps and remove 5–10 percent. It will keep you safe and still get you strong; after all, one of the main reasons we all should get into the gym is for injury prevention!

Photo: Sam Wiebe

Do you have an opinion on pre-race coffee? Does caffeine improve your performance during a race?

Oh boy, you’re talking to one of the biggest coffee nerds I know! How deep into a stage race are we talking? On day one I’d say I drink my usual two aeropresses in the morning and then race. But by day five, you’ll see me hit those and a double shot of the bus’ espresso machine and probably an entire can of coke as well. I try and go easy on the caffeine gels at the end of a race, unless I know it’s going to make a difference. It’s often more important to be able to get good sleep in the midst of a stage race.

What gear are you using on the bike this year?

Let’s hit the important stuff. Our bike sponsor Felt just released a new version of their aero bike, the AR (page 44), and it’s sweet. It’s really exciting to be on a modern aero bike, because aerodynamics are making such a huge difference in road racing these days. We are still rocking our MIPS-equipped Bell Z20 helmets and the ever-useful Garmin 1030 GPS’. They really make training in a new place so easy with the big screen and the maps. New for this year are Vision wheels, which I think, along with the AR frame, speak for themselves with our result at the Tour Colombia TTT.

Do you regularly use any bicarbonate while racing?

I put AMP HP PR lotion on my legs before every race, and I’ve done that since my first race with Rally in 2018. It for sure helps me get into breakaways early in a race. In a lot of these races, if you want to go for the break, you have to be ready to go really hard without any sort of warm-up, often straight from the end of neutral. The lotion’s effect will wear off before the end of a long day, but it definitely helps me be better at what I do best, which is attacking early.

What about disc brakes and thru-axles; do you prefer them?

I can tell you already once this year disc brakes have saved my skin. At the Tour de San Juan in Argentina there are a lot of street dogs lying around, staying out of the hot sun. They almost always can’t be bothered with cars or bikes, but on one of the stages the organizers had confetti cannons go off in one of the towns. I think it scared a dog enough that it ran across right in front of the breakaway I was in. That combined with the blinding amount of shiny confetti caused a crash in front of me. I was able to come to a screeching halt before I ran over anyone, but the guy behind me crashed across my rear wheel because I was able to stop faster than he was. The thru-axles are marvelous for stiffness, and they remove any play that could cause your brakes to rub. An added small bonus is, you can say goodbye to creaky quick releases.

What are a few basic tips you would give to someone that is preparing for their first criterium?

Start at the front and stay at the front. Or, if you can’t start there, get there ASAP. There’s no use dawdling around in the middle or at the back waiting for the “right” time to move up. Spend a match or two and get there early, because if you wait for the easy time to move up, I guarantee that everyone else will be having the same thought, and it either won’t work or you’ll be caught up in a crash. That and lower your tire pressure. Lower, lower. Almost no one runs anything smaller than a 25c tire now. I weigh about 160 pounds, and on our 25c tubulars, I’m often at 90 psi or below. You’ll have more confidence in the corners, and guess what? If you pinch-flat, there’s always the pit.

What race do you look forward to competing in the most?

I always look forward to competing at nationals. One-day races are my favorite type of race, because you’re fresh, feeling your best and they are super dynamic. A lot can happen, and at nationals especially, chaos rules the day with smaller teams and one-off WorldTour strongmen who can throw a wrench in the best-laid plans.

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