Back to Fitness: Cycling Mecca

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By John Andersen

So long as you’re not asleep while driving, you have probably noticed that Crozet and the surrounding area is very popular for cycling.  For this month’s column, I caught up with Andy Guptill, Director and Coach of the Miller School of Albemarle’s (MSA) prestigious Endurance Cycling Team, to learn more about why this area is such a cycling mecca and how someone getting back to fitness can get started.

Guptill is currently crossing the line between world-class athlete and father of three young children. He cycled professionally for 10 years, competing all over the world, and now at the age of 32 lives in Crozet with three children under the age of two (young twins and a newborn!). He has channeled his professional cycling experience into the MSA Endurance Team, which is now the premiere youth cycling development program in the nation.

JA:  What brought you to Crozet?  More specifically, what is the big draw that this area has for cycling?

AG:  Cycling—the roads and the trails, the terrain, and the climate—brought me to Crozet. After coming to the area in 2007 for the Tour of Virginia, I was hooked. Throughout my racing career I had the opportunity to ride and race all over the world, from Argentina to Japan, and the quality of riding and the amount of cycling options in this area are second to none. You can cruise some rolling hills through the Piedmont, or climb to your heart’s content in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are so many roads, especially if you embrace some gravel, that you can do a unique ride every day of the year if you want, which is great for maintaining motivation. Sure, it can get hot in the summer, but it is manageable, and winter is real enough to enjoy some skiing nearby and have a few snow days, but not so harsh that you start getting sick of it.

Truth be told, I met my wife while racing Tour of Virginia, so that may have played a part in my move to the area, too!

JA:   For someone getting back into fitness, why cycling?  What do you see as the rewarding or “zen” parts of cycling/mountain biking as exercise?

AG:  For someone getting back into fitness, there is no better option than cycling, and I mean that. For one, and this is a big one, it is a low-impact sport so it is easier on your joints and won’t beat you up like other activities. Nothing can take the wind out of your sails for continued activity faster than severe aches and pains. If your bike fits you well, you can ride for hours at a time with low to no discomfort and wake up the next morning and do it again. Now, this does not mean cycling is easy. You are going to have some muscle soreness and tightness after pushing yourself on a ride.

There are several very rewarding parts of cycling. One is seeing progression, not just in fitness with increased speeds and distances covered, but also with development of skills. This is especially true on the mountain bike. You can go out and ride a rocky, rooty trail and maybe have to put a foot down or get off and walk a dozen times. Keep at it though, focus on those difficult sections, and before you know it you are clearing obstacles and looking for new challenges.

I think it is also rewarding to get outside, cover some ground and see some things, especially in an area this beautiful. As your fitness increases, you’ll start ticking off longer and longer rides, and you start looking at maps and saying “Wow, I can’t believe I rode all the way out there!”

JA:  You were a pro cyclist in your bachelor days. Now you’ve got two young twins and a newborn—tell me what has changed regarding your relationship with cycling? How do you balance it with family time?

AG:  The key to maintaining motivation is setting goals. It can start simply: ride three days this week, average over 14 mph on my next ride; and then ideally progress: participate in the Boys and Girls Club Challenge ride, climb Jarmans Gap without stopping (careful on the way down!). Write these goals down and share them, and you will stick with them.

Balancing training time with family time has been tough. With work, family, and riding, training is always the first to get bumped. Basically, riding has to become part of your schedule and you can never expect it to just fit into a given day. This may mean some early mornings, or some short lunch breaks to accommodate workout time, but if you make it a priority you can make it fit.

JA:  What is one of your favorite road cycling routes, and one of your favorite mountain biking routes?

AG:  My favorite road routes all involve crisscrossing the Blue Ridge Parkway. Climb up Old Afton Mountain Turnpike, finish the climb to the Parkway on 250, and then you can’t go wrong from there.

On the mountain bike, the MSA campus trails are about as good as it gets! When I ride off campus, the trip up 29 to Preddy Creek is always worth the drive.

JA:  Your advice for someone new to fitness and wanting to get into cycling?

AG:  If you are new to fitness and want to get into cycling, there two easy steps to get you started:

Get on a bike. Any bike. As long as the tires hold air, the gears work, and the chain is lubed, you’re all set. As you progress, a nice road or mountain bike is a good investment that will increase enjoyment.

Make sure the bike fits. Proper fit is key to less discomfort and more efficiency, which will lead to more enjoyment and higher likelihood of continuing with the sport. Just a simple seat-height check by an experienced cyclist is a good start, and then there are several in-depth bike fit options offered by local bike shops if you find yourself riding regularly.

JA:  As the coach of the endurance team at MSA, what is it that these kids love about cycling?

AG:  As the director of the Endurance team and working with kids all the time, I see a wide range of motivating factors. When competing, cycling is like a high-speed game of chess, and many of the varsity athletes love that. It is a physical challenge along with a tactical component that not all endurance sports have. For many, though, it is all about the speed and seeing constant improvement. They work hard to get to the top of a hill, and then get to fly down while carving turns and hopping roots and rocks. It doesn’t get cooler than that, and you can literally feel yourself getting smoother and more efficient over obstacles. It is a great feeling.

For any kids wanting to build their mountain bike skills and have a great time with their peers, check out these Cutaway Bike Camp summer camps we offer in June and July: www.cutawaybikecamp.org

So there you have it, another great way to get back to fitness and enjoy this beautiful area!  Now get out there and move!

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