Last fall the Miller School of Albemarle’s endurance cycling team had a big season: They won the state championship in Roanoke Nov. 6 and in early January star rider Laurent Gervais signed with Aevolo Cycling Team, a professional under-23 squad directed by Michael Creed, who is a former professional cyclist at the World Tour level.
According to coach Andy Guptill, the key to the team’s success began in the offseason. “In an endurance sport like cycling, offseason training is the most important piece of the puzzle for making improvement,” he said. “Varsity riders are on the bike between two and five hours a day, and in the weight room before classes several mornings each week. Once the season begins, we are traveling and racing so often that time for constructive training blocks are very limited, so you really need to go into the season firing on all cylinders from the gun.”
The first weekend of school the team traveled to Vermont to compete in the Green Mountain Stage Race, which Guptill described as a “premier, four-day race featuring some of the most challenging climbs in New England.” After that, the 19 varsity and junior varsity riders turned their attention to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association’s Virginia League mountain races. “This is a four-race series with venues around the state,” said Guptill. “Student-athletes accumulate points at each event—the better your results, the more points you’re awarded. Then, at the final race of the series, an overall winner for each category is crowned, as well as an overall winning team.”
The sport of interscholastic endurance cycling is growing. Only 15 states in the U.S. currently have leagues for competition. Founded in the fall of 2015, the Virginia League is one of two on the east coast, and features 18 teams—that’s around 256 riders—from around the state that compete against one another in mountain biking races both on and off the road.
“We travel around the country to some of the largest competitions so our top varsity riders can compete against the top junior cyclists in the country,” said Guptill. “This allows them to challenge themselves and improve while getting to see how they stack up against their peers. Furthermore, results at these premier races are what professional teams and college coaches are looking at, so it opens doors beyond high school for our cyclists looking to continue in the sport.”
Beyond winning the team competition, the MSA team had some major standouts.
First was Evan Clouse, a junior from Park City, Utah. “Evan is one of the top road and cycle-cross racers in the country,” said Guptill. “He will be spending a good part of his summer competing in Europe and is a podium contender at any race he enters. On top of being a dedicated athlete, he is also a very good student who puts in the work on and off the bike.”
Then there’s Lucas Mariutti, a sophomore from Sao Paulo, Brazil. “Lucas punches above his weight in every way,” said Guptill. “Despite being so young, he races in the varsity category on the mountain bike and is gifted with incredible bike-handling skills. His dedication is truly impressive.”
Cassy McPhee is a junior from Bermuda. “She’s an up-and-coming female cyclist who’s made tremendous improvement in her first year as a team member. She has a laser focus when racing, and every week is becoming faster and more skilled on the bike.”
Laurent Gervais is a Canadian who came to the school specifically to pursue cycling and has since accumulated numerous podium and near-podium placings in several top-level professional events. Considering the fact that Gervais is only a high school senior, that’s pretty darn impressive. “His strengths on the bike are many. He’s more of an all-around rider as opposed to a one-trick pony, and is just as comfortable in a 40 mph technical sprint as he is on a 40 minute climb in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” said Guptill. “He also has the ability to read a race and put himself in the right place at the right time, which is something that can’t be coached. This is a rare gift and one that’s difficult to acquire.”
According to Guptill, Laurent caught the eye of the Aevolo Cycling team’s director this past fall at the Green Mountain Stage Race where he competed in the professional field and finished a remarkable fourth place in one of the most difficult stages of the four-day race, beating many of the top professionals in the U.S.
“Aevolo is one of the premier U23 teams in the world, so signing with them is a huge honor,” said Guptill. “Laurent will be teammates with other talented cyclists his age from around the world and will benefit from one of the sport’s best directors, Mike Creed.”
“Our cycling program has a rich history with numerous state and national champions in the disciplines of road, track and mountain biking, and we’ve graduated four cyclists into the professional ranks,” said Guptill. Adding to those accolades, the school’s endurance program is recognized as an official “Center of Excellence” by USA Cycling, the national governing body of the sport, and is the only school-based team to have earned this recognition.
Guptill said prospects are unusually bright. “Team camaraderie is at an all-time high and everyone is pushing everyone else in a very constructive way, which all coaches know is not always the case,” he said. “We just finalized our spring 2017 race schedule, and everyone is getting fired up and excited for their favorite races.”
With a schedule featuring races that favor climbers, sprinters, technically advanced riders and everything in between, Guptill says there’s a venue for all of MSA’s endurance cyclists to shine. “One of our greatest strengths as a team is that we don’t just have one superstar,” he said.”