By JoE Silva
There’s nothing unusual about finding Chad Andrews up early and prepping for the next wave of athletes to arrive at TotalCyclist, the training center he’s piloted in Charlotte for the past six years. What is different about today’s session is that all of the cyclists who’ll be coming in to train will be riding at speeds that are considerably slower than they’re used to in competition. But this is no recovery session or specially designed low-intensity training regimen. Today’s class is composed of elite-level and pro motocross riders.
“One of our clients is a motocross racer and we got him super ready for racing,” Chad says while he preps for class. “He started kicking everyone’s butt and so he started talking to other pros, saying ‘You got to try this!’ and now there’s a whole group of them that come in every week to train.”
Just like the professional NASCAR racer that Chad trains, the motocross riders have realized the benefits that good conditioning has had on their chosen sport.
“The transfer they get from the conditioning is huge! Astronomically huge. It’s like a one-to-one ratio. You’re using almost the exact same energy systems in motocross,” Chad says. “So when they come in here and I’m looking at the heart-rate profiles and they’re at 160 or 170 beats per minute during their motocross races ... we’re kind of a new technology for them almost. This one kid who won the British championship said to me, ‘Man, this is awesome. It’s amazing that more motocross racers haven’t picked up on this yet.’”
Chad moved into the realm of coaching in 2001, after years of riding and racing as a Category 1-2 racer. Since then he has helped cyclists, fitness competitors, and even pro golfers realize better results both on the bike and within the parameters of their chosen sport. When it comes to cycling he’s seen his charges come across the line first at all levels of racing. If you spend any amount of time around Chad, you’ll soon realize that his phone is constantly humming with incoming calls, texts and emails from athletes checking in with him and feeding him their latest stats and updates on their well-being. But it’s not just his clients that are getting in touch. Casual acquaintances from the pro ranks, good friends and even curious cycling fans who run into him at races often contact him for general advice or just the encouragement they might need to get through their day.
“It’s hard to convey to people how much I enjoy seeing someone reach past themselves and create a whole vision of themselves. It’s like a Flaming Lips concert. It’s life-affirming and addictive. And that’s a hard thing to keep away from, no matter who’s checking in.”
The wide spectrum of people that Chad often has reaching out to him is largely due to the amount of time he spends all over the country announcing some of cycling’s biggest American events. Even though he has a speech communications and public speaking degree from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, he fell into the master of ceremonies side of the sport quite by accident.
“It was about 10 years ago at the Dilworth Criterium in Charlotte,” he remembers. “It was cold and rainy, and there was music playing but no one was telling the crowd what was going on with the race. So I picked up the microphone and started talking.”
Since then he’s played ring master to some of the biggest names on the U.S. and international circuit and has been a fixture at the USA CRITS Series, which is composed of some of the biggest one-day criteriums in the country – including the much-celebrated Twilight Criterium in Athens, Ga., and his hometown race, the Presbyterian Criterium in Charlotte, N.C. Onstage he goes full throttle, often winding up without even enough voice to call home and check in with his family.
“But it’s really gone now from race-commentating to branching out and doing more emceeing as well. After the Labor Day Sunbrella Omnium race in Anderson, S.C., this year they asked me to stay and emcee the concert that night in front of 10,000 people. And that was kind of cool because it was beautiful that day and it kind of took me out of my box. It definitely was a challenge for me and that’s what I like.”
While it may seem obvious that “challenge” is bound to be elemental in an organization like TotalCyclist, the results of having brought his clients face to face with new challenges on a daily basis never cease to energize Chad. Case in point is Kerry McCarville, an enthusiast rider who wasn’t getting a tremendous amount of satisfaction out on the road with the younger women she often found herself riding with.
“You kind of get tired of getting left behind all the time, so I thought that cycling would be a lot more fun if I was in better shape to do it,” explains Kerry.
She was referred to TotalCyclist and by her third training session was getting an entirely different experience on the bike.
“I had been doing spin classes for years and was never sure if I was making any progress. But when they started turning up my wattage threshold numbers (at TotalCyclist), I realized that this is not supposed to be some fun spin class. This is supposed to be pretty hard. But it works.”
By raising Kerry’s threshold over the course of a year or so, she lost nearly 23 pounds and got strong enough to increase her watts per kilogram by nearly 33% – a phenomenal improvement by almost any cycling standard.
“Now I’ve got my younger friends saying that I’m dropping them on the hills and they’re coming in to TotalCyclist to train,” she says. “I rode not too long ago from Asheville to the top of Mount Mitchell. It’s only 30 miles or so, but that was something I could have never imagined doing.”
Despite her significant progress, Kerry also decided to participate in the most recent TotalCyclist Diva Camp – a training camp exclusive to beginner and intermediate female cyclists that Chad held this October outside of Roanoke, Va.
“The first one was down in Beaufort, S.C., where we had a diverse group of women who were mostly beginners. We kind of hit a home run with that one because we were catering to a group of women who had never been catered to before. They were enthusiasts who had been to races, who owned bikes, but had not become serious about being cyclists.”
Andrews and a group of TotalCyclist coaches showed the campers everything from basic bike-handling skills to riding etiquette and general maintenance. But the women were also treated to wine tastings as well as a string of fabulously prepared meals that made the experience feel as much like a top-shelf getaway with the girls as a boot camp for amateur cyclists.
“But this time we took the ladies to a location that I scouted around Newcastle, Va.,” Chad says. “The location was spectacular, but the challenge on this occasion was that we added elevation. So the biggest concern amongst the riders was that they wouldn’t able to manage this kind of terrain. So by the third day, we had them going up a 10-kilometer climb. Probably one of the most powerful moments about that was when one of my coaches was teary-eyed when the last climber made it to the top. So there was a sense of victory as well as a sense of empowerment for those women. And that was a powerful moment for us as well.”
Since the Diva Camps have gotten under way, the women involved have bonded further via their own Facebook page and are hoping that TotalCyclist will not only take the concept to other spots around the country, but to other disciplines as well.
“We’ve had people express interest in a Diva Camp for mountain bikers, and that’s exciting to see the riders themselves take the concept and run with it. I mean, there are plenty of hardcore camps out there that can offer someone thousands of feet of climbing, but we’re going after a different segment of the cycling population where we can empower women on the bicycle. And almost every one of them said they had never ridden with another woman before. They’d either ridden by themselves or with one or two men, and to be in this environment with all these other women was thrilling for them.”
For Chad, who’s seen the sport from so many angles, the Diva Camps have brought him a fresh perspective on the sport that’s been at the center of his professional life for so long now.
“I’ve coached and advised pros at all levels before but what I got personally from having discovered this underserved niche is that the passion that these particular women have for cycling is sometimes far more powerful than the desire that a pro has to wind up on the podium. It’s re-invigorated my belief in what this sport can bring to someone.”
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JoE Silva writes about cycling for NBC Sports and CycleSport Magazine. He's also the host of WUGA's “Just Off The Radar,” a weekly music program that can be heard online at www.justofftheradar.com.