The yearly transition to winter in Boone means a lot of things for App State’s club sports teams: practices get colder, fall sports come to a close and snow becomes a mainstay. And while clubs teams like Alpine Ski and Snowboarding rejoice at the sight of Boone’s snowy offering, teams like cycling bemoan its arrival, as it signals that the long season of road cycling, beginning in February, is quickly approaching and training must begin.
“For me, that first long ride is always very hard,” club president Eric Burton said. “By the end of it I’m usually pretty sore, ready for some food and I’m spacing out a bit. It’s definitely rough.”
Those long rides begin in December, when members of the team begin regularly logging between 45 and 70 miles of cycling over the course of three to five hour rides.
“It’s not supposed to be fast, it’s supposed to be slow,” Burton said. “It’s just that constant, repetitive motion. You’re just riding easy for a very long time in the beginning of the season to get that aspect of your fitness as a base before you start doing the high intensity stuff at the beginning of the race season.”
For most competitors, December is a lonely month of training rooted in many solo rides.
“Since it’s over Christmas break, we try to do group rides, but a lot of us are spread out everywhere,” club secretary Hunter Hill said. “When the semester starts back it’s really a lot of group rides with the team.”
While some dread the solo rides of December and January, others on the team, such as vice president Annie Pharr, appreciate the solidarity it affords.
“It’s a great way to unplug from everything,” Pharr said. “You get in the zone of cycling so you can push everything that doesn’t matter in that moment away. It’s nice.”
When the spring semester arrives, the real work begins. When weather permits, members of the team continue to ride outdoors once or twice a week despite the obstacles Boone and the surrounding towns create.
“The roads up here in the winter are just terrible for your bike,” Burton said. “The salt they put on it gets in all the little moving parts, so every single time you go out you have to thoroughly clean your bike or else it’ll start to wear out really quickly. You also get these snow banks that it takes like a week to melt, so it’s always kind of slushy.”
Outdoor rides take place anywhere from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Bethel, the Tennessee state line, Jefferson, Wilkesboro and everywhere in between — with a small caveat, rider Justin Evans said.
“You don’t ride on 321, you don’t ride on 421, but [you can ride] pretty much anywhere outside of there,” Evans said.
Many riders incentivize their solo training by attempting to become “king” or “queen of the mountain” on Strava, an app which allows riders to measure their speed and time on a specific segment of road and compare that to other users who’ve documented their time on that same stretch of road. The app also saves previous trips and allows riders to look back and measure against their personal bests.
The team also has group rides on the weekends in Lenoir and Wilkesboro, utilizing that time to practice group riding techniques such as drafting, in which a cyclist trails another cyclist’s back tire close enough that they block the wind and conserve energy while maintaining their speed, among others.
Pharr said the team also practices traveling in a unit, similar to a semi-truck on the road, a formation which allows them to move slowly as a group uphill, but carry the momentum downhill to save energy and improve speed on a long ride.
When Boone’s winter wrath refuses to relent, however, the team moves things indoors and utilizes the university’s CompuTrainers, an advanced indoor cycle unit, twice a week to keep them from falling behind in their training. The CompuTrainer generates a virtual world with hills to ascend and descend to mimic an outdoor ride, adjusting the bike’s resistance accordingly. It also creates avatars for the four riders so they can race against each other.
Because the university only has four CompuTrainers, the team often rotates between two groups of four to complete an hour long, high intensity indoor riding session. With 30 members in the club though, there are weeks where certain riders don’t have a spot available and must train on their own.
Led by coach Sean Weddell, the team will completes a mix of flat, time-trial cardio workouts and interval training routines. Then Weddell leads the team through core exercises and resistance training off the bike.
While the team is thankful to have access to the CompuTrainers, Burton said there is just no replacement for outdoor riding.
“I spend a max of an hour because you’re just staring at a screen,” Burton said.
Unfortunately for Burton and the rest of the team, after a relatively mild December and January, the true winter has seemingly just begun. In the last three weeks, Boone has been hit by snow at least once each week, therefore the indoor training continues.
The team competes in their first action of the road cycling season during the weekend of Feb. 27 at the College of William & Mary, the first of the team’s eight races before the USAC Collegiate Road Nationals begins in Asheville on May 6.
Story by: Chris Warner, Sports Editor