’61 Metcalfe Continues to Improve With Age
By Chris Lyman
In 2011 at Masters Nationals, Kevin Metcalfe of Team Specialized Racing showed everyone clean pairs of wheels by winning the 2011 Time Trial and Road Race, and finishing second in the Criterium. In 2012 he packed his suitcase full of courage and repeated in the Road Race and finished second in the Time Trial, just four weeks after breaking his collarbone for the second time in eight months.
Wondering if he’d been filling his water bottles from the Fountain of Youth, I asked my former teammate how he keeps getting better with age.
An email came back from you with official-looking Navy declassified lingo. Should I address you as Admiral?
Actually, I used to work for the Navy, but now work for the Army. I used to write Oracle and Powerbuilder applications but now I manage IT projects for the Army. I’m a civilian and my equivalent rank would be a Major. That plus $7 allows me to buy the new coffee drink at Starbucks when I’m having a really hard time staying awake on Highway 99 driving home from a bike race.
Ok Major, what changed to become such an effective closer in the big events?
Isn’t it obvious?
Thurlow has been injured the last two years! Seriously, I _can_ beat Thurlow, but it is much harder and happens less often than when I race against other guys. Thurlow is a fierce competitor and he casts a long shadow in any race he enters. Anytime he shows up with good fitness he is the guy you have to get past if you expect to win. You don’t want to know how many times I checked “who’s registered” on the USAC web site leading up to nationals the last two years…
I find that after racing for 27 years that I have a much clearer vision of what I need to do to prepare and rest. My body and I have been around this block a few times and I generally know what gets me going well. Also, a lot of times I can “just see” what is going to happen tactically. Seeing something unfold clearly doesn’t always mean that you have what it takes to take advantage of it, but it’s a lot better than having great legs but totally missing the crucial move.
Similar to brandishing reading classes to peck out an update from @nslckevin, you eschew father time to throw down with the youngsters in P/1/2 races (and quite frankly, at this point the 35+ guys are youngsters too). How has your approach to the sport changed as you’ve aged up?
I probably train less hours than when I was younger, but the structure and quality is better so I feel like I can be still be fairly competitive with the young guys within reason. I’m also a heck of a lot more savvy tactically than when I was young so I probably race smarter and that makes up a little bit of the strength differential. So, in some P/1/2 races depending on who’s there, the course, etc. I have an outside chance of winning. On the other hand, something like Pescadero against Nate English, Max Jenkins and Kirk Carlsen just leads to me getting a good hard kicking!
The important thing though is to use your brain and to race and be part of how it unfolds as opposed to being a passenger and having the outcome dictated to you. Go big or go home.
Speaking of using your brain, an hour on the trainer with 2×20 is your midweek daily vitamin during the winter (or whenever at least three raindrops are visible on the road). What kind of Jedi mind tricks do you employ to carry out such a feat, day after day, for months on end?
It is surprisingly not that hard. I’m not doing my efforts at Functional Threshold Power (FTP) like a lot of people espouse. BTW, those people are pretty much insane. Anybody who is doing 2×20 @ FTP on their trainer has either my compliments or pity; I’m not sure which is more appropriate. I generally shoot for 85-90% of FTP, but lately I seem to be landing on 90% most of the time. That is enough of an effort that you know you did something afterwards, but it’s not death defying and most importantly I don’t have to dig into mental reserves. Yeah, it’s kind of brain dead, but I’ve got a good playlist of ‘80s hair metal that keeps me happy and I’m pretty good at visualization while I’m riding.
BTW, the training data is public on Strava at http://www.strava.com/athletes/kmetcalfe but the playlist is double top secret.
I break the workout into very bite sized chunks. So even though 20 minutes at a high effort level can be long time, I break it into 5’ blocks where I stand up in a bigger gear for 10-15 seconds to break it up. So no matter what I’m never more than 5 minutes from a break of some sort.
Also, the fear of DTMYLM keeps me on my toes and makes the time go by quickly. It might not be the best absolute training plan but it fits my schedule and it is something that I will do day after day, week after week and that is key.
At Masters Nationals the past two years you’ve bagged three wins and two silvers. What was the most memorable or meaningful win?
The two road races for two different reasons. Though I’ve won a bunch of jerseys on the track, 2011 was big for me because I’ve been chasing a masters road title since 1995 with a lot of “close, but no cigar” finishes. It was great to finally get that monkey off my back.
This year because of the broken collar bone so close to nationals and because of the beating I took in the TT I wasn’t as confident and felt a lot of internal pressure. I kind of like being a current national champion and didn’t want to be a FORMER national champion. That would entail buying all new pajamas for one thing… Also because teammates Don Langley and Larry Nolan worked so hard for me in the road race I felt like I couldn’t let them down. It was a relief to pull it off.
It was also kind of fun because we had a definite plan of how to win that race. The plan was for Don and Larry to get me to the last climb with the group more or less together. At that point it was my job to ride everybody off my wheel. Kind of ballsy, but it was the only way I could realistically win. It is rare for a pre-race plan like that to even get to the point of execution let alone to work so that was really cool. Dropping my chain with 5km to go just added to the excitement…
That, and of course there’s the post-race excitement of spending time with the USADA testing crew. Which one required the longest stay?
Road race in 2011 for sure. An afternoon event on a hot day for a guy who is a bit paranoid about needing a nature break during a race and thus tends to under-hydrate, is a bad combination for getting through dope control. It was dark and the parking lot lights were out when I left the gym that night. It was actually kind of scary riding back to my car on the other side of the school. Thankfully USA Cycling and Dave Towle were waiting for me to do the awards!
I do have to brag a bit though in that I wasn’t the slowest. Brendon Sullivan only beat me out of there by about 10 minutes and he had been in there for a couple of hours already after winning the 45-49 race. So I’ve got that going for me… BTW, do you know how hard it is to do your business with a guy watching you up close and personal while two women are chatting just around the corner in a loud echoey gym locker room???
With all that you’ve accomplished in cycling, what do you have left to prove to yourself?
There are three things that I really want to do:1. I want to win the world’s RR and/or TT in Trento, Italy this summer. First though, I have to get there. We are doing a big remodel on our house and for some reason that has a higher financial priority than my mid-life crisis. I know, crazy right? Seriously, though I may not get there, the Monte Bondone will be in my thoughts on a lot of those trainer rides this winter. Campione del Mondo. It’s got a nice ring to it…
2. I want to win a P/1/2 race after age 50. I’ve been relatively close a few times, but no cigar. It may never happen, but until it is completely out of the question I want to keep trying. I’m not interested in winning a crap load of 45+ or 50+ races. I want to win races that are hard to win. If you gave me the choice of winning one decent P/1/2 race and nothing else or winning twenty 45+ races this year I wouldn’t even have to think about it. I’d take the one P/1/2 race every time. Especially if it was something cool like Leesville Gap.
3. I want to break 50 minutes for a 40km TT. I first got close to this in 1993 with a 50:57 and my best is 50:11 in 2010. I feel like I’m part of a math experiment with three curves. Curve 1 is my pure physical abilities and as I age that curve decays. Curve 2 is the curve of aerodynamic bicycle technology and that curve is on an upward trend. Curve 3 is the watts per CdA required to go 48kph. I think that I can make all three of those curves intersect if everything goes right. Weather, fitness, etc. I just want to get it all right before curve 1 takes me out of the game.
Another thing that I want to do is to try and pass some of the experience I’ve gained over the years into our juniors As you know, Team Specialized has a very strong development program and one of our missions is to help our juniors to succeed in cycling and in life in general. Hopefully I’ve got something that they will find helpful.
Thanks Kevin. Enjoy your trainer time and look forward to seeing you at the races in 2013.
How could somebody NOT enjoy riding on the trainer? Talk about redundant…
I’m looking forward to seeing you back out there this year. Just don’t beat me up too bad at the PCSD.
No problem, I’m taking up crit racing full time for 2013…