David Guttenplan on going for the USA CRITS Series Championship
Winning a bike race is hard. Winning a week-long stage race or omnium is even harder. But winning a year-long championship? That’s a feat of strength that only the ultra elite can achieve. How do you keep your fitness level high throughout the entire Spring and Summer year? How do you continually collect points every race? You’d almost have to be a superhero.
One of those superheroes Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan Coaching Cycling Team’s David Guttenplan. Racing in the USA CRITS Series this year - one of North America’s premier cycling championships - David Guttenplan has been a powerful force all season, picking up bucketfuls of points every race. As the series heads toward the season finale at the Gateway Cup in St. Louis, Missouri, David has a nearly insurmountable lead in the championship standings. Barring disaster, David should finish the night taking home his first USA CRITS championship and the Colavita Overall Leader Jersey; he will also have clearly cemented the legacy of his Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan Coaching team as one of North America’s premier domestic cycling teams. [Ed. If you can’t be in St. Louis for the Gateway Cup, be sure to tune in to watch the conclusion of the “Race for Orange”on USACRITS.TV]
A few days ago, A Cyclist in a Strange Land had a chance to sit down with David Guttenplan to dive deeper into the secret to his success and the powerful team that he leads. Below are highlights of the engaging conversation.
Nathan (N): One race to go, you’re solidly in the lead to win the USA CRITS title. I know it’s been something that you’ve been targeting all year.
David Guttenplan (DG): Yeah, I think that I pretty much locked it up last week at the Benchmark Twilight Cycling Classic. At this point, I think that, even if I don’t finish at Gateway Cup, Conor Mullervy (Team CLIF Bar) would have to score all the points and win the race. That would be a pretty tough task since Gateway Cup is also on USA Cycling’s Pro Road Tour (PRT) which means that even more of the sport’s top teams will be at the race looking to win. We’ll see, I’m excited.
N: With so many ways to score points in every race, have you been doing a lot of math in your head during the races to figure out what you need to do to keep the orange Colavita Overall Leader Jersey? The USA CRITS points system is a little more complex than I think I could manage on the fly!
DG: Good question, I try not to make it that complicated. I come into each race knowing that the more points I score every race, the better. I try to win one of the points preems and I try to at least place in the midrace preem. Beyond that, I try to figure out which riders my team shouldn’t let escape in a break away. That’s pretty much been my frame of attack. It’s actually made for some dumbed downed racing, and it’s kind of ruined my actual results. It seems like every week, I come home a little disappointed because I didn’t race to win like I usually would, but I’m still very happy to have kept the Colavita Overall Leader Jersey for so much of the series.
N: So, the strategy is that it’s more important to race smart than race for the win. This isn’t the first time that you’ve chased the USA CRITS Series crown either, so you know what you’re doing.
DG: Well, I hope so! This is the first year that I’ve targeted the USA CRITS Series since 2014. In 2010, I chased the series while racing for Team Mountain Khakis, but I was focused on helping my teammate Isaac Howe who ended up winning the overall. That year, even though I wasn’t racing for myself, I ended up fourth in the final points, just shy of third overall. In 2014, when I raced for the overall, the championship came down to the final race and all I had to do was stay at the front of the field. But, I started to fall back on the final hill of that race and ended up finishing 17th; that was the difference between winning the overall and ending up fourth in the final standings.
N: Wow, what a heartbreaking loss. This year, you’re definitely coming into the final race of the series in a much better position, you have a 255-point lead over Conor! What’s the difference between 2018 and 2014?
DG: Coming into 2018, I knew how the series worked. Being consistent is the most important thing; you can’t give up, even if you’re cracking. I think that’s what happened at the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic, which was my worst race of the year. Even though I finished 37th, I stayed in the race and never gave up. That might be the difference between me and my competitors. I don’t take any point for granted, and I think that’s why I have such a healthy, 255-point lead right now. All along, I figured that something would go wrong, and I would need every point that I could score.
N: Another secret to your success has been your loyal lieutenant Tyler Locke.
DG: I have to give Tyler Locke a lot of credit, he’s done the whole series with me. Tyler has always been willing to sacrifice himself. He’s always aggressive, always trying to make sure that we don’t miss a move, and always going to join the break. Theoretically, it’s still possible for him to finish on the overall podium with me. How cool would it be to have my lieutenant on the podium with me? Going into the last couple of races, I’ve told Tyler to go for it and race for himself. I said not to worry about me, I have enough of a gap in the points. The best way he can help me right now is to do well and help himself. Next year, most likely, he’s the one who will be going for the overall at USA CRITS.
N: Does that mean you might not attempt to win back-to-back titles?
DG: I haven’t decided yet, but one of us will be focused on winning the title next year. I just want Tyler to be mentally prepared and believe in himself. USA CRITS is a tough series. Tyler can win it, he’s strong. He’ll just have to make that challenging mental switch from being a domestique to a winner, and Tyler Locke is a winner. In July, he finished second behind Justin Williams at the Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, and fourth at the San Rafael Sunset Criterium. Tyler can do this.
N: In March 2016, you were in a terrible accident when you were hit by a car. You’re just now at the two-year anniversary of your return to racing. To return to racing in a relatively short amount of time and already be in the position of taking the overall crown in USA CRITS is remarkable.
DG: When I returned to racing in 2016 at the Iron Hill Twilight Criterium [Ed. now known as the Benchmark Twilight Cycling Classic], it was more of a moral victory than an actual victory. It was a shocker of a race to come back to. It’s probably the toughest race of the series. I was suffering this year at that race, I don’t know how I did it as my first race back after my accident.
N: What’s the secret to coming back and still being able to be so strong? At A Cyclist in a Strange Land, we’ve explored my struggles with injury [Ed. read more about Nathan’s road to recovery here], and I’m always interested in exploring other’s more serious journeys.
DG: The biggest thing for me was to refuse to ever be down and out. Luckily, I had a lot of people around me to support me and help me feel better. After you have an injury, the best thing you can do is set your bike up on a trainer since there’s no chance you’ll hurt yourself again if you’re just sitting there spinning. I always tell people to do five minutes in their street clothes and maybe 10 minutes the next day. You’re really not taking any risk, but you’re doing enough to get your heart rate moving a little so your body remembers and all of the hardcore medication can get out of you. Rather than being upset that you’re injured, turn your attention to turning your pedals. Don’t accept no, get back on the horse.
N: Another thing that I wanted to talk about is your team and your team structure. It’s a pretty interesting team in that you have a lot of cool sponsors and riders that are a mix of up and comers and established names. As a team that has so much potential, where do you see yourself taking it in the future?
DG: The goal has always been to take the team to the pros and get to the point where I’m no longer the main guy. Even though I’m going to keep racing as long as I can, at some point, I’ll likely move into more of a managerial role. That’s one of the reasons that I decided that we’d chase the USA CRITS Series this year, I wanted to prove that we have something that’s marketable. I’ve always tried to put my sponsors first and make sure that they’re getting everything that I can possibly give. USA CRITS is such a marketable series, it’s the perfect venue for bringing in more sponsors.
N: Speaking of marketability, you’ve put together some great partnerships with big-name sponsors like Support Clean Sport and the Banned Substances Control Group, Stradalli Cycle, SeaSucker Bike Racks, Boyd Cycling Wheels, Starlight Custom Cycling Apparel, and Osymetric Chainrings. I’d love to hear about some of these sponsors, let’s start with Support Clean Sport.
DF: Having Support Clean Sport be part of our program is pretty amazing, it’s a sponsor that I truly believe in. The fact is, you don’t have to use drugs to race at a high level and win big. Doping takes the fun out of it. I tell my guys that if you can’t be proud of your results, what’s the point? You have to do it for the right reasons. It’s an honor to have Oliver Catlin, the owner of the Banned Substances Control Group, and Don Catlin, the mastermind behind the anti-doping program at Slipstream Sports, be part of the team.
N: How’d you hook up with those guys and their Support Clean Sport organization?
DG: My old coach and good friend John Campbell founded a company that developed a product called EP-NO, a supplement that helps your blood levels be tiptop without doing anything illegal, and worked with Oliver and the Banned Substances Control Group to do the testing to ensure that there aren’t any contaminated substances in EP-NO. That’s how we got introduced, and the relationship grew from there. I’m so proud to be racing and winning under the Support Clean Sport banner.
N: You were an old classmate of Phil Gaimon at the University of Florida, right? You guys have similar anti-doping convictions. Does that shared perspective come from your time on the University of Florida’s cycling team?
DG: That’s right, Phil Gaimon and I lived in the same house for most of college. I was one of the people that helped get him into cycling and, later on, we raced together on Subaru and the Sakonnet Under-25 Cycling Team. It is interesting that we’re both such strong anti-doping advocates, I wonder if our strong anti-doping message comes from racing in Florida and seeing how bad things were at the time. Things had gotten so bad in the Florida cycling scene that, in 2012, a grassroot effort decided they wanted to put an end to the doping going on in the amateur ranks and started the Florida Clean Ride Fund. After the Florida Clean Ride Fund [Ed. associated with the Florida Bicycle Racing Association] started testing amateur athletes, the cycling scene in Florida changed within six months. It went from being nearly impossible to win, to me being one of the best cyclists on the scene. The results don’t lie, it really, really worked. Then, USA Cycling adopted the model and started testing at local races around the country. It wasn’t an easy undertaking, a single anti-doping test can cost between $500-$1,500, but it proved that it doesn’t take a lot of testing to clean up the sport.
N: Let’s talk Stradalli. It seems like every race that I’ve gone to this year has fields filled with Stradalli road bikes and, a lot of the time, they seem to win or finish in the top five. Obviously, with your team being one of the most successful domestic teams that Stradalli sponsors, their bikes seem to be working out for you.
DG: Racing Stradalli bikes was a no-brainer. Stradalli’s owner, Tom Steinbacher, and I have known each other for years, he’s a true lover of the sport. It’s great to have a partner like Stradalli where we’re helping each other grow, it’s a win-win partnership. It’s also great to have a fleet of matching green Stradalli’s Faenza aero bike that keep winning! Stradalli is growing and releasing better and better bikes. And, Stradalli is even branching out to start to selling carbon fiber baseball bats, fishing rods, and hockey sticks!
N: Can you tell me a little more about the Stradalli Faenza? It’s really caught my eye in the peloton.
DG: That’s right, it’s an eye-catching bike design! The bike has been great. Super durable, fast, and aerodynamic. Our team has been racing Stradalli Faenzas for two years now and we all love that bike. It’s definitely a bike to consider the next time you’re in the market for a new road bike.
N: Another one of your sponsors is SeaSucker. A few years ago, they freaked everyone out with their portable bike racks that attach to cars via advanced suction cups, but now their racks are all over the place.
DG: That’s been another great partnership. At the start, the partnership was about convincing people that it was a good product by showing that our team was traveling around the United States with our bikes attached to SeaSucker racks and that we never had any mishaps. It proved to be an effective concept, pretty much every single person that I interacted with ended up getting a rack. And, we always had customer satisfaction. Today, anyone that’s a legit cyclist isn’t going to question if SeaSuckers will work. In my opinion, SeaSucker should be the go-to rack for any cyclist because you can keep using it when you get a new car without having to worry that it won’t be compatible.
N: And, am I correct in understanding that fans can support the Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan Coaching Cycling Team through purchasing Stradalli bikes, SeaSucker racks, and Boyd Cycling wheels directly from your team?
DG: That’s right! If anyone needs something bike-related, send them my way. I’ll take care of them with any sponsorship discounts and promotions to get them the best possible deal. Some of the stuff can’t get too much of a discount, but if they buy it from us then it helps us convince the companies to continue their sponsorship of the team. It shows the sponsors that it’s working to sponsor us; it’s a great method of tracking how we’re getting the product out to the people. [Ed. learn more here]