Training world-class racers and weekend warriors

Leipheimer, Zabriskie and Thorburn all benefit from Heiden and Testa

Sports doctors Massimo "Max" Testa and Eric Heiden are currently promoting their book Faster, Better, Strongerwhich is aimed at anyone, not just cyclists, who wants to get fit. With the recent announcement that Lance Armstrong is returning to the peloton for the third time, it's clear that where there's a will, there's a way.

Testa and Heiden have worked together since Testa joined Heiden's 7-Eleven Cycling Team as sports doctor in 1985. Heiden made the transition from Olympic gold medal speed skater to world-class cyclist, racing in the 1985 Giro d'Italia, where teammates Ron Kiefel and Andy Hampsten won stages. Heiden also raced the 1986 Tour de France, crashing out with a week left.

Eric Heiden won five gold medals in speed skating at the 1980 Winter Olympics before becoming a pro cyclist for Team 7-Eleven

In 1991, Heiden became a sports medicine doctor as well, and along with Testa, worked closely with a young Lance Armstrong, who joined the Motorola team in late 1992. Heiden and Testa work together at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital (TOSH) in Salt Lake City, Utah.

BikeRadar: Gents, why did you write this book?

Eric: As physicians, we see the need for people to be physically active, especially since the rise of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. There are plenty of fitness programs out there that try to squeeze everyone into the same mold; everybody's different and this book helps people identify their strengths and weaknesses, and create a program to work with the body that's been given to you. There's plenty of good scientific and biological information out there, but it's hard for the average person to figure it out.

Our book also doesn't make any false promises. It takes hard work, and you'll have to sweat. It takes time, and people usually get quickly discouraged with promises typically made in self-help books.

Max: We originally planned to write a book specifically for cyclists, but our publisher thought it best to address training in a more general manner.

Christine Thorburn, herself a doctor, didn't become a racer until after 30 and has raced two Olympics

Our combined experience is 50-plus years. We were athletes first, then physicians. Now, five percent of our practice is spent with world-class athletes; the weekend warrior is who we work with the most. To me, cross-training is a given, but we get asked these questions every day. It's important to target the system in several ways. This is what we address in our book.

Deanne (Musolf) was the person who contacted us originally. We didn't have the time to write a book, so her help was important. Her organization was key in getting the book finished. We're planning to do one specifically for cyclists, maybe a training diary. We have several ideas we'd like to put on paper.

BikeRadar: Eric, for the record, what's your fastest time up Old La Honda? When's the last time you rode it?

I did it in 14:10 in 1986 or 1987, the year after racing the Tour de France with 7-Eleven. I used to own a house near the top; I haven't ridden Old La Honda in years!

BikeRadar: I understand you've opened your own medical practice as well?

Eric: My wife and I opened up a clinic in Park City, and we're continuing to work at TOSH in Salt Lake. Max will work with us one day a week. I'm there 20 percent of the time, but TOSH is a very unique facility, and it's almost like an Olympic training center. TOSH is a large facility with room for big groups, like the national team. We have a large area for bio-mechanics, physiology, and nutritionists. One can't duplicate that in Park City. We're still heavily involved with TOSH. We're excited with all that's going on.

Leipheimer and Zabriskie: focused and winning

BikeRadar: Tell us about your work with Levi Leipheimer and Dave Zabriskie.

Max: Zabriskie is a rider I've known since the world championships a few years ago. Now that we're near Salt Lake City, where he lives, we see more of him. He comes to our clinic a few times when he's in town; he's a very special guy - super smart. Very interesting to work with, and a great sense of humour. Here's a guy suited for time trials; his body's like a blade.

Dave Zabriskie came back from a May 11 lumbar injury to race in the Beijing Olympics

I was impressed with his coming back from his lumbar fracture (during the second stage of the Giro d'Italia - ed.) and racing 12 weeks later in the Olympics. I would see him training several times a week around Salt Lake, sometimes with a physical therapist, doing some motor pacing, you know, trying to get ready to race again. In fact, his hard work paid off by winning the US Pro time trial in South Carolina. The recent Tour of Missouri was his first stage race since the injury in May.

I've worked with Levi for several years. He's one of the ideal athletes to coach. Does everything to a 'T'. He's good at giving feedback, so he's teaching me a lot,  like a Formula 1 driver giving feedback on the engine performance. He helps me understand how his body reacts to certain training. He's a laboratory on two wheels for me!

He's also a great planner, almost as good as Armstrong. He's a guy that deserves to win a Grand Tour, but he also is the ultimate support player. I think he's one of the world's strongest time trialists, beating some recent Tour finishers like Cadel Evans plus his teammate Alberto Contador at the Beijing Olympics to take third.

Leipheimer won Stage 5 of the 2008 Tour of Spain; he lies second behind teammate Alberto Contador

I just spoke to Levi 20 minutes ago (after Stage 13 in the Tour of Spain, a back-breaker up the 23-percent grade of Alto de L'Angliru. Leipheimer finished fourth to remain in second overall behind Contador, who won the stage 50 seconds before Alejandro Valverde - ed.). I think Levi was the strongest racer the first two weeks. I see him as the best example for young cyclists; Levi has earned everything his achieved. He has a strong personality but is quiet in nature. He's always there in the big races. He has delivered when it matters most. I look forward to watching him in Varese at the world championships.

For Heiden and Testa's thoughts on Lance Armstrong's return to the pro peloton, and the physiological affect it will have on his 37-year-old body, look for the November 2008 Procyclng Magazine, Issue 118.

Related Articles

Back to top