Andreas Hestler
Credit: Sterling Lorence

Award-winning cyclist Andreas Hestler shares his secrets

Even though the kind of races he enters have changed over the years, there’s been one constant in the career of 39-year-old Andreas Hestler—winning. In the 1990s, Dre, as he’s known to his friends, won numerous NORBA circuit races and two national championships, and in 1996 he represented Canada at the Atlanta Olympics. For the last six years, the resident of Vancouver has focused on marathon distance and stage races with equal success. Since 2004, he’s won the Trans Rockies Challenge three years in a row and last year he came second in the inaugural BC Bike Race. There is no one in Canada with more experience winning races on a mountain bike. Wanna win like Hestler? Here’s what you need to do, according to Dre.

Get gears
If you want to go fast, you have to train at different speeds. “Stay off one speed all the time. It’s what kills people.” Another no-no: mixing speeds on one ride. On recovery days ride super slow. On hard days go really hard, but short. On long rides pick a middle speed and go far.

Don’t overdo it
Most high-level athletes train too much. More time sleeping or eating well or just relaxing can net huge improvements. “Rest makes you strong. You definitely need sleep and you definitely need to recover.” Listen to your body to know how much of each.

Quit running
Pounding the pavement has little crossover with spinning small circles, so quit now and spend the time on a bike instead. “Cycling is a very unnatural movement—you need high levels of repetition to do it well. Running is not helping.”

Salute the sun
There’s a physical disconnect with riding—the lower body is always moving, the upper body is usually still. Yoga bridges that gap.  “Yoga takes the core, upper body and lower body and puts them all together stretching and strengthening them. If your core is strong, your riding is strong.” Try 10 sun salutations and a few dog poses daily.

Different taper
For shorter races, forget tapering for a week beforehand as you would for a running race. Cycling is low impact; your body doesn’t need the rest. It’s better to build to the event so blood is mobilized and plasma levels are high. But for multi-day races take it easy the week before. “If you show up super fit you’ll do great on day one but have no reserves for the rest of the race.”

Find your forte
“Search for what you are good at. As your body changes so should your game plan.” Before he turned 30, Hestler could pass anyone at will. After 30, his speed deserted him. “Now I can’t get ahead of anyone until hour two.” And just try and keep up after day three of a stage race. “You have to roll with what you’re given,” he says. Indeed, Hestler went from standard two-hour races to winning marathons and multi-day stage races. Try different distances and races to figure out what you’re best at: sprint, marathon or something in between. If you’re a sprinter, you have options: “A sprinter can train to be a marathoner, but a marathoner can’t turn into a sprinter.”

Quality or quantity
To race well, younger riders need the kind of time in the saddle that would cripple an old guy. Luckily old guys have the muscle memory, experience and skill to hack it as long as they are getting quality workouts. A minimum is three rides a week: a fast short ride and two longer slower rides.

Ready for the stage
If you want to do a stage race, you need to train your body to deal with back-to-back-to-back workouts. Start 12 weeks before the race. Do three hard rides in a row and then one easier ride. Build to four in a row and one easier ride. Then four with two easier rides, five in a row and a recovery, and then finally, three weeks before the race, ride every day of the week. Drop to five rides the next week, and two or three light rides the week before the race.

Painful memories
The body has a memory. It remembers how to suffer through a painful race, so each time it gets easier. Hestler has proof. He took part in a U.B.C. study that pitted top riders against a cyclo-cross course three times and measured their VO2 before and after each race. “The first felt so bad, the second felt okay and the last one felt pretty good. But each lap took about the same amount of time. Our bodies got used to the load.” Moral of the story: the more you race, the less it hurts.
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