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FranckFife/AFP, Getty Images
Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel/USA)

Eric Heiden knows a thing or two about high-level athletic performance. He is, after all, a five-time Olympic gold medalist in speedskating and followed that up by winning a national championship in cycling and competed in the Tour de France.

Massimo Testa, likewise, knows a thing or two about turning great athletes into phenomenal athletes. He is, after all, a world-renowned expert on cycling and has spent two-plus decades coaching the likes of Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Dave Zabriskie.

So, when Testa and Heiden moved their medical and sports performance practice about two years ago from California to The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Murray, they quickly realized their new locale was the perfect place to coach, train and instruct athletes of all sorts.

"I saw the mountains, the long roads and knew this was one of the best places in the world for cyclists," said Testa, better known as Max. "We have some of the best resources in the world for this to become a destination for cyclists to train."

With that mind, Heiden and Testa held their first Utah-based cycling training camp last week. Put together on fairly short notice and designed primarily as a test run to evaluate how to hold a camp in Utah, the internationally respected cycling experts attracted more than a dozen campers from California, Massachusetts, Utah and other states.

Leipheimer, fresh off his winning performance at the U.S. Pro National Championships in South Carolina and helping teammate George Hincapie win the inaugural Tour of Missouri, agreed to be the guest of honor at the camp and led the cyclists on a 100-mile ride through the back roads of Summit County and over Wolf Creek Pass on Friday.

Attending the camp, the national champ said, was a welcome change and a great way to repay his coach.

"I really owe it all to Max," Leipheimer, who finished on the podium in third place at this year's Tour de France, told those at the camp over dinner. "He helped take me to an entirely different level. I was eight and ninth in the Tour de France, and I was wondering if that was as good as I could get. I started working with Max, and I've improved like I never thought I would. I'm at a different level now."

The cycling camps, which Heiden said can be used to become a better triathlete, cyclist, runner or just more fit, focused on science as much as action.

"What we want," Heiden said, "is to identify your potential and identify what makes you tick as an athlete. We want to help you reach your goals."

Each camper — the group ranged from a 63-year-old woman there to learn how to be more efficient in her training to a 16-year-old West High junior hoping to be among the best young cyclists in the country — was put through a series of tests to determine current fitness levels and was given a set of instructions designed to help each person to reach his or her individual goal.

Lactate threshold tests, VO2 Max tests and heart-rate monitoring were accompanied by body-fat analysis and detailed, individualized training guides.

The hope, Testa said, is to learn from last week's test run and hold frequent camps in coming years. The camps may be specialized to focus on time trial cyclists, road racing cyclists, triathletes or all-encompassing camps. Already the doctors have scheduled a camp based in Italy next September.

Training correctly, Testa said, is the difference between good results and great results.

"If you have good genes, you can be a gifted athlete," he said. "But if you don't train right, you'll never reach your potential."

Not every cyclist is gearing up for a three-week stage race in Europe. Many, though, are working toward a century, the MS 150 or the 206-mile LOTOJA. Based on individual goals, each participant in the camp received a personalized training schedules for the winter offseason and beyond.

"You can't peak for the whole year," Testa explained. "You want to build that base so you don't lose training. Then you add the intensity to peak when you need to."

Chase Pinkham, a junior at West High, heard about the camp on short notice but was able to sneak out of school a few times and attend. A competitive cyclist for only the past summer, Pinkham has already climbed the ladder from a beginning Cat 5 cyclist to a competitive Cat 3, where he regularly finishes near the leaders against more experienced athletes.

"I just hope to get enough info to improve," Pinkham said while undergoing Testa's testing at TOSH. "I want to get a baseline of where I'm at. I did pretty good for this being my beginning season. I just want to keep improving."

One person who took notice of Pinkham's skills was Leipheimer.

During a ride up Big Cottonwood Canyon last Thursday, Leipheimer led the charge up the mountain until he was out of eyesight. He took a quick side road to play a little bike game with the riders behind him and then rejoined the group after they passed him.

Seeing Pinkham try to keep up with the group, Leipheimer adopted a role rare for a cyclist of his stature — he acted as a domestique for Pinkham, pacing, cutting into the wind and pulling him up the mountain while offering encouragement and advice.

Another key ingredient to training to be an endurance athlete of any sort is nutrition. Understanding this, Testa and Heiden have incorporated TOSH's Nanna Meyer — a sports nutrition specialist with a doctorate — into the camps. Meyer brought the campers into TOSH's unique "Athletes Kitchen," where she prepared meals and information ideal for the lifestyle cyclists live.

After testing sessions and group rides, those at the camp were treated to lectures in the evening from Heiden, Testa and Meyer where all the numbers printed out on sheets of paper were put into context and interpreted.

While few cyclists will ever approach the level of competition Leipheimer is capable of, the camps can help a cyclist of any level improve.

"I was hoping to get a better idea of my physiologic foundation and where I stand as a cyclist," Ogden's Scott Major said. "So mainly, the testing was the most important part of the camp for me. I am meeting with Dr. Testa next week to lay out some plans for the next few months, and hopefully I can go upward from here. Sometimes as an athlete, you aren't sure what area of training you need to focus on, so I've also gained some insight there."

If Testa and Heiden have their way, cycling — either competitively or for recreation — will not only be a lifelong activity, it will be a life-prolonging activity.

Heiden-Testa Cycling Camps

The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital

Institute for Sport Science & Medicine

5848 S. 300 East

Murray, Utah 84107

Phone: (801) 314-4100


E-mail: [email protected]