Pro mountain and road cyclists enjoy that most Canadian of seasons, winter. Some return to their mountain-man roots. Others ski or snowshoe. They all come back stronger in spring
Fall had settled into b.c.’s Okanagan Valley. The Interior was swept with wildfires earlier in the year, but rain finally arrived and temperatures dropped. Evan Guthrie was walking across a mountain slope on a short hike from his cabin. He had left home before the dawn, lighting his way with a headlamp for roughly 30 minutes before the sun came up. Wearing jeans and a plaid jacket, he was watching the land around him for signs of movement. Aside from the wind in the trees and the light crunch of each footstep, there was silence.
Guthrie was hunting – deer mostly, sometimes moose and the rare elk – as he does most days during the fall. It’s an important time of year for the professional mountain biker with hard work that prepares him for the coming months, not just on the bike, but in all aspects of his life. He harvests food. He cuts, splits and stacks firewood. There’s maintenance on his cabin and his truck.
While many cyclists head to warmer, gentler climates to prepare for their next season, some Canadians recognize just what they have at home, their cold, snowy home.
It offers a mix of sports for cross-training, provides a mental refresher and engages muscles that go untended in cycling-specific workouts. This land can make cyclists more well-rounded athletes. Guthrie and other Canadians, such as Catharine Pendrel, Evan Mcneely and Svein Tuft, have embraced opportunities presented by the most Canadian of seasons, winter, and all that it has to offer.
“It’s a non-competition time of year. I’ve never really taken much of an off-season, like a full off-season,” Guthrie said. “Sometimes it’ll be a week where I do a lot less exercise than the rest of the year, but to me the fall season is one of the best times. It’s a mental refresher time where I can stay true to my normal being and just be incredibly busy and fill every second of every day.”
Most days start out with a hike up the mountain to hunt. Sometimes, Guthrie will sit down in one place, but more often than not, he’s hiking for three hours in a big loop before returning home. By mid-morning, he’s out for a bike ride or working out at the gym. In past years, Guthrie spent his afternoons and evenings in school, preparing for the days after his professional riding career comes to an end. For the first time as an adult, Guthrie isn’t in school full-time. Time no longer needed for studies has been gobbled up by other tasks.
In 2013, Guthrie and his father started working on the cabin Guthrie now calls home. Finished in 2015, the building is outfitted with a wood stove as the sole source of heat. That choice means a lot of work each fall preparing enough wood for winter. “I never measure in cords,” said Guthrie. “Last year, luckily, I had lot more solid rounds that I’d put in over chopped wood so it just burned slower and longer. It was a long winter, so I used more wood than normal. I try to make sure I have eight to 10 pickup-truck loads of firewood.”
Collecting and preparing firewood is a matter of striking when conditions are right. The forest fires that swept through the B.C. interior this past summer forced a no-motor ban in at-risk areas. Guthrie and his father had to wait to be able to drive their trucks out to harvest wood. Working together, they fell, bucked and cut trees into logs that they then stacked to dry out for a year – a process called seasoning. Then they split and burn the wood.
“Collecting firewood is a great workout,” said Guthrie. “We cut trees into 6' lengths and either deadlift or carry them on our shoulders through the bush to the truck. Running a chainsaw can also be tiring. Then comes cutting the wood into small pieces, chopping it and stacking it for winter use.”
All of this harvesting work helps strengthen the core and upper body, areas that can often get neglected in a sport where big legs and lungs are the top priorities. Lifting, turning, carrying and splitting wood helps shape muscles vital for technical riding skills. Last winter, Guthrie didn’t do as much strength training, with obvious results. “My technical riding this past year maybe wasn’t quite as strong,” said Guthrie. “I don’t think you should be feeling the upper-body effects on a cross country race because it’s not that demanding of those muscles, but I was feeling that sometimes.”
The work in preparing firewood for winter isn’t something Guthrie typically quantifies or tracks as part of his workout routines, though he knows those hours of effort bolster more formal training sessions. “If you are bending over and leaning over and stacking wood for an hour, you’re going to get a better workout than spending 10 minutes doing crunches in front of the TV and it’s going to feel like a lot less effort to do that,” said Guthrie.
When winter settles in, the work continues. Guthrie clears the yard of snow by hand, even though an atv and plow would make faster work of things. Big snowfalls mean clearing the cabin roof of snow, a job that can only be done by hand. Beyond cycling on the trainer and weight training, a mix of crosscountry and backcountry skiing provide ways to enjoy the winter outdoors.
“It’s more about taking advantage of your environment and making the most of it, because yeah, you could ride the rollers for a steady, four-hour ride, but honestly, who wants to do a steady, four-hour ride on the rollers? No one,” said Guthrie, who often joins Catharine Pendrel and Keith Wilson, passionate nordic and backcountry skiers, for sessions in the snow.
“The first time we skied together I drove out to Kamloops to do a couple of days with Catharine and Keith,” said Guthrie. “We were on skate skis and we went out and it was supposed to be an easy ski. Catherine and Keith were just
“It’s more about taking advantage of your environment and making the most of it, because yeah, you could ride the rollers for a steady, four-hour ride, but honestly, who wants to do a steady, four-hour ride on the rollers? No one.”
jib jabbering away in front of me and I was behind hoofing it, working as hard as I could. I’m not going to say I’m a good skier now, but back then I was straight up maxed out and they were doing their steady mellow ski.
“It’s not as enjoyable in the beginning because it’s just so damn hard. We can all fake other sports for a certain amount of time with our fitness, but it’s taken me 10 years of cross-country skiing to get OK at it and not bend a pole every time I ski.”
The mountain-man lifestyle Guthrie has developed was part of what inspired the concept of “Camp Guthrie,” a seven-day training session with friends and teammates coming out to stack wood, ride bikes, go hiking and running, and experience a fun week of athleticism that is a bit beyond the norm. The first edition was held in 2014, and included friends who worked in seasonal industries during their winter down time. The group spent more than 20 hours out snowshoeing, skiing and enjoying the snow in the mountains. In the fall of 2016, Guthrie invited fellow mountain bikers Andrew L’esperance, Haley Smith and Catherine Fleury to join him for a week.
“We were all tossing the idea of going to California or Moab or something, do a week of riding, and I didn’t really want to go,” said Guthrie. “It was also prime hunting season, so I said, ‘You guys just want to save on rent and just come stay here and we’ll do a week of riding?’ It was awesome. We rode the same trail once in nine days and I took them on everything we had to offer here. It was a bike-oriented one for sure, but fun trail bikes, not just the XC death weapons.”
Guthrie isn’t the only rider to add variety to his training program. Marathon and stage-race veteran Cory Wallace spends his off-season working in the logging industry where daily tasks help build overall strength and fitness. Guthrie’s former Norco teammate Evan Mcneely spent much of the past winter at his homebase of Ottawa, crossing the Ottawa River to head into Gatineau Park for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing workouts.
Mcneely sees a lot of value in the mental rejuvenation that is possible through staying home during the offseason. “I did a whole winter on the bike in Victoria,” said Mcneely. “It’s nice and all, but it was three months of doing the same thing in the same city. By the end of that year, I was totally burnt out and didn’t want to race anymore because I’d been going for 12 months.
“This past winter, I wanted to experiment with XC skiing and other events to help keep things fresh. I was finding that I could make huge gains week after week because I was doing something new and exciting. Watching that progression and growth was very motivating.”
A rider who is known for his mountain-man reputation is Svein Tuft. He used take his dog Bear on mountain climbing trips into the B.C. backcountry by bike. The Langley, B.C., native grew up in a family that prioritized time spent outside. He learned to ski at age three. For the next 12 years, the family would load up in an RV to spend weekends going “full gas” – as he says – on crosscountry skis in the mountains. During the summer, the family would go out for big hikes in the mountains. These activities instilled a love of exploring the outdoors.
Tuft now lives in Andorra and races for the Orica-scott Worldtour squad. At 40 years old, he is still a force to be reckoned with in a time trial and serves as a rock-solid domestique. His ability to continue to perform comes down to the variety of activities that make up his training plan.
“I really think that being versatile and strengthening the rest of your body as a whole instead of focusing on one thing really helps avoid injury,” Tuft said. “In that whole process, it’s strength in bones and getting muscle mass in places that might not be so helpful in road racing, but when you crash, you come out OK: without a dislocated shoulder or broken collarbone. I really believe that cycling is a great part of my life. I’ve had a great long career. I think it’s thanks to those other sports that laid the foundation.”
Throughout his career, Tuft has learned to balance the needs of road-racing fitness with the mental rejuvenation that comes from spending time doing other activities. One off-season, he had spent so much time doing other things that he hadn’t hit the base mileage he needed. He ended up riding from B.C. to his team’s California camp to get the distance into his legs.
“I’ve made the mistake in the past of only doing the fun stuff,” Tuft said. “You pay a really heavy price at the first training camp because you’re going out on those five or six hour rides, and you’re just in pain. You have to respect the way the sport is developing all the time.”
On any given day now, Tuft will start off with the fun stuff, doing a backcountry ski tour in the morning or heading out for a run. Then he’ll come home and do an trainer session to remind his body about the nature of road racing and the specific movements required.
Hiking is one of Tuft’s staple activities. He’ll start in the fall by going out for an hour or two and building to three- or fourhours walks before doing what he calls “some epic hikes.” The diversity of terrain and movement required by hiking in the mountains has helped Tuft maintain an all-over level of fitness that would be impossible to achieve by working just on a bike.
“It’s really contrary to everything we do on a road bike,” said Tuft. “I think hiking is one of the best activities for your posture, and your hips and your back. It’s very dynamic when you’re scrambling up a mountain, using your hands.”
Tuft’s time on two wheels also includes touring and mountain biking. The course for the Andorra cross country World Cup is on the mountain just outside his door. The Pyrenean mountain passes are prime locations to push fitness on a touring bike while simultaneously hitting key road
cycling workouts and disconnecting from the training mentality. He’ll do an outdoor road ride “for fun” when the weather is right. “Mentally, you need to disconnect from the day in and day out,” said Tuft. “You need to be able to hit that disconnect button on the srm. I mean, that stuff is part of the job, but it’s just not healthy to do all the time. Road racing can have a bit of a funny mentality. I like the mountain biker’s way of living a lot more. For me it’s about having that switch of mentality.” Once winter settles in on the mountains that line the Okanagan Valley, Guthrie will continue to head up the slopes from his cabin. He’ll leave behind his hunting gear, and use backcountry skis to “earn turns” in the powder blanketing the area. “Backcountry skiing is quite muscular and keeps you at that low endurance zone,” said Guthrie. “It’s similar to mountain biking where you reap the benefits of working hard on the way up by enjoying the downhill.”
You can also see the diversity in Guthrie’s training in his riding. During the past year, he shifted his focus from solely XC to racing in the Enduro World Series and select XC races of different lengths. Heading into his second year as an independent racer, he’s confident that his efforts off the bike will help make him a more wellrounded athlete.
photos Mountain biker Evan Guthrie gets into seasonal activities around his cabin, such as preparing firewood for winter. It’s practical work that also has on-bike benefits. He’ll build core strength that will serve him on technical trails.
Scenes from the 2015 Camp Guthrie. Cyclists joined Evan Guthrie at his cabin in the B.C. Interior for snowy off-season training and fun.