Catching up With Stephen Bassett

Bassett, you're a young fella but have simultaneously been at this for awhile. Give us a little bit of a run down of how you got into the sport, and what has kept you in it?

Yeah, I think I’m coming up on ten years of full time bike racing. I always rode with my dad growing up- I convinced him to let me ride 100 miles when I was 11. One of my dad’s students at the University of Tennessee invited me to a cyclocross race and he was the coolest guy I’d ever met so I had to try that out. Pretty soon I was racing road as well and was lucky enough to find some really good teams and get to some sweet races with trade teams and the national development program. I’m definitely a competitor, probably to a fault. I always have an idea of what I can achieve in the back of my mind, so it’s a gratifying process to figure out the steps I need to take to get there. I’m pretty into the technical aspect of the sport as well- I spend a lot of time getting the equipment where at needs to be and enjoy that as well. I also love all the friends I’ve made in the sport. We all love an excuse to jump in a van and run around with our buddies.

The last 18 months have had some interesting highs and lows for you - with a long period of time off the bike, and coming back into racing at a time when the domestic racing market was really contracting. Can you take us through the timeline of that and what that has been like?

In 2017 I was finishing a huge block of racing with the Tour de l’Avenir and was having some pretty huge saddle sore problems. I ended up having a cyst about the size of an avocado pit right in the “sit zone.” I had surgery and thought I was home free—but several frustrating months later I was back under the knife for a much more aggressive revision surgery as the first attempt was unsuccessful. In other words, I had to make the decision to have a precision revision incision for excision. This one put me on my back for a month and I really couldn’t ride at all for months. After trying to wait it out, I finally linked up with my longtime PT Wes Franks and we got to work breaking up and softening the scar tissue. Within a few weeks I was back logging some miles, but after a break of almost 8 months off the bike. I gave a lot of effort in training to be ready for the second half of the 2018 season but never really hit top form. I was probably still too light after the injury- I lost 15-20 lbs during the time off that were slow to gain back.

I wasn’t invited back to the new Floyd’s team and was super lucky to link up with First Internet Bank Cycling. It’s a super strong amateur team out of Indiana. Some of my really good friends are on the team. While there’s no paycheck, going with this team meant that I could continue going to school in the spring semester (which I wasn’t able to do on a pro “February in Tucson” schedule). They’ve done an amazing job setting us up for opportunities, from making sure we have the equipment we need, to getting us to the races. I’m in a great place on this squad and more motivated than ever to put in the work.

Last week you took a big win out in Redlands. What does that mean to you? What were you focused on through the day to check off so that you had legs at the end?

I came into the race knowing I had strung together that consistent 6 months of work that’s eluded me with injuries in other years, so I was feeling pretty confident I’d be there or thereabouts what I’m capable of at my best.

Through the day, I focused on making sure I was properly carbed up and on top of electrolytes. I am a super salty sweater so I always have to keep an eye on that, especially during the first hot races of the year. Going into Oak Glen, Nate and I decided that the climb would be a good test of form. We made the decision a few weeks out to just try to get up it as fast as possible, whether that was racing for 5th place or 25th. On the day, I was setting myself up to last as long as I could in the group, especially with the pretty draftable first half of the climb. I positioned myself far forward in the peloton, so I wouldn’t have to close gaps when guys started to blow up. There’s a little dip in the middle of the climb, so I actually was surging on that 20 second section to get into that spot up front and I think that short burst made a huge difference in saving energy later on when the attacks started going. Once it was game on, I was able to lean on the power of Frayre and Vermaerke to close down each other’s attacks. I didn’t hit out until about 300 meters and was able to hold it to the line.

It's been a big winter balancing school and training. We've got a lot of people that have similar daily duties whether it be school or work - what are some of the things that you do to get it all done in a day?

I’m a big advocate of using a paper planner to map out the rides and schoolwork for the week in advance. When I’m juggling a lot of disparate tasks every day, it’s easy for a stray assignment to slip through the cracks. The paper planner has about a 98% success rate of preventing these mishaps for me.

The other big thing I focused on was maintaining clear communication with my professors. I made a schedule for school that’s exclusively Tuesday/Thursday so that helps minimize absences with travel, but I asked for permission to miss specific days classes before the semester started. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my early years of college was assuming things would go smoothly with missing classes. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, but making sure everyone is on the same page is crucial. I don’t have a day job, but I’m sure communication is just as important there.

How has training been this winter? What are some of the rides or workouts that you look back on as helping you get to where you are now with form to capitalize on?

I made the decision to hunker down and stay home all winter. I’m lucky that Knoxville is a great spot for training with easy access to backroads and a lot of sweet climbs. I ride the same roads a lot but they’re some of the best roads in the world so I don’t get bored with it. This winter was harsher than usual, so getting out to California for the last week was a much-needed break from the cold, the rain, and my favorite: the cold rain.

We did a lot of pace change work, often on top of 10-15 minutes at tempo that I think helped me get some of the explosive power back that I lost during my time off. I was surprised that my endurance strength seemed pretty good right off the bat after the injury, but it was really a battle to get that top end back.

I also did 20 minutes on the rowing machine twice a week all winter and I think that helps keep all the stabilizing muscles fired up. It also just gives nice body sensations to do some exercises that use your whole body.

What's next? Dreams for the season, dreams for life, tell it all.

For the season- at the moment I’m not looking past Joe Martin. My team was really rolling this week at Redlands, so we’ll try to hold that momentum. For life - I’m really excited to finish up my degree in English at the University of Tennessee. I’ve been chipping away at graduation for 6 years now, so it’ll feel good to check that box and start looking toward new opportunities.

Favorite things Knoxville? If someone is visiting Knoxville, where must they eat?

Fort Dickerson Quarry is a pretty cool spot in the summer months. Tons of activity, cool water, and people watching. Szechuan Garden is my favorite Chinese place. They have a drive through. Everything is $8. They know my voice on the phone. What more could you ask for?

Favorite place you've ever ridden and/or ride you've done?

I’ve been really into the riding in Haywood County, North Carolina. It’s a ton of long, scenic gravel climbs but still only about an hour from Knoxville. Some of my most memorable rides are racing the daylight back to the car, especially when my teammate Ryan is involved…

Top 3 favorite songs at the moment?

Aged in Harmony “You’re a Melody” –for when you want to feel like you’re at a disco

Handmade Moments “Familiar Stranger” –a great duo and I’m a sucker for a good saxophone

Steve Lacy “Some” –what you might call “vibey”

Open forum shout out - stage is yours, take it...

I just read the book “Saving Grace” by Lee Smith for one of my classes. I started reading it on the trip to Redlands and powered through the whole thing in four hours. It’s about snake handling and Southern evangelism. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last few years.

Get Ready to Move It, Move It

I’m willing to bet everyone knows the perfect song to get the fired up and ready to race.  But while you know how to get mentally fired up, you also need to know how to get physically ready to race.  Warming up is an important pre-race routine to get you ready to race and also (maybe more importantly) keep you from getting injured. 

A proper warmup should begin with some easy pedaling to help the body loosen up and get the muscles and tendons working properly – this reduces the risk of injury.  A proper warmup should also include some efforts at or above race pace so the body knows what’s coming.  Lastly, your warmup should get you ready to race without tiring you out. 

So, what’s my favorite warmup?  Without further ado, here it is:

  • 5min easy pedaling     

  • 10min endurance pace

  • 5min tempo

  • 2min easy

  • 3min threshold

  • 2min easy

  • 1min hard

  • 2min easy

  • 1min hard

  • 2min easy

This routine takes 33min and hits all of the basics.  There’s a gradual build-up in intensity, there are race paced efforts, and it’s easy enough that it won’t wear you out.  Ideally this warmup would take place on the trainer but for those of us suffering on the trainer after another winter storm rolls through, I understand if you’d rather ride on the road.

Now of course, there are some caveats to this routine.  For a long road race, a shorter warmup can sometimes be more appropriate.  Just remember you still need to ride a bit and include some mini efforts so you’re ready to go if the race starts fast (the day you don’t warmup is the day the race starts fast, it’s a scientific fact…).  If you’re racing twice in one day, this is another time you can alter the warmup.  Again, you’ll still want to do some spinning before the second race but the body will be more primed to go following the earlier race.

My last comment on warming up is maybe the most important.  End your warmup with plenty of time to get to the start of the race.  I’ve missed the start of a race, I’ve had teammates miss the start of a race, and I’ve seen folks miss the start of some of the biggest races of the season.  In my case, I missed the start of a race because I was out riding around and unable to hear the announcers providing updates on start times.  This is why I usually nudge riders to do their warmup on the trainer within earshot of the announcer.  It doesn’t matter if you’re ready to race if you miss the race… Thanks for reading!

Good Company

There’s a quote that I recently saw online which says, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  Now I don’t know how they got to that exact number, but the people you surround yourself with does have a significant impact.  The people you surround yourself with can be your support group, your motivators, and can even contribute new ideas for how you can further improve yourself. 

Team camps are underway for a lot of (lucky) riders.  These team camps are the perfect example of the power of surrounding yourself with the right people.  Most folks probably think team camps are beneficial for all the training that takes place.  However, one of the most beneficial parts of team camp is actually the focused training environment.  Outside distractions are reduced and everyone is focused only on improving performance.  This allows for better fitness gains and for sky rocketing motivation for the upcoming season. When everyone around you is pushing to be their best, it’s not hard for you to do the same. 

Who you surround yourself with is also important as you begin to plan race trips.  I’m sure we’ve all been to cycling events with someone who maybe wasn’t the most enjoyable person to be around.  A certain level of distraction is great for keeping the nerves in check, but unnecessary negativity or unhealthy behaviors are something you don’t want to be around.  This can tank your performance before you even toe the line.  So, plan wisely with who you’ll drive with to an event and maybe even spring for that two-bedroom place so you have an opportunity to escape and reset. 

Surrounding yourself with the right people is about more than just finding folks who will help you add Watts to your threshold.  It’s also about building a support group who will help you improve your overall health and well-being.  It’s important to always be working on bettering yourself.  That may sound like a lot of work but it shouldn’t be.  Everyone can find a way to improve.  Just a few that I’m working on are trying to eat more leafy greens, reading more, and getting more sleep.  Many of these things will certainly help cycling performance but they will also help you live your best life.  Finding people with these goals outside of cycling can introduce you to new ideas and add a bit more motivation. 

Now of course you can’t always surround yourself with the best people.  But in those cases, you can lead by example.  Become the positive support person for the group.  Don’t let a poor race result get everyone down.  Take a bit of time to be upset but then move on.  Get everyone motivated for the next event.  You can also be healthy and take care of yourself.  And who knows, maybe the next time you’re together with this group, they may have become a positive influence. 

Self-motivation can only take you so far.  Surrounding yourself with the right people can make a big difference in achieving your cycling or overall health goals.  However, I don’t think that necessarily means you need to change who the five people are that you spend the most time with.  Just be sure you’re not completely surrounded by bad company…  Thanks for reading!

The Workout: 5x5 Varied

It’s February! Super bowl is done. For a lot of our road racers it is starting to feel like racing season is just around the corner. As far as training goes, that means that maybe the base is starting to get pretty robust, athletes are getting strong, but now it’s the time we have been waiting for - time to start getting into a bit of that higher intensity and really add some FAST to that strong. Now, one could go on for quite awhile as to debating the ideologies behind how much intensity should be incorporated, what form the intensity should take, how it should change for different races, and on and on. I am certainly a proponent of doing intensity that is specific to certain races, but before doing workouts that are nitty gritty in the specifics of a course I believe athletes need to start building up their “racing tool box” by getting some of the general higher intensity preparation workouts under their belt.

If all an athlete’s been doing is zone two and zone three, and hopefully some sprint work, this workout is going to be a shock to the system. But it’s a great workout because it’s a tight block of VO2 work, but with a twist of doing efforts that are constant power and “broken efforts” where the power is on and off. I like that because you get time across a few different power bands. Basically, it’s both a building workout, but also a system shocker. But it’s a workout athletes can come back to a few times and see the numbers continue to improve as they get towards racing. As I have athletes first do this workout, it’s usually going to hit them a bit hard and knock them down a bit - but it’s just a real shock to the system, and helps jumpstart the legs before jumping into more intensity. I think it’s important to focus on “getting through” this workout. Meaning to shoot for numbers that are doable and finish the workout strong means getting more work done than trying to smash the first effort but falling apart after.

So here’s the workout:

Warm up with easy Z1/Z2 riding, and eventually build into a 10min Z3 effort @ 95+ rpm (a bit of technique work, and loosen up the legs for the main efforts). Then, get into the efforts:

  • 5min in the top of Z4 (105% FTP)

  • 5x40 sec hard / 20 sec easy (don’t think about power, just focus on going hard but even across the set - important to build sense of what athlete can do, without the # prescribed)

  • 5min in mid Z5 (this one should be hard, but not max, numbers can be around 110-120% FTP)

  • 5x40 sec hard / 20 sec easy (don’t think about power, just focus on going hard but even across the set - important to build sense of what athlete can do, without the # prescribed)

  • 5min at max effort - this one is about emptying the tank on tired legs, and building the ability to nail a negative split.

It is 5x5min efforts with a twist; recover for 6min in between efforts if doing as a set.

Another twist on this ride, especially as the season builds and athletes are training for longer races is to do this set of efforts spaced through a 4 hour ride, doing the last effort in the final hour. Try it out, let us know how it goes. Good luck this racing season, and thanks for reading!

What Does 2019 Hold for Oliver Flautt?

It's 2019 officially, we've been talking about it, thinking about it, dreaming of it - now we're here. What's on tap for you with cycling in 2019?

2019 is gonna be a big change in direction for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have raced the national scene in the US for the past four years. This year I’ll be taking my talents to….Germany! I’m very excited to be racing for Team Dauner Akkon in 2019. It’s a pretty young team with some big talent. I have yet to meet my teammates as I’ll see them at team camp in February. The current team schedule has me foaming at the mouth with excitement. I’ve always loved a good boxing match in the European gutter so time to lace up!!!

How has winter training been going? How are you feeling, what have you been working on?

My winter training has been bar none so far. I’m in a great place for January and looking forward to more hard work. One thing I’ve been working on is that late race sniper move. The one that really puts the nail in the coffin for other riders. In addition to on the bike power I’m constantly trying to improve core strength and flexibility. I think anyone can ride tempo all day but it matters where you can go after doing that, especially against the best in Europe.   

Do you have a workout that is your favorite - either because you just love it, or you love it where it takes you?

I’ll take a bite of anything Nate comes up with for training. It’s hard to pick a single workout as he’s great at keeping it interesting and pushing the limits on what I feel like my potential is. If I had to pick I’d actually say the recovery day spin. Anyone can do the hard days and grit their way through a hard session but actually taking it easy and letting your body recover is sometimes over looked. The best recovery days are spent with friends on the bike and just enjoying the capability to ride a bike. Sometimes you just need some wind in the hair no matter how fast or slow you’re going.  

You've been chipping away at this cycling thing for awhile. It's been a lot of fun to follow your progress. Personally, seeing you put the hands up for a win at Intelligentsia last year was an awesome feeling. I think you've had a lot of strong rides that haven't always resulted in the result you wanted put across the line, but that you day you saw it through to completion. Can you tell us a little bit about how that day worked out, what it meant to you, and maybe what you learned from it?

Yeah! That day was pretty sweet. My year really didn’t start out as expected with getting food poisoning the night before Joe Martin Stage Race and not getting my legs back under me until the final stages of Redlands so I didn’t really have any, “runs on the board". This day in particular was super cool as I’d been asked by one of my best friends to be his best man in his upcoming wedding. First thought was, “it’d be cool if I could win this bike race thing today”. Super smooth race track outside of Chicago was the location of the race. Long story short, I made it into the break with my teammates Winston David and Ricky Randall as well as about 8ish other riders. Our lead started to get pretty large until the field simply let us go and we ended up lapping up on the final lap. The legs were pretty good that entire week so I just needed chaos to break loose to shed some other riders. My teammates worked selflessly in the break all day so I needed to, "bag one for da boyz”.  3/4 of the final lap done and some bombs were being dropped. I knew my old teammate Matthieu Jeannès was gonna hit it before the cross wind section and bam there he went. I counted 3 seconds in my head until I ripped it past the other guys in the break to make the bridge to Matt. Caught Matt, recovered then had the snap to come around him with 300 meters to go. Got a sweet photo of the post up and got a bag of Intelligentsia coffee!      

Top 3 favorite things Georgia?

Southern Food, Creature Comforts Athena, and holding doors open for others. 

Favorite place you've ridden and/or ride you've ever done?

I’ve ridden in some pretty sweet places but one place I always enjoyed because of growing up there is Decatur, GA. Not the most flash place to ride/train but if it was all about training we’d all ride on trainers! 

Top 3 favorite songs at the moment?

1)Pure Water- Skepta

2)Everything Apart- Fox Warren

3)In My City- Killer Mike, T.I. 

Favorite race you've ever done and your favorite teammate - not necessarily from that race?

Sunset loop of Redlands when it inevitably rains maybe hails. I’ve had amazing teammates and I’m too nice to just pick one. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn how to be a great teammate from them. I always try to be the best teammate I can be and it’s a tip of the hat to the great teammates I’ve had.  

Favorite sport other than cycling? What would you want to be doing if you weren't cycling?

I was a soccer NUT growing up before I got into cycling. I don’t keep track of the standings as much but I’m always up for a game of FIFA or kicking a ball around. 

You've just finished a big day of training, you can go wherever you want to eat - but it can't be Chipotle - where are you going?

I don’t know if there are many people know the hype around Publix chicken tenders sandwiches but it’s real and they’re amazing. For sure a 12 inch sub with some chocolate milk. Spicy chicken tenders if I’m feeling well, spicy. 

Open forum shout out to the homies - GO:

There are so many people to shoutout! I can’t say enough about how the crew behind Catalyst Coaching! Nate took me under his wing when I was in a transition period in my racing career. He’s kept me humble and always chomping at the bit. I distinctly remember being dropped like a bag of bricks when I first met Nate back in his racing days. It’s great to have some one in your court who’s got the knowledge and experience required to thrive in this rat race we call bike racing. The combo of Nate and Jim Peterman is killer. Jim is a Georgia boy so we connect over all things south. Jim’s got a plethora of physiological nuggets and I always tried to pick his brain about all things physiology.