Chris Carmichael of CTS

PeopleAugust 24, 2021

“It’s not just simply whack them with the stick, get the work done, the training done, because there’s so much else that’s going to impact performance.”

From Team 7-Eleven to America's foremost supercoach


He's a retired professional cyclist, a cycling triathlon, endurance sports coach and listen, you got to hear this, member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Cycling Team, a founding member if the 7-Eleven Cycling Team, which was the first by the way, American Team to race in Tour de France.

He started making his mark. He started coaching for USA Cycling in 1990. He was the U.S. Olympic Cycling Team head coach for the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta. He’s been named Coach of the Year by USA Cycling, Outside Magazine, VeloNews and is in the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, which is an amazing feat. He’s coached some amazing familiar names in cycling, including Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Freddie Rodriguez, Kevin Livingston, a cyclist turned triathlete, Chann McRae and Greenville’s, Bobby Julich. Oh! Hincapie lives in Greenville as well.

Kyle Duford (KD): Chris, how are you?

Chris Carmichael (CC): I’ve been good, Kyle. Thank you for the motivating introduction.

KD: I only know how to do things motivationally. I’ve known you for years and before we even get started, I just need to tell you, one of my fondest memories of anyone in the sport. I was nothing editor at a nothing magazine. I had met you previously in Boone, North Carolina, not too far from where I am. We were there with Eric Zaltas from PowerBar and we’re doing a whole bunch of things. Doug Casa from University of Connecticut. You were so kind there. You told us about the old beach mountain stories and we had gone there.

I haven’t seen you for years and I saw you in the Denver International Airport. You were sitting by yourself. We were both waiting for an Interbike flight and I just said, “Hi!” and you said, “Hey! Come on join with me a little bit.” We sat down and we talked. You asked me all about my life, my family and no one in the industry was ever that kind and I’ve just always been a fan of yours. You’ve just been such a great guide and influence on me. It’s super cool to have you today.

Rob Reey (RR): Chris, I think the theme of this conversation is going to be unlike others. We want to really get to the coach, considering you’re the coaches’ coach. I think let’s take a look at the 360 around a couple of things today. We’re going to look at the training philosophy, coaching. We’d like to look in the technology, AI specifically, considering that’s very interesting, what’s happening, diet, nutrition and how you worked through COVID. Let’s just dive in to the philosophy. But first, we have a lot of stuff to get through, so we’ll make it efficient. But can you just define the training philosophy for us, just so listeners get a really solid grasp on CTS philosophy about training.

CC: We take a very holistic view of protein intake. We look at all the various factors that will impact performance. It’s not just simply whack them with the stick, get the work done, the training done because there’s so much else that’s going to impact performance, whether it’s emotional state, from a psychological standpoint, how is the athlete coping with the various factors that could be impacting their lives. If it’s impacting their life, it’s going to impact their performance. We have to look at all things.

Then also, obviously, nutrition, technology, strategy, tactics, all those things that will come into play and impacting performance. We take a very athlete-centered, holistic view from a philosophical standpoint of how we coach athletes.

RR: Let’s just talk about an athlete for a second. Who’s the customer of CTS? I have my perception, but who walks through your door or do you see that changing?

CC: We don’t have too many that walk through the door these days. It’s mainly virtual. Remote based I should say. Remote based. But our kind of sweet spot and this is why I started CTS was to be able to bring elite type performance coaching to make it really available to everybody. There’s no reason it should only be confined to the best athletes in the world, because our bodies all have heart, and lungs, and stomach, and muscles and skeletal system. So everybody is going to be positively impacted by this knowledge base. We don’t keep it limited to just elite athletes. Our sweet spot is, I would say, 40 to 55. Usually, they’re used to paying for professional services, they’ve got a career, they’ve got a family and they don’t want to flip a coin on what they do for training.

It’s not a hobby, it’s their life. They obviously got a family, career, they have other influences and things that they have to do. But they have six to ten hours a week to train and they want — and they’re very focused on it. It’s an important part of their identity. That’s who we target from a business standpoint. We coach a lot of elite athletes. We have from the inception of the company to where we are currently, 21 years later. We coach a lot of elite athletes, because that’s kind of an important way to sort of judge some of our success and not to take anything away from the age-group athletes, but to get a 5% to 10% increase in performance for an age-group athlete, for us, it’s fairly common. But you don’t see that in elite athletes. You get half a percent to a percent increase in performance. That’s what we get, but that can make a significant difference at that elite level. It’s sort of one of our founding principles in the company is we’ll always work with elite athletes and we continue that today.

KD: Got it. On the principles, to us, like training seems to continue to evolve. We learn more about our bodies, relationship to sport endurance. Diet and rest aside, what are the other building blocks for a good training program that you instill on your customers?

CC: I try to really kind of keep it simple. Involved with fundamental principles of training, because too often what I’ve seen, especially as technology is advancing rapidly, it has for the last 20 years in endurance sports. But a lot of times, you get caught up in the minutia of something and really, if you follow the fundamental principles of training, that’s where your biggest gains are going to come from. Load, recovery, apply a training load, allow the athlete to recover, they’ll respond, stay in progression. If you’re doing the same training as you’ve been doing for the last five years, there’s no progression. Why would you expect to continue to improve? Specificity, if you’re a cyclist, well, you’re going to get the vast majority of your improvement by riding your bike. That’s where we need to focus.

Now, there may be some cross training or resistance training that’s involved, primarily I would say from a health standpoint. But specificity is really important, the idea that individuality. We’re starting to see that more in devices.

The training that you do, Rob, may make you a lot faster but the training that — if Kyle starts doing your training, he starts slowing down and you need to have individuality to your training. I really kind of believe staying tried and true to the fundamentals of training. Those fundamental principles, that’s where greatness lies. It’s not in any new fad or any new — any of these marginal gain bullshit. It’s really around fundamental principles. Because just doing that alone is really, really hard. Because there’s so many things that can impact an athlete’s life and take them off that. You can look at training files and slice them up so many different ways and get stuck in all that data.

Most of the best coaches that I know, they have a few markers, biomarkers that they look at and that’s really where their kind of secret sauce lies, is in the training, is in those few markers. But not moving around, bouncing around from one training fad to the next.

KD: Has the technology improvement benefited the coaches? Because the age group athlete has this at their disposal now, with heart rate being monitored 24/7, and variability, and sleep.

Does that help you guys or is it kind of like, 15 years ago when WebMD came out and people are going to the doctor already kind of diagnosing themselves? Is it that kind of the same thing or does it help them out?

CC: You have a little bit of that. You have athletes that come in and they’re kind of bouncing from one article on training that they read in bicycling magazine or triathlete and the next month, there’s another article that comes out that totally conflicts the previous article and they come in and they want answer. It’s really not as simple as that. It’s like I said, it’s kind of breaking it down and really having confidence as a coach and your ability to deliver that athlete to their goal event and that they’re ready.

What I like to do is really stay on the tried and true methods and you always want to make sure you’ve got an eye for emerging science, and try some things out. But I stay away from sort of making our athletes guinea pigs for the latest and greatest fad that’s out there. At CTS, we’ve got an advisory group together of what I kind of say the best and brightest brains in endurance sports. We use them to evaluate basically new training methodologies or new best practices that might be coming in to the sport and kind of give an evaluation, spend some time digging in before we look at rolling out something like that to our athlete base.

RR: On the time schedule, I’m sure I’m like most with family-type work schedule, limited time. Like what do you tell people when they’re like, “Listen, I want to increase but just the timing is tight”? What’s the process to create an effective plan? Because I’m sure I’m not alone, right? You have limited workout schedules and you just want to make the best of it, but what’s your approach?

CC: Yeah, good question. Basically, we need a minimum of six hours a week. We also, if somebody comes in and they say, “Look, I want to win the pro-world cycling championships” and they’re able to train only six hours a week. We have to talk to them about their goals and what’s realistic. But we find for the age group or what I’ll call the time-crunched athlete, we find that six to eight hours a week, we can make some pretty good gains. That’s usually limited to events that are three hours or less. When you start pushing out into ultrarunning events or Ironman distance events, you need to get some more time in, some more training time.

But from Half Ironman to Gran Fondo, we can train you pretty good. You may need to be a little careful on what you’re doing on if you’re doing a Half Ironman or hard hilly, 100-mile Gran Fondo. That last 90 minutes might be tough, but there are some strategies that we can give you that can help with that last 90 minutes. But you’re going to be able to get through it and have a good performance and feel good about what you did, and ultimately, that’s what you want to do is have that athlete feel like they accomplished their goal and that they had a good performance. They’re going to be able to walk away and say, “All right! I feel good about that. I feel good about myself.” It gives them a little more confidence for all aspects of their life. But if you’re saying, “Okay. I’ve got eight hours a week and I want to go in and do sub-10-hour Ironman,” we’re going to have to think about that. That’s probably not going to be achievable and that’s part of the process. That’s part of coaching.

Any monkey can lay out of training program and that’s not coaching. Cutting and pasting a training program in your bathrobe all day, that’s not coaching. It has to be much more in depth. Part of that is, working with athlete on setting goals that are motivating, that can get them out the door because they’re motivated to achieve their goal, but also realistic. If you set it too far up like, if I say, “Hey, Kyle. Let’s go after the yellow jersey.” That’s not going to be motivating, because that’s just going to be so far. It’s going to be like going to the moon. But it’s like, “Hey, Kyle. Let’s talk about maybe Half Ironman this year and what would you like to achieve in your age group?” That’s motivating, but it’s also realistic. It’s not too daunting that they can’t get through something like that.

RR: Yeah. I think the physical components one. I’m assuming most of your clients are trained six hours by the second day of the week. I don’t think that’s the issue. But let’s touch on motivation. I think there’s this dichotomy when it comes to physical and mental. What tips do you offer to keep motivation to the high training blocks? There has to be. Like mental fatigue is real, just like physical. I’m curious how you work through that through your clients to get through that fatigue mentally. Because it is taxing, like training is physical one, but there is a mental component of it that I feel personally that you just have to push through. A lot of people don’t, right?

CC: Yeah. I think what we try to do is establish goals along the way. They have their dream goal and it’s establishing goals that we can set from a weekly basis. Things that, when you heat those, that makes you feel like you’re making these incremental gains that are leading you to ultimately where you want to get to. One is being able to breakdown and make some smaller goals that are placed in training. That can be simply going through and having a good workout and hitting your power numbers on particular interval set. Then the coach talking with athlete.

Part of coaching is that, the athlete starts to develop that relationship that they want to see their coach get jazzed up and motivated by them reaching their goal. Our coaches do. It’s clear they get into work and they want to sign on and see what their athletes did and if they were hitting some of those more micro goals along the way. The other thing is, is taking some time to reflect back on when they started. Usually, it’s kind of, “Let’s look back on this journey. When we started this eight months ago, you were starting to be able to hold 220 watts over a 20-minute period. Now you’re up at 260 watts over that same 20 minutes and we’re doing four by 20 minutes. You’ve gone from 36-inch waist, now into a 34.

You’re a little lighter and you feel better about yourself. Look at how you’re eating. It’s like when we started, look at you’re eating. You’re eating now three nights a week. Now, you’re much more diligent in get a blood test, a lot of the markers from a health stand point have improved. Plus your blood pressure and things like that have all been steps of improvement along the way.” I think that’s an important aspect, is reflecting back.

Then also, forecasting. It’s like forecasting with that athlete and just go, “Look, this is what you said you wanted to do. This isn’t going to fall from the sky. Rainbow jerseys just don’t fall from the sky on people’s back. There are challenges along the way. There’s training and all series of perfect ascending curve, where you just get better, and better and better if done really well. It’s a series of step ups followed by plateaus, maybe a drop followed by another big bump. Then plateauing off. But if you look at over a macro point of view, you can see, you’ve made some significant gains.” Those are all part of the motivation.

But I kind of think that a coach really needs to try to inspire the athlete. It all starts by inspiration and nothing great. My personal feeling, anybody who’s achieved any form of greatness in life, they have to be inspired. Whether that’s — I would imagine Michelangelo was pretty inspired to be able to do what he did or Bill Gates early in, or anything great. First starts with inspiration and that inspiration is to do something maybe that you haven’t done or somebody else in the entire world’s never done before, where very few have. That inspiration, that has to kind of bubble up inside the athlete and the coach has to play that role in helping bring that inspiration out to where it seems achievable.

KD: I was coached by Jason Segel from CTS for a number of years. I was in my 40s. I was that typical time-crunched athlete. I just wanted to podium at a weekly road race. He managed to get me and I hadn’t race before in Oregon, so if you didn’t have the USA Cycling categories, you had to start over at the OBRA. He got me from Cat 5 to 3. Exactly what you’re saying, he helped me improve my FTP from around 220 to like 274 in a matter of six months. We’re talking training in the rain.

Sometimes two hours a day every day during the winter time. I can tell you, he knew my numbers. He would call me after workout because he’d get it on his dashboard from Training Peaks. He’d know where my races were. He’d check in in the morning. He asked me what I was eating. He was that guy. He was kind of like not just a motivator, but he felt like a partner in what I was doing. To me, that was so beneficial because I not only knew that I had somebody at my back, but I also felt like I had somebody who is expecting me to do well for them. It was like, I go out representing my family. My wife expects me to behave a certain way and she celebrates in my wins and she hurst with my loses, but we do it together even if I’m doing the work. I felt that same way with Jason and it was a remarkable improvement, because he was so intertwined with what I was doing. It wasn’t like you said, doing a coaching plan in your bathrobe and send it over email. It was a literal — sometimes a text, sometimes it’s an email. That’s really the difference maker because you’re a friend, and a mentor and a coach, not just a training plan. I thought that was remarkable.

CC: Glad to hear that. Nice story.

RR: That is great. I have to ask, you’re the coaches’ coach. I’m curious if you think back like who inspired you to be where you are, just like you are mentioning. The coach is full inspiration on every level of sports. But while you’re looking back, is there someone that stands out that was the mentor and was the person that helped guide you to —

KD: That’s a great question, Rob.

CC: Yeah. I think it all first starts with your parents. Now, I mean, that’s ultimately, parents are coaches. It’s funny as you get older, my youngest is coming up on 15. They don’t really think it’s like, well, when she was six or seven, I felt like as her dad, there was a lot of that parenting and sort of coaching that goes along with it. When they get to be teenagers, they don’t want to hear from their parents on what they need to be doing. A friend could them the same thing and that would be actionable to them. But I think that one thing that I will say is, although you may not feel like you have the same level of influences, your kids get older. You should never doubt or lessen the impact of your influence that you have on your children. That in a way is coaching. May parents played a fairly significant role in my development as a coach.

I was fortunate and I had some great mentors in my career as an athlete. I’ll probably start first with Eddie Borysewicz or Eddie B., who was sort of the founding father of coaching in the US. He effected from Poland during the Cold War at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1996 and basically kind of developed the whole national team program in cycling. He achieved a lot of success at the Olympic games in 1984 in Durham.

Then Mike Neil, who was the coach for the 7-Eleven Team. He raced in Italy as a professional during the ’70s and he was really sort of a remarkable coach, because he had sort of a sense, especially around tactics and strategy and more like kind of street savvy type of sense about how to give you racing tactics. I remember one discussion is, he was saying, one of the best tactics that you can have is patience. When we were first racing in Italy, doing these pro-races, like you need patience. These races are a lot longer, they’re a lot hillier, kind of tougher than what we were used to, on a diet of mainly US criterium.

He was like, patience, let the terrain, let the distance, let the condition, the heat, the humidity, let that weaken up your opponents. You really should only take one big attack and one big kind of knockout type of attack on your opponents. But let the race, and the terrain, the distance, the weather conditions, all that weaken them up until you can make that knockout attack. His way in describing it and articulating it to us was always kind of really simple, but you could understand exactly what he meant.

That was a great influence upon me, especially from a race tactical standpoint. Jim Ochowicz, who was the director of the 7-Eleven Team also had a coaching impact upon me, how he treated the athletes. He looked at operations, the hotels you stayed at, the food, all those types of things and was important for performance and he played a coaching role for me. Then I’ll say, the other coaches we have at CTS, we have awesome coaches at CTS and we all learn from each other. I think that’s really one of our strongest suits, our greatest strength at CTS is, we have continuing education programs. Basically, one a week, there’s a continuing ed that internally, our coaches can sign into and share information, share best practices, knowledge, learn from others outside of CTS. That spirit of education and knowledge sharing has been in CTS from the beginning, 21 years ago all the way through. I continue to learn from our coaches.

RR: I think it’s remarkable. Essentially, you’re bringing all your experience, all the milestones and all the learnings to CTS, to more than 50 coaches I believe now, right? Do you still coach directly or do you miss that aspect of it or how heavily are you involved with that?

CC: Yeah, I coach handful of athletes. I believe you’re not a coach unless you’re coaching. It’s doesn’t matter what you did. If I’m not coaching an athlete, I’m not a coach. I can say that I coached. I believe it’s important for my business, I mean, I have a lot of other functions. I’m the CEO of the company, so I’ve got a bunch of employees, and vendors, contractors and all sorts of things to run the business, but I have to coach. It’s sort of like, I can’t run a coaching company without coaching.

KD: But you also love it, right? I mean, this is kind of in your blood.

CC: Absolutely, it’s my life. I’m the luckiest man alive. I mean, I’ve somehow been able to follow my passion my entire life. I feel very grateful and fortunate and I do my very best to never take that for granted.

KD: You know, what’s also awesome Chris about you and you’re one of my favorite people. I know that you don’t just say things. You practice what you preach. We follow on Strava. Well, I follow you on Strava. I don’t know if you follow me on Strava. You probably be saddened by the —

CC: If not, I will.

KD: I will have to do that. But I see you, you get out there every day. If not, sometimes twice a day. You’re mountain biking, you’re road cycling. You’re out there with your kids, which I love. You were literally living the exact same lifestyle and kind of balance of being an athlete, and being a family man, and a husband and a father as you tell your athletes. You’re really the epitome of what I would think we would strive to be as far as balancing that. Because a lot of people can go one way or the other, right and just be the four, five-hour a week, but expect great things like you say, the cautionary tales. Or you can go the other way and put your whole life into training and not really be the good husband, father, CEO that you are. It’s just really remarkable. What would you tell people that are struggling to find that balance? You’ve written books in this subject, but what’s the biggest thing to look out for, to keep that balance?

CC: Well, you used the word balance a lot there and I think that’s really key. It’s sort of like if you tilt more towards getting obsessive about your training, and I see it a lot in some of these athletes that are so obsessed that it starts to tilt more towards that. Then there’s other aspects of your life that will become unbalanced and you’ll start to see weaknesses developed, whether that’s in the relationships that are most valuable to you. You have to invest in it. You can’t just go, “Okay. I’m training for an Ironman or something and I’m going to train 12, 18 hours a week.” I used to do that for months at a time. If you’ve got young kids, and some of that is going to be weakened. That may be okay for a period of time, but if you really want to have that sort of relationship with the people that are most important to you, you have to invest in it.

Same thing for yourself, it’s easy to get caught up and work too much, and see your training and you start to slide away. All of a sudden, those 32-inch pants that you fit into, now you’re in 36. I mean, it’s kind of expanding. The key is just balance. There are times that, “Wow! Man, I would love to do this long ride with a bunch of buddies, and they’ve got a great mountain bike ride scheduled, but I have plans with my kids. I’m not going to cancel those.” I spent a long time as an elite athlete. That’s a regime. I know what’s that like. I’m 60 now. I’m not going to step back into that. I want that balance. I want balance in my life because it’s — for me, that’s where happiness lives. If I get one way, a little bit too much, I start becoming less happy in any of those things, whether it’s family, or work, or training or any of that. It’s like, I need that balance.

I find that I’m a better dad when I’m training, when I can get out and do rides and have that part of my life. That makes me a better father. I find that I really enjoy what I do at CTS. If I’m not doing that, then I’m not very good with — I’m not sticking up with my training and things like that. It’s all about that sort of balance between the things that you love most in your life.

KD: I love that.

RR: Yeah, you’re not alone. I’d love to take the time to have you explain to people who want to get into coaching, what to look for? I’m coming in to the profession, I want to aspire to be the greatest in the coaching career. What advice do you give to people?

CC: Well, I would say first, coaching is a learned craft. The more you coach, the better and sink your teeth into it. You’re going to make mistakes and the key is to learn from your mistakes and realize that some of those mistakes can obviously be impactful on the athlete’s performance. But you’re starting from a good, solid, honest, pure stand point mistake, then it’s just a mistake. But that mistake can also be a great lesson for you. We all learn as coaches that we have to communicate with athletes differently. Each athlete usually has their own way in which they respond to forms of communication.

Sink your teeth into coaching. Try to coach as much as you can. Make sure that it’s all founded in good, solid sports science, so you need to do your homework. That’s kind of the easy part. Understanding sports science and reading, and researching or taking classes. Science is all on knowns, thinks that we know that affect performance. That’s great, you need that. That’s your base because there’s a lot of factors that affect performance that are known. That’s what science is. But there’s also a lot of factors that are not known that affect performance. That’s where sort of the art of coaching and the experience of coaching comes in. The longer you do it, the more wide variety of athletes you work with, the more experience you’re gaining and more of that art to the craft of coaching comes into play.

RR: Tell us a little bit about technology, because you’ve been through pretty much every step of the way of how technology has affected sports performance. I’d be curious to hear what’s your take on at this, what was it like really to be on every step?

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CC: Yeah. Technology has evolved in endurance sports for many, many years. I mean, you just go back from going from toe clips to clip less pedals. That was a huge technological advancement. Or going from wool shorts to Lycra shorts. That alone was huge, enormous. From a comfort level, a big step forward. Sports drinks to functional foods. Before you have little sandwiches and now you’ve got bars, and gels, and shoes and all sorts of stuff. All those are improvements that we made via technology. But I will say that it’s like anything. You still have to figure out how you’re going to use that technology to improve your athlete. That still decision making on the individual.

Whether that’s right now a technology that’s starting to come in to endurance sports is continuous glucose monitors and I’ve got one here that a patch, and it is live glucose monitoring that feeds into a phone app, and I can see how what I eat, how that can impact my training and performance. You still have to decide how you’re going to use that information. That still comes down to the coach making those decisions. Somebody has to make those decisions, whether it’s like, I’m learning that this is all new and I’m not sure how this is going to really be used to make athletes better yet, but I’m learning how the various macro nutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrate influence my blood glucose.

Now, I’m having to work with others that are really smart in this area, how to use this information to potentially make the athletes be able to perform better. It still comes down. Technology isn’t going to give us the answer. We’re going to have to use technology and decide how we’re going to use technology to make the athletes better. One of the things that I see going on is artificial intelligence or machine learning is going to start to come more and more into play with training programs, development and things like that. I don’t think they got it quite right yet, but I think in the near future, you’ll see training plans that will be developed that have AI, artificial intelligence incorporated into them.

This type of training plan will probably be able to kind of better than the coach from training program development.

Because if you’re starting, the key to it is you got to have a huge, wide dataset to develop artificial intelligence training plan. You need a huge database of athletes over a long period of time to be able to get training plans that will actually perform well. But once they get this and it learns, it will be able to —once the athlete uploads their devices, the training plan will probably manipulate very quickly based upon the machine learning for that athlete and change it for the next day, based upon the various, probably markers that the coach initially sets or maybe the AI does that. But I think in the probably five years from now, you’ll see coaches using AI based training plans to train their athletes. They may not actually be developing those plans themselves, like handcrafting the plans, but they’re going to have to set what markers and what sort of filters, and influences that those machine learning, training programs are for the athlete.

That athlete is still going to need a coach. That, as I said, the coach is still going to be needed very detailed involvement in the training. Whether the computer does that, that doesn’t matter. The coach is still going to have to be involved in that because you’re still going to have to coach the athlete. That’s one part of it. Coaching goes well beyond that. They’re doing surgeries. I have to have a knee replacement. I broke my leg a long time ago. I have some bad arthritis in my knee, and I’m going to get a knee replacement this coming winter.

One of the orthopedic surgeons, he doesn’t do the surgery. It’s a robot that does the surgery. It’s all AI based. So if you’re doing surgery with robots, to think that training plans won’t be coming out from computers that will be great training plans. But it’s going to fall flat if the coach isn’t involved. That’s my feeling. The very, very — let’s put it this way. The best athletes that win the top competitions in the world, they’re not just going to allow a black box do the coaching. They’re going to have a coach.

That training plan may be generated, manipulated along the way by AI, but that coach is going to be able to step in and either change it themselves or make sure that they’re intricately involved in the development of that plan from the daily execution standpoint because elite athletes are always going to have coaches. The best in the world are always going to have the right-hand coach right there beside them. That’s going to influence those next years’ down. Coaching is not going to be replaced by the black box sort of thing.

RR: To Kyle’s point, you want that person texting and calling you pre and post-race, so yeah, I agree, everyone is really fanatical about the apps and tapped in AI. But to your point, we’re all trapped. There’s a human connection that makes the sport that makes coaching human.

Couple last questions that I’d be curios. You get a lot of interviews, a lot of questions asked. Are there questions that you don’t get asked, any part of your story that potential we don’t know. Obviously, everyone knows you, and the histories on the internet and what you’ve done. But curious, is there any untold story of Chris in CTS?

CC: I think one thing that gets missed is, CTS, we all love what we do and we have a great company. But it’s a business still. I mean, we still have employees we got to pay. We have rent. We have all that sort of stuff. The real sort of business side of running a company is something that usually gets overlooked. Because it’s not very sexy, people are much more interested in talking about training, and coaching versus every year, our health insurance goes up for our employees. I start getting nervous about it in August, because there were new — we start shopping for health insurance plans for our employees in August, because there are new rules in December. Every year, you’re juggling. Always a significant price increase. I believe it’s important to provide health insurance for our employees. I broke my leg really bad after the Tour de France in 1986. The director of our team, Jim Ochowicz of the 7-Eleven Team had health insurance for all the athletes on the team. I would have been financially crippled if I did not have that. I was 23 or 22 at the time and had a really bad break. Spent month in the hospital. It was a compound fracture and all sorts of difficulties with it. I believe it’s important to provide health insurance. That helped me. But I sweat bullets just like any small business owner. That side of the story usually is not looked at, but that’s usually things that keep me up at night. Really more of the business side of what we do, so to speak.

KD: That’s really awesome that Jim did that. He’s known for so many things. Kind of a pioneer from American road cycling and obviously 7-Eleven and the footprint they have left. All the fabulous athletes you’ve raced with. We can't mention Davis Phinney, and Bob Roll and Andy Hampsten, which I think was the year after you. But all these great cyclists and we don’t always tell the story like that. I think that’s just so cool that you just said that you take care of your coaches. Not a lot of people know that they’re actually employed by CTS. They’re not 1099s, they’re actually part of your organization. I applaud you on that. I think that’s great.

Which brings me to an interesting question. We end every show, every episode with what we call the Crux Question. You might not be as familiar with the phrase, the crux. But in rock climbing, it’s specifically, it’s typically the hardest problem during a route when you’re either climbing or bouldering. You have to figure out how to get past it. I’m wondering what — I mean, we’ve all had many cruxes in our life, in our careers and in your case, you’ve had so many different careers, coaching for the national governing body, and obviously 7-Eleven. Now, CTS. What comes to mind as your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

CC: That’s a good question. I think to answer this a little more conceptually, that it never stops. There’s always a crux. There’s always another one of these that’s out there. First of all, understanding that is important. I’ll give you — for example, 2019, there is a law in California. We have some independent contractors and they passed a law that basically eliminated that independent contractor status for many different industries. We had to look at how we responded to that and it was really challenging. Because there was a huge business impact because taking on some of our people as part-time employees, meaning we we’re going to have to provide workers’ comp, liability insurance, all these types of things was a huge cost increase of about 20%. How we got to a solution took a long time and it was really arduous. It’s still not perfect by any means, but we did.

As soon as we did that, COVID hit. Then we were dealing with the whole COVID situation. There’s always something. There’s always going to be this another crux problem that we’re going to have to climb a solution for. The key is not what you did on that. One, I think it’s being able to make sure that you have a model in which you use to help you with this problem. When I find with whatever problem is first, is a network. You got to have a network of people that you can turn to and hear different ways in which they may approach that problem. You’re going to still have to decide ultimately if you’re in a leadership position, you’re still going to have to decide what approach you take.

But using a network of people that can influence you, that you’ve relied upon in a wide variety. Not just the ones who will tell you what you want to hear, and I would encourage you to find people that you many times have disagreements with. Kyle, you and me share a friend, Jim Rutberg who has been with CTS from the beginning. He’s kind of always the devil’s advocate, so to speak and he can be really frustrating at times to me. Because it’s like, “God! I just want to go on. I think I got a solution.” But it’s really important to have that voice, have that type of influence upon you with problems. If not, once you siloed yourself up, you’re dead, man. If it’s just you or you just surround yourself with people who are going to give you the answers you want to hear, you ain't gonna make it. There’s going to be a problem. You may make it through a few, but there’s going to be one that crashes you. As they say, it takes a village and you got to build your village.

KD: I love that. Yeah, Rutty is a great guy. He challenges me as well and he loves what you do. He’s obviously been with you for so long. I think we all need one of those guys in our business, in our life and sometimes in our sporting career. Someone who can push us. It’s kind of a metaphor, both end. Well listen, Chris, this has been so fun to hear more of the story behind the story. If you want to read the Chris Carmichael story, there’s so many places as Rob said, you can go find that and [inaudible] and even reference that one beach mountain climb I referenced in the intro, which is still one of my favorite stories.

But listen, thank you so much. It’s been an unbelievable privilege and pleasure to chat with you today. If people want to hire CTS as their coach of record, or speak to you or learn more about your coaching services, where should they go? What should they do?

CC: Yeah. The best thing is go to our website, You can also find us on Instagram at CTS or Facebook or any of the social media networks. But is the best starting place.

Today, I am super excited. With us is retired professional cyclist, a cycling triathlon, endurance sports coach and listen, you got to hear this, member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Cycling Team, a founding member if the 7-Eleven Cycling Team, which was the first by the way, American Team to race in Tour de France.

RR: Excellent! Chris Carmichael, Thank you so much.

KD: Thanks so much, Chris.

CC: Thanks, Rob.

© 2021 The Crux Podcast. The Crux Podcast is a production of The Brand Leader out of Greenville, South Carolina. For more information on the show or to be a guest, visit us at

Listen to the Podcast on 259°: Chris Carmichael of CTS

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