Interview with Excel Sports rider Nico Toutenhoofd

303Racing recently caught up with Team Excel Sports rider Nico Toutenhoofd to find out more about this guy who has really taken on the Colorado racing by storm this year. First lets start with his 2008 results which show 7 wins and 13 podium finishes and is currently holding the Best All-round Rider title and Colorado Masters TT winner whom also had the fastest time of the day even in the P-1-2 field!



photo credit: Larry Rosa

So who is Nico?

[303racing] Tell us a little about you and your cycling background, are you a former pro? How many years have you been racing?

[Nico] I started racing at the age of 12 in the Red Zinger Mini Classic, a week-long stage race for youngsters in Colorado. It was a spectacular event and was responsible for getting hundreds of kids into cycling. As a junior I was a member of the 7-Eleven Junior Development Team, and periodically a member of the United States Junior National Team, spending several summers at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Then my first year as a senior (there was no such thing as "Under 23" at the time) I raced with Lowenbrau, which was the premier U.S. domestic team of the mid '80s. To be frank, I was the worst rider on the best team, which is both good and bad. I then quit racing when I went to college in 1987. So back to your question, I was never technically a pro. Back in those days there was a stronger distinction between pros and amateurs because only amateurs were allowed to race in the Olympics.

I started racing again, mostly for fun, when I was in my late twenties, and that phase lasted for about five or six years. I managed to win the State Time Trial Championships in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio during that time, but in general I'd only race a handful of races each year, and I'd occasionally do the Masters Nationals. Then when my wife and I had our first child in 2003, I had to stop racing again as I didn't have the time to train, be a good father, and run my business (http://www.insightdesigns.com, a web development business in Boulder, CO)

[303Racing] What brought you back into cycling this year?

[Nico]
I sort of came back to racing last year, but didn't take it very seriously. I cross-country skied all winter and in the spring decided to get on my bike and train a bit. I raced some local hill climbs and some time trials, all in the Masters 35+ category, and I managed to win the Mike Horgan Hill Climb and do okay in a few time trials. By the end of the year my form was getting much better so I went and raced the National Record Challenge Time Trial in Moriarty New Mexico. I've had a life-long goal of doing a sub 50 minute 40K time trial, and at that race I came within 17 seconds of my goal -- I rode a 50:17 and posted the fastest time of the day and set my own PR for a 40K TT. That one race reignited my desire. As I was driving back to Colorado with my long-time friend and fellow cyclist, Walter Warwick, I remember telling him that 2008 was going to be my year to break the 50-minute barrier.

[303Racing] It has been an amazing year for you so far (2008 results), what is in store for Nico for the rest of 08?

[Nico] I'm not entirely sure what's in store for me in 2008. I'm currently leading the Master's 35+ Best All Around Rider competition (BAR) but that's probably not going to last for much longer. I raced with the Pro12 at the Mike Horgan Hill Climb last week and I managed to get third, which I was really proud of. I also posted the fastest time at the Colorado State Time Trial Championships the day before. Those two results made me think that I should race more often with the Pro12 category and not stick to just racing 35+ in pursuit of the Colorado BAR. So I guess my remaining goals for 2008 are to do well at the Masters Nationals Individual Time Trial, the Mount Evans Hill Climb, the Mount Washington Hill Climb, and to break 50 minutes at the National Record Challenge 40K Time Trial.

[303Racing] You're a family man, business owner and accomplished racer, what has been your number 1 trick to balancing all three so well?

[Nico] My number one trick to balancing training, racing, family life and work is marrying the right woman. Seriously, however, it's a difficult balancing act, and there is no way to do it all without making some sacrifices, in some areas of your life. My wife and I trade which one of us gets to wake up early and exercise, and which one of us stays at home to handle the morning kid routine. She gets Mondays and Fridays to go to her yoga practice, and I get Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to do early morning rides. I definitely get the better end of that deal, but she's super supportive of my racing, and knows that I'm happier (and easier to be around) when I'm exercising. We also try to bring our kids to my races and make them into mini family vacations/ fun events. We camped in Durango for the Iron Horse Classic, so for our kids it was a camping trip, not a bicycle race trip. And at the State TT we packed a picnic lunch, crammed the kids' bikes into the back of the car, and made a family outing of the event. The kids rode their bikes around the parking lot and ate lunch under the portable gazebo while I obsessed over how aero my number was pinned on, and whether I should ride with my Zipp 1080 or 808 front wheel. They had a great time and napped solidly all the way back to Boulder in the car.

I also make some cycling sacrifices for the sake of my family life. There are several races that I'll miss so I can do our annual two-week East Coast trip to visit my wife's family. And we have a couple of weekends where I'll miss races so I can spend time with out-of-town visitors, or to go camping with our kids. In the end I think I race better, however, when I balance life with bicycle racing, because the time off forces me to rest, enjoy other aspects of life, and recharge my batteries, both physically and mentally.

[303Racing] Besides the extreme life balance, how is your training different than what it was 10 years ago?

[Nico] I honestly think I'm faster than I was ten years ago, primarily because I'm smarter about my training. I used to blindly train. I'd get on my bike every day with no plan whatsoever, and often log useless mile after useless mile. Now, because time is so precious, I try to get the most out of every training minute.

To begin with, I decided at the end of last season that I didn't want to lose my fitness over the holiday season. All during the fall and winter I rode my bike at least 5 days a week, and when January came around I didn't feel this need to get in a bunch of base miles -- I was already pretty fit. Then I increased both the volume and intensity of my training gradually, mostly by doing early morning rides, and mostly by climbing or doing intervals on my trainer.

Other than my super-supportive wife, the most influential person in my training, and ultimately in my success this year, has been Kevin Nicol. I've known Kevin since the Red Zinger Mini Classic days, but it wasn't until this year, twenty-five years later, that we got to know each other and started to ride together. Kevin also has to balance family, work and racing, and does so with amazing grace and success. When he and I realized that we both train very early in the morning, and both grapple with the same family balancing issues, we connected immediately. Kevin and I ride together two to three times per week. He leaves his house in Lafayette at 4:30 AM, with his headlamp illuminating the road in front, and a blinking light fending off sleepy drivers behind, and arrives at my house in Boulder shortly after 5:00 AM. We then do a three or four hour ride in the mountains, often doing some combination of Magnolia, Sugarloaf, Eldora, Flagstaff or Sunshine Canyon. (We never do all of those climbs on the same day, but we often do Magnolia, Sugarloaf and Flagstaff on the same ride.) He then deposits my depleted body back on at my doorstep and proceeds to ride back to his house in Lafayette. For me it's a three to four hour ride. for him it's generally five plus hours.

This time of year it's not that difficult to start riding at 5:15 AM, as there is already some light in the sky and it's generally above 40-degrees. But we've been doing this together since early March, and at that time of year it's dark for the first hour or two of the ride, and often below freezing. Kevin is tougher than I am and his tolerance for cold, wind, and ice is greater than mine, so there are some days when I stay in bed while he rides. I don't remember who, but Kevin told me that someone, maybe his wife Bev, calls these crazy early morning rides "Vampire Rides". I've grown to love them.

So to sum it up, I ride more, I push myself harder (riding with Kevin is like riding with a motorcycle), and I try not to do senseless long slow distance rides. I'm all about intensity and volume. The one thing could use more of is good rest. If only I could take a nap every day, then I'd really be in good shape. Maybe if I win the lottery....

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7 Comments

made me proud

Satisfying to read this story! It contains many details about my son's bike racing experiences which I didn't know (or remember). Being Dutch I naturally rode cheap touring bikes during much of my life. -- Vim Toutenhoofd (Nico's dad)

Made me smile!

Like Nico's Dad (my partner), the interview made me proud. But it also made me smile, because Nico is very good at playing down his accomplishments. In the Mini Red Zinger, when he was 12, Nico lapped the rest of the riders and won hands down. We were surprised, but then recalled that he'd been riding his unicycle up Flagstaff for the previous couple of years. He then went on to win several other races and seemed destined for the Olympics. So for him to be doing this well at "almost 40" is very pleasing and like old times. And his dedication and sweetness as a father and husband, as well as his success as a business owner, are consistent with his being a winner in cycling. Thank you for doing this interview!