Tuesday, August 03, 2010

7 Johan Museeuw Trained Hard

A man who knew how to train properly to overcome adversity was Johan Museeuw. He was known for his gradual approach to training, his belief in his training ideas and his ability to focus on training so he could return to racing when his cycling career seemed to be over - a couple of times.

A wicked crash on the slick cobblestones of the Arenberg Forest in the 1998 Paris-Roubaix, the queen of one-day racing classics, almost ended his career. Gangrene set in because of improper cleaning of a knee wound by medical personnel, and they almost had to amputate the leg. As it turned out, they didn't amputate the leg, and Museeuw responded by recovering, training and coming up with a win in the 2000 Paris-Roubaix. Tragedy struck again when he crashed on his motorcycle in the summer of 2000. He fought back yet again for another Paris-Roubaix win in 2002, among other victories.

Museeuw's glory started in a small way, but he kept stretching his personal limits. In his first race outside of Belgium, the Tour of Austria, Museeuw finished the first stage 30 minutes behind the winner. He was alone, numb from the cold, and reportedly crying on his bike. He did not abandon the race though. In the same manner, he would continue to break down barriers during the remainder of his career - with dogged determination.

Museeuw was infamous for training alone for periods as long as 4 months. He knew his specific training goals would not be achievable in large groups. He would ride ruthlessly into the wind for hours on end. When he adopted heart rate training later in his career, he took himself into the red repeatedly on hard days, for unbearably long periods. He would impose kilometer per hour "basements" on some training rides  - on the order of 43 kmph (27mph) - and he'd refuse his body when it told him to slow down.

Museeuw's good friend and teammate (and world class racer in his own right) Wilfried Peeters says of Museeuw, "Out of 100 pros, 95 won't be able to deal with Johan's training rhythm. A young rider who tries to constantly keep up with him will, so to speak, destroy his body. Johan has both the body and the willpower to work those heavy training schedules. He sometimes has some riders that live in his region ride with him, but very few can keep up for a few days in a row."

Peeters explains that after brutal group training rides, Museeuw would ride another half hour extra, because it was mentally very important to him.

These words were from the book Cycling Fast by Robert Panzera, a USA Cycling certified coach and NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist.

In order to stay a bit more objective on the subject of Johan's superhuman performances, I will also include the fact that he was imprisoned (suspended) for 10 months for allegedly using human growth hormones and other substances to boost his strength, red blood cell count and recovery time. He had stood trial for his part in a ring alleged to have funneled EPO and other doping substances from a Belgian veterinarian to pro riders.

Turns out, critical reading is essential when reading any glorified literature about any athlete these days. Its an utter shame.

*  *  *


  1. Anonymous11:49 AM

    thats why we need to burn it down!

  2. First, I will say I do not condone or accept doping. But on the other hand, most of these guys don't take the juice to be able to go on vacation, get drunk and in general train less.

    The pain is still real. Should they be removed from competition and suspended? Yes. But critical reading is needed to evaluate all aspects. Glorification is wrong, but treating these guys like frivolous Hollywood celebrities is also wrong.

    A more systematic approach to deal with this is needed, especially since the history of our sport is tainted with doping champions. Museeuw still broke his leg. Pantani still climbed like crazy and crashed like no one else. They still hurt when doped, they just went faster.

    And this is the conundrum - I think most of the fans would "love" cycling as much if speeds were 2 km/h slower, as long as the human aspects remained. And this is why having charismatic riders that are not necessarily all bent on winning is essential to grow the sport. Winning should not be all, lest we become baseball in the 90's were the only attraction was hitting 70+ homeruns, no matter the cost.

  3. really what we need to do is build a bunch of robots, put them on bikes and see who can go the farthest, the fastest. in more real terms, the robots of our sport only happened to breathe. i can't really blame them. they are a product of their times and the disgusting mentalities that stuck on for many decades of racing. agree with the first poster. we need to tear it down. if fans don't do it, no one will. we play a big role in breathing life in the sport. no fans, no cycling.

  4. Todd -

    It's refreshing to hear a "fan" voice some sense of responsibility for demanding a more natural cycling.

    Which was more exciting: one of LA's robotic "triumphs" in the TdF, finishing 6 minutes 19 seconds ahead of second place, or this year's Giro, for example, where seven different riders traded the pink jersey between them?

    I choose the latter, and as a fan of cycling can say that I found it more pleasurable to watch a race where the contenders were much more evenly matched initially, and the competition wasn't smothered by your "robots" of sport.

  5. Doping aside - If he had focused on recovery as much as we do today, would he have been better?

  6. Yes, it's a shame (and a big, big stain on his career) that he doped. Still, you can pump me full of EPO and HGH, and I still won't be able to come close to what he's capable of...

    On the other hand, in Museeuws days plenty of others were using the same products, so maybe we shouldn't judge his performances too harshly.

    And at least he confessed, and didn't do a Marion Jones. Somehow, his confession didn't get the weight Riis' confession (to name one) got. I never understood that. When you win 10+ Classics, you're not an anonymous rider.

  7. That sounds unhealthy. There comes a point when you're just hurting yourself.


Thank you. I read every single comment.