Max Testa’s career in cycling coaching started with a happy accident: his Italian medical school won a grant to study professional athletes, and soon Max was dispatched to work with the seminal 7-Eleven team. Thirty years later, his résumé includes 30 Grand Tours and work with some of the sport’s most illustrious names – from the American upstarts of 7-Eleven in the late 80s to the current professional powerhouse of BMC Racing.
It’s this wealth of experience that Max will bring to this autumn’s RCC Summit in California, where he will be riding with club members and leading talks on performance and training. In preparation for October, Max took the time to tell Rapha about his start in the industry, his approach to coaching, and the changes to the sport that he’s witnessed over his career.
When I started working as a coach, I was really afraid. It was a new environment. I was scared of making mistakes, and there was a steep learning curve. I was trying to learn as much as possible from the athletes. Still, to this day, I learn more from the athletes than from any other source.
In 1985, when I first got a job working with cyclists, I didn’t have a long background in the sport. My background was with skiing, rowing, soccer, and I raced bikes as a junior when the other sports weren’t happening. It happened that my medical school won a grant to profile professional athletes, and that was that.
Step by step, I started to love the sport and the physiology of it. And I always felt very close to my riders – I feel good when they do well, I feel bad when they do bad. It’s all a question of caring.
But now, I am double their age. When I started with 7-Eleven, I was pretty much the same age as the athletes I was coaching. The way you communicate with a 25-year-old is different when you are 25 yourself.
The culture of cycling has changed, it’s become global and more professional. When I started with 7-Eleven, they were the first American team to do the big stage races. Most of the guys were from Colorado and California, and they just loved riding. So, when I started training with these people, I was surprised that they didn’t follow any plans. They would say, “it’s a good day, so I’ll ride for six hours.” Then, the day after, they would say, “I’m not so good today, so I will only do one hour.” They saw the bike as a way of being outdoors, and didn’t think much about how to structure their training.
The first person who would do structured training was Eric Heiden. He had been a speed skater, and won Olympic medals for it in Lake Placid. He told me that he had followed training plans, and that his coach would explain the methodology to him. So I started with him, then the other riders noticed and wanted to train with structure, too. That’s when the results started coming in. Andy [Hampsten] won the Giro, [Davis] Phinney won a stage of the Tour, and we did great.
It was easy to speak to these guys, as they were my age. I would ride with them, go out for dinner with them, and there was a level of connection that was unique. Now I coach guys who are 30 years younger, and I can see that they know what they’re talking about. Their level of technical knowledge is amazing.
I’m lucky for having a well-balanced demographic of people who come to me for coaching, from pro athletes to the people who are only starting to exercise because of their health. The best results are with the people who are just starting out, as you can change your life with very small differences in exercise.