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Tour de IMSA? More Sports Car Racers Thrive on Bicycle Training

The Areas around Many WeatherTech Championship Tracks Offer Great Opportunities to Ride on Race Weekends

By David Phillips

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Tour de France may not have anything to fear, but bicycling is an ever more popular component of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Not only is a growing cadre of IMSA race drivers integrating bicycle riding into their training routines, an increasing number can be found pedaling along the country roads in the vicinity of racetracks on race weekends.

“Cycling is the perfect training tool for sports car drivers,” says Ricky Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05. “We can’t just drive the race car for hours on end, so cycling is the best way to put miles on our hearts without putting too much strain on our joints and the rest of our bodies. It’s also fun!

“IndyCar drivers look like they could squish us (sports car drivers) because they spend a lot more time in the weight room,” he continues. “They’re dealing with higher G forces and no power steering, so they have to build muscle whereas we spend a lot of time at high temperatures for much longer. And we have to drive and recover from repeated two-to-three-hour stints over the course of 24 hours. Cycling is absolutely perfect training for that.

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“You want to train your body and your brain to burn the right types of fuel to perform at a high level, longer. Working with Hammer Nutrition and Dr. David Ferguson, our training is focused on low-intensity, long-duration training, spending as much time as possible on lower heartrate, long-distance stuff with just the occasional strength or high-intensity day.”

Increasingly, Taylor’s brother Jordan joins on those training rides.

“I only started cycling two years ago,” the co-driver of the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD says. “It was nice to do not only as a fitness thing but as a social thing. It’s ramped up to where I brought my bike to Watkins Glen last year. This year, I might take it to VIRginia International Raceway and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta just to do some laps.

“It’s fun when some of the other drivers bring their bikes. You don’t see the other drivers very much at the track, and when you do, you’re usually not talking! So, I ride with other drivers as much as I can because it’s a great way to get to know them.”

In contrast, Jan Heylen has been an avid cyclist most of his life. After all, he hails from a country – Belgium – where cycling is a religion and five-time Tour de France champion Eddie Merckx is a national hero.

“I grew up riding a bike everywhere,” Heylen says, “but I never got into road racing until I moved to Florida. The weather is perfect year around and I made a bunch of friends while riding. That quickly turned into some amateur racing. There’s a lot of strategy involved, and it’s the perfect training tool for what we do in IMSA.”

Heylen, who drives the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in the WeatherTech Championship, was destined to take his passion for cycling to the next level, so he purchased a small bicycle shop in Dunedin, Florida, near his home that he sees as the next chapter of his life following racing.

Heylen’s focus remains on sports car racing for now. And like the Taylors, he combines his passions on race weekends.

“IMSA goes to some of the best cycling areas in the country,” he says. “It’s super fun to fly in a day early and ride my bike and explore new places. Laguna Seca is one of the prettiest places, Lime Rock is a beautiful area to ride as well. Mid-Ohio is a good one, and right off the main road to Road America there’s a trail that goes for miles and miles. Just about every place we go, I’ve explored.”

What’s more, Heylen recently “converted” fellow IMSA driver and Belgian Laurens Vanthoor to cycling.

“He was not a cyclist, but I told him to try it,” Heylen says. “Since then, he’s turned into a bit of a maniac on a bike. Renger van der Zande is another big cyclist.”

With athletes the likes of the Taylors, Heylen, Vanthoor, van der Zande and other avid cyclists, it sounds like a solid foundation if IMSA ever enters the world of competitive bicycle racing.

(Photos courtesy of Ricky Taylor)

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