Red Rush athlete and cyclist Kai Applequist is the Director of the Team Mercedes Benz presented by George’s Cycles racing team. Established in 2012, the team boasts over 100 podium finishes and six state titles. He recently sat down to talk to Red Rush.
Red Rush: You were a professional cyclist. Can you tell me about your career?
Kai Applequist: I didn’t start riding until I was about twenty-three, twenty-four, and I joined a team. We were doing National Racing Calendar races and traveling a lot. That winter, Exergy came out, and we became the Exergy amateur team. The guy who ran Exergy loved cycling and gave us a bunch of money. That winter, we became a professional team. That was back in 2011.
I raced that year and the next. I had progressed so quickly. I was always at the bottom. Every time I would get better, we’d move onto something bigger. We did the US Pro-Cycling Challenge, and we were going to Utah, Colorado and California. It was about that time that I was kind of deciding whether or not I was able to ride well enough to get paid more or if it was time for me to get a real job. A wreck made that decision for me. The front wheel fell off my bike, and I went face first into the asphalt at twenty-eight miles an hour. I never got an opportunity to earn that spot.
RR: How long were you out?
KA: The wreck was in 2012. My recovery took about two months, but I still had surgeries and stuff after. I tried to give up cycling after that. I tried running. The thing I liked about running was that I couldn’t really get hurt. I would have to do something really stupid like jump off a cliff.
But eventually, I went out for a bike ride. I went around a turn, and it was a huge rush. I decided I wanted to race on amateur level, so I could have a good job and a normal life.
RR: Tell me about how you formed Team Mercedes Benz presented by George’s Cycles
KA: In late 2012, I put the team together. We’re the only all category-one team in Idaho. Amateur cycling has five categories. You start with a category five, you move all the way up to one based on the amount of races you do, where you finished and the length of the race. It’s hardest to move from a two to a one because you’re under the most scrutiny: what kind of races, how many states you received your points in. One is the penultimate level. To be pro, you have to have your one. But you can have your one as an amateur and still do all the NRC races with the pros. So when I say we’re an elite team, I mean that specifically we’re Idaho’s only all category-one team.
RR: What are some of the things you did differently when you started this team?
KA: Basically, I wanted to create my own program the way that I thought it should be done. The goal would be to create an amateur team that could race at a high level.
First off, we are organized. Bike racers by nature are very individualistic people. It’s an individual sport that you do as a team, and you train by yourself. But you can only win races by working as a team and showing up prepared.
I wanted to play up the team aspect and and downplay the individual aspect and have a team on the same page: to know and understand each other, to be able to follow a plan. And when the plan deviates, as it always does, to be able to on the fly, know to do the next thing to do. Like ‘if my teammate does this, then I know I need to do this.’ Organization is key.
The thing I like about my team is that they all have their own businesses or they’re high-level CEOs. They’re good at cycling because they do everything with the same purpose. They show up to a race, their bike is clean, adjusted and ready to go.
RR: Can you explain the strategy behind bike racing?
If there was no drafting, it would just be a time trial. The strongest guy would win. Since drafting saves you twenty percent or more, then it becomes a game of chess, basically.
It’s also a game of probability. You’ll have one guy who is your best chance of winning given the fitness of the team or your opponents or the terrain. If you have a sprinter, and it’s a flat finish, he’ll be your best chance of winning. You’d use your climber for a climbing finish. Say, for example, that your sprinter wasn’t very good, you’d have to come up with a different plan.
Another strategy is to have a few guys go up the road and attack. We call that a breakaway. If you think about it, there is no reason that three guys should finish before 120 guys. People could catch you if they wanted. So a little bit of luck plays into that.
There’s also a psychology aspect. Everybody is playing an angle. You have to know what everybody is racing for. What they think their advantage is. You can use that to your advantage.
That’s pretty high level, but those are the basic pieces for a one-day race. It shows why having a well-organized and drilled team is important. It allows them to encounter different scenarios and to make mistakes they can learn from. It’s that teaching aspect.
With this team, I’ve been taking guys who haven’t raced at a high level and essentially teaching them about this sport and the skills they need, putting them in races that they probably wouldn’t have done otherwise in order to learn those skills and so they get better and to push them.
You can’t only train at a high level. You have to train and go out and get beaten and then train some more and get beaten. It’s true for all endurance sports. It takes your body years and years to adapt to build upon those experiences.
As long as you can recover, you can go up and above, and your body will adapt to those experiences. Right now, I am finally where I was in 2011 before my wreck. I went through life, found the job that I wanted and achieved a sort of balance, although it took me some time to get back to where I was physically.
RR: You won a race recently. On March 7th.
KA: I placed first in the spring in a local race. I had three teammates with me, so I attacked and nobody chased me. It was a total psychology thing. The other guys in the group could have tried to pull me back, but they knew that my teammates would have attacked. So they didn’t chase me down. We had the strategic advantage there. Two weeks ago, we placed 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th.
RR: How does Red Rush help?
KA: Red Rush plays a factor in preparation. We’re looking for marginal percentage points wherever we can find them, so Red Rush as well as Peak Endurance and ProPeas are all integral in having a healthy and balanced nutrition plan. I really like the Peak Endurance. It has a good electrolyte profile as well as the B-vitamins for breaking down those carbohydrates during exercise. ProPeas is a very natural and usable protein for athletes and individuals. The Red Rush, obviously, gives a boost to those endurance efforts.
But they are all parts of a whole, and you have to decide what things are benefits and what things are not. Otherwise, you’d be doing 100 different supplements, and you’d be spending too much time picking and choosing.
The beet juice is something very advantageous for the team. Guys on the team who don’t even use supplements whatsoever have been using it and noticing a difference. That’s pretty big in my opinion. Those of us who take vitamins or supplements or whatever in the past, kind of know the things that don’t work. Those who swear off supplements entirely and have possibly tried stuff before and hadn’t seen results, really like Red Rush. We’re talking the old-school guys who bring ham sandwiches on their rides.
More on Cycling:
Jake Sitler: The Steeplechase Cyclist
Frank Sutton: Strong on the Climb
Judy Nichols: CrossFit, Cycling