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by Michael Better
June 28, 2018
Photography by Bicycle Racing Pictures/USA CRITS
David “Gutt” Guttenplan doesn’t remember being hit by the car. Nor does he remember being dragged underneath the vehicle. He does, however, remember waking up from a five-day medically induced coma, and seeing the outpouring of support directed his way. A crowdfunding campaign set up by Guttenplan’s girlfriend had raised more than $20,000 to help him with medical bills and other post-accident treatments before Guttenplan even knew what was happening.
Two years removed, Guttenplan is all-in on the USA CRITS series, striving to take home the coveted orange jersey with his Support Clean Sport-Guttenplan Coaching team. He’s finally feeling normal again in the peloton after the accident, and is back to attacking off the front.
The accident, while horrifying, has given Guttenplan a new outlook on life. He’s channeling that new energy into his criterium squad, where he holds a high standard of clean racing and working hard. Guttenplan’s never-give-up attitude may just have saved his life, and helped him to return to racing so quickly. He’s now teaching the next generation to do the same.
March 2, 2016 was the day everything changed for Guttenplan. He was out for a normal training ride in Clearwater, Florida, when a car suddenly turned in front of him. Guttenplan got wedged under the car and was dragged as the driver continued from the road into a parking lot. He remembers nothing from the accident until he woke up in the hospital.
Guttenplan is lucky to be alive. His face was greatly marred in the accident with his nose left hanging from his face. “If it wasn’t for plastic surgery, I would be really bad off,” he said.
He also had a broken jaw, broken scapula, broken ribs, and a punctured lung. He was in a coma for five days and when he finally awoke, doctors estimated it would take nearly three weeks for them to perform all of the necessary surgeries.
But, Guttenplan is a tough guy. He’s an elite bike racer, after all.
Bike racers, and especially criterium racers, are mentally wired a bit differently than most. They push their bodies to the extreme, and then try to go beyond that point. Guttenplan had experience with recovering from broken bones and road rash, so it wasn’t unchartered territory.
Guttenplan was 30 when the accident took place, at the peak of his cycling career He was in top shape and well on his way as a contender for the first important races of the season. Ultimately, his fitness would serve him well. His body reacted well enough to the anesthesia during his first surgery; so well that doctors were able to perform all the necessary treatments in one eight-hour operation. He set a goal to get home as soon as possible; he’d learned from the times he’d broken his collarbone that being home was where he needed to be to recover the quickest. Within two weeks of the accident, Guttenplan was home.
A mere five months after the accident, in August 2016, Guttenplan was back, going elbow-to-elbow with his friends and competitors on the USA CRITS scene. Racing was still very much a risk for him at that point. A crash on his face could have sent him back to the plastic surgeon. Foruntately, he kept the wheels rubber side down for the rest of the year.
The U.S. criterium scene is a tight-knit group, and Guttenplan’s return was an emotional one, the feeling of a long-standing member coming back to where he belonged. The following year, Guttenplan raced a full season and, in 2018, he has set his sights on the USA CRITS orange leader’s jersey.
David Guttenplan has a habit riding with his hands in the center of his handlebars when on the front of the peloton or leading the breakaway. Photo: Bicycle Racing Pictures/USA CRITS
Guttenplan may just be Zwift’s biggest fan.
After his accident, Guttenplan has a different outlook on bike riding. He’s nervous riding outside on the open road. He used to hate riding the trainer, but now most of his saddle time is spent on the “bike to nowhere.” The 30-hour ride weeks are gone and have been replaced with 5-10 hour weeks at a higher intensity. When Guttenplan does go outside to ride, he avoids going alone at all costs.
“I’m not taking the same amount of hours out on the roads as I used to, which sucks, but at the same time, I’m getting more effective training done indoors,” Guttenplan said. “I have a coaching business for the team and from a trainer I can take a phone call, and still be pedaling and working out.”
Through his personal business, he coaches many of the riders on the Support Clean Sport-Guttenplan Coaching squad. The extra work is paying off. The team showed tremendous growth at the last USA CRITS event in Harlem, New York City. That growth is critical to Guttenplan’s dream of taking the overall in the USA CRITS series, something that would not be possible without a deep squad. Guttenplan has long competed in the series and is determined to finally come out on top.
David Guttenplan isn’t afraid to dive into a corner at full speed during a criterium, but he is hesitant to ride out on the open road after his accident. Photo: Bicycle Racing Pictures
Having ridden for professional squads and racing at the elite level for over a decade, Guttenplan understands what it means to be a pro. Support Clean Sport isn’t just a phrase he put into his team name; it’s a non-profit organization, based in Los Angeles inspired by the work of the nonprofit Anti-Doping Research (ADR) in conjunction with the supplement certification provider Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), both led by world-renowned sports drug-testing pioneer Dr. Don Catlin and his son Oliver Catlin.
Support Clean Sport (SCS) independently tests supplements to ensure the ingredients in the product match the ingredients listed on the bottle. A contaminated supplement can cause a rider to test positive for a banned substance, and a positive test can spell doom for one’s career, as proving a substance to be contaminated can be a long and costly process.
“[Support Clean Sport] wanted to raise awareness that you can actually test positive from taking contaminated supplements, so it’s been part of our message to explain that,” Guttenplan said. “I’ve been racing full time for a lot of years now, so it’s always been close to my heart to do it the right way. I’ve seen the culture of the sport through all these years and the one thing that’s always been near and dear to my heart is to do it the right way, because otherwise what’s the point? I’d rather be doing something else if I’m going to be cheating.”
When Guttenplan first started discussing a partnership with Support Clean Sport, he had a vision of what his team would morph into. That vision is alive and well today.
Support Clean Sport-Guttenplan coaching is a development team of sorts. There are young riders on the squad who are just learning what racing the professional criterium scene is all about and who are being coached by Guttenplan himself. There are also cagey veterans on the team as well, like 2016 masters world road champion Scottie Weiss.
The squad has an East Coast vibe, and that’s reflected by their sponsors. Starlight apparel from Roanoke, Virginia provides the kits, while Boyd Cycling gets the team rolling with high-vis wheels. Many USA CRITS events are contested at night, under lights, and Guttenplan’s team is always easy to spot with the green high-vis decals they use.
Guttenplan was impressed by the maturity the squad showed at the recent Harlem Skyscraper Classic, given a significant amount of pressure on the team’s shoulders before the race started. With USA CRITS series leader John Murphy (Holowesko-Citadel) absent, Guttenplan had a chance to finally pull on the orange leader’s jersey he’s dreamt about.
Before the race, Guttenplan was a bit skeptical of his team’s ability to get him into the right position to gain maximum points at the mid-race sprints and at the finish line. He knew they were strong, but wasn’t yet convinced they were quite where they needed to be, tactically.
When it came to the first mid-race points sprint, his teammates surprised him. The boys in green were on the front of the peloton leading out Guttenplan, but Guttenplan was nowhere in sight. “I had all three guys on the front before I was even at the front of the field,” Guttenplan explained. “I had to work to get myself up there because I was like, ‘Oh shoot, they listened to me. They’re actually doing it.'” Guttenplan’s voice raised a few octaves when he spoke about his squad performing to the game plan.
The team’s work paid off, as Guttenplan gained enough points throughout the race to make up for a less-than-ideal finish in the final bunch sprint. He finished 10th in the final bunch sprint in Harlem, but he had scored more than enough points to pull on the leader’s jersey. Whether he’ll be able to hold onto it for the rest of the USA CRITS series remains to be seen, but what’s clear is that Support Clean Sport-Guttenplan Coaching is punching above its weight, a comeback story any bike rider can embrace.
Stefano Barberi, Adam Farabaugh, Benjamin Foster, Johnathan Freter, David Guttenplan, Coulton Hartrich, Marcos Lazzarotto, Tyler Locke, Steven Perezluha, Justin Prior, James “Jimmy” Schurman, Rolly Weaver, Scottie Weiss.
The boys in green never shy away from a picture with their fans. Photo: Bicycle Racing Pictures/USA CRITS