Beyer rides fabled French roads

Princeton University graduate a finisher in L’Etape du Tour

By: Justin Feil
   Two big things happened for Jon Beyer while at Princeton University.
   No. 1, he co-founded TerraCycle Inc., which uses waste products to produce organic plant food. The 23-year-old is now chief technology officer of the company expected to top $2.5 million in sales this year with products stocked by such stores as Home Depot and Wal-Mart.
   To unwind from his startup company, Beyer can fall back on No. 2, cycling. At Princeton, he rode all four years and became captain and president of the Princeton University Cycling Team, which is considered a club sport by Princeton.
   "I used to do a little riding just for fun in high school," Beyer said. "It mainly kept me in shape for soccer. When I got to Princeton I was injured and wasn’t playing soccer and I started riding with the team. A guy brought me into the fold who was a national champion, Tyler Wren. He’s now a professional.
   "He was very into it. He got me very motivated. It was cool to go out riding with a national champion."
   After graduating last summer, Beyer got more heavily involved in Trenton-based TerraCycle, but also managed to stay in cycling. It’s given him a break from his startup.
   "It’s always been a great stress reliever," he said. "When I was in school, it was great to go out and forget about school for a couple hours on a ride. It’s tougher now. I can’t just ride in the middle of the day. But it’s nice to come home and hop on my trainer or go outdoors now in the summer. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue. Luckily, I have been."
   Beyer hasn’t just been cycling around his usual cycling routes that he frequented at Princeton. He recently was able to expand his borders to the hallowed roads of France, the same covered in the Tour de France.
   Early last month, Beyer was one of 8,000 riders to participate in the L’Etape du Tour, a 191-kilometer (approximately 120 miles) ride through the Alps that finishes with the 21 switchbacks of l’Alpe d’Huez. It adds four kilometers to the exact path followed by the Tour de France riders in Stage 15, the stage that preceded Floyd Landis’ disastrous Stage 16. Beyer came away with a newfound respect for the professionals after he rode to a strong finish in 7 hours, 30 minutes, good for a silver medal given to those who finished under 8 hours. He was among the top 10 percent of finishers.
   "It just makes what the professionals do even more impressive," Beyer said. "The next day, you don’t feel like walking. Then you realize they go through that 21 days in a row and doing the stages must faster. You gain a different level of respect after that.
   "I had the sense that professionals were far and above what amateurs are. It makes it a little more real when you do it yourself."
   Beyer has been in many races over the years. He helped a WBI Investments teammate win the Tour de Toona two weeks ago in Altoona, Pa., and finished sixth in the road race portion of it, but his first trip to the site of France’s legendary race was unforgettable.
   "You finish at l’Alpe d’Huez," he said. "The French fans come out like the Tour is coming through. They’re giving water and giving pushes to people that looked like they were dying.
   "It’s an interesting environment. You never have the opportunity to win. I started in the 5,000s. I never saw the start of the race. In most amateur races, you’re thinking about winning and thinking what you have to do to win. It’s about riding at the proper pace that will get you the fastest time."
   Preparation also is difficult, given that Beyer trains in the mountain-free Princeton area.
   "The training is certainly different," he said. "There are 20k climbs, and you never see climbs like that except in the West. I prepared by just doing a lot of long rides — 5-6 hour rides to get as much base mileage as possible.
   "I was happy with the time," he added. "Most athletes, you always question what could I have done (to be better). I didn’t have a whole lot of energy left for the final climb. I didn’t feel good on the final climb. So that’s a little more motivation to go back and do that much better next year. I’m definitely going to go back."
   Beyer hopes to use the experience he gained from this year’s first ride of L’Etape du Tour in his second go-around. Knowing what the finish is like should help as he attempts to better his team next summer. As Beyer resumes his riding schedule in the United States, he does so with the knowledge that he has been through something unique.
   "In the U.S., you never do a race with that many riders," he said. "One of the major challenges was how to stay hydrated and eat the right amount. On a day like that, you don’t feel like eating, but you need to. That’s what happened on the final climb, I think. I probably didn’t have enough food in my stomach. It’s a long ride. In the U.S., there’s nothing really longer than 80 (miles). This was 120 miles in incredible heat."
   On top of his own personal riding with the amateur New Jersey-based WBI Investments team, Beyer hasn’t gone far from his Princeton Cycling roots. He served as an informal coach last year for the university’s club team, but will be a formal coach this year. He’s hoping to build on what has been a strong team year after year.
   "We have normally about 25 people who are on the team," he said. "Any given race weekend, there are more like 10 riders. When I first came in, it was more like 15 coming. It shrunk a little bit, but we had a lot of good young talent last year. One won the season-long point total. He won the yellow jersey. We had some very good results. The women’s team made the podium in the team time trial."
   That success should come as no surprise. Jon Beyer has done well wherever he has been, whether it is in his organic plant food business, with the Princeton University cycling team or as a rider in one of the most grueling stretches of French terrain.