More than 900 cyclists set out to conquer Mount Mitchell near Asheville, N.C., in May, and finishing the grueling 102.7 mile course with 10,357 feet of climbing would be considered a success.
For 22-year-old Columbia resident Chris Mathis, it wasn’t enough to finish. He was looking for a top-10 finish.
“It’s a pretty competitive race,” Mathis, a full-time employee at Cycle Center, said. “My goal was to just finish in the top 10.”
In addition to being crowned South Carolina’s Time Trial Champion for his division in 2013, his ride at Mount Mitchell is one of his crowning achievements. Mount Mitchell is the highest peak of the Appalachian Mountains and the highest peak in mainland eastern North America.
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After completing the first 75 miles of the course, which is fairly flat, Mathis climbed the final 25 miles to finish ninth overall with a time of 5 hours, 36 minutes and 22 seconds, which was 11 minutes behind the winner. He was the youngest finisher in the top 10.
Mathis picked up the sport of cycling from his dad when they went mountain biking at Harbison State Forest, and he fell for it immediately. The Richland Northeast High graduate started with mountain bike racing and started to get into road racing two or three years ago, he said.
“I really started into road racing and found a passion for it. I like the suffering (of cycling) and I love the payoff of all hard work, because it’s definitely not easy.”
Although Mathis has had success in his young career, he remains level-headed in his approach and knows that achieving future goals won’t be possible without hard work.
His job at Cycle Center allows him to dispense his knowledge about the sport while also giving him the freedom to put in serious training time.
For six out of seven days per week, Mathis is around the Columbia area on the saddle of his bike riding for three to five hours a day, which often will be split into morning and afternoon sessions depending on his work schedule. For him, 20-25 hours is a good training week. He spends most of it working on rhythm and form as well as interval training for endurance.
Part of his training also includes joining in on local group rides around Columbia. For some who have attended the sessions, they could tell right away he is a special competitor.
“You just look at him and you can tell he is an athlete,” Danny Harlow, a rider in one of the weekly groups, said. “I’ve always admired him because you can just tell he is a cut above everyone else. He’s always game and never boastful, and to do what he has done is just incredible.”
Mathis hopes to make it up to Cat 1, the highest level of cycling, and then work toward a pro contract.
“You have to do it every day,” Mathis said. “You get out of what you put into it,and just putting in a strong effort is just as important training and being safe.”