Weekly Update

Ok folks, my life is finally starting to settle down a tiny bit.  I know the posting frequency has decreased, but I am going to keep things as steady as possible with at least a post or two per week for the time being.

My new job has settled down and I have a regular schedule again.  It’s not quite as good as my old schedule, but I’ll at least have predictable times to plan to ride.  Overall I did pretty well the last three weeks; I had planned roughly 10,11, and 12 hour weeks, and I completed 9.5, 7 (ouch), and 10 hours.  All things considered I feel like I handled the adversity well and still increased my fitness.  With the decreased hours, I added more tempo riding, and even some Sweet Spot (high tempo, 90% FTP) to make up for the decreased volume.

I’m feeling pretty good on the bike and feel like I’ve gotten my endurance back.  Today I rode with a slower teammate, and averaged about 10% lower power than usual.  Over the 4.5 hour ride I felt quite good and had almost no HR drift (about 1%).  Also, my HR/Power graphs have become increasingly shifted, indicating my FTP is increasing:

HR + Power graphs - 4 hour ride in late December

HR + Power Graphs - 4 hour ride in late January

My plans for the season are coming along well. I’ve been on the TT bike about once per week, and just put in my order for a proper TT frame. I’m not sure on delivery date, but I’m really excited to get it and show how fast I can really go.  I probably won’t have it by the Frostbite TT, which is the first race of the season (in Colorado) at the end of February.  Either way, the race will be an interesting guage of my fitness and I’m looking forward to it.

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Solo Breakaways

With winter in full force, I thought I’d put up a quick race strategy post.  I hope this will give the racers out there a little extra motivation when out training, and possibly spend some time on the road visualizing using this tactic.

The solo breakaway is a classic strategy which can succeed under certain conditions.  Technical courses are beneficial because the chasing group or peloton has to negotiate the corners as a group and not every rider can follow a perfect line and carry their speed.  A tailwind can also benefit a solo rider because the benefit of drafting is reduced for the chasers.  Obviously a long climb is a good opportunity for the same reason, but will benefit climbers the most.

If you’re an amateur, or even an elite racer, watching pro cycling can help give a better feel of when this strategy is most likely to succeed.  But keep in mind that many of the tactics are different at lower levels of the sport.  Most importantly, the teams are often much less organized and won’t be able to muster an eight man group at the front of the peloton for an organized chase.

A solo move may seem inevitably doomed by the numbers alone.  Riders drafting in a group will always have a theoretical advantage, as they can share the workload in the wind.  Conditions which limit the advantage of the group are helpful, but their advantage is still limited by their ability to work together.

I learned a good example of the efficiency required of the group at the Haystack Team Time Trial last year.  Hardly any teams posted a faster time than their individual riders.  Some of this could be attributed to fatigue on the same-day effort, but in a <30 minute TT I wouldn’t expect the difference to be so dramatic.  The bottom line is that a solo rider never slows down, and a chasing group will always have some breaks in the rhythm.

Establishing the move

I could write an entire post or more on this, but I’ll touch on it here.  Most of what I’ve mentioned so far should be viewed as ‘key moment’ attacks: The last 5-10 laps of a criterium, the last climb of a circuit race, or sometime within the last half hour of a road race.  A ‘long bomb’ solo breakaway is rarely a useful tactic for an individual, but can be useful as a team tactic.

The solo move us usually made most easily when it is unexpected.  Spend some time near the front and maybe you’ll see a little separation behind when you’re setting the pace.  Someone will have to close the gap and most riders are reluctant to do any extra work.  Keep your body position steady and the riders behind won’t see you hammering away from them and won’t be as agitated.

The aggressive ‘bottle rocket’ attack usually raises too many eyebrows and you’re more likely to bring someone along with you, or agitate the peloton.  Of course if you’re feeling good enough to ride away from the peloton at a very difficult moment in the race, it is worth considering riding away if the finale is suitable for a solo move.

Summary

The solo move isn’t fit for all riders or courses, but when the time is right, it can have the highest risk/reward of any strategy in cycling.  I’ve been successful at it myself a time or two and there is no greater feeling than beating the whole peloton on your own terms.

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Group Rides

I got a good question last week and I thought I would address the various issues it bring up in a detailed post.  Here is the question:

For rides like the Gateway Ride or Oval Ride, for the elite categories, are these nothing more than endurance/tempo rides or are they hard for riders in the top level/pro categories as well? If the latter, then why are so many pros out just crushing it each week if the time is better spent building the aerobic engine?

I’ll address the Gateway Ride specifically, since that is what I am most familiar with, but I am sure this likely applies to many other group rides with similar attendance.

First, I will point out that riders at the top levels of the sport (ProTour) are rarely seen at these group rides.  Their training is usually so specific and disciplined that they spend almost all their time training alone, or with a few regular partners at their same level.  Here in Boulder, Tom Danielson and Rory Sutherland both live in town, but almost never do the group ride.

I’ll point out a minor exception: When Tommy D’s son was born, he came back from Europe in mid-spring.  He was seen a few times destroying the group ride while he was back.  I’m sure he was trying his best to keep his top end form from fading.

Recently the Gateway Ride has become ‘tame’, compared to its checkered past.  Decades ago, when I was a junior desperately trying to hang on to the “Psycho Logic” ride, I would invariably be dropped a few miles from town.  The ride intentionally rode fast to get rid of slower riders.  These days the ride is a nice double paceline, and the pace is slow for the first half hour to Lyons.  Often, the elite riders will take 5+ minute pulls on the way out of town and hop back in near the front, both for safety and to keep the effort higher.

The Gateway Ride also tracks the training progression of many riders.  This January it has been a nice steady pace for the three hour ride.  Most riders do not ‘race’ up the dam, with many elites riding closer to threshold pace for the five minute climb.  As the race season nears, the pace will increase and more riders will be a full effort (or dropped) up the climb.

Which brings me to my final point: Keep in mind that many domestic pro riders have an early start to the season.  The local season doesn’t really begin until April, and there aren’t any important races until June.  Some elite riders may be starting their racing season as soon as February, as their last race was in September and they started Base in October.

To summarize, the reasons for hitting up the local group ride vary.  Also keep in mind, just because a rider is a pro, they may not always do the best thing for their training, and may be hammering the local group ride to boost their own ego when other forms of training may be more beneficial.  They may be staying out of the wind and getting base training done, even though other riders are suffering.  Finally, they may be ‘racing’ to sharpen their form for early season competition.

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Weekly Update

Each season presents unique challenges.  This year I have already seen that scheduling workouts and races will be my biggest challenge.  Last year I had a very stable job, and I hadn’t yet worn out my wife, so I rode a lot and raced over 35 days.

I won’t go into detail, but last year’s job (for the company I had worked for for almost eight years) ceased to exist.  I was left with a choice: work the ‘retirement shift’ in town, which would mean a basic dead end to my career, transfer to a nearby division and car commute 30 minutes each way, or work for the new company doing the same job I used to do in town.

I chose what was in my long term best interest.  Since this is a cycling blog, I think this is pertinent.  Cyclists tend to be ‘Type A’ people, and are looking for quick results, feedback, and success.  I’m not guilt free in this department either; just look at the title of the blog.  It can be hard to look past the next race on the schedule.

I knew this season’s big goal, the State Time Trial, would be impacted by my decision.  I know I can win if I have optimal prepartation.  I chose the long term view and started my new job last week.  In my line of work, seniority is important and I won’t have much control over my schedule for a while.

I am still going to make the best of what time I have.  Last week I was working 8-5 every day, but I used a variety of tactics to find two hours of exercise during the week (body weight strength, running, and rollers).  I made up for it this weekend by riding seven and a half hours.  Surprisingly, I met my 9.5 hour goal for the week.

In fact, I was quite well rested and felt ‘good legs’ for the first time this season on today’s ride.  I rode for four hours, averaging 220W (240 NP), and had 75 minutes over a few long climbs in Zone 3.  By good legs I mean that I didn’t have to dig too deep mentally to keep the power where I wanted it, and although I was tired at the end, I didn’t feel like I was limping home.

Performance Manager Jan 2012

I attribute my good legs to a few factors: First is rest.  The easy week left my with a TSB and ATL near zero (relatively low fatigue and relatively high form).  Also I ate a lot of food leading up to my big rides.  Sometimes I’m going easy on calorie intake for weight control and metabolic training (forcing my body to burn fat for fuel), but this weekend I needed to be sure I had the calories I needed to get quality hours on the bike.  After just two days, my TSB is now -35, the ‘lowest form’, and ‘highest fatigue’ I’ve had in three weeks.

Next week will be an additional challenge.  I’m currently scheduled for 56 hours of work over five days, all during daylight hours.  I’ve got 11 hours on the training plan.  I’m pretty sure I won’t make it, but I am going to do my best to train through the next few weeks.

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Science Review – Race Nutrition

I have a friend who has access to scientific journals and one recently caught my eye, so I asked for a copy.  Unfortunately I can’t post it here in its entirety, but I can summarize and quote it for your edification.

This article is a comprehensive overview of recent research on nutrition and race-day performance.  It was published in late 2011 and is available for purchase.  The article states that the most likely contributors to fatigue in events lasting 30 minutes or more is hydration and carbohydrate depletion, so it focuses on those topics.

Pre-Competition

Carbohydrate Loading: Muscle glycogen levels can be measured in the lab, and increased glycogen levels have been shown to increase performance in efforts longer than 90 minutes by 2-3%.   There is a limit to the benefit, however.  One study had participants load with 10g/kg or 13g/kg carbohydrate (easily over 3000 Calories).  While the muscle glycogen concentrations were greater in the group with more carbs, the performances were the same.  Also, carbohydrate loading causes water retention (~3g/g of glycogen) and over-loading may increase race day weight too much.

Ingestion <60 minutes prior: The authors go into detail regarding the myth of ‘rebound hypoglycemia’ after ingestion.  The myth is that consuming carbohydrate just before your event may cause insulin release and leave your blood sugar lower at the start of the event, although this has shown not to be true.  Interestingly, they also state that symptoms of hypoglycemia are sometimes seen in athletes, but strangely may not correlate with actual blood sugar concentrations – and that more research is needed in this area.

Fluid Ingestion prior: Again the article goes into great detail and basically reminds us that you should be drinking until your urine is nearly clear, but that hyper-hydration may dilute electrolytes and make you race with a full bladder.

During Competition:

Carbohydrate: It is very well known that intake of carbohydrate during exercise increases performance.  What is more interesting is how it works, which is not fully understood.  Of course, the availability of more energy helps, but there is more to it.  I mentioned on the blog a few months ago the amazing study which during shorter efforts (~60 minutes) showed as much benefit from drinking a carbohydrate drink as only rinsing the mouth and then spitting it out!  Even more interesting, a placebo rinse (artificial sweetener without calories) didn’t work, but a drink with tasteless carbohydrate still improved performance.  Therefore, in events lasting <2h, large amounts of carbohydrate intake is not necessary.

Carbohydrate in longer events: An important study in 2004 showed that no more than 60g (240 Calories) of carbohydrate could be digested per hour during exercise, and many athletes use this as a ceiling today.  However, it appears the gut is trainable and a high carbohydrate diet and greater ingestion during exercise can be achieved.  Also, very well controlled studies have shown that in events longer than 2 hours, more is better.  Rates of up to 80g/hr have shown to be beneficial, especially with multiple types of transportable carbohydrates in a drink or gel.

Hydration: I’m running short on time as I write this, so I’ll be brief.  The authors stick to the well known axiom to limit fluid losses to 2-3% of body weight during competition.

 

The authors also mention caffeine, but I am going to leave that information for a separate post, as I think it warrants more detail and is a subject near and dear to my heart.  As any good cyclist should be, I am a coffee fiend and will share some details soon.

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Wednesday Weekly Update

For this weekly update, I am going to give an overview of my first phase of training, Base 1.

The first two weeks were flawless. I met my goal hours and every workout. This can be pretty tough to do in December in Colorado, but I was lucky and it worked out for me.  Coming back from my injury, the 8 and 10 hour weeks felt like the right amount of workload.

I also realized that I had started a week early compared to the updated date of the State TT, June 16th.  That meant that I had a week to ‘flex’ in case I needed a rest week.  It may not have been the best choice to use it right away, but I took the rest week before Christmas to spend time with the family, and then finished the last week of the cycle.

2012 Base 1 PMC

Since this week I’m on my ‘second rest week’ I’ve made a few adjustments, and will only be resting for 3-4 days instead of an entire week.  I’ve found that watching my Performance Manager Chart in TrainingPeaks is very helpful in tracking how much rest I need for an off week.  I try to get my TSB (which measures fatigue) near zero on my rest weeks.  Today I’m at -8 after a low (peak fatigue) of -35 on 12/28.

I can already tell that 2012 will be a little more difficult to put together than 2011.  My results last year should be my first clue that training went very well, and the best aspect of my training was consistency.  This year I am going to try as hard as I can to repeat that, but I have more on my plate now so it will be tough.

Luckily I have a few things going for me: I’ve started my training cycle fresh and ready to train after cyclocross season was cut short.  Plus, I’ve started a month earlier so I’m already ‘ahead’ of where I was last year.  It also looks like I’ll be relatively lucky in the weather department since the ‘blustery and above freezing’ weather pattern looks like it will settle in for the rest of the season.

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Top Posts of 2011

In case you missed any good reading this year, I will link and summarize my most viewed posts of 2011.  Readership on the blog ballooned in April, and a few of these posts are before then, so perhaps you missed them.  I will also include a few posts from prior to 2011, which still ranked at the top of the page view list.

All Time Top Posts:

Flagstaff Climb Page (June 2010) – This page profiles one of the hardest, most easily accessible climbs in Boulder, Flagstaff.

Threshold Power Estimation Test (May 2010) – This post details my experience using what Joe Friel termed his “FTP Confirmation Test” on his blog.  I’ve found it to be a reliable method to test FTP during the off season without undue fatigue.

Lookout Mountain Hill Climb Race Report (May 2010) – This race report is one of the first posts on this blog (Then titled The Road to Cat 2).  Lookout Mountain is probably the most ridden climb in the Denver area, and the annual race is a good test of fitness, even if it only takes 20 minutes.

Tubeless for Cyclocross (October 2010) – This technical post describes my path to success with a tubeless conversion for cyclocross racing. I found that a reliable setup giving a distinct advantage over clinchers can be found with patience and the right tire/rim combination.

Top Posts of 2011:

New Training Wheels: Rol Race SLR Custom (January 2011) – I wrote this post when I was very excited to have a nice new pair of wheels to get me through the year. I put 4813 miles on these wheels and haven’t touched a spoke yet. I also won a race (a minor training race) using them.

Dream Bike – Blue AC1 SL (August 2011) – This was, and still is, a big deal for me. I’ve always had substandard equipment and to finally have a top of the line race bike has been a major source of pride.

2011 Annual Training Plan (January 2011) – In this post I detailed my goals for 2011, and my plan for getting there. I stuck closely to the plan through May, and after I was seeing results I was basically racing to stay in shape throughout the rest of the season.

Cycling Recovery Drink (April 2011) – This popular post describes how I make my own recovery drink. I save money and also get exactly the nutrition I’m looking for with this recipe.

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