Monday, June 21, 2010

So You Wanna Race With the Pros?

So what does it take to race with the Pros? How do you improve fitness all season to get to the point where you ride as part of the peloton and not just sit at the back tailgunning? What are some intermediate goals one should strive for on the way to the elite level of cycling in the USA? Those are all questions we've got at SE in one way or another the last few weeks. I'm going to use SE client and member of the Nature Valley Pro Ride team (yes, his websites need updated), Joseph Schmalz and some of his power data to show his progress and how his performance has improved.  Okay!  Here we go!

4-11-2010: Tillis Park CT; St Louis, MO.

This is Joe's first criterium of the 2010 season.  you can see by the ragged speed (blue) that there were lots of accelerations, common in criterium racing.  I drew a horizontal line at the 600W mark as that seems to be a good reference for the overall difficulty of the races.  600W is a number that all Cat 1 racers can produce frequently.  However, only the best riders can produce it consistently throughout the race.  Even then, it is very fitness dependent. Some things to note here:  the abundant >600W efforts the first 1/3rd of the race, then during the final moments, the drop in speed and power beginning at 48 minutes of the race, total efforts >600W= 19.  Some other numbers for you math whizzes out there:
Efforts per minute until the winning break occurs: 0.68 per minute
Efforts per minute entire race: 0.28
Race Time: 68min
28.9mph avg
1241 kj
120.3 TSS
1.034 IF.

4-25-2010: Tour of Saint Louis; StL, MO

This was Joe's first win of 2010 and day 2 of racing in monsoons!  That being said, it apparently didn't effect the number of hard efforts made in the race.  The power and speed fluctuate wildly the first 52 minutes until the winning break formed and rode away with Joe in it.  A couple weeks ago, that only took 28 minutes, which shows improvement of peloton quality.  Also of note that the average power is not particularly "hard" which points to the jumping as being the deciding factor of the race.  Towards the end, Joe only had to jump one time in order to shed his break away companions and take the win.  Some other numbers for you math whizzes out there:
Total efforts >600W: 28
Efforts per minute until the winning break occurs: 0.58 per minute
Efforts per minute entire race: 0..37
Race Time: 75min
25.7mph avg
1257 kj
118.5 TSS
0.977 IF.

 5-31-2010: TX Criterium Champs; Fort Worth, TX.

This race was HOT, HOT, HOT which undoubtedly led to a global decrease in performance of the peloton.  Still, it was hard and there were no race winning moves.  You'll notice that the the time between jumps was basically consistent all race long.  You seen the trend of speed of the peloton creep upwards the last 30 minutes or so indicating that this was indeed a quality field capable of racing all the way to the finish.  Still, this race saw an attrition rate of over 50% and appears to be well worthy of the TX State Criterium Championship.  Also, you'll see that this was a ~90 minute race which adds to the impressive ride done by Joe and the entire field.
Some other numbers for you math whizzes out there:
Total efforts >600W: 41
Efforts per minute entire race: 0.47
Race Time: 87min
25.9 mph avg
104.5 TSS
0.850 IF.

 6-12-2010: Tour de Grove Criterium; Saint Louis, MO. 

This was an NRC quality field but with the monsoon conditions, it was a race Joe could place well at.  There was no "winning break," once again.  However, the average power was considerably higher than even the TX CT Champs.  This brings the difficulty a notch higher.  No longer can you sit in and stay "rested" to make the jumps unless you are truly one of the more fit.  With the quality of the peloton elevated because of the professionals in the race, not many riders were able to jump multiple times.  However, you don't see that sort of drop off with Joe.  Actually, he continues to improve on the number of efforts he can make over 600W (16%).   This shows that Joe is improving in overall fitness as well as top end ability.  You'll see again, that the number of efforts over 600 do not slow one bit as the race progresses.  This was another very difficult race and saw an attrition rate over 50%.  Joe placed 6th in this race in what was the longest, slowest, wettest, ugliest field sprint in a long time.  A complete "HTFU" race!

Some other numbers for you math whizzes out there:
Total efforts >600W: 49
Efforts per minute entire race: 0.62
Race Time: 78min.
26.9 mph avg
133.0 TSS
1.012 IF.

 6-18-2010: Nature Valley Grand Prix, Stage "4", Minneapolis, MN.

The Nature Valley Grand Prix is one of the premier stage races in the US and just to be invited to toe the line is an honor.  This race is a truly professional race.  So.."what's it take to ride with the pros?"   If you want to race with the pros, you'll need to be able to jump at >600W at over THREE TIMES the rate of a "hard" amateur race.  You need to be able to do so as the pace of the race is blisteringly fast.  You MUST be able to do all this while in traffic and having riders on either hip as you lean your bike so far into corners that you begin to question the laws of physics.  Oh and for all you aspiring professionals, you'll need to be able to do this for an entire stage race.   The speed never let up in this race (slowest lap was 27.9 average!) and the average power "dropped off" after the first 6.5 minutes and showed no respite for the remaining 62minutes. Just look at the dazzling number and frequency of efforts over 600W!  They are frequent, numerous and unrelenting.  It seems as if the racers never get tired!  For Joe, this is a culmination of his training beginning back in those cold dark days of winter when he was training on roads wet from snow melt.  His in-season AND off-season work ethic definitely continues to pay dividends!

Total efforts >600W: 113
Efforts per minute entire race: 1.66
Race Time: 68min.
28.9 mph avg
103.5 TSS
0.949 IF.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tad Hughes Custom. From Skeptic to Superfan!

The fit is an elusive piece of equipment that is not tangible, is not a shiny bit, and will never be coveted by your peers.  But it can make a night or day difference in performance, especially late in events.   There has been a fair amount of research as well as anecdotal evidence that shows that a fit is a valuable tool that can improve performance, yet many can rationalize why we have not been properly fit, yet.   I spent a weekend in Houston a short time ago and stopped by Tad Hughes Custom to see, hear and experience the service from a specialist. 

First some background about Tad:  Tad has been involved in the industry since he was 14 years old; performing many duties including: rider, high end mechanic, and the Colonago Technical Director for the USA.  In time, all this led him towards the art of the bike fit back when it was voodoo being performed by those with some obscure and unknown knowledge.  He has worked with pioneers of the craft such as Andy Pruitt, Michael Sylvester, Scott Holtz, and Paul Swift to develop his own program over the course of thousands of clients that encompasses everyone at every level.  As a specialist, Tad has taken the fit process to a new paramount, encompassing biomechanics and the influence they have on injury prevention and performance.  From my time with Tad, I deduced this logic that drives Tad’s theory: Pain free riders are injury free riders. Injury free riders are faster and have more fun than riders with nagging or acute injuries.  The bike must always adapt (sometimes via custom hardware) to fit the rider instead of the rider conforming to the bike. 

Tad works with clients of all skill level but his most intriguing challenges are those with limitations outside the norm.  Tad takes a thorough biomechanical evaluation of flexibility and structural limitations of every client, recording his findings and keeping them filed in similar fashion as a medical record.  This would be especially useful for clients as time progresses to make adaptations for weakness that develop.  And it is the best possible way to eductate Junior riders to be aware of his/her limitations and biomechanical parameters.
As a client, I expect that the bike will be made to fit my body including my flat feet (which effect the way pedal forces go through your knees).  I expect that adaptations will be made to account for my background and history including injuries and disciplines.  Basically, I expect a specialist to so good at what he/ she does, I will not be able to suggest how to improve the service.  Those are very high expectations which hard to meet and Tad Hughes Custom invested the time and energy to actively listen to all of my issues, then went on to exceed every expectation. 

Immediately, I noticed the difference.  To begin with my feet felt… great.   The arches were properly supported; a remarkable upgrade from before.  Second, my back was straighter and thus more flat, allowing for better aerodynamics.  Tad made some other adjustments that enabled me to enter my pedal stroke a few degrees earlier and which made the pedaling motion feel much more complete, improving efficiency.  However the most surprising and enexpected sensation was that my bike still felt like my bike.  Surprising right?!  No awkwardness.  My bike.   The next day was a 2.5 hour road ride with lots of starting and stopping followed by an 85 mile road race.  To my surprise, absolutely zero soreness.  I wasn’t even tight.  You know the fit is perfect when there are no physical repercussions.    In a follow-up meeting a few weeks later, there is still no residual pain or “awkward” feelings.

As a professional in the industry and a formally educated and trained coach, I have an intimate knowledge of athletics, performance and biomechanics.  Tad’s knowledge of biomechanics and how they relate to cycling, and the implications they have towards performance are unrivaled. Everything feels superb and I must say, I am impressed.