Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Young Ones

Gearing up for the final push.....

Track racing is popular with the kids

Paul Craft's unique and well lubricated commentary kept us amused all afternoon and well into Saturday evening during the Central Coast Track Open at the outdoor 460 metre Adcock Park track located at West Gosford. Hosting 55 track cycling events covering a Junior and Senior racing carnival is no mean feat for any sporting club club, so thanks to all the organisers and helpers for making the day's racing fun. The carnival started in windy conditions which eased as the evening settled.

The junior events attract good fields

The junior carnival is pretty popular and for a local town track carnival, this is pretty typical of what you'll see in towns across the country. Grass roots racing certainly keeps the sport healthy.
For myself, it was my first open racing in the new club colours. Given the top B-grade handicap mark (110 metres), I had six races for the evening:
  1. 5km Scratch race (3rd)
  2. Keirin Heat (2nd)
  3. 1.8km Wheelrace heat (missed qualifying for final);
  4. A/B/C grade Handicap Miss'n'Out (3rd);
  5. Keirin Final (4th)
  6. 12km A/B Combined Scratch Race (no placing, retired gracefully with 1/2 lap to go along with former junior world and Australian elite champion Shaun Hopkins)
The new suit

Scratch races and Keirins are pretty well known but two races that may not be as well understood are the Wheelrace and Handicap Miss'n'Out. Click the link to get a little more info if interested. The Miss'n'Out is explained at the bottom of this post.

Some race day stats:

CTL:___________ 89.1
TSB:_________ + 25
TSS:__________ 137.6
Max Speed:_____ 60 km/h
Max Power:___ 1391 watts
Gear:_______ 48x14 (92.6")

Clearly I was plenty rested for the event with a large positive TSB. Coach had backed off training a little after a few signs were emerging that I needed a bit of a breather.

I was pleased at being competitive in the Keirin as it's a sprint event and not my target type of race (my focus is on enduro racing). My best result was the 3rd place in the Miss'n'Out, eventually outlasting all 40 riders bar Peter Fitzpatrick (2006 Australian Elite Madison Championship bronze medallist) and top U-23 enduro rider Phil Stokes. Indeed these guys are in final prep for the State elite track championship in a couple of weeks and their form ain't exactly shabby.

The final scratch race was pretty hard with the top enduro boys cranking it up several times in an effort to drop the sprinters. Here's a screen shot of the closing scratch race power file for interest. Click on the image to see a larger, clearer version
(right click to view in a new window) .
The two dotted horizontal lines mark the average speed (blue) and power (yellow). Stats are shown on the left. Ignore the cadence numbers, they are wrong (I don't use the cadence sensor on the track bike and should turn off the hub cadence function).

Note the repeated increases in speed and the power required to respond to the accelerations. This is pretty typical of enduro riders trying to rid the bunch of the sprinters by picking up the pace and then the spirnters and/or less fit attempting to slow it down again. It can be pretty ruthless. You know the tactic is working when world champion riders get spat out eventually.

Anyway - a pretty good night's racing and my form was, according to a fellow competitor
(a World's Masters track champion himself) who wasn't racing as his two boys were busy cleaning up in the junior carnival, "better than I've ever seen". Nice compliment.

"Form = Fitness plus Freshness" ~ A. Coggan.
"Form = Compliments from Competitors" ~ A. Simmons.
Next stop: a local crit then a trip to Canberra to visit Mum and race the Brindabella Challenge Crit.

Miss'N'Out (courtesy of FNWTR):

The bike equivalent of musical chairs, sometimes called the Elimination or "Devil's Race", every lap the last rider across the finish line is pulled out of the race until only two riders remain. These two are given the bell for the final sprint lap. Keep your eyes on the back of the field, that's where all the excitement lies in this event.
In a handicap format, riders are split into grades starting at different points on the track, meaning the top riders lose one per lap from their bunch until they catch the bunch(es) in front.
Photos courtesy of David Lane at Action Snaps

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Planning a Comeback with the Performance Manager

Tanya making her return to racing on 18 November
US Independence Day 2006 was the same day my good friend and former coach, Tanya, went under the surgeon's knife at Sydney's Prince of Wales Hospital. Diagnosed with bowel cancer a couple of weeks earlier, it was quite a rude shock to realise there was a substantial tumour needing removal. Especially as Tanya was in final build phases in preparation for a trip to the UK to compete at the World Masters Track Cycling Championships. Indeed it was her inconsistent responses to training that led Tanya to investigate possible health problems. Just as well.

The surgery was successful and Tanya was fortunate that there were no complications. Chemotherapy was an option but deemed unlikely to provide an improved long term prognosis, so Tanya decided against it, preferring to get back to her normal life as soon as practicable. Her recovery was pretty quick but "activity" in the sense that competitive riders know it, was still some way off.

First off it was to get home from the hospital, then gradually to move about, short walks, longer walks and so on, until the first chance to put the bike on the trainer and gently turn the cranks.

Exactly eight weeks after going into surgery, Tanya had her first ride outdoors.
Tanya runs a full time cycle coaching business (Onyabike Cycle Coaching) and has for many years understood the importance of power measurement as the objective means of determining fitness and tracking improvement. Tanya has her own Computrainer but did not have on-bike power measurement. That was all about to change and Tanya finally took the plunge and ordered Powertap wheels for her road and track bikes.

Then she asked me to guide her training back into the sport. Quite an irony really, pupil becoming the coach's coach! I knew this would be a challenge but how on earth do you plan, track and monitor
training loads for someone who's been through all that? Not a light responsibility by any stretch. Especially a coach so eager to learn!

Enter the Performance Manager and the Charts it provides (PMC). Combined with the lessons from applying the PMC to myself and being most fortunate to be a member of the eweTSS (PMC) beta test group (the PMC brains trust), I knew that this was the perfect tool to help manage Tanya back to fitness.

We both decided that a medium term goal was the best thing and so Tanya chose to aim for getting in good enough shape to ride the shorter option at the Alpine Classic Audax event on 27 January 2007. After that, well, let's get there first and we'll see....(but a comeback to racing was always the intention).

So, we started gently, with the
first couple of weeks about reacquainting herself with riding and getting back that "it's normal to be on the bike" feeling. It was also a time of learning how to use the Powertap and Cycling Peaks (and solving a troublesome download problem - which turned out to be a loose connection in one of her laptop's USB ports).
It was far too early to be asking her to undergo the stress of MAP (maximal aerobic power) or FTP (functional threshold power) testing, so I estimated her MAP & FTP and set training levels based on a previous ramp test, of which we had plenty to choose from - so I picked one from when she was just starting out and the least fit. Being precise wouldn't matter too much in the first few weeks, and we would schedule formal power tests eventually.

Tanya being Tanya though, had to do a bit extra on a couple of days (simply so keen to get back into it) and we saw relatively high TSS on those days. The impacts were felt in the days after and so eventually we agreed the merits of a conservative build.

A month after starting back on the bike, Tanya went on a family break with her husband Eddie and took the mountain bike for something different. So I gave her some guidelines on what type of rides to do and how we were going to estimate TSS on those days she wasn't using the power meter.

Here is a picture of her PMC to date (click on it to see a larger view - or right click to open in a new window):

Tanya's PMC since 27 August 2006

Since returning from her holiday, it's been a matter of gradually building the duration and/or intensity of her rides and fitting these around her busy schedule of delivering cycle coaching and courses. We were also able to conduct formal testing with the power meter and reset her training levels accordingly. In her case we did both a MAP test and two short TTs to help set benchmarks and FTP via the Monod Critical Power model. I give her estimates of TSS I expected to see from each ride/workout and as the "ride library" grows, we are both able to better manage the overall stress and day to day effort.
So we see from the PMC that Tanya has managed a steady ramp up from a zero base over 12 weeks to a CTL in the low 60's (a ramp rate of just over 5 points / week). For some that would be a tough rate but given we were starting from zero and her fitness (FTP) would likely improve through this phase, we found that ramp rate has been sustainable so far.

Tanya also takes her Performance Manager Chart to regular checks with her doctors and specialists, so she can prove she's not "overdoing it"!
Happy to report that just 12 weeks after getting on the bike for the first time since her surgery, Tanya competed in the same club crit as I reported on here - and did rather well hanging in there for many laps. Here are her stats:

Club crit:
Duration:___ 37:40
TSS:________ 84.3 (intensity factor 1.159)
VI:__________ 1.08
CTL_________ 61.4
TSB:_______ -12.3

I think from those numbers (especially the Intensity Factor) we may need to retest as it would seem Tanya's fitness has taken another leap forward.
Tanya can see her fitness has improved significantly since starting back and is beginning to entertain thoughts of competing at the State and National Masters Track Championships in March 2007, something we didn't really rule in or out three months ago. So, after discussing that, we will begin to introduce more track specific training into her weekly routine, since that is what she loves doing the most.

In summary, the Performance Manager is giving both Tanya (the athlete) and myself (the coach) a quantifiable means by which to plan, track and manage training loads appropriate for her comeback to competitive cycling.
It gives both of us confidence we are building her return to fitness in a sustainable manner.

I will report again on progress in a few months.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trials and tribulations

Well, more trial than tribulation.....

Here I am in pursuit mode
(this one's from the team pursuit titles earlier this year)
Last night I was scheduled to ride a trial individual pursuit - to set an early benchmark as I progress towards State & National Masters track champs in March. For me this means a 3,000 metre effort from a standing start on a velodrome. Fortunately I have good access to a world class indoor facility - the Dunc Gray Velodrome. And given that, along with John "JB" Beatty, I supervise the Monday night track training at DGV, I pulled coach's privilege and had a ride myself.
The individual pursuit is a funny event - it plays with your mind. But that's a whole other story.
So after a warm up I get the track to myself and decide on a schedule to ride a 3min 50 sec time.

Here's the result:

The power and speed graph from my trial pursuit last night.

And the numbers:
Pursuit Trial:
Duration: 3:14
Distance: 2.496 km_________Min_____Max_____Avg
Power:___346_____892_____433 watts
Speed:___8.3____48.5____46.2 kph
Temp:_____________________24 C
Air P:__________________1016 hPa
Cruise speed:_____________47 kph
Gear:___________49x14 (94.5")
Cadence at cruise________107 rpm
TSB:___________________ +1.5

The more astute reader will notice I pulled the pin with 2 laps to go. Maybe that was the wrong thing to do but it was the decision I made on the spot - I just wasn't ready to dig a big hole for myself. I was going slower by that stage and speed wasn't great to start with.

An all time 3 min power PB though. By quite some margin so the training on the engine is working fine.
Hmmm. Don't really understand the slow speed for such power?

I started out pretty conservatively for me, peak power under 900 Watts and I didn't overshoot the target speed by much (if at all). So all I can conclude is that I need to work more on the aero position. I have a new frame in mind which will provide a far greater opportunity to improve my aerodynamics. On my current rig I am using a Look Ergo stem and it is just about already at full downward tilt. I'll just keep playing with it.

'til next time....

Next weekend is the Central Coast track open. Should be a hoot.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Farewell Crit

Today was a fun race.

Driving the small scratch bunch down the straight at Heffron

It was my last with the Sydney Cycling Club as I am moving to a new club, Bicisport. The reasons for my move are positive ones and there is no animosity at all with SCC. I simply want to follow my passion of hard but enjoyable track racing as I build towards the State, National and World Masters Championships in 2007 and so I need to train and race with like minded guys.

So I have joined Bicisport along with my regular track training buddies. SCC doesn't have much of a track racing culture (believe me I've tried to change that over the years but to no avail), so I have decided to stop swimming against the tide and get with the strength. My first race in the new colours will be next weekend's Central Coast Track Open. Hearing Paul Craft's commentating should liven up the evening no matter the results.

Anyway, back to today's race. Another Handicap Crit format - 10 laps, 20km. Six minutes to limit. I have already described these race formats in a previous post, so if you don't know what I mean - click the link and have a read.

I was also the handicapper! Just to add some spice into the race, joining us for the first time was current Australian Masters Crit champ (and former World Masters crit champ) Liam Kelly, and Discovery Channel's recent signing, Aussie Matt White.
Matt & Liam doing it tough. Sorry 'bout the handicap boys!

Being a kind fellow, I made them start 30 seconds behind the normal scratch boys (myself included). Sorry lads (as it turned out) since they never caught us. Nice to ride away from a seasoned pro like that. My small group of five was made up of the usual suspects (Stan, Doddsie, Simon, Chris and myself) and worked together pretty well with only one passenger. We averaged 41.7 km/h (25.9 mph) for a little under 30 min on the semi-technical Heffron Circuit and I did some pretty solid turns today. The result didn't matter to me since I was more interested in getting a good workout.
Sshhhh - coach had me down for a 20 min time trial effort today but I figured a 30 min race would be just as good if I did lots of work. I did and it was. I don't think he'll mind ;)
Race Day stats:

Club Crit:
Duration: 29:16
TSS: 58.8 (intensity factor 1.098)
Norm Power: 335
VI: 1.05
Distance: 20.351 km
____________ Min __ Max __ Avg
Power:______ 0 ____ 943 __ 320 watts
Cadence:____ 33 ___ 116 ___ 96 rpm
Speed: _____ 4.6 __ 52.1 _ 41.7 kph

CTL: 95
TSB: +7

So, that's a pretty solid power average for me (indeed had the race lasted a little longer then it would have been a 30 min power PB). When I look back at the previous handicap crit on 28 October, this was over a minute faster! It's amazing what you can do with 5 guys prepared to all work together. Both Average and Normalised power was up on that previous race, so more good signs after the legs felt a bit ordinary this week. I think a little less than optimal amounts of sleep was partly my issue. Good rest is so important when training regularly.
Simon about to lead us into one of Heffron's 9 corners.
Nice tight group riding - there's 5 of us - count the shadows.

We caught what was left of the normal "chopping block" bunch with about 3.5 laps to go so that added 3 more riders to our group but it wasn't enough to overhaul the front bunches, which by this stage had all grouped up and finished about 20 seconds in front of us. Good luck to them - they clearly rode well today.

Club President Barry Doosey won the day in the bunch gallop with good buddy Leigh Ringrose taking 2nd spot. Nice one boys!

Afterwards there were lots of takers at the mobile cafe van dispensing free coffees and in a nice surprise, the club all gathered to give me a farewell thank you and a nice gift to boot. Thanks to Tanya for her kind words and all at the club for their support and camaraderie over the past decade. I'll still be around the park after my training.
Some farewell words from Tanya and a goodbye from the club.
Nice way to go out.

Next up I have a trial pursuit effort on Monday night at DGV and next weekend is the Central Coast Track Open. Can't wait!

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Monday, November 06, 2006

In Pursuit of Perfect Pacing

(or how to go faster without really trying)

Reproduced from an article I wrote in May 2006 for Velosportz.com.au

The Individual Pursuit is one of cycling’s gold riband events that almost every cyclist should try at least once in their careers. It is one of the most challenging cycling events there is and taxes a cyclist’s abilities to the maximum. It is also a really solid indicator of a rider’s physical abilities across many cycling disciplines. So how on earth do you ride one well?
Well there are a lot of things about being and/or becoming a good pursuit rider and I’m not going to attempt to cover them all here (I certainly don’t profess to be an expert). What I will share is some first hand information about pacing and its importance, since it is the most important skill in pursuiting.

Individual Pursuit (Men/women) – Courtesy of Cyclingnews.com

Held over 4000 metres for elite men and 3000 metres for elite women (shorter for masters riders), this is considered an "endurance" track event, although the speeds are still extremely high. Two riders start on opposite sides of the track and try to set the fastest time over the allotted distance. Normally, a qualifying time trial is ridden that determines who is eligible for the finals. The fastest ride is often produced here, as in the finals, the only important criterion is to beat your opponent. If one rider catches the other, i.e. puts half a lap into them, then the race is over.
An explosive start is not critical (but it's handy to have), however the ability to ride at a consistently high speed is far more important. Many riders who go out too hard can look to be well up on their opponent, only to fade in the last 1000 metres. This has typically the greatest "cross-over" to the road. i.e. good pursuiters make good road riders and vice versa. Brad McGee, Stuart O'Grady, Vjatcheslav Ekimov, and Chris Boardman are a few examples of top pursuiters who have had successful road careers.

Every rider has a limit to his or her anaerobic and aerobic work capacities (and we can all work to improve them). However, come race day, the trick is working out how to best use your current capacities to ride the distance in the shortest time possible. Pacing is the key to success.
Let me demonstrate what I mean.

Below are three power and speed charts for Individual Pursuit efforts I have done over the last two months [1]. Apart from the public embarrassment, these charts highlight some really important lessons about pursuit pacing.
Each chart shows three lines:
  • The Blue line is speed - shown against the left axis in km/h
  • The Orange line is target cruise speed (in this case 48.3km/h)
  • The Yellow line is power in watts as shown against the right hand side axis.
The scaling is designed to make the comparisons easy to see and for the differences in pacing to stand out.

[1] Same rider, bike, set up, tyres & venue (an indoor velodrome); Data as recorded by Powertap; Conditions very similar (temperature, barometric pressure).
OK – the first thing you notice is the “sinusoidal" (up ‘n’ down) variance in the blue speed line as recorded by the power meter. This is due to the wheel speed variances caused when going from straights into the curves and back to straights. So you need to follow the overall trend of the blue line.
Secondly, you will notice the large spike in power output at the start, as the power is put down in order to accelerate from a standing start. Note the peak power of a little over 900 Watts before settling down to ride at an average of about 375 Watts.
Ride A is "almost perfect" pacing. Note how the start accelerated to the desired cruising pace, which was maintained through to the end (almost). Perfect pacing would have not seen a drop in pace at all.

Ride B shows a somewhat different pacing strategy.

In this case I started too conservatively, realizing half way that a lift in effort was both needed and possible, resulting in negative splits all the way to the finish (but too late to make use of all the petrol in the tank).
This ride represented a “missed opportunity” as clearly there was more speed available in the legs that day.
Looks like I was the April fool!
Ride C represents the classic pursuit pacing mistake - starting out hard (note peak power this time is well over 1000 watts and initial cruising power/pace is higher than the target) resulting in me being unable to maintain the effort, with the final laps an ugly experience, something I'm sure plenty of others who have ridden the event can relate to.
Now let’s compare the average power outputs with times:

Ride__ Avg Watts__ Time (3km)
__A__ 384 Watts__ 3:49
__B__ 388 Watts__ 3:54
__C__ 377 Watts__ 3:55

It is amazing to see that Ride A has a time 5 seconds faster than ride B but with slightly less average power!
Ride C is typical of many novice pursuiters (myself included). In my case I instructed my caller to use this pacing strategy as I wanted to find out what I really had in me on that day, knowing it was risky and the fact that even a personal best (PB) time was not going to qualify me for finals.
Ride B was my biggest disappointment as I clearly had the legs on the day to do a PB but simply didn't put it all on the line.
Ride A proves that with some practice, especially that crucial first lap and a half, perfect pacing is possible and a PB performance is just around the corner. Just try to hold back in the initial stages (but not too much!).
So how valuable is pacing strategy? Pretty important I would say. Anyone else out there want to knock 5 seconds off his or her pursuit time for no more actual effort?
It is easy to know the theory of perfect pursuit pacing but applying it is another thing altogether, so get to your local track and give it a blast. It’s the most fun on two wheels.
Happy pursuiting!

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Testing Times

Well today was one of my regularly scheduled fitness tests – the 16km (10 mile) Time Trial effort. I’m not so much interested in the time it takes to complete the course as I am in the average power output for the duration of the effort.

If my fitness has improved (and I’m not too fatigued), then I should put out more power on average than I did last time I tested. It’s a much better gauge of progress than a stopwatch, especially on this day as conditions were quite different.

Regular testing is a really important part of any training programme - firstly it helps determine what your current capabilities are (as measured by average power output over a given duration or distance). That knowledge is then used to shape training plans suitable to improve the capabilities specific to your target event or cycling goal. Finally tests ensure that training is having the desired physiological impact. Adjustments to training can then be made according to results. Besides, tests are great workouts in themselves, so they should be part of any regular training cycle.

Well first let’s get the excuses out of the way…

This week we moved to summertime in Sydney, so the clocks have just gone forward an hour. My mid-week workouts are early morning, so getting up at 5am was really getting up at 4am… I’m not sure the body was quite adapted to surfing the pain curve quite so early in the morning. Then there was this strongish westerly blowing in (an unusual breeze that one) and that was going to make pacing a challenge on the circuit I use. Then in the warm up I’m thinking, why does it sting when I’m not really going that hard?
Oh just shut up and get on with it….

Anyway, with that lot out of the way, we get into the test. But how hard do I go? Well a couple of weeks ago I set a new 20 minute mean maximal power (MMP*) PB in a criterium race at Olympic Park. So I figure, that’s what I’ll aim for. Nothin’ but the best for me!

Ay yay yay! That hurt! In the course of a 4 x 4km laps I rode laps 1 & 2 at around the nominated power, then for some unknown reason I have visions that I can or need to go harder (surely I can go harder?), so I do and lap 3 is cranking (and hurting). Lap 4 was ugly.

Well I beat my last test average power by about 10 Watts and set a new 20 minute MMP PB in the process! So there you go. Not so bad after all. Did I say lap 4 was ugly? Yep, it sure was ugly. I was definitely hurting more today that last time though… or maybe the pain memory of my last test has simply subsided.

Oh, and this is a 46 Watt improvement over my first test in August.
Test day stats:
CTL: 93
TSB: -8 (so reasonably neutral but on RPE it felt more like –15 or so)
And why is it that on power test days you swear the Power Meter reads low?

Here's a pic of the test results (click on pic to enlarge). Note how variable the speed was compared to power. This was partly the slightly up n down nature of the loop I was using but also the wind which was creating a pacing challenge. See the ugly last lap?

Dashed horizontal lines mark average power (yellow) and average speed (blue) for the course.

*MMP – the highest average power output for the nominated period within a ride (e.g. the best average 20 minute power within a 2 hour ride). Often shortened to 20min MMP, 60 min MMP, 5 sec MMP etc.

Why 20 minute power?

Well it’s a fairly common marker of aerobic fitness and is a duration that is readily repeatable either in normal training or regular testing, especially where 60 minute efforts are less frequently undertaken.

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