Tag Archives: cycling

Worst Innovation in Triathlon [1]

Short cuts, short cuts, and more short cuts… unfortunately the sport of triathlon has become more of a sport of short cuts, then a sport recognizing proper training, proper skill, tactic, strategy and execution.

Instead of years building a base, nope… short cut… go straight to HIIT, to all-out efforts.

Instead of learning how to move with ease, with agility, balancing and coordinating the entire body, doing so effortlessly so as to maximize efficiency, nope… short cut… go straight to swimming, cycling and running at peak effort, peal power, max speed.

Instead of starting with entry level equipment, and learning to differentiate between gains made by training, and those available through equipment and technology, nope… short cut… go straight to top of the line equipment.

Well, the short cuts are finally starting to catch up with triathletes, and if the double pronged and/or cut out seat is not the worst short cut of them all, then I do not know what is.

The double pronged or cut out seat were created it seems for the sole purpose of solving the numbness and the pain experienced by those riding in a time trial [TT] or aero position on a triathlon bike.

To solve the problem of pelvic floor pain and numbness from an engineering perspective: eazy peezy, find the bones in the pelvis, support those bones, cut away everything else and boom… an evolution in seating! But did anyone stop to ask an health professional? Did anyone stop to ask if this problem is a problem that should be solved in this manner? No way, there are just too many triathletes and cyclists with painful pelvic floors, so stop talking and start selling a short cut that is sure to make millions.

But what if you are an athlete who has even the slightest interest in…

  • retaining urinary control in your later years (not becoming incontinent),
  • retaining the ability to have an erection without it being chemically induced,
  • not having a prolapse of the bladder, urethra, or rectum,
  • not having a prolapse of the uterus or vagina,
  • not experiencing pain during sex as a result of pelvic floor dysfunction,
  • not having to endure any form of treatment or surgery to repair a damaged pelvic floor,
  • not causing and then having to live with damage [that you did to your own pelvic floor] as a result of poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique, then I suggest…

(a) take your pelvic floor pain and numbness issues seriously. They indicate that something is wrong, so seek appropriate, trained, experienced assistance from a registered health professional to heal and recover fully, then

(b) take yourself to a coach who is knowledgeable in anatomy, biomechanics, and physiology, and is experienced in teaching and progressing athletes in cycling technique and take the time to actually learn how to ride with proper technique, and

(c) either get the appropriate bike for your skill level plus a bike fit or if your bike is suitable then get a bike fit with the technique focused coach present during the fitting, so that the fitting reflects your current level: your current flexibility, mobility, and current level of cycling technique and skill set.

Cycling is as technical as swimming, as running, as Olympic Lifting, as any sport. Coaches who do not know the technique of cycling, or don’t have the slightest clue how to teach technique… dumb-down the sport to their level of ignorance teaching that cycling is simply grinding or pounding out power readings.

If you truly are in sport to learn, to discover, to explore your potential, to regain health, to live an active lifestyle, to model healthy living for your family, then start at the beginning… start with technique.

Abdominal Anatomy and Biomechanics Basics

Here’s why and how poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique can lead to pelvic floor damage and eventually dysfunction.

The diaphragm (top black line) is your primary breathing muscle. The pelvic floor (bottom black line) is made up of a collection of muscles which create a concave shape mirroring the shape of the pelvis with a primary role of supporting the internal organs.

Anatomy of the Abdominal Cylinder

Click Image to Enlarge
Image Attribution: GilbertoASanchezA

Between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor are all your vital organs.  Your organs do not compress which means that in order for you to take a proper diaphragmatic inhalation, your organs have to shift downwards when your diaphragm contracts. When your diaphragm contracts it moves downwards expanding the thorax so as to expand the lungs causing air to rush in.

Click Image to Enlarge

When you relax your diaphragm, it recoils back to an ‘up’ position as shown in the image above. Meanwhile, your lungs compress, pushing air out of them, resulting in exhalation while your organs shift back into their ‘up’ position.  This up and down shifting can be called the abdominal piston (see gif image below). The abdominal piston and the breathing cycle are synchronous in an healthy individual. An healthy individual is healthy because they have a proper and healthy breathing pattern, and have proper neuro-muscular awareness, tone, and control of their all their abdominal muscles (including those of the pelvic floor).

An healthy individual is healthy because their abdominal piston moves smoothly, easily, effortlessly throughout its full range of motion.

Click Image to Enlarge
Piston Gif Attribution: R. Castelnuovo

To review… when you inhale the piston head (vital organs) shifts down and when you exhale the piston head shifts up. This is proper use of your anatomy, this is proper and healthy breathing biomechanics.  The result of these healthy biomechanics is that you do not create excessive intra-abdominal pressure, you do not compress and stress your vital organs (e.g. stomach, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, spleen, bladder, uterus, ovaries), you do not stress your pelvic floor, you do not pinch or compress blood vessels and nerves which travel through your abdomen. With healthy biomechanics – i.e. with proper use of your musculo-skeletal system – you do not lock, brace, make rigid any of the musculo-skeletal structures in your core. With healthy biomechanics you do not stop the abdominal piston from moving… not ever.

What Happens When We Use Our Anatomy Incorrectly?

Click Image to Enlarge

We have conscious control over our diaphragm even though breathing to a large extent is controlled subconsciously.  We can allow our diaphragm to be used by our body as the primary breathing muscle, or we can use our diaphragm to do something that it was not designed to do… that is to act as an immobilizer of our lower thoracic and lumbar spines, and as a result an immobilizer of our abdominal piston.

Our body was designed to be dynamic: stable yet simultaneously mobile at all times; never fixed, immovable, or rigid. Elasticity – as in flexible movement – prevents injury. Rigid immobile structures bear load until load exceeds their tolerance and then the only option for those structures is to fail.

Fixed bridges do not bend, they either take the load or they fail and collapse under the load.

Your core is no different. When you brace and lock your core (i.e. your spine, back muscles, gluts, hamstrings, obliques, etc…), you stop the abdominal piston. When your core is locked, when the piston is stopped, your core structures can tolerate a small amount of load. Beyond that point, one or more structures will fail. Which one? The weakest link in the group fails and results in injury to one or starts of a cascading effect where more than one structure ends up strained, sprained, or worse, ruptured. In one person the injury may manifest as an inguinal hernia, in another its spasms in their back muscles and/or gluts, in another it results in a bulging lumbar disc placing pressure on the sciatic nerve. Injury with a locked core, injury with a stopped abdominal piston is not only predictable, it is inevitable.

When you lock your core, the first question is how long will be it before something gives?

The second question is how much damage will you cause to yourself as a result of locking your core?Third question is how extensive will the clean be, how long will it take to clean up the mess, then to heal, then to recover and then to start rebuilding?

Is this what you want? Is this what you signed up for from training, from starting an exercise program, from hiring a trainer or coach?

If all an athlete does is heal from an injury, or worse jumps back into training never retraining how to use their core, then re-injury is as certain as the initial injury. Once an athletes starts on a vicious cycle (aka negative training cycle or doom loop) then they are stuck alternating between being injured and not training or training but in pain, never fully healthy, never truly recovering, never truly rebuilt; that is until they take the time to properly retrain themselves.

Your core is not built or designed to function like a fixed bridge, its built like a suspension bridge with distinct support structures, and structures which have the capacity to move and are supposed to move resulting in a bridge that can bend, twist, adapting to extreme loads (e.g. as with high winds in the image below). Imagine if this suspension bridge was fixed, unable to swing, bend, move… then like the stone bridge or the wooden railroad bridge it would fail when stressed. Suspension bridges will fail at some point as well, but their failure point requires far more load, far more stress, far greater forces in order for that to happen.So, what kind of core do you have? What kind of core is your coach training you to have? Is your coach training you to lock and brace under stress, setting you up to inevitably fail; or is your coach training you to be dynamic, flexible, mobile, able to yield and prevail under extreme stress?

Think about it… competition is a form of extreme stress, business and life both can exert extreme loads and forces upon us, what are you training to do under stress? What is your coach or trainer teaching you do under stressful loads? Prevail or lock up and collapse?

If your children are enrolled in sport… what are their coaches training them to do? Are your children learning skills while practicing their sport which translate to competition, and more importantly into academia, into relationships, into life?  What are your children’s coaches training them to be able to do… prevail or lock up and collapse when stressed?

Attribution of Abdominal Anatomy image from Wikipedia:

  • Link:  https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Abdomen_Anatomy.jpg
  • Author:  GilbertoASanchezA
  • Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca

Attribution of Piston gif from Wikipedia:

  • Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piston.gif
  • Author: R. Castelnuovo
  • Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca

In The Lab vs Out In The Real World [2]

This post is not a review of the Ventum One. The purpose of referencing the review of this TT frame is to draw the parallel to training and racing concepts formulated “in the lab”.

ventum-one01According to the company, the Ventum One frame is so fast, so aerodynamic that when testing was performed in the laboratory setting of a wind tunnel, the wind tunnel engineer himself did not believe the results.

“In the lab” against top frames from other bike builders, the Ventum One tested to be the fastest.

“In the lab” results pointed to the Ventum One being the bike upon which athlete after athlete would rewrite record after record of bike course splits in triathlons.

Then the bike was taken out of the lab, out of the wind tunnel, and exposed to reality…

In reality… to compensate for a stable two triangle frame being replaced with a Z frame shape, the reinforcements of the chainstays, the seat tube, and toptube add 1kg / 2.2lbs of weight. Considering that athletes seek to shed ounces and grams of weight, adding back a kilogram to overall weight may not hamper wind tunnel tests, but in the real world that load matters, alot.

In reality… wind never blows head on for more than a few moments (as it does in a wind tunnel), and even when it does athletes do not hold a straight line, resulting in the front end of the bike veering to the left/right or being angled to the left/right changing constantly the airflow over the bike. As a result, reality diminishes the value of eliminating the downtube, especially when firmness and stability get compromised. The lab fails to offer these insight. Despite all of the technology of the lab, you have to leave the lab to learn the true nature of the frames performance [important to note that the same applies to you and your performance].

In reality… if the frame is unable to handle the torsional stress of a rider climbing, because the rear wheel rubs against the frame, you have to ask yourself… do the lab results really matter? If so, how much? Perhaps the frame is fast… but the conditions to when it is faster than another frame need to be accurately and honestly disclosed (e.g. on a dead flat bike course, and only if the rider doesn’t stand to attack for any extended period of time).

The point of this post is not to review the Ventum One, the purpose is to highlight again that “in the lab” matters only if bikes were raced in a lab, only if triathlons were raced in the lab, only if life was lived in a laboratory.  It isn’t. None of it is, ever. No competition is held in a lab, nor in lab-like conditions, so there is no point to lab results unless they are balanced with real world testing, then testing to assess whether or not the results apply to the athlete: to you.

This applies to aerodynamics, and it applies to everything else: training concepts, sport specific technique, nutrition and hydration strategies, competition tactics, recovery tools, …everything.

Lab results dumb-down reality [to a single variable].

In the lab, the goal is to hold all but one variable constant so that changes in that one variable can be isolated and measured. In reality, never does everything remain constant. In reality, everything is changing, and constantly so. Therefore taking lab results and applying them indiscriminately to all athletes, all conditions, all the time is simply dumbing down sport, training, racing as if all that has to happen is that one number, one set of conditions must be met for everything to work out perfectly, all the time. If it were that simple, then winning Olympic gold would already be written into an algorithm and sold as an app available to all. It ain’t because success does not follow a cookie cutter pattern. You cannot download a one size fits all spreadsheet detailing your path to success.  Success is individual.

Athletes and coaches must appreciate that training and competing can only be based on ongoing evaluation of every aspect of performance because the only experimentation and the only results that matter to the athlete, are the athlete’s own.

Training and competing need to be approached as one ongoing experiment, where the athlete is n, n=1, and all that matters to n are the results of n. Lab results, studies, research findings are great starting places but they are not definitive for anyone or anything. Everything has to be applied to n, to evaluate if there is a net benefit to n, and if so, how much, under what conditions, with what consequences in the short-term, and in the long-term.

Its no wonder that amateurs and professional athletes train in circles, failing to improve despite countless hours in the pool, on the road, in the gym. If “in the lab” results are indiscriminately applied to the training and racing of an athlete – in a flavour of the week fashion – then failing to improve, failing to progress, failing to achieve results should be expected, not a surprise.

In reality… when the Ventum One was tested against an Orbea frame, the Ventum One did not only underperform, it was slower. This comes as no surprise to those who take “in the lab” results for what they are: a starting point for further testing and experimentation. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here is the entire rundown of the Ventum One provided by Procycling Magazine.

In The Lab vs Out In The Real World

I was recently 2015rio-road-race02reviewing the Rio 2016 Olympic Men’s Cycling Road Race, with the intent of studying the various strategies and riding styles. It just so happened that I came upon this tidbit of information…

Former pro cyclist and World Tour team Cervelo-Garmin rider Christian Vande Velde was a commentator for NBC’s broadcast of the Rio Road Race. At 56.8km to go in the race, these were his words:

“Chris Froome was in 2nd place earlier, [where] you don’t get as much draft especially off a small rider like  Jonathan Castroviejo.  So its better to let yourself go back, so now Chris Froome is back in 6th or 7th place… now that’s a better draft.  See now Vincenzo Nibali does the same thing… you don’t want to be sitting there with all that wind in your face.”

2015rio-road-race03Vande Velde says that drafting wheel to wheel behind another rider is not enough, especially if that rider is smaller than you. To maximize the draft, to minimize the effort, to hold an easy position, pro cyclists wants to be at the back of a pace line, at the end of a row of 6 to 7 riders.

On the other hand, pro triathlete Lionel Sanders argues that 10m of dead and empty space between riders is still insufficient, that there is a draft effect, and that a proper draft zone needs to be enlarged to 20m to eliminate drafting entirely.

Vande Velde states that pro cyclists want to be shielded, fully, not partially by one single rider, and definitely not by a rider who is smaller than them.

Sanders says that there is a significant draft even when there is 10m between riders, even when those riders are cutting small cross sections with aero frames, aero helmets, and riding aero, making minimal turbulence.

To put 10m into perspective, I measured my road bike end to end: it measures 66″ or 1.67meters. A gap of 10m is equivalent to the space that 6 road bikes, wheel to wheel take up.

How is it that for pro cyclists a few centimeters in stature, a few kilograms in size, and a few centimeters in distance is enough to diminish the draft effect that its value becomes debatable, but to a pro triathlete 20m – as in meters – is needed to diminish the draft. That’s a factor of 100x between what pro cyclists and pro triathletes consider significant drafting.

Something does not add up. Let’s consider another scenario…

In cycling races, when the riders are preparing for the final 500m sprint to the finish line, a lead out train (i.e. a pace line) will form to get the team sprinter up to max speed, with the intent of firing them like a rock out of a slingshot past competitors to the finish line. Watch any race where Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Griepel, and Peter Sagan are racing and you will see how in the final kilometer these sprinters are paced and then fired off towards the finish line. A determining factor in this stage of the race is often the extent a sprinter is able to catch a draft off another rider. To lose a draft – i.e. to loss the wheel of another rider by as little as a few centimeters for even a second – can make the difference between having the speed to finish first or second or completely out of contention.

Again, to pro cyclists centimeters matter, not meters.

Sanders may have a point, but lets consider the setting when an empty gap of 10m between riders may offer a statistically significant draft effect: conditions would have to be perfect. The wind would have to be blowing exactly head on, without any variation in its direction, the road would need to line up perfectly with the wind, without any changes, no inclines, no declines, no turns. The riders would have to be perfectly lined up, one behind the other, without any deviations in their lines, for periods long enough to impart a real value in the draft. There would have to be no trees, bushes, houses, nothing that would alter the direction of the wind, the road and riders would have to be completely exposed. When exactly does this happen? When it does, for how long? Long enough to give an athlete the advantage to win an entire iron distance triathlon? That’s a stretch by any imagination.

If triathlons were raced under laboratory conditions, then maybe Sanders has a point. Maybe.

In The Laboratory vs Out in the Real World

Why would a pro triathlete and a pro cyclist differ so greatly on the topic of drafting. Here’s my take using clinical trials of new drugs as an analogy…

In a lab, an experimental drug can work ‘perfectly’, delivering the desired end result. Just because a drug works in a lab does not mean it works in ‘real’ life, does not mean its ready to be sold to the public. Experimental drugs have to go through numerous sets of clinical trials to prove that they in fact work, over time, consistently, in different scenarios, with different people. A lab experiment proves only that the drug is ready for testing beyond the bubble of a lab, out in the real world. How many drugs make it past clinical trials? Not many, usually because bad stuff happens, like people die as a result of taking the drug (despite it working ‘perfectly’ in the lab).  When a drug does pass trials, almost all come with long lists of side effects ranging from nausea and anal leakage, to cancer, to the risk of dying. That’s life in the real world; it ain’t all neat and tidy like a lab where conditions (and results) can be faked.

Triathlon seems to want to prove that it exists in a bubble, that the real world doesn’t apply, that the laws of physics apply differently to it than the standalone sports of swimming, cycling and running. Instead of leveraging decades of history, of experimentation, of tried and tested training and racing results, of real world experience which exists in each of the sports, triathletes are in the lab starting from scratch. Why waste training and racing to relearn what is already known?

Case in point… how long has the meme been in force that swimming in triathlon is different than the swimming that occurs as a standalone sport?  For this to be true, this would mean that the physics of movement, the laws of motion, the density of water, the forces of buoyancy and drag change. The laws of physics do not change, that is why they are called laws. So why not consider the training performed by top swimmers? Nope. Instead, a pro triathlete or a triathlon coach decided to dumb-down the sport by starting the meme that triathletes need to ‘save their legs’ for the bike and run, and triathletes obeyed en masse repeating the mantra “save the legs, do not kick in the swim”. In the lab it may make sense, it may even be proven in a lab to be true, but in the real world, “save the legs” makes no sense whatsoever. With races held out in the real world, not labs, guess what research truly matters… real world experimentation, not lab results.

The kick is integral to balancing body position, to maintaining and changing posture to achieve the highest level of efficiency: the ‘pull’ of the swim stroke leverages the power of the kick to maximize propulsion.  You know what happens when you don’t kick… you weaken the pull of the stroke, you eliminate the torque generated by the hip drive, you make swimming incredibly inefficient, maximizing the amount of work needed to swim.  Don’t kick, ‘save your legs’ but destroy your cardio-respiratory system and burn through two, three, or four times as much energy? Penny wise and dollar foolish. Meanwhile, triathletes are surprised how gassed, spent, exhausted they are after every swim, returning to coaches who prescribe more pull sets, adamant enough pulling wasn’t done, and that kicking and kick sets are a waste of time.

Now the sport has a pro triathlete who wants to dumb-down the sport even further, where racing has to occur under idealized conditions so that their idealized laboratory training will deliver them to the podium. If triathlon keeps dumbing itself down to whatever nonsense dribbles out of a pro or coach, then eventually the sport will be one no one wants anything to do with anymore. Triathlon will no longer be perceived as the challenge it once was, it will no longer stand as a metaphor for overcoming obstacles in life. Keep dumbing-down the sport, and sooner or later, iron men and women won’t be crossing the finish line, it’ll be iron babies.

It is not different, because its in a triathlon.

Here is a short list of the dumbing-down in iron distance triathlon over the years…

  • Swimming has been dumbed-down to paddle and pull buoy sets without a kick set in sight because of the ‘save the legs’ meme, resulting in widespread dependency on wetsuits. Instead of learning proper technique, athletes are taught to drag themselves thru water, to fight water, turning the swim portion of triathlons into MMA battle royales where athletes switch between fighting water and pummeling one another.
  • Cycling has been reduced to generating numbers on a power meter, as if the majority even understand how the number is obtained, what it means or how to improve it other than to hammer harder on the pedals. Cycling has become a contest of FTP maximums, not actual riding ability. Bike handling skills have been replaced with the belief that there is only one aspect of cycling that matters: being aero, where aero arises from spending money on aero stuff, not actual training to develop the flexibility to be aero.
  • Running, well there is little running in triathlon as the majority swim-bike & walk. Loads of shuffling, trudging, even crawling, because training has been dumbed-down to nothing other than HIIT workouts, to the point athletes are too injured to run and are so under-trained that few have the capacity to make it to the run portion of a triathlon, let alone run.

When training gets dumbed-down, racing also gets dumbed-down. Pro triathlete Cody Beals states that there’s been a progression of dumbing races down these days, so that they are easier and easier. What’s next… races that are only with the current, only with tailwinds, and all downhill? We are already on our way! Any race which has a challenging course is being cancelled or rerouted to be made easier. That’s progress? That’s not evolution, its de-evolution.

What made triathlon great was the complexity of mastering all three sports.  It was the fact that you could not master the sport in a year. It was the fact that it took training across three distinct disciplines which served as the basis of John Collins’ original question… who is the ultimate athlete?

Sanders is a pro triathlete who admittedly does not train outdoors. He trains almost exclusively indoors in fixed conditions, in a fixed position and state; Sanders trains in the equivalent of a lab. He has been riding for no more than a few years, so his experience in cycling is limited to say the least. He admits to having next to no bike handling skills. He trains solo, without worthy training partners or competitors to challenge him. His total outdoor mileage cannot be far off his total racing mileage.  In summary, Sanders’ appreciation for ‘real world’ conditions is immaterial; his cycling experience is predominantly theoretical, and no more than that of the average German child who rides to and from school. And the sport of triathlon is going to listen to him expound on anything that has to do with cycling?

The result of this type of training: Sanders’ ability to translate training into racing is predictable. Under ideal (i.e. lab comparable) conditions as at Ironman Arizona 2016 he can deliver a world record performance. Under non-ideal conditions (e.g. Ironman WC 2016) Sanders has difficulty, instead blames the real world for preventing him from achieving the results his lab predicted.

Lab rat training creates fair-weather athletes: athletes capable of performing only when real world conditions match those of their laboratories.

On the other hand, consistent peak performers, year after year champions are capable of performing no matter what is thrown at them. Michael Phelps’ goggles filled with water in the finals of the 200m FLY in Beijing 2008. No matter, he wins Olympic gold and sets a WR.  Silken Laumann while warming up at Worlds, weeks before Barcelona was hit by another boat, which ripped her calf muscle clear off the bone. Multiple surgeries, hospitalization, rehab, no problem, 10 weeks later she stands on the podium with an Olympic bronze medal. Chrissie Wellington in 2011 found herself 21mins+ behind Mirinda Carfrae coming out of T2 at Ironman WCs. No worries, she runs to win, remaining undefeated at iron distance triathlons.

What do you want you to be? A lab-rat/fair-weather athlete or a consistent peak performer?

If triathletes train like lab rats, then what is real training?

Simple, take the training of a typical pro cyclist: they start riding young, riding to and from school on a handed down or beater bike, accumulating a mileage log resembling that of a long haul truck odometer before starting any ‘serious’ training, before upgrading to anything anyone would consider top equipment, before any FTP or VO2 max efforts.  It is with such a base that pro cyclists progress to training in every climate, every terrain, in every set of weather conditions conceivable. They train at altitude, in the mountains, on snow covered peaks, in freezing temperatures, challenging their energy systems, pushing their energy systems to the limits while delivering peak output, while executing specific race strategies. Pro cyclists train together learning how to pace, draft, work as a team, to read one another & the peloton, learning when and how to attack, how to handle their bikes in the rain, the sleet, the snow, desert heat, and rainforest humidity. Pro cyclists learn to ride with tailwinds, and against headwinds and crosswinds that would send an average rider off the road, they train echelons, holding and rotating positions developing uncanny efficiency regardless what the environment throws at them. Pro cyclists learn the tactics of how to ride when spectators are in your face, cheering, booing, running alongside, getting in the way. Pro cyclists develop such a wide range of skills that they are equally capable of racing individual and team time trials [TT], and many also compete in mountain bike and/or cyclocross events to further develop their skill set.

I can only imagine a pro cyclist being asked what they think of a 20m draft zone… I bet we couldn’t get a straight answer because they would be rolling on the floor laughing that a pro triathlete needs 20m to prove themselves as a cyclist.  To athletes for whom centimeters matter, asking if 20 meters matters is like asking if they are going to ride the Tour de France with training wheels on their bike, or on a tricycle.

To triathletes… its time to get outside, time to train like an athlete, not like a lab rat. Get out of the laboratory, off the labtop, put down the spreadsheets, walk away from the online training websites, skip the hamster wheels of trainers and treadmills… get outside and have some fun, start to play, learn how to move, learn how to train, get out into the real world.

Bike Handling Skills for Ironman Hawaii [2]

Southern Ontario is not known for the heat and humidity found out on the Hawaiian Islands.  There is however one aspect of the Ironman World Championship bike course that we do experience here once in awhile, giving triathletes the opportunity to prepare specifically for Kona: Ontario gets on the special occasion an awesome windy day, or if really lucky, a few.

Late September this year saw a string of days that were ideal training for any bike course on which you can anticipate experiencing strong winds (e.g. Niagara Falls Barrelman Triathlon), here are a few gifs from Burlington:

burlington_2016_09_30_windy_1 burlington_2016_09_30_windy_2

Click here for videos [vid1] [vid2] [vid3] from Spencer Smith Park showing the waves crashing over the retaining wall and onto the promenade.

How many triathletes took the opportunity, in the drizzle, in the rain, in the gusty conditions to head out and get in a bike session?  How many triathletes instead remained indoors, heading off to the gym or onto the trainer seeking pristine conditions.  With race day weather unpredictable, and rarely pristine like that of the indoors, getting training in ‘real’ conditions is a must for any athlete pursuing their potential.

Former cat1 competitive cyclist Bill Anderson of Brant Cycle shared with me how back in his day of training and competing, his coach would take every opportunity to send him and his training mates out into the worst weather imagineable.  Was there method or was it simply madness?

Bill shares that at the time, there didn’t seem to be any point of training in cold, windy, rainy conditions, but when it came to racing in similar conditions, because Bill had spent so much time in it, it didn’t matter to him at all that the crit course was slick, that open areas forced riders into echelons, that the wind required experience for the gusts and constant changes in direction to be handled. Being comfortable across all weather conditions allows athletes to focus on racing.  The difference is dramatic on race day as cyclists who hide each time the weather turns rough can’t translate training into racing, sometimes DNF, and whichever the case may be, end up leaving the finish line wide open for those who train across all conditions.

With Bill’s message clear in my mind, my son and I took those wind days as opportunities to train in conditions that we would have avoided in the past.  On one of the days, I headed out on my own to one specific street that amplifies the wind: Marine Drive in Bronte, Oakville.  I call it apartment alley as both sides of Marine Dr have 10+ storey buildings on either side for a few hundred meters. The impact of these buildings is that whenever the wind is from the east or the west, the buildings funnel the wind turning Marine Dr into a virtual wind tunnel. Click here for a Youtube video of the wind in apartment alley.

marine-drThe wind was so strong that holding 10kph on my mountain bike was a challenge, but it was a ton of fun trying to remain vertical, make some horizontal progress, while practicing holding an aero posture amongst the gusts.

Another great location for training into headwinds or with tailwinds is North Service Rd, running from Confederation Park along the QEW.  This road is part of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and runs all the way to St Catharines, and onto Niagara Falls.  The road is flat, open, and again, with winds coming from the east or west there are great training opportunities for sustained head and tail winds especially in the Stoney Creek and Lincoln sections where the Trail doesn’t wind through residential areas.

Kona is known not only for headwinds and tailwinds, but also for severe cross winds.  My preferred training spot for cross winds is the beach path that starts at the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge and ends at Confederation Park in Hamilton.  The value of an unsheltered road from prevailing winds becomes clear when the wind is howling off the lake.  During those days in late September riding the beach path felt like I was riding at a 45 degree inclining.  After 5k the work that my core had to do to maintain balance and simultaneously pedal was definitely being felt.  Riding the 5k back felt like I was unwinding as the other side of my core got the workout. A side benefit to wet and windy days… no one is out on the beach path, so you can have whatever is your favorite bike path all to yourself.

When the weather turned unbelievably beautiful on Thanksgiving weekend, with blue skies, a beaming sun, and temperatures in the mid 20s, it made the memories of those wet windy rides all that much sweeter.  In addition to appreciating the warmth of the sun, those wet windy days helped me realize that riding in different conditions really adds a new dimension to cycling and made training all that much more fun. Who knew!

If your training is not growing your enjoyment of the sport, then you may want to consider that you are in a rut… perhaps a weather rut.  Try different conditions and you may all of a sudden realize that its not the sport but sometimes our mindset that limits our enjoyment, and also our progress.

Wet and windy don’t phase me as much as they once did, and now after braving conditions and temperatures I avoided in the past, my outdoor riding season has been extended by at least 2 months.  The outcome of a few days in the rain and wind is that all of a sudden my training volume for October is already double what it was last year and October isn’t half over.

Just in case you are wondering how windy it can get at Ironman World Championships, watch the shirt of the volunteer in yellow, the angle the athletes are having to hold, and the amount they veer gives an idea of how strong the Mumuku winds can blow:

ironman_hawai_2006_wind1-tumblr ironman_hawai_2006_wind2-tumblr

How to Handle a Bike.. Vittorio Brumotti style

Vittorio Brumotti is a champion of bike trial, a holder of 10 Guinness Book of World Records, plus a teacher of computer science.

Here are links to two other Youtube videos with Vittorio…

  1. Road Bike Freestyle 1
  2. Road Bike Freestyle 2


There seems to be a pattern…  Vittorio is definitely concentrating heavily while riding his bike, balancing on rails, jumping onto road furniture, but his smile, his joy, and passion are undeniable. What if…

What if joy, happiness, gratefulness,…

What if the ability to let go and not worry about how well we are doing…

What if simple enjoyment – the sort of fun kids have when playing – unleashes a fuel that can take us to levels of performance which otherwise only come to life when we imagine?

Show me a picture of Missy Franklin where she is not smiling.  Usain Bolt is the master of ceremonies whenever he enters a stadium, he enjoys himself before, during, and after he races. Actually, after he races its always a party!  Natasha Badmann – with the exception of when she had to puke during the marathon of the Hawaiian Ironman – is never without her trademark smile, and always has the time to give an ‘aloha’ when out racing (as she passes the entire field of pro women).  In fact, Natasha even managed to hold a smile in between winces from the pain of her shoulder injury after falling during the 2007 Ironman Championships.  On a dare from a teammate, Ryan Lochte wore his teeth grills to an awards ceremony, and then at the 2012 London Olympics he wore them to receive his gold medal in the 400IM.  It didn’t stop there, Jimmy Fallon found out that Prince Harry dared Lochte to a race at a Las Vegas Wynn pool where both were enjoying a good time.  Sounds like a good time was had by all at that party! Peter Sagan is a professional road racer for team Tinkoff Saxo, a team and a team owner serious about winning, but even while racing the pleasure of being on his bike is unmistakeable.

Perhaps the one person whose good times surpasses everyone elses is Ricky Hoyt during the 1989 Hawaii Ironman.  Being born with cerebral palsy doesn’t allow him to participate in sports like everyone else, but when he competes as a member of Team Hoyt under the power of his dad Dick Hoyt, Rick’s sheer bliss of being alive and competing is undeniable.  To complete an Ironman is one accomplishment, but for Dick Hoyt to complete it while pulling and pushing the 100lbs that is his son occurs in an entirely different dimension.  The power to complete a monumental task such as this can only arise from absolutely unconditional unbridled love.

What if we took it all down a notch in the intensity department?  What if like so many Champions and Olympians we could focus less on how fast we are going, what place we’re in and focus on how much fun it is to be alive, and having the chance to do what we get to do?

It doesn’t seem to distract from peak performance, in fact it seems to take peak performance to a new level.

What if participating, training, and competing was fun… I mean what if we made it seriously fun?

A challenge: next workout, next competition see how long you can keep smiling.  Can you smile throughout… even through the toughest parts?  It may just reveal how you are approaching training and racing.  If it isn’t joyful even when challenging, why not?  If not, see if you can find something to be grateful for… you may be pleasantly surprised how a smile comes across your face, along with it a burst of joy, and energy.


Finally, here are two guys who seem to know how to goof around and have a great time…

Peter Sagan and Vittorio Brumotti playing golf with and on their bikes

Bike Handling Skills for Ironman Hawaii

In preparation for any triathlon, especially an athletes ‘A’ race, the opportunity exists to study, review, and train specifically for the challenges each aspect of the race will offer.

Since the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii is a target race for many triathletes, we can use it as a template of how to review a race to identify the bike handling skills an athlete requires to successfully complete the course, and the additional skills required if the goal is to be competitive.


Course Layout

The overview reveals that the start of the bike course is in town with several corners.  Although the technical difficulty is not high, the fact that this part of the course will likely be congested with athletes frantic from the chaos of T1, riding side by side while trying to get feet into shoes or hydrating suggests that one handed riding, one handed cornering and swerving are skills to master. With aide stations on the bike course, one handed riding will come in equally handy when reaching out for water bottles and when hydrating/eating out on the course.

With two 180 turnarounds, slow speed cornering should also be mastered along with efficient acceleration from sitting and standing positions.  The second turnaround in Hawi seems to be on a flat part of the course, but the terrain of the first turnaround is unclear due to the image of the cyclist overlaid on the course profile.  If the first turnaround occurs in ‘the pit’ or similar setting, then slow cornering on an incline/decline should not be overlooked.

Athletes need to allocate time specific to developing and training these skills as these are not gained by riding stationary trainers, in spinning classes, or in group rides.  No, this is not ‘hard’ training, but it is smart training.  It is training which is often overlooked as too simple, too rudimentary, but gaps in these simple skills often leads athletes to misjudge lines through corners on the bike, risking falls and injury.  Otherwise, a lack in bike handling skills can easily translate into exertion miscalculations resulting in athletes unable to race the run portion of the competition as they left too much out on the bike course.

Course Profile

Using the bike course profile athletes can anticipate what style of riding is required in order to master the course…

15konabike - profil

The bike course although televised as flat, is not dead flat.  The profile reveals an undulating landscape, add in the trade winds and those small undulations require planning.  Slight gradients like the 7 mile climb up into Hawi can be deceptive and if exertion is not paced well, then it can come back to haunt the athlete later in the bike, or in the run.

The profile of the course should also be used to decide on chain ring and cog sizes/pairings, especially if the athlete is considering a single chain ring system.  The linked article provides a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of one ring systems, and as with anything new… ensure that there is nothing new on race day.  All changes should be made well in advance of any competition with sufficient time to experiment, trouble shoot, and to assess if the changes are indeed effective towards achieving a desired outcome (i.e one month out from race day is the target to finalize equipment setup).

In reviewing prior years of the Ironman Championships, it is not uncommon for the pros to overexert themselves on the bike, either attempting to make up a deficit from the swim, or trying to create a gap ahead of the run only to misjudge their effort.  Even Ironman Champions such as Luc Van Lierde, Normann Stadler, Thomas Hellriegel and 8 time Ironman winner Paula Newby-Fraser have all miscalculated effort on the bike in one or more races.  If pros do it, then there isn’t an age group athlete that can claim to have mastered pacing and be exempt from improving this skill further.

With the advent of power meters, athletes such as Lionel Sanders approach races with wattage targets to hold exertion to trained, thus safe zones.  But competing as a pro is never that simple as Lionel shares in his blog: making up time lost to leaders on the swim, attacking to create a gap on the bike for the run, for how long and at what wattage to recover cannot be pre-planned as the actions of competitors cannot be predicted.  There is an art to competing: flexibility is required, ranges of ability are required and consistent peak performers do so by elevating their skills of introspection and emotional stability to that of an art-form, as science and power meter data have limits in usefulness.

Course Reconnaissance

Having a map is a definite plus, but taking the time to ride and drive the course repeatedly is performed by those athletes seeking to minimize the unexpected.  To maximize their chances of completing a downhill course with the fewest errors, thus to have the fastest time, alpine skiers take the time to memorize every turn, every bump, every change in terrain so later they can replay it, visualizing how they will take each turn, set up for the next.  Memorizing the bike course to know where strategic points exist carries the value of knowing where to attack so that an escape into the unknown can be made leveraging a physical effort to inflict not only a gap but doubt and confusion into the minds of competitors as to your position.  Equally, knowing strategic points provides insight into where competitors may try to pull a trick of their own.

Course Environmental Factors

Prior races of the Ironman World Championship are available on Youtube.  In reviewing the 25+ years of the event, an athlete will gain insight into the full range of conditions which they may experience, such as…

  • In 1990, the temperature on the Queen K highway hit 110+oF (45oC) for the bike and run portions of the race.
  • In 1993, it rained on the bike course around Hawi.
  • In 1998, athletes faced a 25mph head wind on the way out of Kona.
  • In 1999, cloud cover made for a cooler race and the typical head wind on the way out turned becoming a head wind on the way back as well.
  • In 2001, 60 mph – gale force – crosswinds caused 6 time Ironman Champion Dave Scott to withdraw and slowed the bike splits for the pros considerably, having a dramatic impact on race strategy as the effort required on the bike left athletes weary on the run.
  • In 2005, there was barely any wind on the bike and temperatures were cooler than average.
  • In 2006, Mark Allen stated that he never saw the conditions so cool and calm; there was virtually no wind at the start of the race, with even a little rain falling.  Then the trade winds blew onto Hawaii.  Michellie Jones knew that the ride into Hawi was going to be rough when she saw white caps develop on the ocean.  Crosswinds became so strong, that cyclists and their bikes were lifted up off the road and thrown.  If that wasn’t enough, during the marathon the temperature spiked.

Click on the image for a Youtube video on the Hawaiian Mumuku winds.

Mumuku winds1


Training Strategies for Ironman Hawaii

  1. Indoors – training on rollers where instead of using bike gears, the athlete uses their own ‘gears’ (i.e. ability to increase/decrease cadence) to ride across a variety of turnover ranges. Example: train repeats of 5 mins duration riding a 5 point cadence range (e.g. between 60-65), and then moving up to the next 5 point range, up until cadence skills are challenged, then come back down in the same pattern.  Add in a run afterwards and you have a brick variation of this session.  In fact, this one workout has unlimited potential as time spent in each range, size of ranges, jumps between ranges, starting and end points can all be varied to accomplish various objectives.
  2. Outdoors – training to ride one handed on stretches of rolling hills is important because it is required to hydrate and eat on this bike course.  Again, a head or cross wind should not be unexpected, nor should being in a pack of riders all veering with wind gusts where holding a straight line is challenging. If an athlete fails to replenish themselves on the bike because they lack the bike handling skills to do so, then they will pay the price.
  3. Drills – cone drills to practice swerving, obstacle avoidance, hard braking, and to refine line choices through corners are indispensable because counting on everyone else to stay clear out of your way is not a strategy.
  4. Finally, a specific effort should be made to train on days when the wind is howling. Head winds and cross winds are not only possible in Hawaii, but highly probable, and when the trade winds blow, they break even the pros.  Training to pace appropriately with windy conditions, training to learn how to angle and handle a bike with strong cross winds is not only a safety measure, it may prove to be the singular reason an athlete completes the bike course.


As a coach, I find that many athletes train for the distance of the each event, often at a single speed which they predict they will hold (irrespective of conditions, etc..), failing to consider, thus failing to train for any other dimension of the competition.  Inevitably, unknown factors arise. Athletes who have trained for all the known factors then have to manage only the inevitable unknowns. The fact that athletes participate in competitions without preparing for all possible known factors just doesn’t make sense.  Why invest so much time into training hard, when a bit of smart training can leverage your performance to significantly greater results (even more than a new piece of equipment).

Smart training allowed Michael Phelps to win the 200m Butterfly event in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning one of his 8 gold medals, and set a World Record.  His coach anticipated the possibility of his goggles falling off or filling up with water in competition, therefore he trained Michael to swim without goggles.  Without smart training, all of Michael’s hard training would likely not have resulted in this outcome.

4x Hawaii Ironman Champion, Chrissie Wellington shared that she prepares for all possible eventualities, and visualizes scenarios so that she will have not only the physical ability but the mental plan as well on how to handle challenges.  A flat tire is only a flat tire, a drafting penalty is a penalty which has to be served, but if you panic, get peeved, then what was a simple solvable issue can blow up, throwing off your entire race.

The lesson is… take the time to study that which you are training for; not just the distance, but as many dimensions of the competition as possible.  This is yet another benefit of working with a coach.  An attentive coach anticipates – as a result of experience and study – the widest range of ‘what ifs’ that can arise in competition, and adjusts training and race strategies for their athletes accordingly. This applies not only to triathlons, but to any competition whether it is a swim meet, open water swim competition, track meet, road races, or cycling events.  By anticipating, thus eliminating as many variables as possible the enjoyment, the satisfaction, and performance in competing can be far more rewarding.


It is easy to adjust training weeks, or better yet, months ahead to make a race the experience that you want it to be.  It just takes a bit of planning.

Tour de France Stage Data [2]

Michael Kwiatkowski’s data from Stage 11 of the Tour de France provides a lot of data to sift through, and after sifting, the value of bike handling skills becomes clearer.

Screen shot of Michael’s data from Stage 11:

stage 11 data - 1

Click on the chart above to link to Michal Kwiatkowski’s data on Strava.


Notable Data Points & Observations


Kwiatkowski averaged a cadence of 85 rpm for the 5hr 34min ride which covered 187 km.  On the flats in the early parts of the stage he rode in a range of 100-110 rpm, with his lowest turnover occuring as expected in the mountain climbs where speeds fell as low as 10kph and turnover into the 60s.  Although riders do have their bikes tuned specifically for each stage and are riding cassettes with 10-11 cogs, the ability of the rider to have numerous gears is made visible through this data.  If Kwiatkowski maxed out in the high 80s or low 90s – like many age group and masters athletes – then he would have needed either additional gears on his bike (not possible), his cadence on steep grades could drop so low that it could cause him to fall, he could overextend himself attempting the Stage failing to pace Cavendish for whom he served as domestique on the day, failing his team.  In short, Kwiatkowski would not be a pro rider if all he could sustain was a cadence in the 80s or 90s.

It is not a coincidence that many of the pro riders are former track cyclists or mountain bikers. High turnover is typical of both of these sports but for different reasons: track cyclists ride fixed gear bikes requiring the rider to possess ‘gears’ aka wide band of cadence, and mountain bikers climb short but incredible steep grades on unstable surfaces uncooperative to grinding.

Cyclists and triathletes can become more efficient by having a wider range of cadences at which they can ride.  Depending on the bike alone is insufficient if you are going to deliver your peak potential day in day out.  Cyclists can become better all around simply by adding variety into training: mountain biking, track riding, and training on rollers will undoubtedly widen the range of skill of any athlete.


The ascents made up a full 1/3 of the Stage, or approximately 65km.  There were three major climbs: (i) the category 1 climb up Col d’Aspin which had an average incline of 7% for 7km, (ii) the category HC climb up the 7% average grade off the Col du Tourmalet for 17km, and (iii) the final category 3 climb of the stage called Cauterets was 10km long averaging a 4% grade. The stage had 3 smaller climbs: 2 category 3s, and one category 4 climb.  These and other shorter steep climbs had inclines in the range of 19-25% such as the one on Route De Benque and the 25% incline on the descent from Col d’Aspin.

During the ascent, Kwiatkowski’s data shows that he slowed to a range of 10-12kph with turnover in the 60s.  To focus effort into ascending, riders must have the agility, balance, and coordination to ensure an efficient climb, otherwise energy is spent in staying on two wheels, fighting the bike to keep it upright. This is energy wasted especially if your competitors aren’t expending similar amounts and are able to focus themselves entirely on climbing.  With two of the mountain pass climbs lasting more than an hour, riders need to have these skills both when fresh, and most importantly when verging on exhaustion.  With another 10 Stages after this one, efficiency is paramount if the goal is to arrive on the Champs d’Elysee in Paris.

In his book ‘The Long Road to Paris‘, Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC) shares that at times on mountain stages he would be seeing double, almost unable to remain on his bike due to the toll of exerting himself on the climb; yet rarely is a pro rider ever seen falling over, off their bike.  This is the extent to which the pros have trained, embedding bike handling skills into their subconscious so that they are always available to them even when they are unable to think or see straight.


The descents made up almost 30% of the Stage and as both Kwiatkowski’s and Cavendish’s data reveal, hitting 100+ kph was normal for the riders.

Kwiatkowski shared that he was eating on the descents, which makes sense as it is a perfect recovery period after the exertion of a mountain pass climb, and required in order to be fully fueled for the upcoming climbs.  But think about that for a moment… descending at speeds as high as 100kph and riding so comfortably that you are not only recovering, but eating.  Eating requires shoving something into your pie-hole, so that means these riders are capable of riding at these speeds one handed.

The following video with footage of descending technique is from a TdF a few years back and shows how these riders can indeed ride one handed, handling their bike with ease even at speeds over 100kph…

If none of this is sufficient to challenge your bike handling skills, what about avoiding cows? Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) had to avoid a herd while descending off the Col du Tourmalet while holding 90+kph.  Not sure what would be worse… hitting a cow or having to go off-roading at this speed?

Barguil avoiding cows

Environmental Conditions

The range in temperatures during Stage 11 and more so on Stage 12 were massive.  Peak temperatures occurred in both stages on the first climbs with 37 oC (98.6 oF) as the high, not accounting for any humidity. On Stage 11, the temperature dropped 12 oC (53 oF) to a temperature of 25 oC (77 oF) on each descent into the valleys below.  Average temperature for Stage 11 was 31 oC (88 oF), little different than the average temperature of the Hawaiian Ironman which has a day range of 82 to 95oF.  Humidity hovers around 90% in Hawaii, but no data was available for these stages.  On Stage 12, the temperature on the final climb started in the mid 20s, dropping to 10oC (50 oF) by the summit of Plateau de Beille, almost a 30oC (86 oF) change from high to low.

In some years, snow still covers the highest mountain peaks and temperatures can hover in the single digits resulting in windchill becoming a factor on descents.  Riding cold, even freezing, yet maneuvering, and braking effectively with rigid hands and a frigid body requires skill which can arise only from training across all environmental conditions.


Equivalent to the altitude at or near that of high altitude training camps, with the exception of the first climb of Stage 12, all other mountain passes were at or above 1,500m above sea level, with the highest peak being on Stage 11 at 2,000m+ above sea level.  So, if you manage the long duration of the climbs, plus the grades, plus the extremes in temperature, plus the narrow roads, plus in your face spectators then at the summit you still have to deal with the altitude and the declining partial pressure of oxygen (O2).

No wonder Cadel Evans saw double at times on mountain pass peaks when he competed… completing an exhausting climb only to then have to sprint for mountain points or a finish line such as in Stage 12 when oxygen is in not exactly flying into the bloodstream, when recovery from the climb hasn’t had a moment to occur, reveals the width of base training and the depth of aerobic capacity that these athletes possess.

Now consider that in the final week of this TdF, Stages 17, 18, 19, and 20 cover a total of 600km, each is a mountain stage with no less than 2 mountain passes, Stage 18 has 7 climbs, and 3 of the Stages climb into the clouds with peaks above 2,000m above sea level… perhaps this offers a glimpse to the full extent of preparation and training these athletes have made to be competitive at this level.

Tour de France Stage Data [1]

15 July 2015
By: Elliott Parshall and Michael Better
Published at velonews.competitor.com

The Pyrénées are some of the hardest mountains of the Tour de France, especially when you are pulling someone else up the climbs. Showing everyone how tough it is, Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step) uploaded his stage 11 ride to Strava after finishing Wednesday’s grueling stage in the Pyrénées.

Kwiatkowski’s stage 11 ride data is here in his Strava file.

Stage 11 of this year’s Tour de France featured an 116.4-mile route that included a 12km (7.45-mile) climb up the Col d’Aspin (and a 17.1km (10.6-mile) climb up the Col du Tourmalet. Over the course of the stage, the riders climbed 11,873 feet and hit speeds in excess of 100kph (60mph) on the descents. On the ascents, their speed dropped to as low as 10kph (6mph).

Mark Cavendish’s top speed while descending and while eating a rice cake no less… 102.2kph

To read the full article in Velonews, click here.

To link to the Tour de France website, click here.


The following day, Kwiatkowski’s posted his stage 12 ride data, here in his Strava file.  Stage 12 was 193.1km long and featured 4 mountain passes: 1 category 2 climb, 2 category 1 climbs, and finished with a HC climb into the finish line. The HC and category 1 climbs were 12-16km in length, averaging grades between 5.7% and 7.9%.


Bike Handling Skills

If you are going to ride at 100+ km/h, stick with the top descenders, and refuel all at the same time, then you better have some.  At 100km/h with the road edge only meters away, on narrow roads often barrier-less prior to ravines or cliffs which fall into forest, rock, river or all of the above, there is neither time to learn, nor to panic, you need to have trained to arrive well prepared if you want to be remotely competitive.

Consider that even with a top speed of 102+ km/h, an average speed of 33+ km/h, average power of 245 watts, a max of 552 watts, and having burnt through 5,396 calories, Michal Kwaitkowski finished Stage 11 of the Tour, 32:35 behind the winner Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo).

It leaves one only to imagine the stats required to win a Stage, and the stats that the GC contenders have to put up for all 21 stages in order to podium.

2015 Pan Am Track Cycling @ Velodrome in Milton ON

The velodrome in-field where athletes warmed up and cooled down…


Athletes warming up on rollers, awaiting their events…


Track Start Technique

Sprint finishes can come down to hundredths, even thousandths of a second and proper lunge technique at the line was the difference between moving on in qualifying heats.  Bike handling skills were paramount as athletes dueled for the optimal line by weaving behind the other using the entire width of the track and its 42o bank to try to outwit the other only then to sprint shoulder to shoulder in the final all-out to the finish at speeds no less than 64 kph…


Canadian Track Cyclist Monique Sullivan at the start of the Kierin (wearing red flame helmet designed by a friend)…


The heat took a few times to get through as sometimes even the pros fall.  The fact that the pros do fall demonstrates the value of bike handling skills to avoid the falls of competitors, and to avoid sustaining an injury which could take an athlete out of competition…

Monique immediately after winning her event, and after a couple of laps on the safety, starts her cool down on the in-field on a road bike…



Canadian Track Cyclist Remi Pelletier’s Omnium Flying Lap

Athletes would initiate their cool down immediately after their event with a couple laps on the safety just to slow down.  At the exit point off the track, their coach would be waiting with their road bike so that they could switch and cool down on a bike which has gears. Cool down was fascinating to watch as not only did it serve the physical purpose of flushing the body of the effort, but it appeared as a step for athletes to cool down mentally and emotionally as well.

The energy in the velodrome and the intensity of the events left us as spectators excited, almost edgy; so athletes who are on the receiving end of the foot stomping, stand shaking, flag waving energy of a cheering crowd need to come down after their events to recover, refresh, rest, to refocus on upcoming events.  The speed of the cool down was so slow that for a moment you could mistake it for a children’s merry-go-round at the CNE.  In the context of needing to come down off the ‘high’ of an event, the speed makes complete sense and raises the appreciation of the importance of cooling down and how it should be done.

Lesson learned…

Cooling down between events, or after completing a day of competition should be looked upon not only as an aspect of physical recovery, but equally as mental and emotional recovery: a time to let go of what just happened – both successes and failures – allowing the athlete to empty, free themselves to be ready to press forth to that which lies immediately ahead.  Even if there is no additional competition that day, starting the recovery process with a proper cool down can move an athlete beyond the emotion of the results, allowing them to complete post competition analysis objectively identifying targets for upcoming training.

Cooling down either completely at the end of a day of competition, or partially between events is a strategy which also applies to training, as the ability to recover between intervals is key to developing consistency.  To be able to do so free of the success or failure of the prior repetition, being able to remove judgement until an appropriate time, being able to be fully engaged in the moment allows athletes to learn to recover quickly: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The ability to recover quickly was apparent at the velodrome as falls were not uncommon and athletes had to shake them off, get back to the start line, and be fully ready to compete.  Those who didn’t fall had to refocus, psyche back up to give the event their fullest attention as if it was the first call to the start line.  The day of competition is no place to learn or to test out refocusing strategies, again, proper cool down training and recovery training between intervals can set athletes up to have an edge that their competitors simply haven’t developed.  With events won or lost by hundredths or thousandths of a second, more often then not, edges are what define consistent peak performers.

Unfortunately, cooling down is left by many age group athletes to the showers, and for many masters athletes to the pub; yet cooling down is as integral to consistent peak performance as anything else.  It is such a simple strategy, requires little skill,  but significant repetition, and perhaps that is why so many athletes dismiss it and the value it holds as negligible.

It is often the simplest training which holds keys to peak performance, but too many athletes and coaches see simple as rudimentary, that which applies only to novice athletes.  Often smart training is mistaken for being ‘too simple’ and is overlooked, but consistent peak performers know the difference.

How to Handle a Bike.. Peter Sagan style

Cambrai - Tour de France, étape 4, 7 juillet 2015, arrivée (B36) (cropped).JPG

Peter Sagan (born 26 January 1990) is a Slovak professional road bicycle racer for World Tour team Tinkoff-Saxo.[3] Sagan had a successful junior cyclo-cross and mountain bike racing career, winning the Junior World Championship in 2008, before moving to road racing.

Sagan is considered one of cycling’s most promising young talents, having earned many prestigious victories in his early twenties.[4] Supporting this view are victories in: two Paris–Nice stages, three Tirreno–Adriatico stages, one in the Tour de Romandie, two and the overall classification in the Tour de Pologne, a record thirteen in the Tour of California,[5] and eleven in the Tour de Suisse. He has won seven stages in Grand Tours: three in the Vuelta a España and four in the Tour de France. He was also the winner of the points classification in the Tour de France, in 2012, 2013 and 2014; as a result, Sagan became the second rider to win the classification in his first three attempts, after Freddy Maertens.


Bike Handling Sagan style….

Sagan w road furniture Sagan slaloming swerving Sagan one hand wheelie Sagan skids Sagan drifts through a corner Sagan bunny hops up stairs

Why have handling skills?  You never know when it will come in handy… when a pothole, a slick piece of road, or a spectator steps out and needs to be avoided, preventing a crash, allowing the athlete to remain in the competition unscathed.
Sagan saves it in a corner2
Besides who doesn’t want to be able to do a no-hand wheelie?
sagan no hand wheelie
Peter Sagan has used his bike handling skills to carve tighter lines through crit style finishes of Tour stages which wind through narrow streets of old European towns, moving himself up in position, putting time on the competition, and to win the stage.  He has used his sprinting and finishing technique to lunge across finish lines placing his front wheel ahead to claim victory.

Although the ability to do a no hand wheelie may seem irrelevant, the fact is that this ability reveals the core strength, balance, technique, and form which pro riders need and depend on to ride shoulder to shoulder in the peloton, to avoid crashes or minimize their effect, when descending and cornering at high speeds during TTs and mountain stages, and while riding through cross winds and on the cobblestones of the spring classics.

As competition stiffens across all sports, being able to hold the pace with the leaders becomes only one aspect and winning depends on being the complete athlete: one who can hold the pace, retain enough in the tank to seize the opportunity to edge out rivals when critical moments arise and have the skills to do so.  Developing better bike handling skills will allow athletes to ride more efficiently providing them that spare capacity needed to deliver consistent peak performances.