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Wandering / Wondering

How do you write something other than CV-19?

I went on a nice ride yesterday. Saw some gorgeous orange poppies blowing up all over, saw the sun. Felt the chill in the air and sweat. Ate some lunch and felt fortunate that I have food and $$ to get more when I run out. It was a good ride. My legs were tired from doing double days a couple times, one ride outside and one Zwift “Meetup” ride with my Pen Velo crew. Still the days wander by.

Today was MTB day. Low intensity fun, mostly dodging hikers, horses and bikes. “Social Distancing” together! Weird that everyone comes out when they’re supposed to be in. I’ve never seen trails this busy, and I’ve ridden these trails for over 20 years. I really do understand that being cooped up is irritating, that the World is turned upside down and that I’m no better for having ventured out. Except…

Except I’m riding mostly alone. I’m not out with my family slowly walking up a crowded trail with a bunch of other families. I”m not coagulating at the vista points for 5-10 minutes chatting with family and passers by about the upheaval to our lives. I haven’t ventured to the store in a few days…but I have stopped to get a snickers at a local store in Portola valley. Everyone looks scared, tentative, anxious – yet they largely don’t practice the 6ft rule. Some still look to be hoarding supplies that they probably don’t need, and for what? For the idea that “I’ll get mine and FU and yours”. I’ll probably go tomorrow early to get some veggies and a few items for the week. A half dozen eggs, some fruit, maybe some chicken. Not much because I don’t need much. As I said above I”m lucky…I have some $$ and my family is in near constant contact with each other. It’s a strange time. I guess I’m glad people get out and see our beautiful parks finally, glad also that they can get some exercise to purge a bit of the staleness from indoors. It seems to alternate between being very kind – lots of waves and “good mornings” along the way, and blanket stupidity about common sense. Everyone wants “their” preferred avenue of life to be discounted, bailed out, or given away for free, not realizing perhaps that doing so would imperil yet more people likely on the brink. I’ve heard time and again that most folks can’t manage a $400 emergency expense! That is shocking and sad. What have we opted for these last decades as a society? It’s like eveyone has been living the stock market, corporate America meme of the next quarterly profit report, or sticking their heads in the collective sand of shitty media. The Apprentice, Cops, the real housewives – we are essentially idiots who’ve brought about our own demise.

Tomorrow I’m gonna go ride again – far far away from the crowds and early in the morning so I’m well and truly alone on the trails. I’m gonna do what I’ve done for 35 years – ride and revel in it. Then I’ll come home and hunker down to another week of presidential lies served boastfully, fear in peoples eyes, and uncertainty as the number of infected really starts to take off, as the death toll climb steadily. When will it land on my doorstep I don’t know. I’ve heard conservative estimates that 40% will get sick across this country, but I wonder just how deep will the consequences cut for all of us…

Training and Motivation During Covid-19

The Iron Cross
Keep Things In Perspective

“Shelter in place” “Avoid crowds” “Wash your hands”…

The new nomenclature of our (currently) pandemic World. For athletes used to targeted workouts and racing to look forward to this can be a trying time! Nearly all my athletes have had to adjust their training and expectations based on the new normal and it has proven challenging in most every case. Let’s look at some ways to handle, and even excel during this novel time…

#1 – Set Some Goals!

“But coach, I already had a seasons worth of goals that are worthless now!”

Yep, you did and now, like water under a bridge, they are swept into history. That isn’t to say dismissed though. Likely those goals were set with specific performance or physiological targets in mind and those still matter! No, your “A” race may not happen on schedule, or at all if we’re honest, but that doesn’t mean the training and development isn’t still worthwhile. I tend to look at my athletes on a longitudinal schedule, where do we want you to be this year, next year and the year beyond?

In this case we likely need to define new targets that are less results driven than performance based. If you were on the cusp of a ‘racing’ block, continue that development path with some modifications. You may end up cutting volume given more indoor workouts. Most racing blocks are in the 4-6 week range, so you’re not going to derail future fitness by continuing to train hard now.

Then again, if you felt “behind” in your fitness, now is a great time to revisit that base? You may have read that I’m a big fan of highly structured zone 2 riding to improve your mitochondrial efficiency – why not undertake that goal over the next few weeks?

Perhaps you are riding inside more – great, very effective! Just be careful about trying to maintain the volume of training, and the volume of intensity, indoors compared to out. It’s a much harder workout indoors… Power will probably be 5-8% lower indoors, heat stress will be higher – meaning total training stress will be higher, so tread lightly! Most of you train by hours I’m guessing. Good! It’s a better metric than miles as it better reflects training load targets. Think about it…I can do 50 miles in 3 hours with a modest tail wind or it can take upwards of 4+ hours on a hilly and challenging route. Very different workouts!

#2 Maintain Good Habits!

Perhaps you’re off work or school, or working from home. It’s easy to see that as a vacation from your day to day! Stay up late, eat whatever, who cares we’re all gonna get Covid 19 anyway right?

Nope – maintaining your healthy lifestyle is essential if you are serious (or even semi serious) about your cycling. Indeed more sleep will keep you primed for the onslaught and allow you to maintain training effectiveness. The same goes for nutrition – don’t default to delivery based meals rife with processed ingredients and questionable nutrition. Instead use some of that extra time to plan and cook better meals! It goes hand in hand with being prepared for long stays at home or alone and gives you something to look forward to each day. Making healthy food is not a chore, it’s a gift to yourself and who doesn’t love gifts!

Good time for yummy food!

#3 – Find Friends

Now this one may seem odd in a “shelter in place” World, but really it’s totally viable! Many riders use Zwift for their indoor fix. On my team we’ve started using “meet ups” to connect with teammates on a given course. They are great because you can choose the “keep everyone together” option which allows everyone to stay in proximity so long as they keep pedaling.

We’ve taken it a couple of steps farther by connecting online via Discord, a gaming app that allows you to talk real time over the internet. Last night we knocked off the first hour of our group ride just jabbering away. The real key was when the climb got hard though – the verbal encouragement of teammates is a great motivator! Frankly, I talked more to my riders online than I do on any given team ride – and better still I can communicate workout specifics to EVERYONE at the same time. No more yelling over the wind hoping to be heard. We’ve also added structured workouts to the mix – I can build a workout in an erg or .zwo file and riders can load said file while waiting for the ride to start and voila, we’re all doing the same workout at our correct intensities!

Next up we’re going to un-tether the riders in the meet up and try some tactical and structured interval workouts. Things like hill repeats, time trials, and leadouts lend themselves to an online environment well – or so it seems so far

#4 – Stay Positive

I’ve seen many of my FB friends and athletes express a bit of angst given the rapid and substantial changes in their day-to-day. It is tough, no doubt…but attitude paves the way! If you are reading this you are likely one of the more fortunate folks dealing with what everyone is dealing with. You’re active, passionate about something, and likely in a stable and comfortable environment. Embrace your fortunes and reach out to those you know to be less so. In the end exercise is our lifestyle choice and provides innumerable benefits – the more so now when the endorphins and positive outcomes of exercise help keep you on the upswing!

Be safe, make good choices and….Keep at it!

Training Talk – Mitochondria

After wandering around my brain a bit at the end of the year, I’m back on the coaching track with this one…

I loved every physiology class I took, but I really loved the Exercise Physiology! Dr Seals and Dr Byrnes are the two that come to mind from my University days. Ex Phys and Special Topics in Ex Phys were both hugely formative for me. We used Brooks and Fahey, but the thing I recall is the expansion on topics that came up. Other studies that might be done, possible graduate work, tying together theories in hope of an answer.

That said, I’ve also been fortunate to see and hear presentations from a wide variety of thought leaders and experts across the intervening decades since graduation and I have to say that the recent podcast with Dr Attia interviewing Dr Inigo San Milan was a real bit of fun!

It’s long – about 3 hours, and it covers a wide swath of the fundamentals of exercise physiology and energy production – but I found a couple of the approaches offered to be novel and uniquely informative. Specifically when Dr San Milan delves into his thinking on training zones. The crux of the podcast is built around research conducted by Dr San Milan and the aforementioned Dr Brooks looking at the role of mitochondria in elite athletes, recreational athletes, and those with Type II diabetes. Interesting enough that I had to dig out the research and read it myself – so here we go!

We’ve all riffed on lactate threshold, debated the validity of FTP, and pushed polarization, sweet spot, HIT workouts for appropriate audiences, etc. All of those are based off of the idea of lactate threshold to some degree. Brooks and San Milan wanted to look at carbohydrate and fat oxidation as a means of assessing intracellular flexibility across energy systems for ATP production; for example by lactate reabsorption, shown viaFAT oxidation (FATox) rates, as very efficient, limiting residual lactate to reach bloodstream/LT2 onset.

The Type II diabetes patients provided the counter point. Among the limitations of the Type II (T2DM) group are theorized lower mitochondrial electron chain capacity and less adapted sarcolemma, possibly weakening the overall ability to grow, but not eliminating it as seen by their improvement in FATox over the course of the workload when moving thru the sub 2mmol concentration, eg.. they too show might show improvement with structured sdtraining.

One interesting thing was the amplitude of the professional riders efficiency and capacity compared to the recreational and type II participants. especially with regard to FAT oxidation rates (via RER) at higher workloads. They were just levels higher. Amateur and unwell showed similar improvements trending across the test, but the Pro’s just do it way better!

The key thing to me was the establishment that the work done just under the commonly referenced 2mmol threshold for move to a curvelinear relationship – ergo at the time of maximal lactate reabsorption, in a primarily aerobic environment – just before you get to threshold. The trick is to find that work load that gets you that result without going over because CHO starts to build quickly as an energy source

We maximize mitochondrial development via demand and subsequent adaptation the body naturally resets towards homeostasis. Once you’ve reached “lactate threshold” – or LT2 as defined here, and proximal to MLSS, OBLA, FTP, and like terminology, etc. you’re already somewhat heavily into non-robic energy systems like CHO and PCr – not really your FATmax point anymore, so we gotta dial it down a bit more.

Average Athlete – about 50VO2max,

Again the trick is finding that value. Lactate testers allow easy sampling of blood for La values during a graded execise test. While the most common graded test is 20-30W/min ramp rate, It seems that longer run times for stages, 35W increase every 10 minutes, allows for more stabilization of the systems and easier interpretation of cross over points via RER as we are likely looking for La concentrations in the 1.5 – 1.9m/mol range ideally for establishing FATmax, although we can estimate moderately well if we get a good 2m/mol point – but that’s where the nuance is. Athletes tend to run hard into lactate overload, often dramatically over the course of a 20W stage increase – eg 3 minutes in the typical case – so nailing it down acurately seems a good idea, necessitating longer stages with smaller increases.

So then we plug in the muscles. Doubltess you’ve heard of Type I and Type II – slow and fast twitch muscle fibers. Often they are thought of as speed of contraction of the muscle – “I have no fast twitch so I can’t sprint” – but really they are talking about rates of fatigue. Slow twitch doesn’t get tired as fast because it is using FAToxidation – that low blue flame – but we want to get maximum blue flame – which means maximum slow twitch – and no fast twitch…which is where “CHO use = lactate production” – but we already know that the body has moved from baseline of 1.0mmol towards 2mmol because the workload has increased, heart rate has increased, RPE has increased if only slightly, and respiration has increased. Sounds like things are churning away in there trying to move the chain. Adaptation is a great gift and I’m hopeful that this research is validated not just for the return of zone 2 as a part of training, but for the populations across groups improvements from doing it!

My Decade…

Bikes Rule!

It occurred to me in the last couple of days that we are at the dawning of a new decade. Will it be a return to the “Roaring 20’s” of the last century or are we simply one step closer to our own demise?

I recently wrote a bit about some of the changes in training theory over the last decade, so instead I am opting to look back at the decade that was from a slightly more personal narrative.

As luck would have it, or more accurately as my parents deigned it, I was born at the end of a decade, so I get to simultaneously turn the page on my own decade at the same time the World does. That didn’t really occur to me in any “important” way until a few days ago either…

I blew out of the decade with aplomb, well the exact opposite actually. Spending days in the hospital and weeks on the mend is not how I thought my decade would end, but I aim to use the crash as a period mark on the very idea of injurious accidents! Yep, that’s my last big ouchie crash. Get it all out of my system before age and infirmity settle in, I say. Why wouldn’t I make that pledge…crashing sucks and I’ll admit a wariness at doing it again.

But let’s not dwell in the present…

The 10’s started with racing, much the same as the one before and the one before that as well. This iteration was cyclocross, more specifically “Sterling ‘Cross” my race team that in 2010 was entering it’s third season of railing around NorCal and having fun!

Mike Sayers Racing Some ‘Cross!

I think it was Murphy Mack who said I was mostly really good at marketing, but the reality is that I was also good at getting good riders to come out and play in the dirt with me. World Cup winner Megan Guarnier, former BMC pro Mike Sayers, 3x Olympian Eric Wolhberg, Ironman winner and Pro Cyclist Liza Rachetto, International Pro Adam Carr, Single Speed sensation Patrick Kitto and many many others toed the line in the Sterling kit over the years and I am fortunate to also call them friends.

One of my favorite shots from one of my favorite races!

The team raced so well, always in contention across multiple categories. Bill Strachan winning the BASP overall was a high point, watching a young Matthew Valencia hauling a bike that was nearly as big as he was over barriers, Liza taking the Idaho State Championship, Our Nationals experiences, all come together to create so many fun memories.

Matt V Pre National Championship 😉

Every year the culmination wasn’t districts, no for us it was the BASP night race! We used it as an excuse to put on a party – and boy did we! One year we made everything from scratch at home, including a “Sterling” cake (see previous post!), custom burrito makings, and a ton of chips and dip. The last few years we hired a caterer and threw a real party. I’m talking fabulous tacos and burritos, more homemade desserts, a “kid zone” for all the little ones to watch movies and play. in 2012 one of my neighbors even made us some home brew! 5 gallons of “Fat Tire” replica and 5 gallons of “Belgian Triple” that had me sleeping in the car for a few hours by absolute necessity. Running a CX team was always a labor of love, but we also had some great sponsors who made it much easier. Sponsors over the years included: TRP Brakes, Challenge Tires, Leopard Bikes, Fusion IO, Sendmail, and others really stepped up for us.

Night Race Team Pit
Patrick Kitto at BASP (nearly) Night Race
State Champion Liza Rachetto

The 10’s were also the decade I discovered that International travel did NOT have to be out of reach for a middle class coach like myself. Indeed the 2nd half of the decade was when travel really settled into my bones as a necessity. As a bike racer, I’ve always travelled – one of the fringe benefits of cycling and racing is the chance to go places not previously considered. Yet, the experiences I’ve managed since 2015 really raised the bar.

Deep In The Suffering at 2015 Taiwan KOM

It started in Taiwan really. Richard Pestes, publisher and owner of asked me if I’d be able to go and ride the Taiwan KOM and write some articles about the experience. I jumped at the chance – wouldn’t you? A tough race in a far off land? What could be more enticing to a bike racer nerd? Such an experience it was too! From access to the Eva Air VIP lounge, to my first ride up YanMingShan with a host of other journalists and guest riders, to dining at the World famous Din Thai Phun restaurant at Taipei 101, all the way to the exhausting and exhilarating KOM ride itself, Taiwan was a revolution for me. People came from all over the World to do that ride, all of them excited and happy to be there. Motivated to give their best and enjoy the experience of both the ride and the culture. The night market, the secret and perfect little roads everywhere, the scooters.

That I was invited back to Taiwan the following year to circumnavigate half the island with Giant and their tour company was indeed the pleasure you would expect. Once again thrust into the heart of an utterly foreign culture I tried to absorb all that I could. From hot pot chicken to indigenous customs and tiny little roads that were effectively the highway of the region, Southern Taiwan was amazing in ways I never could have imagined.

Next up was China for UCI Cyclocross, literally the next week. A friend, Christine V, invited me to be on her team for the event as they needed to fill a roster spot – luck of the Irish I guess! I was way out of my class..I’m an average regional masters cx racer going up against the riders like Rob Peeters and Jens Adams, Swiss ace Marcel Wildhaber, and Australian National Champ Chris Jongewaard. On the women’s side now superstar Ceylin Alvarado and Emily Kachorek traded victories in each of the races. My race was to not get lapped. I failed. In both races. But I did accidentally send my clothing out to be laundered by the hotel for like $100US – which is a MASSIVE fortune in rural China. I felt pretty dumb for that one…

We were staying in Yanqing, set to be one of the sites for the 2022 Winter Olympics, and home to a Chinese military air base. So what’s the natural thing to do? Duh, go find it!

Chinese Jet Fighter -A Chengdu J7 I Think…

Big loud jets taking off every few minutes gave me a clue as to where to go and after a few minutes I found it. Total trip…but I went one better when we got to Beijing…

We had another race on the outskirts of Beijing in Fengtai – I got hammered again, but it was fun and such an honor to be part of the spectacle. Maybe the 400 kilometers in Taiwan the week before weren’t the best “race” choice, but well worth it. As were the extra miles I rode in China between races. Exploring is the primary reason to go anyplace anyway, so why not go exploring!? Sitting in my hotel room looking for a place to go ride and I spy a trail, looks fun, let’s go! Into Beijing traffic and working my way towards a point on Strava, turn left, guy with a big BIG gun at a gate right where I need to go. Ride up and through the gate, give Mr Gun one of those “can I go this way?” hand signals and he nods, so I go, wander around a Chinese Military base for 10-15 minutes.


Start to leave and the guard on the way out was not nearly as accommodating as the one on the way in, so they stop me and detain me. I wait for 10-15 minutes while they find someone who speaks english – and she is not very happy that I’m on the base, so she calls the next in command. Hey, this is novel I’m gonna take a picture!

Don’t do that. They don’t like that. I don’t have a picture of how much they don’t like that anymore. I did, but I don’t, but I’m not in a Chinese prison so there’s that.

I’ve been back to China for the UCI CX Race twice more in 2017 and 2018, the last time as team manager for a couple of my Pen Velo teammates. 2018 was a tough, yet rewarding, year as we rode on busses for the better part of 30 hours over the course of the week – but we got to see the amazing beauty of Inner Mongolia and the legendary smog of Handan.

If Taiwan got me started and China further whet my appetite then I surely owe USA Cycling a word or two for dropping Ireland on me not once, but twice! In 2017 and 2019 I had the distinct pleasure of leading Team USA at the Junior Tour of Ireland – a six day stage race that has played host to such cycling super stars as Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish, and a wide array of World Tour and Euro Pro’s since it started in the mid 1970’s.

Talent Camp Skills!

In 2017 USAC decided to send 5-rider teams from the East and West Regional Talent ID Camps (TID) to this legendary race and I was fortunate to play a part. The TID camps have been around for over 12 years and I think I’ve worked most of the West Coast ones. First as a “day” presenter working on the high and low speed skills elements with Coach Larry Nolan. In the last 10 years I’ve been at the camp all week working alongside coaches like Dan Smith, Joe Strandell and my boss at USAC Kevin Dessart. It is one of the most fun weeks of the year. After hosting the camps in Walnut Creek and Davis, California, the last three years have been held in Southern California at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. Riders from all over the U.S. come to these camps to get their feet wet with USAC and to work on testing and skills over the course of the week. We usually have 20-30 riders, boys and girls, and put a huge emphasis on skills and development. To get to work with the other camp coaches to select five rider to join me in Ireland was a total blast and both times we’ve had the good fortune of finishing all five riders and, perhaps most importantly, escaping with nary an accident amongst the lot. Trust me, that’s saying something when you put over 130 crazy fast juniors on the start line for 100 kilometer stages that are more akin to spring classics than what our U.S contingent is used to stateside. Speeds average north of 40kmh every day and the racing is ON from the drop of the flag.

Flying Across The Burren

This is true “Euro” racing with full race caravans for support and riders from around the World vying for a result. This years race featured soon-to-be-Junior Worlds bronze medalist Magnus Sheffield among the starters, as but one example.

The Paterberg On Raceday!

Finally, and thanks if you’ve made it this far, we come to mainland Europe. I’ve only been a couple of times so far, but each was memorable in its own right. It all kicked off in 2016 with a trip to the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix Spring Classics. They are on every cycling fans “to do” list and I got to go! Such a thrill to ride the roads – I did the both Flanders Classic and Paris Roubaix Classics the day before the Pro races – to feel the cobbles under my wheels and to come to know the legendary sections; The Kapplemuur, The Paterberg, The Arenberg Forrest and the Carrefour de L’Arbre. Then to watch Peter Sagan dance to the title in Flanders in his overpowering style – I was sitting on the Paterberg, mere meters from where he launched the winning move. The next week I was at the last corner of the Carrefour de L’Arbe when Matt Haymen rolled through with a small lead only to be caught and then outsprint Boonen! Exactly where you’d want to be.

So memorable in fact, that in 2017 we came back – about a dozen of the Pen Velo crew and I. We dropped some big miles – over 500 of them – we drank a lot of beer, we got a private tour of Delerium brewery, we rode many of the famous climbs of the Ardennes classics including the Mur de Huy and La Redoute. We rode the full Roubaix classic – all 28 sectors of pave and just over 100 miles. We watched Gilbert storm for over 40 Kilometers, then we watched Van Avermat pull out his victory amongst a tough group of hardmen

This doesn’t cover all the adventures I’ve had, but it’s a good start. Perhaps I’ll get to my run in with the Deer, my Everesting attempt(s), and my fun with Pen Velo – probably I will, good stories to tell in there!

I’ve previously written about my 2018 adventure in France, so drop in and check it out…but like you I’m already asking myself “what’s next?” A few ideas include: Columbia, China CX again, and perhaps the Italy trip I postponed last year.

But my real focus is on doing the John Muir Trail with my 15 year old in July. We don’t have permits yet -hope hope – but we’ve talked about it for years now and she thought it would make a great 50th Bday present for me, so that’s what she put up! 200+ miles of hiking over three weeks and nearly 50,000 feet of climbing – yep, right up my alley!

The Decade In Training

Ten Years Of Sweetness!

“Ten years, ten years man!” Jeremy Piven, Grosse Pointe Blank

2010 doesn’t seem all that long ago at the moment. While that is possibly a function of advancing age, and decreasing memory on my part, ten years does provide a nice reference point for a look back at training theory and practice over the preceding decade.

Luckily for me, as I have no .edu mailbox and thus no ready access to clinical studies save abstracts, my good friends at PezCyclingNews have a weekly training column known as the Toolbox to help get us started.

Let’s start with advances in technology and its application. In 2010 I wrote a detailed review of The Sufferfest videos – at the time they were right on the edge of indoor training via a series of videos that, essentially, gave you visual encouragement to suffer a lot while watching pro riders race all over the World. I was curious about the actual power metrics on offer in the series and set about building .erg files for three of their videos. Yep, I actually downloaded a Sufferfest users excel spreadsheet and manually entered the on screen cues to create the actual intended workout! It was time consuming but kinda fun to do.

Contrast that with Toolbox Editor Stephen Cheung’s 2018 introduction of Xert, a math based power algorithim and training analysis tool that raises the bar on power based analytics along with the groundbreaking work of the folks at Training Peaks who brought WKO3, 4, and 5 to market over the last 10 years. What I find particularly cool about the advancements is just what you would too…the ability to accurately infer physiological systems and performance from power files. We’ve long had pretty good estimates of VO2max derived from a calculation, but now it goes much deeper looking also at the mix of energy systems in use and predicting things like MPA, maximum power available, a sliding metric of anaerobic energy that can track you efforts in real time! Paired with good estimations of energy cross over points for fat and carbohydrate, time to exhaustion at threshold power, and the entire power duration curve in highly accurate ways allow even recreational riders access to World class data to use for themselves.

MPA in Real Time! Modern Metrics Are Cool

Taking this evolution in technology to the biomechanics of cycling is also an interesting path to walk over the last ten years.

one of my favorite graphs of all time! Muscle activation during the pedal stroke!

In March of 2010 I wrote a review of Pedaling Dynamics. It was a fun one to write as I got to dig into the biomechanics and muscle activation patterns of pedaling, two of my favorite topics. At the time, and still prevalent today, was the idea that fast pedaling was the “right” way to do it, but the central takeaways from the research reviewed was that riders tend to have a natural rhythm at sub-threshold intensities. This is important because when we look at effectiveness (force generation into speed) versus efficiency (minimizing muscle activation and subsequent energy depletion) it comes down to an individual riders preferences as much as anything, so don’t default to fast pedaling in all situations as it may not be your most effective cadence choice in a given situation. This is a very common learning curve for new riders – they pedal really really fast but spend a ton of energy doing so because they aren’t yet efficient at pedaling! The graphics were somewhat dated, but the fundamentals were solid.

Since then things have taken a definite turn to the technological with the rise of analysis tools like the Leomo system and the advanced analysis from dual sided crank and pedal based power meters. I’ve played with a Leomo a bit in 2017, though I didn’t end up writing about it, and I think it’s pretty viable. Ditto for the pedaling analysis in other tools. We can now do a good job of actually quantifying an athletes mediocre pedaling dynamics, and more importantly helping to change ’em! I’m hoping to dig into those a bit more in 2020, should be fun.

I could go farther, but I think that covers the idea I meant to convey. Since 2010 we’ve seen amazing advances in the way information is presented and in the quality of the information on offer, but there hasn’t been a sea change in the fundamentals of cycling – it’s an aerobic sport, VO2max matters when push comes to shove, pedaling is important and knowing what and how to differentiate these elements is vastly easier and more effective than it was a decade ago.

Training Talk: Threshold And You

Facebook and Zwift have been amok this year with the question “Does FTP mater anymore?” and opinion ensues about yes or no. Arguments against include “most races come down to a sprint” or some variation on steady state being irrelevant to competition. While true in a vacuum, it’s important to remember a few things about the relative importance of training your Functional Threshold Power…

I’m not interested in making this a primer on Threshold, so let’s cover a few essentials to get this over with..

  • FTP is derived from an interpretation of actual research spread across numerous high quality studies. That research established that there is a cross over point at which, among other things, the body shifts from a primarily aerobic energy source, to primarily anaerobic energy sources. It IS an essential part of athlete development in endurance sports. It is not the only measure that matters. It is also NOT a “best 60 minute” effort (although I think those are great too!). FTP is your best sustainable power for “a very long time” – that can be 30 minutes or over an hour.
  • OBLA, MLSS, FTP, LT1/ LT2 – lots of terms bounce around, but they all aim to establish a cross over point at which the athlete moves from sustainable to unsustainable effort level. Lest we forget cycling, even races that end in a sprint, is an aerobic sport requiring lots of muscle endurance. If you can’t ride at a fairly high steady state, you’ll probably get dropped.
  • FTP is more of a reference point on the continuum of efforts. It is not the holy grail of performance, nor is it to be easily dismissed as irrelevant. It is a great jumping off point for creating meaningful training intensities, baseline estimation of VO2max (FTP is very commonly ~85% of VO2max), and gauging when you are going too hard. Early stage athletes (less than three years training) should focus on their FTP as a condition of improving as a rider. More experienced riders can use FTP as a marker of current fitness.
Probably Over Threshold!

Gawd, forgive me..I started reading some threads to catch up on the arguments and it just got SOOO boring! All these opinions and interpretations of what is really pretty straight forward science. In general most threads lack any reference to the science, let alone citations of research. Since I’m not interested in re-hashing previous research and writing I’ve done I”m just gonna post it…

Part 1: From PezCyclingNews:

Lactate and Lactic Acid production are routinely offered as the seemingly natural cause and effect parameters that cause fatigue and decrease in performance, but are they really the source of the problem?

By Matt McNamara

If you’ve read anything about training in the last ten years you’ve probably come across the idea of Lactate Threshold and a discussion of how lactic acid production limits performance. The argument often goes something like this:

“As exercise intensity increases lactic acid production rises at a rate that, eventually, overwhelms the bodies ability to buffer this build-up and a decrease in performance naturally follows.”

Heck, I’ve repeated the mantra myself time and again over the years, despite KNOWING that it was an incomplete explanation of what actually happens. The truth is it provides a simple, though not wholly inaccurate, way to explain the well-documented trends of decreasing performance with increasing lactate concentrations. The idea of cause and effect just sort of fit well. So rather than perpetuate mediocre understanding, let’s jump in and learn a bit more:

A Brief, Albeit Incomplete, History
Lactic Acid was first isolated by Swedish researcher Carl Wilhelm Scheel from a batch of sour milk in 1780 (hence the commonly used term “lactic” instead of the far sexier formal name of 2-hydroxypropanoic acid, but I digress). Otto Meyerhoff and Archibald Hill, Nobel Prize winners in 1922, demonstrated that Lactic Acid was actually produced as a side reaction of Glycolysis, a primary metabolic pathway that converts carbohydrate/glucose into pyruvate, in the process converting energy into ATP through a 10-step set of reactions. In the absence of oxygen this conversion is sustained with Lactic Acid. This anaerobic process releases a proton (H+).

This was a key finding as it seemed to offer a cause and effect relationship between lactate production (lactate is, essentially, the salt or base of Lactic Acid) and the extended concept of Lactic Acidosis, or a decrease in pH that results from the release of protons in the system (cell or bloodstream).

This cause and effect relationship was taken as fact by researchers throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. However, in reviewing past and current research, Robergs et al (2004) have shown that there was no actual empirical evidence to support the cause/effect relationship; rather it was largely based on statistical correlation and the reputation of the Nobel Laureates Meyerhoff and Hill (which was richly deserved, I might add).

So, if the cause and effect nature of lactate production and acidosis is not an accurate portrayal of the role of Lactate in the onset of acidosis, and therefore performance, what is?

Debunking Lactic Acidosis
In 2004 Roberg, et al wrote an extensive review of the literature that sought to debunk the long-standing cause and effect relationship between lactate production and metabolic acidosis. Their sixteen page review takes an exhaustive, and somewhat intimidating, look at the true biochemistry of metabolic acidosis.

For example they detail the role of the phosphagen, glycolytic and mitochondrial systems in producing ATP and the differences in how each manages any released protons. They also note the difference in the nature of the proton release in glycolysis depending on whether the carbohydrate was derived from blood glucose or muscle glycogen. Glycogen is less acidifying to muscle during intense exercise.

Roberg then goes on to detail the many benefits derived from lactate production including the alkalizing effect of LDH, Lactate Dehydrogenase, or that it then circulates away the lactate to other areas that need it including the kidney, liver, and heart, for use as a substrate.

Finally, they looked at the role of nonmitochondrial ATP production, via research by Gevers in 1977 and 1979. Gevers established that metabolic processes other than LDH might contribute to the removal of protons in the form of the turnover of ATP via glycolysis. In other words that non-mitochondrial ATP production was likely responsible for metabolic acidosis.

But here’s where lactate threshold based training comes in

Training Threshold
Lactate threshold based training is a great tool. More specifically using the combination of a powermeter and a threshold based training approach is a highly effective way to manage your training.

Andy Coggan recently hosted a webinar on Lactate Threshold via USA Cycling. In addition to a comprehensive look at the establishment, definitions, and relationships of training around one’s lactate threshold. Among the cool takeaways

The first is to see terminology like Lactate Threshold, Maximal Lactate Steady State, Onset Blood Lactate Accumulation, etc as talking about roughly the same range of intensity. It’s likely going to be between about 80-90% of your VO2max for sustained periods of time. This will raise your general metabolic fitness. Further specialization is ideal for targeting specific race preparation

Coggan also noted that it has been shown in a wide array of studies that many other factors and processes contribute to fatigue. Things like epinephrine/norepineprine (adrenaline/noradrenalin), plasma potassium, and cortisol level, etc. often show a similar threshold type profile to that of lactate.

Abiss and Laursen did a comprehensive look at fatigue in 2005. Models to Explain Fatigue During Prolonged Endurance Cycling looked at no fewer than 10 different models of fatigue including the cardiovascular/anaerobic model, neuromuscular biomechanical, thermoregulatory models, and several others. Their net conclusion is that any number of systems may contribute to fatigue in a specific way for a specific situation, but in general the limitation of the system is derived from oxygen delivery to the muscles. Since we established above that metabolic acidosis is not derived from lactic acid, but that lactate production is an important contributor to oxygen delivery, it time to embrace those burning quads and get to work improving that lactate tolerance.

Perhaps next time we’ll look at that – drop me a line if you’re interested in a part 2.


1. Abbiss, Chris, Laursen, Paul – Models to Explain Fatigue During Prolonged Endurance Cycling. School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Australia. 2005
2. Coggan, Andy – Explaining Lactate Threshold. Webinar Presentation. 2010
3. Robergs, Robert A., Ghiasvand, Farzenah, Parker, Daryl – Biochemistry of exercise-induced metabolic acidosis. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 287: R502–R516, 2004

Part 2: From PezCyclingNews

It is a common misnomer that Lactic Acid is the cause of fatigue and cessation of high intensity exercise, yet training plans built around your individual Lactate Threshold are highly effective despite the debunking of the “Lactic Acidosis” rationale. Let’s learn why…

By Matt McNamara

Last month we looked at the intricacies of Lactic Acid/Lactate production and its role in limiting performance. The short summary of that article is to say that Lactic Acid production is NOT the limiter in high intensity exercise, and the science behind that belief was founded on an inferred cause and effect relationship between lactate production and cessation of exercise that, ultimately, proved to be untrue.

While lactate production may not be a limiter, it is clearly a marker of overload and does play a role in athletic development and performance. Lactate Threshold based training, when paired with use of a powermeter, is seen as the gold standard for endurance based performance improvement. So let’s explore the real meaning and value of Lactate Threshold based training.

What Does Lactate Threshold Really Mean?
First off, Lactate Threshold is commonly defined as “the exercise intensity at which lactate production exceeds lactate removal, and thus begins to accumulate in muscle and hence in the blood.” Unfortunately, the definition of what constitutes “Lactate Threshold” is highly variable.

Many researchers establish threshold as the point when lactate concentration rises 1 mmol above an exercise baseline. Others use a fixed value, for example 2.5 mmol per liter, as the threshold point. Still another approach is to use D-max which takes the mid-point between the baseline and maximal lactate concentrations. In the end the most important consideration isn’t the way threshold was determined, so much as the concept of Lactate Threshold (and associated terms) as illustrating the non-linear relationship between lactate concentration and exercise intensity.

It is also important to acknowledge that terms like Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS), Onset Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA), Ventilatory Threshold (VT), Individual Anaerobic Threshold, Critical Power, etc are talking about roughly the same range of intensity. Each of these, MLSS and OBLA in particular, correlate well with the power training concept of Functional Threshold Power (FTP), which is itself defined as your maximal sustained power output for approximately 60 minutes.

Now that we have a clearer idea of what is meant by Lactate Threshold, and we know that Lactic Acid is not the cause of fatigue, let’s look at other factors that might play a role.

Other Causes of Fatigue
In 2005 researchers from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia set out to do just that. Models to Explain Fatigue During Prolonged Endurance Cycling, Chris Abbiss and Paul Laursen’s comprehensive review of fatigue literature, looked at no fewer than ten different explanations of fatigue.

Abiss and Laursen point out that fatigue is usually defined by the type of research being done. For example, if one is looking into psychological causes then they will tend to classify fatigue as “a sensation of tiredness,” while a biomechanist might look more at changes in force output to qualify fatigue. Fatigue research is also driven by a reductionist approach; those doing the research tend to look for a single ‘answer’ to the question of fatigue.

Among the different paradigms and models explored were the anaerobic/cardiovascular model, the energy supply/depletion model, neuromuscular fatigue, biomechanical, thermoregulatory, and muscle trauma models. In addition the psychological/motivational model, central governor, and complex systems models were also reviewed. A quick summary of characteristics might demonstrate that:

Neuromuscular fatigue tends to be divided into a question of where along the neuromuscular pathway inhibition occurs, while the muscle trauma model seeks to explain fatigue as coming from damage to the muscle itself, or to alterations in the chemical homeostasis.

The biomechanical paradigm seeks to define fatigue as the result of decreased efficiency of motion, where increasing efficiency lowers the production of metabolites (like lactate) and energy consumption, helping attenuate increases in core temperature. This segues nicely into the thermoregulatory model which looks at the role of core temperature and the increased demands on the physiological systems brought about as a result of increased core temperature towards critical points at which exercise capacity is reduced or terminated.

While psychologically no single variable appears to be responsible for motor output alteration due to afferent (outgoing) signals, it is thought that numerous mechanisms are responsible for the subconscious perception of fatigue and alterations in central activation and perceived exertion.

The central governor and complex systems theories seek to explain fatigue as a function of oversight by an as-yet-undefined central mechanism, or through the complex inter-relationship of multiple feedback loops seeking to maintain homeostasis, respectively.

Their net conclusion is that any number of systems may contribute to fatigue in a specific way for a specific situation, but in general the limitation of the system is derived from oxygen delivery to the muscles, especially at high intensity.

To further clarify in the Abiss and Laursen article fatigue was defined as “tiredness and associated decrements in muscular performance and function.” This is an important point as much research has looked at performance to exhaustion. The relevance comes when we look at how to best apply some of the factors above into the creation of a responsible training program. Many of the changes we seek are built around the optimization of oxygen delivery and increasing metabolic efficiency during the training year, so how does Lactate Threshold help?

Threshold As Proxy
An individual’s Lactate Threshold is the single most important physiological determinant of endurance exercise performance. It is trainable, reliable, and a sort of proxy for other important metabolic processes that underlie performance.

For example hormone production, like epinephrine/norepinephrine, shows a similar curvelinear relationship with increasing exercise intensity. Plasma potassium concentration, catecholamine concentration, plasma ammonia concentrations, growth hormone, cortisol and many other elements also demonstrate the same threshold type trends as lactate.

Power at Threshold
Now that we’ve established what Lactate Threshold is, how it is determined, and what processes it parallels, let’s spend a little bit of time on what advantages threshold level training can bring to your performance.

For untrained athletes the Lactate Threshold benefits of training can be seen at a wide range of intensities. Simply getting on the bike regularly will bring about many changes including increased mitochondrial density, blood lactate response, and reductions in lactate concentration at a given intensity.

For the trained athlete however, continuous training at intensities around Lactate Threshold has been shown to be beneficial since the time of the fabled East German sports machine in the twentieth century. The East Germans were famous for doing extended hours of training at OBLA!

In a similar vein, Gorostiaga et al in 1991 compared a continuous training group at circa-threshold intensity to one that did only structured high intensity VO2max type intervals (of the type that are all the rage today) and found some compelling differences. While the VO2max group did show a two fold increase in percentage change in VO2max (16% increase v 8% increase), the continuous training group had a ten fold increase in citrate synthase production compared to the VO2max group (25% increase v 2.5% increase). Citrate synthase is one of the main markers for muscle mitochondrial capacity, and is a good reference for total metabolic efficiency.

Both of these examples (the first decidedly anecdotal) serve to illustrate the value of continuous training at an intensity around Lactate Threshold. This has most recently been termed ‘sweet spot’ training, but the idea has been advocated by Lydiard, Coggan, and others in various forms or years. Typically “sweet spot” is defined as approximately 88-93% of your Lactate Threshold power, however the true measure of intensity should be determined by your ability to repeat them over multiple days in a training block.

These circa-threshold efforts should be at least twenty minutes in length, but can last up to two hours or more for advanced athletes. A key determinant of the duration and intensity is your ability to replicate the workout intensity/duration again the next day. A well prepared, motivated athlete doing 60 minutes at 88-93% of threshold power (FTP), should be able to replicate that workload again the second and third days. If you can’t then you probably went too hard, too long, or don’t have a good estimate of your FTP and need to adjust. My suggestion is to start doing some field testing to establish your FTP and then see what you can do. Have fun and let me know how it goes…


1. Abbiss, Chris, Laursen, Paul – Models to Explain Fatigue During Prolonged Endurance Cycling. School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Australia. 2005
2. Coggan, Andy – Explaining Lactate Threshold. Webinar Presentation. 2010
3. Robergs, Robert A., Ghiasvand, Farzenah, Parker, Daryl – Biochemistry of exercise-induced metabolic acidosis. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 287: R502–R516, 2004

You Do Right…?

I’m guessing you are kinda like me…a died in the flesh bike folk! I think riding is pretty cool, always have. A few weeks ago I sucked (still does if I’m honest) and in the ensuing weeks I’ve watched my previously fit body degrade to a near-heap of flabbiness! Ok, it’s not that bad, but I am down many pounds in weight, and at least some of that is from losing muscle mass.

That’s a somewhat hard pill to swallow at 50 because muscle mass doesn’t come back quite as readily as it did when I was younger. While I wasn’t riding I also wasn’t shaving my legs – honestly, it looks way worse than a little less beefcake on my glutes and is far more visible. Indeed hairy legs are pretty gross, especially cyclist hairy legs because it doesn’t grow back in anything resembling sexy…at least mine don’t. Instead it grows back kinda mealy and hopeless…

Eww….that’s just wrong!

So after gathering a quasi-covering for a few weeks, feeling apathetic about the prospect of riding much at all, and determined to turn the corner on my apathy I shaved my legs yesterday! Ok, I shaved 1/2 my legs yesterday…it takes awhile! I made it all the way to the knee on both legs and instantly felt like a cyclist, at least a little bit!

Let’s Get Back To This!!

Indoor! Where Fun & Efficiency Meet

This blog is about coaching, so let’s talk coaching.

It’s December and riders around the World are getting antsy to get after their 2020 preparations. Zwift is on the rise thanks to a revolution in indoor enjoyment, improved accuracy of the metrics, and most importantly the social element!

I coach a team and despite living in largely fair weather Northern California (#NorCal) we DO get our share of foul weather from time to time and lots of my riders have serious and demanding jobs, so more and more they look to maximize their bike time and thus, we’ve been playing with Zwift and their group ride option. It’s actually proven to be very cool in a couple of important ways

It’s A Group Ride! How many times have you been on a group or endurance ride that degrades in the first 20 minutes into a battle of watts per kilogram and drafting acumen becoming the inevitable hammerfest? Yea, me too. Zwift managed to alleviate at least a couple of these elements with their online rides. Simply join the ride a couple of minutes before the start, keep pedaling all the time (yep, even softly) and you stay in the group. Maybe you feel like “getting a workout” and want to put the hammer down? Easy, go hard, as hard as you want…you won’t drop your frenemies, you’ll just get that workout you wanted.

Talk, talk, talk! Ok, while hammering along in an un-droppable peloton is fun, wouldn’t it be more fun to punch out some lively banter with your ride-mates along the way? Well, thankfully Discord gives that option. Just create a group chat and light it up! My riders have found that when connected properly the group chat really does add that community element (just remember to get that whisper quiet fan!). We’ll be playing with music in the next few weeks and hope that adds yet another element of awesome to the mix 🙂

Intensity? We got your intensity! As a coach I care about the workloads my riders engage in. I don’t need to control every ride all the time, but I also don’t want them running roughshod over each other three days a week in the off season. To help with that we’ve been playing with adding structured workouts to the group ride. So, if I want my riders to do 4 x 15min “sweet spot” efforts, no problem. Indeed, if I want half of my riders to do that and the other half to hit up some neuromuscular intervals, we just run two different programs! This is easy via using my #sterlingwins hastag to find workouts, but even easier for my athlete because they all have Training Peaks accounts – i just load the workout for the day in question, they already have their accounts linked between Zwift and Training Peaks, so they can sync automatically and OFF THEY GO!

Check back as I’ll be updating this post with new information as we get up to speed over the next couple of weeks!

Ouch, A New Start…

I recollect my weight pitching forward, my arms desperately seeking a perch to stave off the coming catastrophe. Peripherally green foliage on the side of the road beckons – I have a particular dislike of road rash and thought I could soften the landing a bit. It’s the second time that preservation instinct has come back to bite me. The next recollection was being pushed into a CAT scan machine. My arms were on my chest and thus too big to fit in the small space. Everything else is a blank…


Seems there was an ambulance ride, and thirty seconds of unconsciousness preceding that. The park rangers came as well. I don’t recall them either. An oxygen mask on my face and the dull sensation of pain, lots of pain. No idea how long I was in the ER before being transferred to the ICU where I would remain for the next two and a half days. Intensive care was certainly intense, they had me exercising my lungs within a few hours of arriving via a breathing apparatus that measure inhalation – I was pleased to pull 1500mL. My cadre of nurses took good care, great care of me and I am thankful . Finally deemed stable enough for the trauma recovery ward, I earned another three and a half days of breathing exercises, not much appetite and a “once-every-fifteen-minutes” pain button that, I guess, dumped a bunch of opioids into my bloodstream.

I dropped almost 10lbs…

A few weeks shy of my 50th birthday, yet a few more weeks before my season target of Cyclocross Nationals it all came apart. Any thoughts of a “quick” return were immediately dispensed thanks to the lung exercising machine. I’d made 2000mL a few times, but it hurt in that deep way of serious injury to do so.

Yet, even in the midst of the pain and fogginess there was a modicum of enthusiasm for the opportunity presented. I wasn’t dead – yea, sounds cliche to me too, but honestly a few inches to the right and perhaps my spine is broken more than the 12 cracked transverse processes. A harder hit and maybe my brain is more deeply traumatized or maybe the rib that punctured my lung goes deeper and causes some heavy damage. I don’t dwell on these what if scenarios, but i am aware of them and with it comes some emotional rawness…

feeling better

A few days after leaving the hospital it all becomes too much. I hurt all the time, my body is broken, I am alone in my house with no one watching over me and I cry. I sob quietly, for to sob unreservedly is beyond the tolerance threshold, so I sit shaking as tears fall. They fall from sadness at what I’ve done to myself, they fall in longing for the sweet voice of my lovely daughter, the fall from hopelessness. I won’t not hurt for a very long time. I won’t walk, run, ride or laugh as I usually do. I have to go back downstairs and it is daunting. I cry for the first time since putting my cat down 18 months past, but this time I cry from the anguish of what’s happened and what’s to come, not from the heartache of loss.

The next morning it is better. I feel energized and alive again, I talk to my family – my dad calls me everyday in the hospital just to see how I’m doing, and keeps doing it when I’m home. I am thankful for my friends and family and for the respite from the black clouds that hung over me. I will cry again in much the same way a week or so later while visiting my family in Colorado, and again will feel restored the next day. I will spend everyday with my kid, with my family. Doing simple things or nothing. In these moments I find a certain calm, a deeper patience with myself and others.

Now five weeks out I see improvement each week. I slept on my back for awhile last night instead of sleeping upright as the past four weeks had dictated. I can put a shirt on without pain, my back is not stiff all the time, the bruising is gone. I am on the “path back”…but I will be different from the experience.

From The Archive: Touring The Formosa

This was in Pez awhile back. I’m posting in honor of a friend who recently enjoyed Taiwan cycling for the first time…

Touring the Formosa

In the fall of 2015 I was in the final preparations for the Taiwan KOM Challenge. At the time I had not been to Taiwan and was terribly excited at the prospect of riding this most daunting of events. One unexpected benefit of going to the ride was the chance to explore a few of the other roads on the Island, so you can imagine my excitement at being invited back to Taiwan this past August to ride a whole new part of the island.


Giant bicycles in conjunction with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau hosted a small cadre of journalists for a week that included roughly 400 kilometers around the Southern end of the island from the industrial port city of Kaohsiung on the West to the vacation hot spot of Hualien, on the Eastern coast. We would largely follow the Southern route of the popular “Formosa Challenge” a 900 kilometer circumnavigation of the full island undertaken by hundreds of local Taiwanese and a growing number of International cyclists each year.


One of the great joys of riding in Taiwan is the ready availability of grandeur. The Portuguese named the island Ilha Formosa, or beautiful island, and in a country of some 23 million people it is surprisingly easy to find yourself alone on a deserted road, feeling like you are miles and hours from civilization, yet surrounded by natures glory. Gorgeous views abound making it easy to stop for impromptu photo sessions around nearly every bend. This is one of Taiwans secret gifts, the chance to slow down and ride for pure pleasure after a season of chasing fitness in the name of performance.


Heat, and it’s natural ally humidity, are the easy justifications for these photo op/rest breaks. Unrelenting is the only way to describe the heat of a mid day ride on most parts of the island. The sweat pours like water, soaking gloves, socks, helmets and clothing within minutes of starting any sort of focused effort. Salvation occasionally comes with altitude, and with over 260 mountains above 3000 meters, altitude is easy to find. But elevation is not the focus of this week’s riding, instead the route is traced on a primarily flat route that allows for both ample daily ride distance and the opportunity to see some of the cultural offerings of the island as well.


The first days route heads south and east from Kaohsiung to the small town of Checheng, which lies very close to the southern tip of the island and the nearby Kenting National Park. While the first hour is spent navigating out of the metropolis, the remaining kilometers are mostly on quiet roads with little traffic.

We stop several times along the way, reinforcing that it is not a speed tour, but one to be savored. Our first is for shaved ice in the small town of Chaozhou, a delicious distraction from the days quickly rising temperatures.

Lunch was taken at a roadside restaurant famous for its “ teapot chicken”, as fresh and delicious as any you’ve likely ever tasted. In concert with the company it was a purely enjoyable experience, capped off by one of my nearly infamous twenty three minute naps!

After lunch we settle in for the remaining kilometers until our destination, the seaside town of Checheng. We pass fields and rivers, roadside shops and houses. The drivers are polite, allowing plenty of space as they pass; not once did I hear a horn in anger or feel threatened during any of the days on the tour. The group, there are seven of us plus our guide, an always smiling, tennis shoe wearing, guy named Chic, rolls almost effortlessly along the coast highway before taking a quick side trip to visit the largest Buddhist temple on the Island. Fully five stories high and resplendent in reds and golds, the temple was a bustle of activity. Our cycling kits looked out of place as people lit ceremonial incense and made sacred offerings of paper “money” into the oven fires to bring good fortune to their families.

Day Two – Climbing Day!
County highway 199 is less a highway than a two lane black top through Taiwan’s past. It starts off on gorgeous pavement and quickly enters a modest canyon on a slight rise. It is here that you enter the realm of some of Taiwans original inhabitants, in this case the Paiwan tribe, representing some18% of the indigenous population of the island. The Paiwan, and other aboriginal tribes moved, or were more accurately pushed, to the higher inland areas starting with the Xing Dynasty in the 1800’s.

The move protected their culture and identity, both of which are on vibrant display as you cross the county. A perfect example of this is the Mudan elementary school, an award winning institution that serves a primarily aborigninal student population. It’s rainbow staircase and vibrant campus show the students and the outside World that here is a special place where education and tradition meet.

With a top elevation of around 1500 meters the 199 doesn’t appear terribly intimidating on this the “climbing” day of the tour. Still, and again, Taiwan proved a subtle mystery. This second day had 65 miles and an astounding 10,000 feet of climbing by the time we were done…nearly as much as the Taiwan KOM, but in a series of small inclines and descents through the center of the county instead of the constant and unrelenting route of the KOM.

The “highway” wanders up through a never ending series of bends and twists that make for a fun and enjoyable climb, and a chance to open the throttles a bit thanks to the modest grades. The 199 intersects with Highway 9, a larger and busier regional highway that is also a simple two lane road, albeit one loaded with big trucks delivering supplies to the cities and towns on the eastern shore. Winding our way thru a mass of slow traffic made for a fun, and perhaps ill conceived, descent as we strove to pass nearly every car and truck on the road. Once down, however, we were treated to a gorgeous Ocean view as we rode up the coast to Tongfashun restaurant for lunch, this one, naturally, a seafood spectacular brought to us thanks to the fantastic local knowledge of Aya Lee, our lead guide. After lunch it was a long roll up the coast to our hotel in Zhiben.


Day Three – The Rift Valley

The Rift Valley runs along the eastern side of Taiwan for approximately 150 kilometers. It is the home to five of Taiwans aboriginal tribes and is also renowned for the quality of rice produced there, and the vast array of outdoor activities on offer. For cyclists it is an idyllic area that includes rural roads, spectacular views and the chance to straddle two of the Earths tectonic plates, the Philippine Sea and Eurasian plates. These things don’t happen everywhere.

This was the tableau upon which our third day was etched. To a rider we awoke tired, but enthused at the prospect of riding up the valley on yet another gorgeous day in what we all have come to agree is a cycling paradise.

The Finale
Our last day started at a quaint set of cabins on the outskirts of Ruisui, a small township off the beaten path, but perfectly emblematic of life in Taiwan. Eleven villages with about 12,000 people comprise the township. We had entered just before dark the night before, riding almost through the center of one town according to the map, but you would never know it as lush greenery seemed to cloak the buildings from view. The parking lot was dirt, just off a one lane road, and while comfortable and beyond adequate, it was hardly the “five star” experience that is so often sold to tourists by guidebooks and hucksters. Then again, Taiwan cycling is not built on five star luxury, but on five star experiences and a culture that makes visitors feel like family and we are cyclists, so the ride and the experience are what matters most.

It was the shortest of our days on the bike at 51 miles and a mere 1,300 feet of climbing, but the fourth day of the tour did not disappoint in both riding and experiences. Our first stop was the Fuyuan Forest park well known for its butterfly valley and home of the largest grove of Camphor trees in any Taiwanese National Park. It is also renowned for the cycling path that winds through the trees, although we missed it to push on.


The trip was full of historical insights and locations, one of the most symbolic for me was the forestry center known as Lin Tian Shan. The fourth largest in Taiwan at the height of operations, Lin Tian Shan supplied wood to Taiwan across more than fifty years. A product of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945), Lin Tian Shan is now a historical center showcasing the diligent, sometimes forced, work of it’s roughly 2,000 inhabitants. The center has artifacts, tools and spectacular wood carvings that speak to the immense history of the area

From there it was a short sprint to the rail station in Hualien, our final destination. We pushed hard in these last miles, the pace mostly above 20 miles per hour. It was a physical strain but an mental thrill to roll quickly across the flat pavement alongside new friends of equal measure on the bike and off. Our dutiful guide Chic had come quite a long way as a rider over these past days and took his turn rotating on the front like a seasoned veteran, still wearing simple tennis shoes. As a group we were so impressed by this young man that, while waiting for the train back to Taipei, we visited a local shop and happily bought Chic a set of proper cycling shoes and pedals as a thank you for putting up with us over the course of the week. To a participant we agreed that Taiwan is a wonderful cycling destination and all plan to return as often as we are able to enjoy ever deeper appreciation of this beautiful island.

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