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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
It started in Taiwan really. Richard Pestes, publisher and owner of PezCyclingNews.com 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!
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.
WANDER AROUND A CHINESE MILITARY BASE…
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
Taking this evolution in technology to the biomechanics of cycling is also an interesting path to walk over the last ten years.
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.
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.
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…
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
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
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 crashed...it 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…
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!
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!
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.
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…
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.
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.
I went to France in July for two weeks of thrills in the Alps. It was a recon trip for future guided tours and a chance to ride some of those most historic of roads as well. Lots of Cols were ridden, espressos were drank, and delicious local food was eaten. Here are some highlights! It’s more of a note to myself than a real blog post since it’s so long…
I caught the TGV from Paris to Grenoble on Tuesday July 17th, grabbed the rental car and headed to my AirBnB near Bourg d’Oisans, right at the base of Alpe d’Huez. After settling in I headed out to explore a bit. My first ride was a little exploration of some small roads around the valley. It was short and sweet including the twisty, steep, and superbly quiet climb to the small town of Oulles (6Km at 10% gaining 1,963 feet). From here you can see much of the valley and the road to Alp d’Huez directly across the way. I then rode up the D526, a fairly easy road, to my first pass the Col Ornon (6Km at 5%), and then back to Bourg d’Oisans for some dinner after looking at the first couple of switchbacks on Alp d’Huez. Tiring, especially given the travel, but a nice first ride and a great dinner!
Colle delle Finestre – 2178m (7,146ft)
62 miles – 8,337 feet of climbing in 5:10
The next morning I got up early to drive to Susa, Italy and the infamous Colle delle Finestre climb that played such a huge role in this years Giro d’Italia. I parked up valley in the little town of Sauze d’Oulx, 20Km or so from Susa for a leisurely downhill warm up, grabbed an espresso and croissant in town and then hit the climb itself.
It’s only 19Km (11.1mi) or so to the top, but it is an impressive 19Km! The first 10Km are an unrelenting 9% average as you twist and turn your way thru 15-20 switchbacks hidden amongst trees. From time to time you get a great view back down to Susa for a reality check of just how far you’ve already come. There is a great little church about 1/2 way up that has a much needed water spout for a refill. Shortly after the church the road turns to dirt for the remaining 9Km. The grade remains in the 9% range all the way up and my 36×30 was probably enough gear for a well rested rider. Given my hectic travel schedule I was anything but well rested and prepared. A week of not riding (the ultimate taper!) and 30 hours of travel and awkward sleeping arrangements had left me a little more tired than I expected so I was pretty slow (224Wavg @5mph)! Still, the thrill of reaching the top and snapping some photos was immense. Then I dropped down the other side and headed for the “easy” 8Km climb to Sestriere. My greatest piece of advice on this ride is to be well rested and don’t forget to EAT, a lot! I didn’t and suffered mightily on the Sestriere climb, ultimately having to stop for 10 minutes when the cramps set in. Once they subsided I was back at it for the last 2Km to the top. I was so cooked that I had to walk back uphill a few hundred meters, stopping along the way to hurl a time or two, in order to get some food. A delicious looking hamburger simply did not sit well after one bite, so I made do with a simple coke and set out for the return drop to the car, which was picturesque and fun.
Made It. My first big summit – Colle delle Finestre – 2176m
41 miles – 5,057 feet of climbing in 4:07
Shelled, sore and fatigued I awoke to race day at the Tour de France, hauled myself our of bed and headed for our collective cycling mecca. The climb itself is tough, throw in a couple hundred thousand fans, a slew of team support vehicles, and an overly sore athlete and it makes for a bit of a challenge. I rode up about 4Km to La Garde where a sweet little road wanders off to the right and quickly becomes a narrow jaunt along a cliff wall, stunning! A couple of short tunnels and an easy grade make this a worthwhile option if you have the time. From there I returned to the main climb and made my way to the top. Lots of photo stops, lots of people, and barriers starting 4Km from the finish meant that I ended up watching the race go buy at turn 4, about 3Km from the finish. I have to say that the race itself was a bit anticlimactic for me. It is just another bike race after all. We were delayed 30 minutes or so in starting the descent so team vehicles could get riders down first, but were rewarded with a pretty fun descent amongst thinner crowds.
Col du Sabot and Col de la Confession
35.2 miles – 5,161 feet of climbing in 2:43
After a bit of rest I was ready for the next challenge. A rental car disaster kept me off the bike until nearly 6pm, but one really great part of riding in July in France is that it doesn’t get dark until after 9pm every night! The air was cool, the sky was gorgeous and I was feeling nearly normal again so I set off to climb the Col du Sabot. Rolling along the start of the Croix de Fer I could see rain clouds forming farther up the pass. Fortunately my route took me to the next valley over and I had a dry ride throughout! The climb itself is perhaps the most beautiful climb in the World! Ok, that may be a stretch but nice pavement, a consistently hard grade, and a series of small villages perched on the mountain side, made for a truly memorable experience. I rode about 8Km up to the village of La Collette, which is about 1/2 way up the Sabot. The weather higher up looked a little dicey so I decided to descend and ride another nearby route, the Col de la Confession. This great little road winds up the mountain to Villard Reculas, another of the story book villages dotting the mountains in the area. The road narrows above the town and continue to the top of the pass before a great little descent to the village of Huez just above the infamous “Dutch Corner.” By this time it was after 8pm and I was rewarded with a nearly empty road for the descent back to Bourg d’Oisans. It is amazing to me that on a Saturday night, a mere two days after the Tour de France has passed, I had the whole of the road as my private playground for a few minutes, awesome!
Mont du Chat
17.3 miles – 4,114 feet of climbing in 1:43
I first saw this amazing road while watching the 2017 Criterium du Dauphine and knew I wanted to ride it. Further research noted that it is one several lists of France’s “best climbs” and my mind was set. I have to say that I was a bit intimidated by the climbs and abandoned my previously built Strava ride that was some 80 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing, opting instead to head straight to the main course. What a course it is! 8 kilometers at 10% average grade is exactly as hard as it sounds. The road is a heavier pavement, but generally smooth and predictable both up and down. There was an excess of traffic going up and down so you had to keep your wits about you lest you end up on the front of a fast moving moto or car! The climb took just over an hour and includes 10 switchbacks and about a thousand other little turns that make the descent fun, and sometimes nerve wracking. It was easy to spot the turn where Richie Porte flipped himself out of the race about 2Km into the 15min descent (I might have stopped a time or two for pictures). Difficult and great! From there I drove to Annecy to pick up my riding buddy Yuwen who would spend the rest of the trip exploring with me.
Col du Forclaz and Col des Aravais
Forclaz – 5 miles – 2,055 feet of climbing in 1:20
Aravais – 9 miles – 1,400 feet of climbing in 0:47
We awoke the next day for a quick breakfast before heading out to find a rental bike for Yuwen so we could ride around the lake. Once we hit the bottom of the lake we couldn’t help but tackle the nearby Col de Forclaz – I mean why not, right? The climb was the easiest so far, although in fairness I did it on my 16lb Neil Pryde race bike while Yuwen tackled it on a 35+ pound hybrid, so we know who the real champion of the day is! From the top the views of the lake were stupendous, punctuated by the overhead flights of dozens of people parapenting their way off the mountain.
The next day we headed up to La Clusaz to tackle a small version of the Col des Aravais, a classic little climb up to a gorgeous summit, peaked by a small church and stunning mountains all around.
Lacets de Montvernier and Col du Chaussey
24.4 Miles – 3,894 feet of climbing in 2:30
You’ve seen the pictures and wanted to ride it. Iconic and gorgeous the “laces” of Montvernier were part of this years Tour and simply look amazing! The secret benefit is that they are merely the starting point to a really great climb called the Col du Chaussey, which continues up another 10Km at 8% for 2,438 feet of elevation. Some killer views and cute little villages along the way led to the summit where we had a well earned Coke and conversation with a couple of Belgian guys before descending back to our base in Saint Jean du Maruienne. Good day.
Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier
39 miles – 7,750 feet of climbing in 3:55
The second really big ride of the trip. 34Km to the top if you include the Col du Telegraphe. Pretty cool climbing, though not much to see on Telegraphe. After a 5Km descent, you then roll along up the valley as you leave Valoire for about 10Km before a right turn over a small bridge and the real action starts. The final 8Km or so are quite a bit tougher, the more so as altitude gets mixed in, but so gorgeous to just stop and take in the views. Tons of cyclists on the route both ways along with a host of cars, campers and motos, each looking for the thrill of the summit. The final kilometer up from the tunnel is just grand! Felt good and strong finally. I rode back down to the tunnel so I could come up the last kilometer with my riding buddy Yuwen, who did awesome! The descent is a blast with good predictable and fun corners on the upper section and fast, mostly straight roads back into Valoire. An epic day!
Col du Mollard and Col de la Croix de Fer with a special bonus of the Col du Glandon
46.8 miles – 7,250 feet of climbing in 3:52
Croix de Fer
The Croix de Fer has been my self-described “favorite” climb in the Tour de France for quite some time. The images of the field crossing the summit, the massive crowds, the narrow roads, it just seemed like heaven to me, the quintessential Alpine Col. Then I heard about the Col du Mollard option from the awesome Cycling-Challenge website and knew that was my path to the Iron Cross! I started from the downtown apartment we had, rolling easily to the base of the climb in Villargondran and immediately started going up! Col du Mollard has about 40 switchbacks in the first 10Km and runs up just over 3,300 feet in 11 miles to arrive at the gorgeous ski town of Albiez Montrond. I stopped for a much needed espresso and Nutella Crepe before the quick drop to Belleville and the last 15 kilometers of the Croix de Fer. I knew it was 15Km, and I knew I wanted to hit it pretty hard. We’d driven down the pass a couple of days earlier in a gorgeous rain storm while driving back from a recon of Bourg d’Oisans/Alpe d’Huez. It was treacherous and thrilling to drive down the narrow roads trying to take in the epic nature of what was to come. The left turn onto the D926 started out blissfully modest and I stepped on the gas, aiming to average 250W for the remainder. Like many Alpine climbs the Croix de Fer rolls up a long valley before starting a final, brutal, ascent to the summit. In this case it was 7.5Km of 4% before I hit the village of Saint-Sorlin d’Arves and the final 7Km averaging 9%. I felt great and only made one quick stop to grab some water in town before heading up. It was everything I’d hoped. Narrow and pock marked pavement winding skyward to the next switchback it was a dream climb.
From the top it is a mere 2.5 kilometers over to the summit of the Col du Glandon, another infamous climb in the region. Yuwen rode up the Glandon and with the luck of lovers we met at the summit within a few minutes of each other, then headed back to the top of the Croix de Fer before descending the Glandon back to the car. The descent was the best one of the whole trip. It starts off steep and then softens slightly making for fast and fun turn upon turn upon turn. All variety of turn strung together on perfect pavement in glorious sun as we dropped 20 kilometers and 4,600 feet to the valley below, enjoying ever moment.
Col d’Iseran and Col de la Madeline
40 miles – 5,312 feet of climbing in 3:00
The Galibier/Telegraphe and Croix de Fer/Mollard climbs really served to whet the appetite so we made a spur of the moment decision and bagged our return train to Paris the next day, instead heading to Lanslebourg so we could climb the Col d’Iseran, the highest paved pass in Europe, and it was a really great decision! From the accommodations (a little one room ski chalet) to probably the best dinner of the whole trip, we enjoyed the experience immensely. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult. At over 9,000 feet in elevation it was a solid challenge to climb. The ride started with an ascent of the petite Col de la Madeline, 2 miles at 8% to get the sweat rolling. Then it was a leisurely ride to the base of the real climb, the final 14Km to the summit. It was a challenging ride, despite the relatively short distance and modest altitude gain. The descent, however, was the real thrill. Shortly after leaving the summit we could see the rain clouds rolling into the valley below and knew that it was going to get to us shortly. Sure enough about 5Km from the bottom we got hit with a driving wind and rain that immediately chilled thru my light rain jacket. The wind tried several times to blow me off the bike and Yuwen, several kilometers behind me and moving cautiously on wet roads, was forced to seek refuge in one of the high alpine huts used by ranchers tending herds in years gone by. She was rescued by a great Italian family while I raced ahead to get the car! It was a truly huge end to the day and a warm lunch in Bonneval Sur-Arc at the base of the main climb helped get our body temperatures back to normal for the drive to Grenoble and our waiting train.
In total I managed to ride 18 or 20 Cols, climb some 55,000 feet and ride about 385 miles of some of the most famous and inspiring roads I’ve ever been on! What else can I say about the trip except that I really hope to return again soon and explore more of the glorious Alps with clients and friends…
This is from the PezCyclingNews Toolbox archive circa 2016, but it continues to stay relevant year over year – and serves as a springboard to deeper thinking about the role of a rider within a team plan. I’ll tackle that more in a future post. For now read on and I hope you enjoy…
Last week at the Tour of Qatar, Team Katusha offered viewers a day to day primer on the value of a solid team plan executed to perfection, netting 3 stage wins in the process. Read on to learn how you and your teammates can begin to emulate the sort of selfless racing on display by the big dogs.
The pros live and breathe by the fact that cycling is a team sport, with each rider doing what is best to accomplish the goals of the team. Unfortunately, in the amateur realm this sort of effective execution is at best hit or miss, and more often than not completely missing.
You may recall a few weeks ago that I wrote about the value of having a team training camp. A training camp offers you and your mates the chance to get better acquainted, set some goals for the coming season, and enjoy long hours of our favorite activity! So what’s the next obvious project for you to tackle? How about building some effective team tactics? Trust me, it involves far more than a last minute discussion on the starting line about “doing a leadout!”
Who’s the Man/Woman?
This may seem completely rudimentary, but having a thorough race plan is the first step to success. Far too often riders arrive at the start line with no idea of who is the team leader and what sort of help is needed, much less an idea of what “help” really means.
Here is an interesting caveat to the above statement – it is surprisingly common for everyone on the squad to default to a helper/domestique role! This may seem counter to the common (mis)conception that most riders are really in it for themselves and don’t want to work for others, but in my experience it usually works the other way. Offering your services to the team is selfless and frankly, it is far easier to offload the pressure and responsibility of being “the guy (or gal)” and instead accept some largely undefined role as a domestique for the day.
In contrast, I challenge each of my team riders (and you) to take on the mantle of responsibility at least once each season, especially in the lower categories. It is an essential part of learning to be a complete racer and forces the rider to step up their game and deal with the stress of responsibility.
Once you have an idea of who the leader is, you can start sorting out what they will need to be successful. Are they good at positioning themselves near the front? If not, who can best help them do that? Who is going to carry an extra water bottle or rice cake so the leader doesn’t have to?
I like to assign at least one, often two riders to act as sole support for the team leader. These riders should all be very familiar with one another and able to instantly identify a need, meet that need and move the team plan forward.
To that I add a road captain – someone on the squad who has shown themselves astute at reading a race and more importantly moving around the field to marshal assets to the task at hand. From there we assign roles to the remaining riders based on their abilities and fitness. Here is where the meat and potatoes work of planning comes into play.
Really Riding for the Team
Often an amateur domestique will indeed think of themselves over the team needs. Not so much for their individual result or a win, but rather in their willingness to sacrifice themselves completely to the altar of team success versus a desire to not get dropped from the raging peloton. Ego is funny that way. So one key element is to carefully create and assign roles to riders so that they feel a sense of responsibility AND a sense of accomplishment at completing their assigned task.
If one of my riders is asked to ride tempo on the front for the first two laps of a 10 km course hard enough to dissuade attacks, I expect them to arrive at the 20 km mark largely destroyed and unable to further contribute to the teams plan. That leadout guy who’s supposed to drop the sprinter off at 200m – his finish line is at 200 m and he should ride as such. Doing a hard leadout at 28 mph is not doing your job – you need to take it to 32 mph or more to create the kind of pressure that stretches the field and allows the rider safely attached to your rear wheel to thrive in a diminishing field of challengers.
So what is the key to creating this kind of buy in? Early planning and a consistent post-mortem on the race are two key aspects that are often overlooked or under-utilized. To meet this goal I use both a pre-race planning sheet and a post-race report that is standardized and assigns tasks and grades to each rider.
Don’t let the post race meeting turn into a complaint session where everyone takes shots at each other for not doing “their job” – no, this is a team effort and each rider must put ego on the shelf and be open to the critique and criticisms on offer from those in the fray, and accountable for their contributions and missed opportunities. One of the teams I coach has gone so far as to make these forms available online well ahead of the race so we have a living document of ideas that simply need a final version, as well as an instant database of each seasons racing. It’s very handy!
Begin With The Past
A good first step in creating a viable plan is to look at how the race played out in the past, and how your team in particular performed. Has the race been run on the same course for the last 10 years and always come down to a field sprint? Building a plan where your guy solos off the front from half distance is probably a losing proposition. Has there been a break-away each of the last few years? Why and where did it go? These snapshots of previous events can help form the template of what might work for you and your team.
Subsequent to that, look at the course itself. What is the defining characteristic of the race or the course itself? What obstacles are presented? Once you have a course and event profile, take it a step deeper. Where is the wind on the finish? Is there a particular landmark or course component that gives rise to an attack, or a nefarious corner that has seen mayhem time and again? How can you use this recon to your advantage?
If possible, I like to have my riders pre-ride particularly important race courses to see what changes the road may have undergone. Perhaps your favorite corner has been repaved and is now far less intimidating. Maybe what was a killer climb last year is now a mere bump because you and your team are fitter and more prepared. What gives you the advantage? Find it and build around it.
Team tactics in amateur racing are too often all talk and no action. Riders meet up before the start and hatch together an on-the-fly plan that has no background or thought put into it save the classic “who feels strong today?” Why don’t you help take your team to the next level by creating a comprehensive race plan for your next outing? There are some fundamentals to that task; namely knowing who you have available for the race, what their capabilities are, what the course profile is and where the opportunities lie for your team. To that you should add an almost obsessive amount of detail about who is to do what and when so as to create buy in from the other riders that their contribution to the greater good is worth not making the final selection.