The questions below were asked by ride leader Gary Johnson and club members. The answers were provided by local professional cyclist Dale Sedgwick, via email.
Q: I spend the majority of my season putting miles on my road bike (group rides, commuting, etc...) but there are a small number of races during the year that require my TT bike. Should you split your training evenly between both your road and TT bike or does the miles put on the road bike suffice? Being the fit of a TT bike is slightly different, one would think that you are working different muscles between the two but is there really THAT much difference in conditioning?
Also, as far as training is concerned, other than getting used to the difference in control and balance between the two bikes, should one train differently on a road bike vs a TT bike?
A: Obviously, when you're fit you're fit. My teammate Nick (Eddy) Vetter signed up for a 5k run last year because his girlfriend was doing it. Eddy hadn't done any running at all, but he got 2nd place, and pushed the winner really hard! I used to win MTN bike races without ever riding a MTB outside of a race.
So, you'd think that I'll say that you don't have to train on a TT bike. But, I think you should. How much and how often depends on how seriously you want to take TT races. If these races are important, you should probably do 1 day/week of TT bike riding. These rides should be intervals at TT pace, and not very long rides. You will want your body to adapt to the TT position. I used to TT without ever practicing the TT position. I won quite a few races, but they really, really hurt. My glutes and arms would kill me for a couple days. Now, I refuse to do TT races- no fun for me!
Avoid my pain, and ride the TT bike on interval days.
Hey, my TdF predictions weren't that bad! usually I'm way off because I choose an up and comer young rider. Taramae did a great U25 ride though. He's a talent to watch. Tony Martin has to get away from Cavendish if he ever wants to do something for himself! The way that team uses him up- incredible that he still won the TT stage!!!!
Q: Now that the TdF will be starting in a couple days here's a question for you. How do the riders manage to stay hydrated from day to day especially during the very hot weather and back to back mountain stages?
A: A rider may be able to get through a one day race on a few bottles, but during stage races you have to drink all the time! Riders will all take turns going back to the cars for bottles, and this doesn't stop throughout a stage.
On one stage of the NVGP [now called the North Star Grand Prix], I had a teammate in a group of 10 about 20 seconds in front of me. I was in a group of about 15-20 riders just behind. The gap was too small to allow cars in between the groups. So, I was getting all the bottles I needed on a hot day, while everyone in my teammate's group had to go without. This went on for about 45 minutes. When we got to the finishing circuits our groups came together (this was in Cannon Falls). After a short lull, my teammate attacked. He got about 10 seconds ahead on a hill, then blew sky high. He even fell over at the top of the hill. I felt OK and finished with a top 15 placing that day, just behind the winner. In a stage race, my teammate should have looked behind, seen the cars, and dropped back. Even if the groups didn't come together, he would have only lost a handful of seconds. He would have been hydrated and been a factor on the finishing circuits.
In the TdF, riders cannot make mistakes like that. They must drink all the time. If a riders loses his bottles in a crash in the first 40 kms, (before feeding starts) he will still go get bottles from the car. This will lead to a fine, but you must sometimes take the fine in stage races (this applies to drafting cars up to the pack after a flat too).
During the 90s, I saw teams give their riders hydration IV bags after massage. With public sensitivity (and rightly so) to doping, teams have quit this. Teams and organizers are imposing "no needle rules". I for one am happy about this. Our sport progresses in fighting against doping, leaving all other sports behind in anti-doping measures.
Q: When corning at high speed what is the best technique for entering a corner, line, braking, peddle & hand position etc.? How does this differ for a high speed switchback mountain descent?
A: The thing to remember when cornering is that position on the bike is important. I see a lot of people who sit way back on their saddles, with their pelvis more or less straight up and down. They will then bend at the stomach and reach for the bars. In this position, the rider will have almost all their weight on the rear wheel, with the front wheel unweighted. This will work for a nice and fast 40k/hr corner (which is pretty fast on the bike) in the dry. In the rain however, a rider with this sort of position will have his or her front wheel slide out. Same goes for really fast cornering- like the last corner of a criterium.
At the other extreme, I have seen triathlons on TV, where riders enter a corner with all their weight on the front wheel. On 2 different occasions I have seen elite triathlons where the bike portion was in the rain. Watching the riders enter with all their weight on the front wheel, I said "those guys are going to crash in this corner". I was right.
So, good position means that your weight is more or less in the middle of the bike, with both wheels carrying your weight. This position is more forward and more aggressive looking than that of many riders you will see out riding.
Next, hand position. To be forward and in control, you will want to have your hands on the drops. I can corner pretty aggressively on the hoods, but will go to the drops for a really fast corner.
As you enter the corner, you will want to be on the outside of the road. Turn towards the apex, then let the bike flow out again on the exit. Be aware of the riders around you: don't aim for the apex and chop a rider on your inside, and don't push riders off the road while setting up on the outside of the road before a corner. Be smooth.
Next, think about carving the bike through the corner - not steering it. Put your weight on the outside pedal, which will be down, towards the road.
While descending a mountain, the same principles apply. One difference would be that you may want to sit up on the hoods on the straightaways in order to take more wind. You will scrub speed like this. Careful with that front brake at high speeds!!
For all your high speed cornering, you will want to do your braking before the corner. Scrub all the speed you have to, then let your bike flow through the corner.
To summarize, you will want to be in the middle of your bike, with your hands on the drops, and your outside pedal down. Braking occurred before the corner, and now you are weighting the outside pedal. Enter wide, steer towards the apex, then flow out of the corner. Movements should be smooth and fluid. Watch Moto GP racing on TV. Same ideas, just slower. Think of downhill ski racers. If they steer to much, they slide out. As Lindsey Vonn (spelling?) enters a corner, she moves forward on the skis and puts her weight on the outside (downhill) ski. She carves through and thinks of the next corner. Same principles apply to us.
Watch the Tour de France this July. The Schleck brothers look all out of sorts on a descent. They need a huge lead on a mountain descent if they want to hold off other riders. Sammy Sanchez can lose a minute or so on the climb, and make it all up on the descent. Look for him to attack on descents. Watch the lines the riders take, and watch their positions on the bike.
Don't cross the center line while out training/practicing descending and cornering. Be safe!
Q: Follow up questions regarding the cornering question above:
1. How much should you be leaning the bike versus actively steering (i.e. pulling the handlebars around) as you come to and through the apex?
2. This may be related to the first one, but I always seen to overcook my turns because I don't complete a tight arc through the turn. I suspect I may just be concerned that the tires won't grip the road if I lean over too far. How do you maintain a very tight arc without slipping out (I suspect you've answered this - outside pedal down and weight on the middle of the bike?)
3. What should your head be doing through all of this? I have heard the rule to lead with your head and look out of the turn as you come into it...
- For most corners, the active steering only comes as you enter the corner. You may start with turning the bars, but the feeling of leaning the bike should take over. In other words, move to the outside of the corner, steer towards the apex, then lean the bike through. On exiting, you normally will only have to straighten out and accelerate. This is all a little oversimplified, but movements should always be smooth and flowing. Use your body, not your arms. Which brings me to point 2
- You are correct. The importance is to have your weight on the outside pedal and central over the bike (weight on saddle vs bars). Don't steer too much!
- Eyes should always be up the road! This may actually lead to overcooking corners. Eyes are up, getting the big picture. This is true always. If your concentration is too much on the road in front of your front wheel, your movements will tend to be more jerky, less fluid. In cornering, your sight is up, well in front. You have sized up the corner well before you got there and picked out potholes. In the corner, you are already looking at the exit. On the exit, your eyes and mind are up the road.
Q: 1. How close are most of us to an ideal pedaling technique? How much power/performance can be gained by improving pedaling technique? Thoughts on how to improve.
2. Hill climbing. Sit, stand, spin? Come in hot with 53 chain ring, then drop to smaller chain ring part way up? Increase cadence early? Ride your own pace? Strategies for surviving/excelling in the hills on local club rides.
A: How close are riders to ideal pedaling technique? Do you want the honest answer, or the nice answer? Honestly, most riders, outside of elite riders, don't have very good technique on the bike. Sorry, I had to be honest. Have you watched the pros ride on TV? I would point to Sylvain Chavanel, Tom Boonen, and Levi Leipheimer, among many others as having excellent technique on the bike. Watch almost any French rider. The French are very insistent on technique. It's rare to see a French rider with poor technique/position. There are of course great pro riders with lousy technique. They look like they're fighting their bikes, but somehow still make them go fast. Some people have a ton of talent I guess. I just dabbled in the Fixed Gear Classic last weekend and was very impressed (of course) with (multiple world champion) Marco Marvulli! The guy was perfect on his bike- no bobbing, flailing, rocking, rolling, shaking, shimmying, etc. Just perfect: still upper body, knees in, perfect rotation. You couldn't even tell when he was sprinting!
Will ideal technique improve your power? Yup. It will help in rolling down the road in that you will be just cruising instead of losing energy. On climbs, you can remain seated and keep your heart rate lower. When the pace is moderately hard, you are still in more or less cruising mode with good technique. A time trialist with equal power output, but with better technique will finish faster. Cavendish has such perfect sprinting technique that he is almost unbeatable when he's on!
In short, no matter what level you are riding at, your pulse rate will be lower with better technique on the bike.
How do you improve? With lots of practice! In Europe they talk about feeling your chain. The top of the chain should be tight all the time. Have you ever seen riders who have chains that tighten and loosen? That is to be avoided. Position is very important as well. I would suggest asking experienced riders for advice while out riding. It takes an outside opinion. Finally, watch the pros. An amateur soccer player will watch Messi and try to emulate his moves. I'm surprised at how many Americans watch pro cycling, but don't take anything away from it. Those guys aren't just riding their bikes hard. Unless it's a time trial. Even then, watch Cancellara. He must be doing something right. Try to take something away from watching him on TV.
So, what technique do you use for hills. My answer is going to be a big, ambiguous, it depends. It depends on the speed going into the hill, the wind, your fitness, your body size, your pedaling technique, length of the hill, steepness of the hill, among others. Generally, the better the rider, the faster they go over the top. Inexperienced riders often blow their wads too early. They will sprint the bottom, out of the saddle, then blow sky-high half-way up. If the hill is longish, practice pedaling smoothly and in control at the bottom. Keep good form as you climb. If you can roll over the top with your group while still seated, do it. If you need to get out of the saddle the second half, then do that. In France, they tell you to always shift into bigger gears, not smaller, as the climb continues (of course real mountains are different). Good climbing technique should always be practiced while alone, or with a small group of friends. This will help on group rides. Train your weaknesses.
Q: Would you go into a little detail about early spring training on the bike? Once the weather gets nice enough to ride 3-4 times a week what kind of mileage and speed do you recommend for the first 500 miles, and in what gearing? Same question for 500-1,000 miles? Do you emphasize saddle time vs. mileage? At what point do you consider yourself race ready?
A: Spring training all depends on what you consider spring. It seems like we just got out of winter and straight to summer!
I'll re-phrase spring training to preseason training for our needs. Preseason training, as Gary hints at in his question, is all about getting yourself ready for the hard efforts that will come later in the year. Professional cyclists will build up an enormous number of hours in the saddle before even their team training camps which occur in January. When I flew to France on the 1st of February when I raced there, my teammates had 4-7,000 kilometers of base miles already done. I found out during chats at our training camp in the south of France where we did about 30 hours of training in a week. Again, this was during the 1st week of Feb.
Notice I said hours- not miles. Your body knows training load, which is hours and intensity. It doesn't really care how many miles it did- and neither should you. 80 miles in Pennsylvania can be more difficult than 130 miles here, due to terrain.
As for gearing and intensity: What did you do over the winter?
The old model of doing a certain number of miles in a certain gear goes back to the days when European pros hung their bikes in the basement on the 15th of October, and didn't touch them again until around the holiday season. In the meantime, they would drink a lot of beer, do the odd cyclocross race for fun, and eat a lot of blood sausages. They would do a couple weeks prep, then go to training camps in southern Europe where they would do long easy miles. You would be hard-pressed to find an elite cyclist following that pattern today. After a couple weeks of jogging, most elites will start doing long miles in November.
So what does that mean to us? We have to do another sport during the winter. If you know me, I think that sport is Nordic skiing. I can think of other sports, like speed skating, that would be great as well. If you come off a season on the XC skis or skates, you will be able to train a lot higher level than if you didn't. You can count those hours on the trails or track as early season base miles. You will still need the hours in your legs to transfer your fitness into cycling specific fitness, but you will be weeks ahead of anyone who had a non-athlete winter.
So, it's all relative. But what are some general guidelines?
- You will need to do a lot of miles/kilometers/hours of aerobic riding. Gearing will depend on fitness, weather (wind), time available, and terrain.
- Don't jump into a lot of intensity before you are ready. Intensity has to be added little by little- your body needs to adapt to training!! When I see some teams doing hill repeats during a rare nice March weekend (and I have seen it), I know they will be finished by May. They will write off their seasons and start talking about cyclocross.
- Your first races might be a disappointment. Don't let this get you down. Stick to your plans and schedule and you can be strong all summer.
- Listen to your body. Never forget that training must be progressive and full of rest. Your body needs to adapt to every level of training before going to the next level. Never mimic a pro's training! Read about it, understand the principles, then apply the principles to yourself.
Q: What piece of equipment had the greatest impact on your performance? (Not Brand specific) Wheels? Power Meter? Tires? Frame?
A: Hmmm. Maybe I'll start from the bottom and work my way up.
Power Meter: How do elite runners and xc skiers train if they don't know their power? Pretty well actually. A piece of equipment that is not needed; unless you have a few hundred/couple thousand bucks just burning a hole in your pocket. I'd rather buy an airline ticket to Europe though.
Frame: The fit is by far the most important factor in a good frame. Handling is second. Weight? Nearly all bikes are light now. Brand doesn't mean a lot except that certain brands may fit you better than others. You just have to try out a lot of bikes if you're going to buy a new one.
Tires: Pretty important actually. The longer you ride, the more you will have the opportunity to try different tires and really find ones that you like. Different tires work well for different courses and weather conditions too.
Wheels: The most bang for the buck. A fast set of wheels will make your bike feel fast! Things to consider are weight, aerodynamics, and handling characteristics. I always try to train on heavy wheels so my bike feels fast on race day.
Q: When does it make sense to be in the small chain ring and a smaller cog versus the big chain ring and a larger cog given the gear inch combinations are similar?
A: Chain rings. Do you want to be in the 53X21, for example, or shift to the little ring? I never did learn my gear inch chart, but if you can, it is nearly always preferable to shift to the small chain ring. The reason for this is that there is a lot more tension and friction on the chain when you are going big-big. The tension and friction mean that you are losing much of the energy you are putting into the pedals.
There is another reason for shifting in a race. Until crunch-time, you should work on saving your legs as much as possible. I see many, many racers wasting their big effort on pushing big gears when the pace is slow. The correct thing to do is to shift to the small ring until the final lap/few miles, then use your saved energy to tear up the hill/headwind in the final few miles. This is one of my biggest cycling secrets actually. When I see a rider plodding up a hill, and there's still an hour or more to go, I know I can beat him!
Q: What kind of diet do you eat in the days before and on a race day?
A: As I age, and as my body's needs change, I am still trying to work this out for myself. First, it depends on what kind of event you will be racing. Food needed for an hour long TT or criterium is a lot different than for a 100 mile RR. That said, here are some basic guidelines:
- Don't eat too much the night before a race. Some riders load up on pasta like it will give them super-human strength the next day. Sorry, it won't. Your body needs to have its glycogen stores replenished, but mass quantities of pasta, etc. are not needed. Meals the day before a race should be light and sensible. You won't digest a big steak dinner if you're racing the next day. I like a nice pasta salad or a rice dish. I can't handle spicy food either. Make sure you drink enough water.
- Eat at least 3 hours before a race. I will make this even longer for a crit or TT. For a short, intense event, I like to finish eating 4-5 hours before. I'll have Gatorade/Clif Shots/or a couple bites of energy bar up to 1/2 hour before, but I want my stomach to be pretty empty. 3 hours works great for a RR, then I'll eat a clif bar right before the start. My stomach is pretty empty then. Remember, your blood should be carrying oxygen to your legs- not in your stomach helping to digest food.
- Eat light the day of your race. You won't digest much of the protein you will eat on race day, so forget about the tales of steak or horse meat (a belgian thing) before a race. Stick with a light carb that you like- bowl of oats or cereal (maybe raisin bran wouldn't be the greatest). I like a nice bowl of oatmeal with fruit juice and chocolate. Or, bread with Nutella. Again, sometimes I see riders load up on huge quantities of food. This will slow you down, not help- your training is what will help!
- Remember to eat slowly and relax at dinner. Turn off the TV and have a nice conversation. Meal time is relaxation time!
All in all, being athletes doesn't give us free-reign to eat all sorts of bad foods. Actually, we have to eat more sensibly than everyone else. You would think that Pros would be eating all sorts of mass quantities of foods- but this is not the case. You should never hesitate to take in plenty of calories in drinks while riding though.
Q: On stage 15 of the 2010 TDF Alberto Contador attacked Andy Schleck with 2 kilos to go to the finish after Andy had drive train problems. On the podium dressed in yellow some of the crowd booed Alberto. This is a tough question, but in your opinion was this move unsportsmanlike?
A: This is a tough call. I've seen a lot of unsportsmanlike riding in my days- mostly in the US and Mexico. Mexico was ridiculous: whenever a rider flatted or crashed, all the other teams would go to the front and drive the pace as hard as they could. I would sit in and shake my head in disbelief. I've seen it go both ways in the US- I've seen attacking after crashes, and I've seen the whole pack wait after a crash. I've also seen a lot of so-called pros in the US swinging their bikes around at the front of the pack too. That said, nobody would think of attacking while Lance was stopped for a flat or a pee break.
Races in Europe waited more for big crashes, and even had go-slows called by the riders if cars weren't controlled well enough. But, nobody is going to slow down once the race is on! The last hour or so of racing is full on no matter what countries unwritten rules you're racing under. In my opinion, Contador had every right to attack Schleck. My opinion would be the opposite if Schleck jammed his chain or crashed in a feed zone 100ks from the finish. In the 1996 Tour du Pont, Lance didn't think at all about slowing down when Rominger and about 5 other rivals crashed 5ks from the finish. Quick-Step didn't wait when McEwan flatted with about 10ks to go in a Tour de France stage a few years back (McEwan still won). In Lance's famous musette crash in the 2003 TdF, Ullrich and others didn't want to wait. Hamilton had to yell at them quite a bit before they slowed up for Lance- and then they didn't slow up too much.
People shouldn't boo Contador for racing near the end of a race(maybe for other things though), and Contador shouldn't have come up with his "I didn't see it" story. He should have said that riders can't afford to wait near the end of a race.
Cycling is also becoming much, much more competitive on the equipment front as well- nearly as much as motor sports. When I first started racing, everyone was on steel bikes with 32 spoke wheels with Mavic rims. Bikes were pretty much equal. Equipment makers today are spending big bucks on R&D and advertising. Everyone is trying to develop the newest must-have part or clothing item. This is great for the sport and is changing the sports' codes as well. There is a lot of equipment development riding on the backs of ProTour teams. F1 has constructor's championships as well as driver's, and I think cycling is moving in this direction a bit. If Schlecks' equipment and/or mechanic is not up to snuff then something needs to be changed.