Friday, August 24, 2007

September Sprints

My racing season is over, so I've planned an experiment for the last 6 weeks before my October break: sprint training.

I rarely do sprint intervals -- partly becasuse I can't sprint, so I figure why worry -- and partly becasue they can be rather painful. But in looking at my 2006 data, I've noticed that even without any anaerobic-specific training work (except for what I get accidentally on Tuesday nights and in races) my maximum 5-second wattage has climbed from about 810 watts in 2006 to about 1000 watts in 2007. Maybe more importantly for practical application in racing, my maximum 10-second wattage has jumped from the mid 800s to 930 watts in the past couple of months.

Although I'll never be considered a sprinter, I want to find out how 6 weeks of sprint-specific training will affect my 5-second, 10-second, and 15-second maximal wattages. If I see a significant improvement by the end of September, I'll make sure to include sprint intervals in my training next spring. If my numbers don't move much, I'll leave out the sprint intervals next year and spend that time on hill repeats and TT threshold intervals.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Augusta Georgia Cup

MAX had another solid Georgia Cup weekend. A short summary:

TT was a 4K relatively flat loop around a pond in a park. The first 150m were uphill, then most of the remainder was pretty flat with a few technical turns. Only Drew and I raced from Macon. I took 23rd with a 5:18 and Drew took 27th with 5:23. Drew lost a few seconds avoiding a car, but it was otherwise uneventful.

After inspecting the 1K crit course with a chicane at one end and pronouncing it 'wrecky,' Drew kept the rubber side down. (Drew, Trey, Jeff, and I all rode in the competitive crit). About half way through, the guy in front of me went down in turn 4. I had no where to go but over the top of him. Luckily, he and his bike padded my crash pretty well and the only major damage was a chainring tatoo on my hip and a little upper arm road rash. I replaced my chain and took to the pit for a free lap. I got back in an held on to the back of the main group for a 27th place finish and no lost time on GC. Jeff took 5th and picked up a $50 prime, and Drew placed 13th with a strong finishing sprint. Trey got caught behind the crash and delayed, but he didn't get a free lap because he didn't go down, so he was forced to battle for the remainder of the day.

Road Race
Jeff raced in the elite division in the morning and took 2nd in a 3-man breakaway! Congratulations, Jeff. It was very hot at 1:30 when Trey, Drew, and I got started, so they reduced our race from 4 laps to 3 (about 44 miles). The 14.6-mile loop course has a couple of significant hills early, rollers in the middle, and a little climb to the finish. Other than one long solo breakaway that got about a minute on the field in the middle of the race, it was pretty uneventful. We finished in an uphill sprint. Drew took 9th, I took 12th, and Trey was a few spots behind us. Only Drew and I from MAX entered all three races. I snagged 5th in the GC and Drew took 8th GC to finish off the season with a positive note.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Happy Talk meets the TT course

Ok, my last post was a bunch of happy talk about how I was so much more aero since I'd improved my position, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Numbers are interesting, but the subtitle of this blog is 'Notes on my attempt to ride a bike faster,' not 'Notes on my attempt to prove mathematically that I have a better aero factor.'

So -- today I did a time trial.

A little background:
I started training for races in April '06. For the first 6 months, I didn't own a power meter, but I wanted to track my training progress. So I established a little 6-mile out-and-back hilly time trial and ran it hard every few weeks. In early '06 my times were in the 17:30 range. I made a May goal to do the TT course in 16 minutes by the end of the season (September 2006). I worked hard, but the best time I could muster in '06 was 16:29 (21.4 mph). I was sort of ill with myself for setting an unrealistic goal - in retrospect, I thought, 60 seconds improvement on a 6-mile course was not realistic.

This year I have a power meter, so I didn't need the TT course to monitor my form. Also, my favorite races, Rome, Dahlonega, and Augusta would have a TTT, an uphill TT, and a 2-mile prologue, so I didn't work on my time trialing much this year. In May, when I thought my form was good and I'd go out and crush my pitiful '06 TT efforts, I ran my TT course and turned in a 16:45. Damn - 15 seconds off last year's best. I pretty much stopped using the course after that.

I tried the course again today. I knew I was more aero, but I was skeptical that I could maintain adequate power in my new TT position to go very much faster, particularly on a short, hilly track like my test course.

Well it turns out that I'm faster -- a LOT faster. I did the course in 15:29 (22.9 mph) in a slight breeze. That's a minute over last year's best, which was run when I was fresh - I'm not even fresh this week. That gives me real world proof that all my efforts are paying off and I'm getting faster.

Am I faster because I'm more powerful or am I faster because I'm more aero - probably both, but who cares - I'm faster, that's all that matters.

I'm now eager to work hard this winter in my new TT position and kill my personal best time in the Tundra Time Trial on the Silver Comet in February.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New TT position

I have worked very hard over the last 5 weeks to improve my time trial position to lower my CdA (drag coefficient x frontal area). On July 4th I performed aero testing showing my CdA to be 0.297 with my skinsuit, TT helmet, shoe covers, and the body position that I've been using for the last 6 years. That body position was set in a bike fit when I purchased the bike at All3Sports about 6 years ago.

I have made three significant changes gradually over the past 5 weeks, one at a time between rides. The first was a lowering of my bars by moving spacers from beneath the stem to above the stem. I've only lowered the bars about 2 cm so far and could probably go at least one more cm over the next month or so, but I only drop 1/2 cm at a time for acclimation purposes.

The second change has been a narrowing of my elbows by bringing the elbow pads on my bars closer together by about 2 cm.

The third change (the one that's made the most difference) has been seat position. I knew that my triathlon seat position was set a lot more forward than my road bike position. Triathletes need to save their hamstrings for the run, and the forward position also opens the waist angle to allow better breathing. I found that my road bike saddle was about 12 cm further back from the bottom bracket than my tri bike. That's a lot more than I expected. I flipped the seat mount around backwards on my Cervelo and also pushed the saddle back on the rails to move my saddle back about 8-10 cm from it's original position.

The original reason I did that was to get a similar saddle-to-pedal relationship to my road bike so that I'd use those muscles similarly and not have to train additional muscles for the TT bike. That's still a good reason, but I've discovered an even bigger benefit: by shifting my hips back 8-10cm, the angle of my upper arms relative to horizontal has moved from about 90 degrees (which maximizes my shoulder height above the bars) to an angle that might be about 65 or 70 degrees to the horizontal. That has had the effect of lowering my shoulders even further relative to my hips.

It does reduce the angle of my torso to my legs, but so far it seems manageable - I'll know more after riding that way for a while and doing some power testing on the computrainer.

The end result is a reduction of my CdA from 0.297 on July 4 to 0.270 on August 13th). At first those are just numbers on the page, but when I calculated the effect of that improvement on TT times for various distances, I was quite surprised.

IF I can hold a similar power in the new TT position as I held in the old one (a big if), I can expect to save about 45 seconds on a 10-mile TT like Perry-Roubaix (and most GA Cup races) and I can expect to save over 12 minutes on the Rock-n-Rollman half-iron 56-mile course. It seems almost ridiculous, but that's what the math shows. No wonder Levi gets himself into that crazy position for TTs - there are huge benefits to being so aero.

In the best-case scenario, I can get the aero improvement and generate more power due to the more road-bike similar position. I'm going to stop moving my position now and work for a few months on getting powerful and comfortable with the new setup.

My next task is to address rolling resistance. Based on published data, I can save chunks of time by ditching the tubular Tufos on aero wheels I'm now using (maybe Crr=.006) and replacing them with good aero clincher tires (maybe Zipp 404s) using latex tubes (maybe Crr = .0045). So next I'm onto the flat road coast-down tests for Crr calculation.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dahlonega GA Cup Race Report

Here's my biased, mostly accurate, but certainly incomplete account of the Dahlonega Georgia Cup race for MAX Cycling Team:

Neels Gap TT
The course was about 5.1 miles up Neels Gap at 5.6%. The first bit was downhill, followed by a 1/2 mile of false flat, then a steady climb to the top. This was my first time trial using a power meter because I used my road bike -- having it to aid me in pacing was a big help. I stayed steady a little above my threshold power and had a good ride for me - 21:43. That put me 24th for the competitive division. Doug turned in a great ride at 19:55 or something like that to grab 2nd in competitive - 30 sec off the leader. Jeff 'Stoney' Clayton was 3 seconds off my time and Jake and Drew were not too far behind us. Christian rode 17:55 in Pro-1-2 to take 8th.

Black Mountain Road Race
It was a hot 19-mile loop with a short, steep climb up to Stonepile Gap early in the loop and lots of small hills to follow. Doug and Jeff both tried to go off the front, but both efforts failed. I think those were the only real attacks in the race. I started at the back of the 75-rider pack and spent most of the 45-minutes trying to fight my way forward around a couple of small crashes, flats, and chain drops, finishing maybe 30th (I was the last rider to get the same time as the winner). Jeff took 5th in a tough uphill sprint finish. Doug and Drew were somewhere ahead of me in the sprint, and Jake fought his way back to finish just behind me after getting caught in the yo-yo back part of the peleton.

I have to learn to either start closer to the front and stay there or I need to get better at moving up - but it's very difficult in a short, intense race with narrow roads. I burned a lot of unneccesary energy yo-yoing at the back. I need to be more aggressive on shooting through gaps in the peloton whenever possible.

Doug remained in 2nd for the GC race.

3-Gap Road Race
We rode a few miles, then Jake went off the front and gapped the peloton over the steep Stonepile hill. He was caught at the base of Woody's by a group of about 25 or 30 that started up Woody's together. I dropped off the front group to stay in my zone. A little later, I passed Jake, who was still recovering from his hard early breakaway effort. Then I apprached Drew in a group of about 6 half way up the climb. I accelerated and passed them, hoping he would jump on, but he stayed with the group. After I had a good gap on that group (30 sec?), I settled back into my rythem. A few minutes later, it was great to see that Drew had put in a huge effort to drop his group and bridge up to me. The two of us worked together and topped Woody's alone, then made a hard descent int Suches, where we caught a few others and rode to Wolfpen in a group of about 6 that included Tres Cordin, the big guy in the green Kenda kit (same guys I was with in the chase at Rome), and the red-haird guy from Harbin.

I accelerated on Wolfpen and had a gap of maybe 25 or 35 seconds on the group when we topped Wolfpen Gap. I tried to kill the very technical descent and felt I had done pretty well. At the bottom, I was amazed again to see that Drew alone had out-descended his group and caught me - Mr. D has found that going down hill quickly is a strong point of his to say the least!

Drew and I worked together up Neels, catching a few folks until he told me to go ahead about half way up as he jumped into a group of about 4 or 5 riders. I think I had about 30 or 45 seconds on his group at the top of Neels. I descended as fast as I possibly could down Neels, hoping to find another group to ride in from Neels to Stonepile, but I'm light and not very fast going downhill. Drew's group caught me at the false flat on Neels where the time trial started.

Then I made a huge tactical mistake: At the TT I had stashed a water bottle in the grass on a false flat going down Neels. I was completely out of water with an hour left to ride, so I made a decision to sprint a little ahead of the group, thinking that I could easily pick up the bottle and rejoin for the remainder of the descent. It only took me about 10 seconds to grab the bottle, but all my efforts could not get me back on the group. I almost caught them at the bottom of the climb, but by the time we reached Turners Corner, they had about 20 seconds on me. I chased hard for another 5 minutes, but was loosing ground on them. I had spent lots of energy for nothing and lost the group. Utter stupidity on my part. They probably gained 2 or 3 minutes on me between Turners Corner and Stonepile Gap, and I was very tired from the chase.

I didn't know it, but Jake had been chasing just behind Drew and I for most of the day. Jake caught up with me on the 2nd Woody's climb and we worked together for a while. About half way up, Jake told me to go and I went as hard as I could to the finish. Jake outsprinted a couple of chasers at the top when he arrived.

Doug and Jeff spent most of their day at the front and Doug picked up some KOM points and time bonuses, which may break an almost exact time tie and put him in 1st place in GC. Jeff's strong finish will probably put him in the top 10 GC. Drew's very strong descending, steady effort, and smart tactics might have moved him up into the top 25 in GC. Jake and I both felt good about our rides, but likely did not get any top 25 GC points.

If Doug wins GC, that's 2 races in Georgia Cup yellow in a row for him and for MAX - a very strong showing.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Strange Days Indeed

Most Peculiar.

It's been almost 2 weeks since I returned from RAGBRAI and 500 hard miles in 7 days. I still have not recovered. The best word to describe the past 2 weeks might be 'strange'. For the first week or so, I could tell that my body was working hard to repair itself because I'd wake up in the middle of the night with a noticeably higher heartrate than normal, and I was always hot and sweaty - both during the day and when sleeping. I had the familiar deep muscle fatigue that I feel when I wake up the day after hard ride, but it never went away throughout the day.

As the first recovery week progressed, I continued to ride, but shorter and mostly easier than normal. I'd feel great on the road one minute and like I wanted to climb off the bike the next. Steady tempo efforts were sometimes very difficult, but then I'd try a short hard effort or do a hard climb and feel much better.

Then 7 days into recovery, I made the brilliant decision to ride a century in 98 degree heat. I felt ok, but I'm sure it set back my rebound by a week or two.

I have a hypothesis that the long steady Iowa rides heavily stressed my slow twitch muscle fibers and sub-threshold energy systems, but had little effect on my fast-twitch muscle fibers (yes, I do have a few) and superthreshold energy systems. That's why I'd feel fine powering up a hill on a group ride, then think I was about to die when we eased into a tempo paceline.

I went out today and did a few hill repeats on my normal training hill to loosen up my legs and I set a new time and wattage record without even going all out. I climbed my little training hill in 44 seconds and averaged about 510 watts -- about 16 seconds faster than in April. But my legs felt horrible the entire time - go figure.

I'm not sure what it all means for the Dahlonega race this weekend, but I'll know pretty soon.