The Power Post – What it takes to be a fast cyclist
“It’s about as much time in the saddle as possible. The more you ride the better you get. It’s as simple as that. Once you get that big engine you go more into specifics”
– Shane Sutton, British Cycling Head Coach and Shareholder in London’s new state of the art indoor cycling studio – Athlete Lab
Today we look at 1). Why train with a power metre 2). the FTP test, cycling’s great leveller 3). what numbers you need to put out if you want to go PRO.
And if you are a tweeter – why not share our hashtag #PowerintheLab Just click the icon below to tweet!
Let’s face it, cycling is f**king tough. I’m going to use a censored swear word because frankly I have been smashing myself for years to try to get to the ‘next’ level. Sound familiar? Like you, I have read, shared, invested in all the training books and equipment I could get, mixed in with some awful 6am morning training rides in blizzard temperatures with only hot tea in me to keep me going (or all over my gloves – Milan-San Remo reference there cyclists). Strava is great and all, but I needed to start tailoring my programmes not to win KOM – with bursts of superhuman energy – but so that I could lead from the front 4 hours into a race rather than hanging on to the back.
After torturing myself for all this time (including a non-stop, solo 3500km 12 day ride across Europe, so no newbie!) , I think I have cracked it. I am finally putting out the 4.30 w/kg and it is going up quite rapidly.
Like Shane says, it comes down to specifics – with a little help from my power meter and some of his advised programmes at Athlete Lab
You may have seen that Michael Hutchinson, former professional cyclist in 3 Commonwealth Games, published a new book – Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists – which details the ‘secrets’ of how to get more speed on two wheels. In it, Michael points out that essential pieces of kit (if you want to take up this sport seriously) is the power meter and heart monitor. These two things will give you an exact knowledge of your performances and progress, with pinpoint real figures of how hard – or how much power you are giving at any one time.
Power, or more specifically the mighty ‘watt’ is fast becoming the common currency for training plans & is allowing cyclists to reach their full potential in a very competitive race circuit. If you train as you’re supposed to train, you plan a variety of structured bike workouts to strengthen any weaknesses in your riding, whether that’s stamina, power, lactate threshold or aerobic endurance. A typical weekly schedule may include long endurance rides at a moderate aerobic intensity, short intense hill intervals at VO2 max, tempo rides including lactate threshold blocks, or my personal favourite the Fight Club. The advantage of a power meter is that you can find and hold the appropriate level of intensity for each workout.
I appreciate names don’t often help explain the sessions above, so a brief run through:
The Lab’s indoor classes include;
Lactate threshold is the glass ceiling of cycling performance-it’s an invisible barrier that keeps you down. When you do crack through, the rewards are sweet.
Lactate, your body’s buffering agent, neutralizes the acid that builds up in your legs and makes them burn during heavy exertion. The harder you turn the cranks, the faster acid accumulates. Eventually, your muscles generate more acid than you can neutralize and your searing muscles force you to ease up. The point at which you begin to accumulate acid more quickly than you can dissipate it is your LT, or, in riding terms, the fastest pace you can maintain for 30 minutes without feeling like your legs are on fire.
– Super Sprint Interval
Short sharp intervals designed to improve cardio-respiratory fitness and recovery. In a race have quick cardio-respiratory recovery is essential, if you can recover from an attack quicker than everyone else, you can launch the next attack whilst everyone else is still trying to recover.
– Fight Club
These intervals are designed to take you well into your anaerobic zones (dark side) and to improve your cardio-muscular-respiratory fitness.
Attack, Attack and Attack is the main word!
– Hill Intervals
As you gain fitness, you’ll begin to find your power target ranges consistently become too easy and will therefore need to adjust them upward (that’s good). You can make this adjustment either by slowly putting the resistance up on the pedals or by the legendary FTP test which calculates the power zones a rider works in.
– Mountain Madness
– Dedicated Race Days
Bragging rights on the line, testing myself against the best!
FTP test – A trial by fire.
FTP or ‘Functional Threshold Power’ test is a key tool to see what level you are at in your cycling training and can be used as a marker for improvement & future goals. It is thus really important that you give everything you have got as this figure is used throughout your subsequent training programmes – i.e. if you are doing hill interval training in the lab, 100% effort is the w/kg test figure with you subsequently being asked to put in 140% as the session intervals peak.
The power-to-weight ratio (PWR) or watt/kg is cycling’s great leveller. It’s a measure that allows a comparison of cyclists’ abilities even when the riders vary in size. To measure watt/kg in a 20 minute test you take the average power over the time period – or NP – and then decreased the figure by 5% to account for an average over a full hour (approx measurement of course). In any test warm-up, a coach (in Athlete Lab Singapore I had a Kona World Championship qualifier put me through my paces) will run through the ‘tactics’ to get the most realistic stats on your present FTP. This advice is generally focused on not going too hard in the first 5 minutes to get a sense of what power you should be aiming for & then throughout the next 10 minutes being disciplined whilst slowly raising the average power figure. The last 5 minutes…well that’s just grit your teeth time aka time to empty the tank.
This is what the ‘test’ and pain looks like (note I fall off the bike)
Whilst you can get power meters for the bike (quite expensive I hear), indoor cycling sessions – in tandem with your weekend rides – allow you to schedule an optimized training programme where you can compare your results week in, week out. That is why many cyclists choose not to face the elements all the time and instead maximise there time in competing in a carefully selected workout. Anyone been stuck behind traffic lights for 2 hours in central London knows what I am talking about. In fact this is 5 reasons why cyclist should start indoor cycling and why indoor cycling is winning Kona, Tour de France and Olympic Gold.
If anyone is aware of Sufferfest videos, there is also tools you can use in an indoor environment to build the intensity to absurd levels. Not only can you incorporate real-life race footage but bring a very focused workout which maximises your time – or basically there is no escape so you may as well put your head down and get on with it! Check out a preview of one of the videos below and how about a summary of what it takes to do 12 hours of these videos back to back
Finally as promised, what you need to push out to ‘make it’ as a pro. I am not fooled – that’s why any serious cyclist clicks on a blog post saying ‘Power Post’.
Promotion to the PRO League
Lets have a frank conversation, how good is good? What numbers do you have to post to realistically go for a little cycle in France during July? What is the ‘numbers’ for the top riders?
For those new to the sport it can be a bit daunting to try to find true numbers on what the pros are putting out and even when you do, you think are those real? One of the biggest mass media releases was when Team Sky gave the French newspaper L’Equipe and respected French physiologist access to two years of power data in light of drug speculation in the 2013 Tour.
However with a bit of digging, you will be surprised on what you can find out. Let’s take some numbers from Jens Voigt (Ger) professional rider for RadioShack-Leopard – who has worn the yellow jersey twice (never challenged the overall title because of his weakness in the mountains) and considered one of the best rouleur riders out there. In 2012 Jens Voigt won Stage 4 of the US Pro Challenge – Aspen-Beaver Creek, a distance of 97.2 miles. His power analysis was as follows, and I quote Hunter Allen’s article
‘For the entire stage — 3 hours and 54 minutes — Voigt averaged 328W (4.25 w/kg) Normalized Power. He burned 4,219 kilojoules, which equates to roughly 4,600 calories — the same as eating 19 hot dogs. He created 305 TSS points, which is the equivalent training stress of riding for three hours at your threshold power. Finally, he averaged 24 mph over the stage, during which he climbed more than 6,500 feet.
On Independence Pass alone, he averaged 370W (4.8w/kg) for 52:25, and dropped his breakaway companions with sustained hard efforts at 390W (5.0 w/kg). On the descent of Independence Pass, he averaged 36.2 mph, hit a max speed of 48.8 mph and averaged 266W — while riding downhill.
Once on the flat, Voigt pounded out a hard tempo between 300W to 320W, averaging 21.5 mph. Remember, he was riding between 9,000 and 10,000 feet of elevation for much of the way to the finish! Voigt’s functional threshold power (FTP) at sea level is around 420-440W, so adjusting 12 percent off for the elevation, I’ve estimated Voigt’s FTP at 370W for this high elevation race.
The sustained power output on the flats is what got Voigt the win. His ability to tap out a strong rhythm for nearly two and half hours on his own made the difference. He created the gap to the peloton on the climb, but maintained it in the two and half hours after that to the finish. Think about this for a moment. It means Voigt basically rode as fast as the entire peloton, with riders taking turns at the front and resting in the draft — and he did it all by himself, for two and a half hours!’
If we take the first FTP figure (the one at sea level) of 440W and his weight as 76kg (as per google) that gives us a w/kg of 5.79. Oh and back to Froome. Assuming he has the same ‘power’ as Jens Voigt but yet weighs 68kgs, that gives his w/kg at 6.47……….
Interestingly this chart from johnstonefitness.com seems to back up these assumptions. Yep you are reading it right, you are looking at a 4.7 at least to be a ‘pro’ – plus of course all the stamina, tactics, recovery, etc etc.
You can also find Peter Sagan’s 2012 Tour de France figures on stage 6. The rider finished in 4:37:00 averaging nearly 200 watts for Stage 6. His average speed was 44kph with a 69rpm cadence average. In the last 3 kilometers Sagan averaged 490 watts on the flat approach to the final sprint. His average cadence inside 3km was 98.5rpm with a speed averaging 58kph. There are several instances in this 3 minute span where Sagan pushes between 1,300 and 1,400 watts! In fact his average speed in the last 200 metres was 70kph.
So will I see you down in Athlete Lab in Singapore/Sydney/London to test how far you need to go?
Here’s a video introducing the Lab to get you in the mood: