Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Bike Training - Planning a Season

Lined up on the start line when the gun went off, by the time I got clipped into the pedals I was at the back of the pack already, gapped by the peleton racing down the open road ahead of me. This jarred me out of my comfort zone and I had to dig deep to close the gap. The first several kilometers were spent hanging near the back in an effort to stay out of the wind as much as possible. But it was more of a cross wind than a head wind and I found myself working harder than I wanted at this early stage in the race. Meanwhile, at the front, a young rider from the Elite category, Derek Snider, was putting his stamp on the race early causing frequent surges as the peleton fought to match his attacks. With the usual surges at the front at every corner and hill, life at the back of the peleton was proving to be more difficult than I was comfortable with. I moved up in an effort to minimize the "accordion effect" which helped a little but that first hour was a lot of work.

Into the second lap I took the race into my own hands and attacked off the front ahead of the gravel section. I expected my move to be matched by at least a one or two others but the entire pack let me go, not seeing me as a threat. For four or five kilometers, I was given a leash of about 500 meters. I maintained a  steady Threshold effort to stay ahead, hoping that eventually I would be joined by one or two others. It was a fairly hard pace but at least it was MY pace and towards the end of the gravel section I was joined by Snider. The pace increased for 2 or 3 minutes until we were joined by 6 or 7 additional riders. With 9 riders strong, a rotation was quickly organized and for the remainder of the race until about a kilometer to go, I alternated between a low threshold and above threshold effort as I switched between drafting off the pack and taking my turn at the front.Approaching the finish line, the pace increased until with less than 500 meters to go it was an all-out sprint to the finish. I gave it everything I had and crossed the line with nothing left.


The above scenario describes a typical road race. The first half of the race is hard but manageable at somewhere around low Threshold effort but with frequent anaerobic surges. Somewhere during the second half of the race, the attacks begin. Now the pace goes above above threshold for 2-3 minutes as the attack is made or matched. If a successful attack is made then the pace alternates between mid-Threshold and above Threshold as one alternates between taking turns at the front and recovering in the draft with recovery time dependent on how many are in the break. The fewer riders in the break, the less recovery time. Finally, there is the all-out sprint to the finish line.

So how does one train for the above scenario? Well, for certain, a good deal of Threshold riding is required. In addition, there are frequent surges with recovery done at Threshold. There are extended VO2 max efforts of 2-3 minutes or more with recovery again at Threshold. And there are extended efforts alternating between just over Threshold and just under. Finally, there is the all-out sprint to the finish.

What would a training workout for the above scenario look like? Here's a stab:

10 minwarm up
40 minlow Threshold with 20 s surge every 3 minsimulate first half of a road race
5 minrecoverymental break because the trainer is mentally hard
5 minlow Thresholdback to race pace
3 minVO2 Maxsimulate an attack
12 minover/unders - alternate between 1 min above Threshold and 1 min below Thresholdsimulate taking turns at the front of a 2-man break
5 mincool down

80 min TOTAL

Even though it's only 80 min, the above workout is hard. One doesn't just jump into the above workout. "You can't get there from here!" Rather, one needs to train to be able to do the above workout. The workout becomes the training goal.

Case study

So if you can't get there from here, how do you get there? The answer is that you structure your training schedule around achieving your target workout. The above scenario describes my Winter bike training goal which I'll use as a case study in designing a Winter bike training program.

The above workout becomes the key workout that would be executed in the weeks leading up to the first road race of the season. I've kept it short purposely to minimize time spent on the trainer yet sufficiently hard to induce a good training effect. Importantly, it is specific to the demands of road racing. The demands of a time trial or a shorter triathlon/duathlon would be simpler. In those cases, the key workout would centre around time spent at Threshold. The demands of a longer triathlon/duathlon or road race would have a large endurance factor but still, the key workout in a Winter training program would revolve around time spent at Threshold or, preferably, sweet spot (more on this below).

A training schedule should be structured around key workouts. The key workouts are "what gets you there from here". Typically, one can manage 2 or 3 key workouts per week at most. All other workouts are structured around the key workouts.

Three principles that should be adhered to when planning a training schedule are:
  1. Consistency
  2. Progressive Overload
  3. Specificity

Consistency (weekly)

Consistency of training provides the foundation upon which fitness is built. For me, the best way to achieve consistency is with a weekly schedule that follows the same pattern. The routine of the weekly schedule helps in making the workouts easier. When I know that Wednesdays are a key workout day, I can prepare mentally for the workout and "just do it" without giving it much thought. Routine and good habits can be amazingly powerful in this regard.

Key workouts

The first thing I do when designing a schedule is pick my key workout days. For example, this Winter, my key workout days are Wed and Sat. I'm training two sports this Winter, running and cycling, so I've split my two key workouts between running and cycling. Wednesday is my key run workout day and Saturday my key cycling workout day.

Recovery "workouts"

The next most important workouts are recovery workouts. Recovery is the other side of the stimulus/response coin. While key workouts provide the stimulus for the body to adapt by getting stronger, the body gets stronger in response during recovery. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" but only if you give yourself adequate recovery. What constitutes "adequate" is highly individual; finding just the right amount of recovery is largely a matter of trial and error. Recovery can be either a very easy workout (e.g. very light spin) or complete rest and again depends on the individual as well as current training load. I prefer an easy workout for recovery but have had times during a heavy training load where I've felt the need for complete rest.

Moderate workouts

Once key workouts and recovery have been scheduled, "moderately intense" workouts can be scheduled in the intervening days. While a focus on key workouts will get you partway there, our sport of choice (whether cycling, running, duathlon, or triathlon) are mostly aerobic and, as such, the higher the training load the higher the fitness. Or, as is often espoused on the various training forums from Slowtwitch to the Wattage group, "more is more". Basically, what this means is that the more you train, the better you'll perform. It's been my experience that one can get a lot of mileage, so to speak, from just training a lot. As such, these "moderate" workouts are important. I tend to not worry to much about the intensity at which I execute these other workouts. Rather, I'll take what my body gives me, always keeping in mind when my key workouts are and making sure I save enough back for those.

A typical week

Putting it all together, after penciling in my key workouts, recovery and moderate workouts, my typical training week from now until Spring, will look something like this (Note: I've not included my runs in order to try and keep things simple):

Mondayrecovery workout or rest day60' light spin, 30' jog or rest 
Tuesdaymoderate workout20' x 2 @ high Tempo - low Threshold
Wednesdaykey workout (run)20' x 2 @ high Tempo - low Threshold
Thursdayrecovery workout or rest day60' light spin, 30' jog or rest
Fridaymoderate workout20' x 2 @ high Tempo - low Threshold
Saturdaykey workout (bike)see schedule
Sundayrecovery or easy60 min light spin or rest

In addition to bike training, my schedule also has to accommodate run training. Hence, Thursday's bike workout is recovery because it follows a particularly tough run workout. Melding run training with bike training can make the weekly schedule a bit more complicated but not overly so. The focus on key workout days is to put forward a solid effort whether that's on the bike or the run or both. The focus on recovery days should be on recovery whether that's following a key bike workout of a key run workout. The moderate intensity/duration workouts tend to be done more according to how you feel. If you're feeling good, give a little extra. Feeling a little fatigued, go easier.

Progressive Overload (blocks)

The principle of progressive overload goes back to Ancient Greece and the story of Milo of Croton. Milo was a 6th century BC wrestler who was renowned for great strength. It is said he developed his strength by lifting a bull daily from when it was a newborn calf. As the calf grew into a bull so Milo's strength grew.

Simply put, progressive overload is "start with what you can do and as you get stronger add more". There a really only two ways to add more. One way is to make the workout harder (e.g. more weight, more watts, faster lap times, etc). The second way is to do it for longer or more often. We'll use both in designing my Winter bike training schedule, starting with the weekly key workout.

Key workout

The key workout for the scenario above is basically a 40 minute Threshold set followed by a 20 minute Threshold set. Progressive overload is achieved by making each set progressively harder. The first set is made harder by throwing in a 20 second anaerobic surge every 3 minutes. The second set is made harder, first by throwing in a 3 minute VO2 max interval and then by finishing the set with over/unders. To attempt to jump right in with the workout would be akin to Milo attempting to lift a fully grown bull having never lifted the calf. Rather, my schedule will start with two 20 minute intervals and become progressively harder through adding "more" each week.

By starting with two 20 minute intervals, I'm already partway towards my ultimate goal because the second interval in the ultimate goal is a 20 minute interval. So I'll start by pushing out the first 20 minute interval, adding more each week until I'm at 40 minutes while at the same time throwing in some 20-s anaerobic surges. At the same time, I'll make the second interval progressively harder by adding a VO2 max interval at the 5 minute mark followed by one or moreover/unders (i.e. 1 minute above Threshold followed by 1 minute below Threshold). Each week, I'll make that second 20 minute interval harder by extending the duration of the VO2 max interval as well as the number of over/unders.

If I had a second key bike workout to give, I'd supplement that first key workout by doing something more specific. For example, I might focus on a set of over/unders, a set at Threshold with surges, or a set of VO2 max intervals. But since that second key workout is a run workout (at least until March), that option is off the table.

Moderate workouts

In addition to making the key workout progressively harder, progressive overload is also achieved by progressively adding "more" time on the trainer during each 3-week "block". For example, up until New Year's, I've been doing fairly unstructured training of about 3 bike workouts per week. Starting in January, my schedule adds an extra bike training day per week for a total of four (see training schedule below). After 3 weeks, an extra "spin" is added on Mondays to bring my weekly bike workouts to five. Six weeks into my schedule and that extra "spin" becomes a moderate 20' x 2 workout. And 9 weeks into my schedule, another easy spin is added on Thursdays to bring my weekly bike workout total to six. By that point, I'll also be finished with my run training and so my key run workout will become a second key bike workout.


In addition to recovery from key workouts, it is also desirable to include some recovery from the progressive increase in training load. It typically takes from 4-6 weeks for the body to adapt to a training stimulus. Thus, most training schedules will build in a "recovery week" at the end of a 3, 4, or 6-week block. Alan Couzens refers to this as the unloading period. On the Wattage group, they call it "coming up for air". As with recovery days and recovery workouts, recovery weeks are specific to the individual and a matter of trial and error. Personally, I like to schedule a semi-recovery week at 3 weeks and a more focussed recovery week at 6 weeks. Thus, my training "blocks" are 6 weeks long but with a mini-recovery built in at 3 weeks. How much recovery I take at the 3 week point depends on how I feel.


Specificity refers to tailoring your training towards your target event. In the somewhat complex scenario that we started with, the target event was a cycling road race and the ultimate key workout a fairly complex workout involving different intensities and energy systems. The key point here is that the ultimate goal of training is to prepare yourself for your target event. As such, your key workouts should become to more and more resemble the demands of your target event. To "get there from here", we generally start with workouts we can achieve now and structure the workouts to more and more resemble our target event as much as is feasible. This is a strategy not unlike that used by the renowned running coach Renato Canova. This article, well worth reading, discusses Canova's approach.
"This method has led to a 2:03 marathon (Moses Mosop), a world championship (Abel Kirui), and the third-fastest half marathon in history (Florence Kiplagat) in just the last year and a half." 
In the world of long distance triathlon or long gran fondos where endurance or the ability to comfortably complete a long distance bike leg is the key, a similar strategy to that used by Canova can be applied. Start with shorter, harder intervals. As you get closer to your target event, the workouts become longer and slower. Whereas a more traditional training approach involves easier workouts that get progressively harder, this "reverse periodization" approach involves workouts that start out harder and get easier (in terms of intensity) but more specific (i.e. longer) as the target event is approached. The added appeal of this reverse periodization approach is that it is conducive to Winter training. Rather than having to do 3-4 hour trainer workouts to traing for an Ironman event or Gran Fondo, for example, you can keep the workouts short but intense until it's time to move outdoors and longer rider become much more palatable. Using this approach last year, I took my longest trainer ride of 2.5 hours to Florida where I logged over 1,000 km in two weeks, including 2 rides at 160+ km. Reverse periodization works!

Putting it all together

In my case study, I started with a race-specific key workout I'd like to be able to achieve (specificity). I then put together a weekly schedule oriented around my key workouts (consistency). Finally, I made each workout progressively harder in such a way as to form a bridge towards my ultimate key workout (progressive overload). The resulting 12-week Winter bike training schedule is shown below.

Additional Notes

This is a Winter bike training schedule. My run training is not shown and the schedule has been setup within certain constraints, the most notable being an aversion to time on the trainer. Once the switch to Daylight-savings time arrives, and it becomes more feasible to ride outdoors, my training schedule will change towards becoming even more "specific" towards my target event, as should yours. In my next blog, I intend to cover how to know when you are making progress.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Egg Nog Jog, 2012

They said it was zero degrees Celsius but it felt much colder than that. I had intended to wear shorts and a short sleeved t-shirt but went with tights and long sleeved t-shirt. Still, with only one layer, I was feeling the cold during my warm up. My warm up took me along the tail end of the course in reverse direction. I ran up the stupidly steep hill to the 10k marker, turned around and ran back down. By the time I reached the start line, they were just about to play the national anthem.

Five-four-three-two-one and we're off! This year I tried something different. Normally I like to pace myself, saving my harder effort for the second half of a race. But being a little overweight this year, I decided on the strategy of using the downhills to gain time I'd likely lose on the uphills. With the first 1.5 km being downhill, it was a fast start for me.

I had a pretty good view of the pack in front of me running the first mile down Winston Churchill. The first 3 or 4 runners opened up a gap pretty quickly but after that, the next 10 or so were grouped fairly close together. Initially, there was a bit of a gap between me and the group ahead but by the bottom of the mile long hill I had pretty much closed that gap and even passed a few. Those few that I passed soon passed me back once we made the turn up the hill onto Sideroad 27

One of the runners I passed was Brad Mailleux of Feet in Motion. Brad and I have a friendly rivalry in this race, finishing within 3 places of each other in 5 races since 2006. Last year, I passed Brad closer to the start of the race but he passed me back on the long, steep hill at about the halfway mark. This year, I passed him later but he passed me back much earlier. So I spent most of the rest of the race watching Brad's back get gradually smaller.

The rest of my race was fairly uneventful. The wind was from the South East this year which meant a bit of a tail wind running the "rollers" along Sideroad 27. I had a great view of the leaders making their turn onto 10 line. The larger group of 10 or so runners just ahead of me, gradually pulled further ahead and strung out a bit. I more or less maintained the distance to Brad until the big hill at the halfway mark where he opened up the gap a bit. I made it to the top of the big hill alright but on the longer, more gradual hill up to Sideroad 32, I could feel a side stitch coming on and slowed a bit before it got worse. The gap to Brad began to open up.

I was losing speed to the developing side stitch. Remembering something I wrote in my previous blog about a lower cadence requiring less oxygen consumption, I extended my stride, relying on my legs to make up for speed lost by relaxing my rate of breathing. It worked! The side stitch gradually disappeared and I began to close in on the runner ahead.

For the rest of the race, I concentrated on pushing off with my legs and opening up my stride. The track workouts I'd been doing since early November were paying off. My legs were more than capable of handling the punishment I was putting them through. I didn't catch Brad but I did finish 9 seconds faster than last year, finishing in 15th place, 1st in my age group... again. Two places behind Brad... again!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter Bike Training - Getting Through the Workout

One of the biggest hurdles to Winter bike training, I've found, is getting on the trainer in the first place. As high as my level of motivation to train is, there is just something repugnant about doing 20 minute plus intervals on the trainer that results eventually in an aversion to climbing on the bike indoors. This article, the second in a series of Winter bike training articles I intend to write about, discusses how I get through my power training interval workouts.

Getting on the Trainer

As discussed above, the first hurdle to overcome is getting on the bike trainer in the first place. There are a number of things I do to help in this regard:
  • have a clearly defined goal
  • develop a regular routine
  • train with others
  • avoid the trainer (pace yourself)
  • mix it up
  • you can only do what you can do

Have a clearly defined goal

A clearly defined goal, such as completing an Ironman event, getting that first bike race podium, getting ready for a season of Centurion races can instill a desire strong enough to overcome any aversion to the trainer. When training for my first and only Ironman, I had a picture of Bill Vieira pasted on the wall in front of my trainer. Of course, I'm not serious but Bill did have a strong work ethic, was constantly pushing us, and was a powerful motivator which is the point I'm getting at: you need a powerful motivator and a strong work ethic to get through these workouts. Which brings me to the second part of this tip: make your goal a shared goal. For the above Ironman, there were four of us training in parallel and feeding off each other and this helped raise certainly my motivation level if not that of the others. Without such a goal, you might find yourself questioning your need to do those interval workouts.

Develop a regular routine

A solid routine can be a powerful tool. Habits become automatic. You don't think about why you're doing these behaviours, you just do them. In fact, sometimes the problem to STOP doing them. Generally, this happens with bad habits but good habits can also start to take on a life of their own. All you have to do is get them started. Develop a weekly routine and 'just do it!'

Train with others

"Misery loves company." This is one of those things my mother used to say that I never quite got... until I started doing trainer workouts. Sign up for a spin class. Or more than one. Get together with a buddy to train. When you've paid the money, have a set time, and friends who will mock you when you skip a session, you're more likely to do the workout. I've also found that having people around me helps me get through the workout somehow even when my workout may be different than theirs. Having people around me while I train seems to give me a lift.

Avoid the trainer

This might sound counter intuitive; how can avoiding the trainer help when it comes to getting ON the trainer? But starting your Winter training season too early can make for a very long season. It may be the case that you DO have a clearly defined goal. In fact, you may be highly motivated even excited about getting on the trainer to start training towards your new goal. Three or four months in and "not so much". That aversion to the trainer grows as your enthusiasm diminishes. So pace yourself! Do some maintenance training up until you're truly ready to get serious about power training. If you time it right, you'll have to endure only 2-3 months of trainer time as opposed to the 4-5 months that starting too early would require.

Mix it up

Last year, I started riding with my new cycling team doing Winter trail rides. Thursday was a mountain bike ride around one of the industrial developments in Etobicoke. Saturday and Sunday were trail rides. We rode through snow and cold and it was fun. This served as a good counter balance to the more boring trainer workouts. This year, I'll be doing Winter trail rides again but I'm also bringing running back into the mix. Though running lacks the specificity of bike training, it can help build up that aerobic base. And it gets me outside which I love (see 'avoid the trainer' above).

You can only do what you can do

Power intervals are hard! Sometimes I find myself just "not ready" to do that scheduled threshold workout. This seems to be a common misgiving amongst contributors to the Wattage group. The frequently quoted answer to this "not readiness" is "you can only do what you can do". If you have the legs then go for it. If you don't have the legs, don't sweat it. You're still going to get in a decent workout. Save that quality workout for another day. It will come. The important thing is to get on the trainer anyway. Rome wasn't built in a day and raising your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is a cumulative endeavor and not realized in a single workout.

Getting Through the Workout

Ok, so you've gotten on the trainer and you're in your warm up routine but you've still got two 20 minute threshold intervals to get through. Twenty minutes is a long time. How do you stay focused for such a long period of time? Here are some of the techniques I use.

  • watch the clock
  • pace yourself
  • find a rhythm
  • divide and conquer
  • shut up legs
  • keep your cool
  • audio/visual

Watch the clock

Some kind of time keeping device is essential for doing trainer intervals. There are a number of devices that are useful to have for doing intervals which I'll discuss in a future blog but a clock is one of the most important. Most readers of this blog will have some sort of heart rate monitor that comes with a timer. The one I use, a Garmin, has the advantage of being able to pre-program your interval workout. But any clock will do the trick. A clock helps with pacing as well as dividing up that long interval into segments. But mostly it just helps to know how far you are into the interval and how long you have to go.

As mentioned above, my Garmin has the capability of pre-programming a workout. I use this functionality to program my interval workouts.

20' x 2 interval workout programmed on Garmin
At the end of each step in the program above, my Garmin gives a series of beeps, starting 5 seconds before the end of each step. This lets me know when my 10 minute warmup is done, when each minute of my main set is done, and when my 5 minute rest interval is done without me having to actually watch the clock. A word of caution: you might not want to have your device beep every minute while doing your trainer workout in a room full of friends and peers. They will get annoyed.

Pace yourself

As important as pacing is in your macro cycle, it's equally important while doing your intervals. It does take some practice to get it right. Initially, the tendency is to start out too hard. The interval feels easy at the start but by about halfway through the interval it no longer feels easy. In fact, usually well before that, things start to get tough.

Heart rate profile from first 20' x 2 workout of the season.

The chart above shows my heart rate (HR) for my first 20' x 2 interval workout of this season. There are a few things to note from this chart. First, notice at the start of each interval (at 10 minutes and 35 minutes), it takes awhile for my HR to plateau. The interval feels comparatively easy during this early part of the interval. So, for the first couple of minutes or so, I start out too hard, making the rest of the workout a lot harder. By the time I'm into the second half of the first interval, I'm no longer able to sustain that initial effort. This is reflected with a decreasing HR. My performance seems better for the second interval in that I do a better job at pacing myself and thus am able to keep my HR up but in actual fact my performance, as measured by my power meter, was significantly poorer for the second interval again reflecting less than optimal pacing. Ideally, you should pace well enough that your effort gets stronger towards the end of each interval. Further, you should pace so that the effort for the second interval is stronger than the first.

The chart below graphs my HR for my most recent interval workout of the season: a 20' plus 25' effort.
Heart rate profile from most recent interval workout of the season.
What the above HR profile shows is that my effort (as reflected by HR), increased steadily throughout the first interval. The same pattern held for the second interval but was even stronger. My power meter wattage profile confirmed a slightly stronger effort for the second interval than the first. My pacing was good for this workout.

Find a rhythm

Another technique I find useful for doing a successful interval set is to find a rhythm and try and hold it. There are a number of ways of doing this. In running, it might be incorporated as part of your arm swing. In cycling, I make it part of my pedal stroke. I also use 'counting' to help. Most of you will be familiar with Count Von Count of Muppets fame who was obsessed with counting. Well, I'm the Count Von Count of cycling. It might not be as crazy as it seems. As a musician, I'm familiar with counting. Musicians count bars throughout a song. We generally count in groups of 4 beats to a bar. A phrase is typically 16 or 24 bars long so we also learn to group bars. Transferring this skill to cycling (and running), I've learned to group pedal strokes in groups of 4, 16, and 32. I pretty much know when I've done a group of 32 pedal strokes without consciously thinking about it. Knowing my cadence (for both cycling and running) typically falls between 86-90, I've learned to count off a sequence of 88 "beats" (roughly one minute) without thinking about it. Thus, I can get through each minute of a trainer interval without looking at the clock. Counting helps me to know where I am within each minute. It also helps me to establish my rhythm. If I start to slow down (or lose power), I know it right away. (As an aside, I also count strides while running. I use this in races to help me get through the race without having to look at my watch. Typically, by the time I've counted 4 minutes, I can see the next km marker). A computer that gives cadence can provide similar feedback but I've found that nothing beats finding that rhythm and holding it.

Divide and conquer

This refers to breaking that long 20 minute (or more) interval into smaller segments. I like to break down my main intervals into segments of 3-5 minutes. For example, I will group a 20 minute interval into segments of 3 minutes. This gives me 6 segments of 3 minutes plus a final 2 minute segment. During each 3 minute segment, I change position on the bike. For example, for the first 3 minutes, I'll ride on the hoods, the next 3 minutes in the drops, and the 3rd three minutes riding upright. Now I'm halfway through the main interval and I repeat the cycle: 3 minutes on the hoods, 3 minutes in the drops, 3 minutes upright. By the end of 2 cycles, I have 2 minutes left and that's a cakewalk. Breaking the main interval up like this helps me get through it easier.

Another technique I further use is to change cadence for each 3 minute segment. For example, I may start the first 3 minutes at around 94 rpm. After 3 minutes, I'll add a gear and pedal at, say, 86 rpm. This necessitates a re-calibrating of my rhythm but I've become accustomed to this. This technique helps to break up the longer interval into segments. An added bonus is that it trains me to ride with power at different cadences. Riding outside, one is never able to ride at a constant cadence; even the smallest of rises will induce either a change in cadence or a significant change in power output. So I find it useful to learn to ride at the same power output over different cadences.

Switching cadences also emphasizes a slightly different metabolic area from one cadence to another. Riding at  a lower cadence will stress the legs more while riding at a higher cadences stresses the cardio-vascular system more.

The formula below shows the relationship between power, force, distance and time.

P = F x D / T

Another way to write the above formula is

P = F x C

or Power = Force x Cadence. In other words, to keep the same power at a lower cadence, more force is required. By pedaling at a higher cadence, you can produce the same power with less force. One might think that we should always be riding with a higher cadence because less force is required but keep in mind the cost of pedaling at a higher cadence is a higher oxygen consumption and a decrease in efficiency (efficiency tends to be higher with a lower cadence).

Some people use the above technique to advantage in a time trial by alternating between a lower and higher cadence. While emphasizing one side of the metabolic coin, you're effectively giving the other side a rest. By the end of 3 minutes at a lower cadence, my legs are ready for a bit of a break. By the end of 3 minutes at a higher interval, my VO2 system is ready for a bit of a break.

Another technique I use to help break up the monotony of the long interval sets is to throw in something different periodically. For example, I'll stand for ~20 seconds (32 pedal strokes) in the middle of my low cadence segment. This works out to once every 6 minutes which, in addition to helping break up the monotony, helps me stretch my legs and ease my lower back a bit. Another thing I might do is throw in a ~20 second sprint periodically, usually during a higher cadence segment. This has the added benefit of being sport specific to cycle racing as it simulates matching the frequent attacks and surges that occur throughout the course of a bike race.

All the above techniques effectively break up one long interval into segments making it easier to get through the interval.

Shut up legs

As "techniques" go, this one is fairly crude. But I find that it works. Inevitably, there will come a point within an interval where my legs start to complain. Usually this occurs about halfway through the interval. When this happens, I tell my legs to shut up. Jens Voigt is the author of the "shut up legs" phrase and there is probably no more respected rider in the peleton than Voigt. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me. But there's a little more to this technique than just telling your legs to shut up. It involves using that discomfort, embracing it, and learning to pedal "in the moment" or, as Coach Rob used to say: "get comfortable with being uncomfortable".

Keep your cool

There is no greater saboteur of an interval workout than over heating. When you over heat, your heart rate goes up and your power goes down. The photo below shows how seriously I take adequate cooling. What the photo doesn't show is that I also have the 2 side windows open as well as 2 small fans on the piano behind me. I can't stress enough how important it is to keep from over heating.


Audio and visual aids can help get you through your workout. The music should be upbeat and not sleepy. A good source of upbeat music put together specifically for trainer workouts is VeloBeats. Here you can download podcasts of workout "sound tracks". These are also available for free on iTunes which makes it convenient for loading onto an iPod. Just do a search on velobeats.

DVDs can be a good way to get through a trainer workout. The prescribed workouts themselves on these DVDs are not so useful IMHO but the workouts are usually broken down into segments and the segments themselves can be used during your own workout to help divide up the workout with the video portion of the DVD helping you to get through your own workout. Spinerval and Sufferfest are two makers of DVDs for trainer workouts with Sufferfest being the better of the two, in my experience.

An online tool that I've heard good things about is TrainerRoad. It's a visual aid in that it gives you live feedback of your power output. Your power output is measure either using an ANT-compatible power meter that feeds data into your computer or, if you don't have a power meter, there is a "virtual power" option that uses the power curve of known trainers to compute your power output. I haven't tried it myself but know a couple of people who have with good feedback from both.


This concludes my discussion of tips and tricks I use to get through my power interval workouts. My next blog will discuss how to schedule a Winter season.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Winter bike training - 20 x 2's and Functional Threshold Power

I started my Winter training in the pain cave last night and, since I have a number of friends who have expressed an interest in how I train over the Winter, I thought I'd write a blog about it.

One thing became readily apparent last night: I've lost a lot of fitness over the 7 weeks since the end of last year's season. Last night's workout was surprisingly hard.

Here is the workout:
20' x 2

10 warmup
20 threshold
5 recovery interval
20 threshold
5 cooldown

The 20 minute interval is the mainstay of those who train using a power meter. Visit the Google Wattage Group (you may have to apply for membership) and you'll soon discover this for yourself. The entire workout is only an hour long. The two 20 minute intervals are the main set. These should be done, initially, as hard as you can manage for both intervals. That is, you try and pace yourself so that you are able to finish the second 20 minute interval at the same power you started the first 20 minute interval. When starting out, there is obviously some trial and error involved in this but after a few sesssions, you'll soon figure it out, whether using a power meter or going by heart rate.

Ideally, you would use a power meter to gauge your effort. But you can still reap the benefits in muscle fibre recruitment using a heart rate monitor. During the workout itself, try and keep your power output within a 10-20 watt range. Using a heart rate monitor, you'll probably fluctuate within a 10 beats per minute (bpm) range. For my first workout of the season, last night, my first interval averaged 13 watts higher than my second interval and my average heart rate looked to be about 5 bpm lower but dropped a little more towards the end of the second interval. (The effects of fatigue were quite noticeable last night. The average of my second 20 minute interval was 43 watts lower than what I was able to complete for an entire 60 minute interval by the end of last January and a 15% drop in FTP).

One nice thing about using the 20' x 2 as a workout is that it is so ubiquitous within the power meter community that it has been established as a test protocol for measuring one's functional threshold power (FTP). One's functional threshold is defined as the average watts one can produce under ideal conditions over a one hour interval. Ideal conditions means you should be fresh (i.e. tapered) and able to go all out for the one hour period. The problem using this measure is that it's rarely practical to do the test. (The only time I've been done it myself was last January). Instead, the 20' x 2 workout can serve as a proxy to an all out one hour test. To estimate your FTP using the 20' x 2 protocol, you take the average of the two 20' intervals and multiply by a factor of 0.95. This will get you in the ballpark of your FTP. What I have found is that the multiplication factor should be lower (i.e. in the 90-95 % range) for well trained athletes and higher (in the 95-100 % range) for those either just starting out or, as in my case, de-trained.

So what do I do with FTP once it's been calculated.?

The importance of knowing one's FTP is in determining one's training levels (follow the link for more information on Andrew Coggan's training levels). In order to develop more power on the bike, one needs to get as much time in L4 (90-100% of FTP) as feasible. However, it's determined that a more optimal training range is within what's been termed the sweet spot. The sweet spot ranges from about 85-100% of FTP. What people have found is that you can gain close to the same benefit by training a bit lower than L4 (i.e. high L3 or Tempo) at less metabolic cost. The advantage of this is that you can do more frequent quality workouts because they don't tire you out as much as a pure L4 workout would.

My Winter bike training plan will start at three 20' x 2 bike sessions per week for probably the first six at least. After that, I'll re-evaluate my program and determine how to add more training stimulus. One thing that you should keep in mind when designing your own training program is that my main focus is on running this Winter. I'm currently running every day. So whereas I might be doing only 3 "spins" per week, if bike sessions are your only training, you might want to consider adding an extra day or two depending on what your goals are, your energy levels, and time constraints.

In future blogs, I'll get more specific about my training schedule and my reasoning behind each workout. I'll also post some tips on how I get through these trainer workouts. I'll also go over the WKO+ software and show how the Performance Manager can be used to ensure your training program has the right amount of progressive overload.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

2012 Centurion Canada C100

Like most people, I like to impose organization around the events in my life. Centurion Canada 2011 was a milestone event in my cycling life so it seemed only natural to organize my 2012 season towards this year's event. So it was that I targeted this year's Centurion Canada event as my 'A' race of the 2012 racing season. I trained to a plan: big mileage in June and July, hill-repeat training in July and August, replaced volume with intensity throughout August, and enjoyed multiple visits to Collingwood throughout July and August. My game plan was to start near the front so as to stick with the front group on the first climb. By cresting the first climb in the front pack, a good placing would be pretty much secured. But just as "the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry," my plans went awry by the end of the 5 km neutral roll out.

Laura (L) arrived early to the start line. Andy, Phill, and I (towards the right in Kurzawinski kits) had just arrived.

Phill Hodgkinson, Andy D'Angelo, and I arrived at 7:55 am to line up for the 169.4 km event . Staging for didn't open until 8:00 but Laura Gazzola was at the front of the start line already, wearing her jacket and huddled by the fence talking to Shanta. There was a bit of a chill to the air but compared to last year, the temperature was bearable. We took up places in the 3rd row of the starting grid and were joined by Laura. With half an hour to go until the start of the race, there were already 30-40 riders ahead of us. After half an hour of "excuse me" and "can I just squeeze by" that number had swelled to between 60-80. Steve Fleck kept us both entertained and informed as M.C and the half hour wait went by quickly.

Course and profile of the 2012 C100 event.

Section 1 - Start line to top of Grey Road 19 - km 0-12.3:

C100 course profile. Section 1 is on the left to the top of the first climb.
The first and ,most critical section of the C100 course, marked 1. on the image above, was a 12 km stretch that started from the start line and finished at the top of the first climb on Grey Road 19. It started with a flat 5 km roll out that was the neutral zone, was followed by a 2 km false flat at the base of the climb, and ended with the climb itself which was a little over 4 km.

Start line for the 2012 C100.

I was fairly quick to clip in to my Speedplay pedals but no sooner had I gotten up to speed than I had to squeeze the brakes as the front of the peleton slowed drastically to maneuver around a traffic island. We got back up to speed and again I squeezed the brakes for a second traffic island. We slowed a third time going round the traffic circle that lead onto Grey Road 19. As one, the peleton flowed, each tiny gap quickly consumed by a bike and rider. I reduced my buffer zone in front to try and defend my position. On Grey Road 19, the peleton held as one to the right hand side of the road, leaving the opposite lane empty. I remembered the full road closure too late as a wave of riders flooded the open road to my left. Instead of 60-80 riders ahead of me, there were now 120-160. Feeling claustrophobic. I merged my way towards the left shoulder where I immediately felt more at ease. The road straightened on County Road 34. Riders improved their position using gravel shoulder to move up.  I thought about it but held onto to my current place in the pack. I'd be able to move quickly up towards the front once the pack strung out at the base of the climb, I thought.

The front of the peleton during the neutral roll out along County Road 34 (photo courtesy of Marc Landry).

The right turn off County Road 34 marked the end of the neutral roll out and the pace increased accordingly. The "yellow line" rule was technically in effect at this point in the race but the full width of the road was required to accommodate the massive peleton. I found a thin stretch of pavement along the left hand shoulder on which to move up. I made pretty good progress here but did have to slow a couple of times to get around oncoming vehicles that had been forced off the side of the road by the oncoming wave. We hit the climb and, as expected, the pack thinned out. I made my way to the right hand side of the road and went to work. This was what I had trained for. I passed a lot of riders (50-60) on the climb, making good progress, yet the front of the peleton remained always out of sight around the next curve. But climbing faster than those around me lent the illusion I was clawing my way back to the front. The top of the climb loomed closer and there became fewer riders to pass. Gaps began to appear. I dug deeper, afraid of the gaps. I reached the top of the climb and my worst fears were realized; the peleton had split with a large gap to the front. It was "deja vu all over again"; I had missed the front pack.

Section 1 stats20122011
Distance:12.3 km13.7 km
Avg. speed:24.3 kph27.6 kph
Normalized watts:291 W288 W
Average watts:229 W246 W
Watts for the climb:324 W307 W

Stats for section 1: What the table above suggests is that the neutral roll out was faster last year than this. Both average speed and average watts were higher in 2011 yet watts for the climb itself was higher this year. For the climb itself, 324 Watts is actually pretty good for me; it's a touch above my hill-repeat power but on a climb over twice as long.

Section 2 - Top of Grey Road 19 climb to top of Creemore climb - km 12.3-70:

Section 2, shown as 2. above, starts at the stop of the first climb and finishes at the top of the second major climb.

With the front pack still in sight at the top of the first climb, I continued to work hard with the vain hope of catching the tail end of the front pack. An IFG rider (Doug Blades) and, I working together, closed the gap to two riders ahead of us. Four of us now gave chase down the hill leading to Grey Road 2. It seemed we were making progress but the left turn onto Grey Road 2 disrupted our organization along with any hope of making it into the front pack.

Our small group of four quickly swelled as chasing riders joined our group. Merrill Collins, the female winner at last year's race, joined our group adding to my sense of Deja Vu; I had noticed Merrill in the pack last year at about this point in the race. More riders joined our group until we had a large pack of about 40-50 riders. I looked quickly took stock. JJ Woodley, who I had gotten to know at a couple of M3 races earlier in the yea, was present in the pack. Camilo Mondaca, the Vinylbilt rider I had met on a couple of Kurzawinski rides, was also present in the pack. There were other strong riders in the pack who I came to learn included Doug Blades of IFG, Adrian Jackson of Nacsworld,and a rider from the Collingwood Cycling Club who were quite active on the front along with JJ and I and the pack got into a fairly organized rotation with at least 10-15 riders taking turns at the front. The pace up to and including the descent off the escarpment was pretty fast.

After the first major descent, we turned onto Fairgrounds Road into a headwind. There seemed fewer riders now willing to take their turn at the front and the pace of the pack slowed noticeably. A series of smaller climbs along this section further added to the slowdown. Still, with about 1 km to go before the descent into Creemore, the front pack could be seen on the horizon, just cresting the final climb before Creemore. So close and yet so far; we had yet to make that climb.

In Creemore, the streets were lined with spectators making noise. This is what it must be like to ride a Grand Tour where spectators line the streets of every small town. I couldn't help but feel a surge of adrenalin. Through the aid station, I looked for gels but got nothing. Instead, I used up one of the gels I had brought with me. The pace relaxed along the 2 km flat leading out of town as riders took the time to eat and drink. The break in the action gave me some time to reflect. I started to get "bummed" about missing the front pack and briefly considered sitting up to wait for my "Falcon" friends. But I'd pulled out of races before when things didn't go as planned and it left a bad taste in my mouth. This kept me going.

The climb just past Creemore was well within my comfort zone. A lone rider went off the front but it was clear he wasn't going anywhere. Nobody else seemed to care so I didn't.

Section 2 stats20122011
Distance:57.7 km67.6 km
Avg. speed:37.2 kph37.0 kph
Normalized watts:267 W255 W
Average watts:228 W217 W
Watts for the climb:260 W275 W

Stats for section 2 are shown in the table above. The distance of this section was about 10 km shorter than last year due to a change of route. The pace of the pack was about the same but my overall effort, as measure in watts, was higher. This made sense as whereas last year I adopted the strategy of "hiding" in the pack, this year I made the conscious decision to be more active on the front thus the higher watts for this year. "Watts for the climb" was lower this year compared to last which made it easier for most of the pack to stay together. At this stage in the race last year, our pack shed more riders on the climb out of Creemore.

Section 3 - Top of Creemore climb to base of KOM climb - km 70-121

Section 3, shown as 3. above, starts at the stop of the second major climb and finishes at the bottom of the KOM climb.

Our downsized group of 30 or so made the left jog across I24 and were greeted with a cross wind. "Crosswind=nobody wanted to pull"

In an effort to inspire some organization, I pulled through the front rider. JJ followed. Nobody else did. I let a gap open between me and JJ and this prompted riders to come around me. But they then just sat on JJ's wheel. Resigned to this "Cat 5" pack mentality, I sat up and allowed most of the pack to come around me.

For the next 50 km I mostly just sat in the pack about 10-15 riders back. The speed going North on was 63 fairly fast but due more to a tail wind than group effort. The group slowed again once we made the left turn into the crosswind at 10th line. I grabbed a half banana at Feverhsam and tried to retrieve a gel just as the rider in front knocked the box of gels out of the volunteer's hand. There was another gel-dispensing volunteer further along and I was successful on my second attempt. I hadn't really been eating or drinking much and took some time to get some nutrition in me while the pace of the pack remained subdued.

We picked up Nancy Neuman, one of Laura's main competitors in the race for first female overall, about halfway between Feversham and Eugenia, I now had Laura's two main competitors, Nancy Neuman and Merrill Collins, in the pack with me but still didn't know whether Laura was ahead or behind me.

Approaching Eugenia, I went to the front for a couple of strong pulls. My second pull created a gap to the pack and with just one rider on my wheel. "Keep going," he said, "someone else might join us." I looked back to the pack but nobody seemed interested so I sat up. With 60 km still to go, it seemed a bit early for a break-away. My break-away companion carried on ahead, ultimately finishing the race 7 minutes behind lending credence to my decision to wait for the pack.

On the flat, approaching the base of the KOM climb, I chatted with Merrill Collins and told her I had been in the same pack with her last year. She commented that the pace seemed slower this year. "Maybe the KOM climb will stir things up a bit," I replied to which she merely grimaced as if not looking forward to that prospect.

Section 3 stats20122011
Distance:48.8 km48.8 km
Avg. speed:39.3 kph41.1 kph
Normalized watts:207 W218 W
Average watts:167 W172 W
n/an/a n/a

The stats for section 3 above show this to be the easiest section by far. Average watts for 2012 was only 167 W, putting my effort in the range of an easy club ride.

Section 4 - base of KOM climb to finish - km 121 - 169

Section 4, shown as 4. above, starts at the base of the KOM climb and goes to the finish.

As it turned out, the KOM climb did stir things up a bit. Three guys shot off the front as we crossed the timing mat. I continued steadily at my hill-repeat effort and reached the top of the 5 km climb with about a 10 second lead on the rest of the pack. Pausing in my effort to pick up up another gel and bottle of Gatorade, I continued to push along the false flat and picked up 3 guys who had crested the climb ahead of me. We got a  rotation organized and were joined by another 10 riders or so just as we made the right turn onto Grey Road 40. The pack was noticeably smaller now but included Merrill Collins and my friend JJ.

The section along Grey Road 40 was comprised mostly of downhill, roughly 7 km of it. Though I didn't have to pedal, I did have a fight on my hands as the crosswind played havoc with my 66 mm rims, buffeting my Cervelo S2 around like a kite. I stayed at the front for the descent, making the right turn onto Grey Road 13 at the head of the pack. Predictably, with a headwind, nobody wanted the front and it took a fair amount of sand-bagging to relinquish my place at the front. But as we approached the turn towards Ravenna, I resumed my place at the front and attempted another strong pull in a bid to stir things up a bit. "Ack, what was that?" I wondered. I immediately backed off and unclipped my right leg to allow the cramp in my hamstring to ease up. The pack passed by me. I clipped in and was able to catch back onto the back of the pack by pedaling a high cadence. Approaching Ravenna, the climb steepened, testing my legs and I found I was able to still climb quite well; I just couldn't push a big gear.

I stayed close to the front on the descent out of Ravenna and when the road turned upwards again, I gave my legs another high cadence test. My legs responded and I got a bit of a gap on the pack. Only one rider, a Collingwood Cycling Club rider, seemed able to follow. As I turned left onto Grey Road 19, I glanced back to gauge the gap. It was enough for me to push on. The Collingwood Cycling Club rider and I took turns at the front and extended our fragile lead on the pack. With just 12 km to go, we tucked in for the final descent,  hopeful of staying away but were caught on the long downhill.

Remnants of the pack giving chase. That's JJ, far right (photo courtesy of Marc Landry).

From the base of the Grey Road 19 to the finish was fairly uneventful. With 2 km to go, a Wheels of Bloor guy, who we had picked up just before Ravenna, tried to break free. I pushed hard on the pedals and my right leg cramped up again, putting my at the back of the pack. "Spin, spin, spin," I thought, just clinging to the back of the pack. I crossed the finish line with the pack but a sprint finish was out of the question for me and I crossed the line second last in the pack.

Section 4 stats20122011
Distance:48.3 km47 km
Avg. speed:35.6 kph32.4 kph
Normalized watts:255 W265 W
Average watts:212 W227 W
Watts for KOM climb:315 W309 W

Stats for section 4 showed I did the KOM climb with slightly more power than in 2011. My overall effort on the last section, hovere, was higher in 2011. In 2011, I sat in the pack until the base of the KOM climb before showing my best effort whereas this year, I made a more conscious effort to be active on the front, especially during the first half of the race. It would seem therefore that the 2011 strategy was the better one as it gave me better legs with which to finish the race. However, the difference could also have been in conditioning as the longer season this year seemed to have taken a toll both physically and mentally.


As I coasted to a stop just past the finish line, disappointment overwhelmed me; my result had failed to meet my expectations. Shanta greeted me with enthusiasm over how well Laura had done: second female overall and 1st in her category. This was good for Laura but only made me feel worse. I hung around for bit, had a beer with Phill, then went home, tired of cycling, both mentally and physically.

Just past the finish line, greeted by Shanta.

For one week, I did nothing. Then a funny thing happened; my love of cycling came back. Another thing that happened was a change in perspective about the race. My initial disappointment receded and I was left with some good memories. It was a beautiful day, a riveting course, had everything a challenging ride should have: a difficult distance, tough climbs, good people to ride with. I had done quite well on the KOM climb, came 3rd overall in my category and managed to get in a break-away. I found myself looking back on the event with satisfaction which, I think, is a good thing; it suggests there's hope for me yet.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Tour Di Via Italia 2012

Sunday morning consisted of a continental breakfast and watching the F1 Belgian Grand Prix and the last hour of the Vuelta a España on T.V. With the weather network calling for rain all afternoon and evening and the air laden with moisture as we left the hotel, my outlook for a good race that afternoon was not optimistic. But the rain held off and as I did my warmup ahead of the race, I actually started to feel good about the race and my chances of a 4th place or better which would earn me the upgrade points I needed to move up to M2.

The previous day's Provincial Criterium Championships had been comparitively easy for me so I was fairly well rested for the start of the Tour Di Via Italia Criterium on Sunday. Finishing my warmup, I rode up to Stan who had found a good spot along the main drag from which to watch the race. "How much time do I have left?" I asked.

"Two minutes," Stan replied.

"Oh crap!" I clipped back in and headed towards the start line, stopping in front of the Cervelo tent just long enough to purchase a Cliff bar and gel. I consumed the Cliff bar while the Commissaire went over her pre-race instructions and stuffed the wrapper into the back pocket of my jersey just as the neutral lap started.

The course for the Tour Di Via Italia, like most of the cycle races I have participated in this year, was rectangular in shape. The rectangle for this race was approximately 2 km long, completely flat, and held in the "Little Italy" district near downtown Windsor. The M3/E4 race was to be 20 laps plus a neutral start lap. With the road being completely closed for this event, the course was fairly wide everywhere except the first turn that had a round-about with traffic islands in the middle and at the entrance and exit to the round-about. This effectively narrowed the course from the 4 lane wide main drag down to just a single lane leading into the first turn.

Tour Di Via Itallia 2 km crit circuit.

As is becoming a habit with me, I watched the first couple of laps from the back of the 33 rider peleton but the accordion effect was a bit too much for meback there. The accordion effect, whereby surges and slow-downs tend to be exaggerated towards the back of the peleton, was particularly bad coming into and exiting from the first corner where the round-about was so I moved to the front both to get away from that. I was also a bit nervous about becoming entangled in a crash at that first corner as it seemed a bit sketchy as seen from the back of the pack. Plus, Stan kept yelling at me to get to the front each time I went by his bench along the main drag.

With the wind coming from a northerly direction, there was a bit of a headwind along the West section of the course as well along the main drag (top section of the course). And while there were some faux attacks made along the main drag, mostly by riders show boating, most of the real attacks occurred along the bottom section of the course. One Elite 4 rider, Niles Vaivars, was quite strong and launched numerous attacks during the early part of the race. Another Elite 4 rider, Christopher Rowly from the Hamilton Cycling Club, was also quite active on the front. Unlike the previous day, where I sat in for the second half of the race, I was a lot more aggressive during this race and covered all attacks as well as launched a few of my own. On a couple of occasions, I found myself with Vaivars and it looked like we might have a chance to stay away but on each occasion we were reeled back in.

Me, with my nerdy glasses, leading the pack towards the start-finish line.
There was a close call at the round-about corner somewhere around the middle of the race. Some guy had sprinted off the front along the main drag causing the rest of the pack to give chase. But as he crossed the start-finish line, the break-away rider who was clearly show-boating put his hands in the air in mock triumph and slowed up causing the pack to bunch up behind him as we entered the round-about corner. I found myself several riders back as we entered the turn. The pack was definitely too bunched-up going into this turn and a couple of riders didn't hold their line. The rider ahead of me and me had to go up and over the island exiting the turn in order to avoid a collision. Thereafter, I made an effort to be at the front of the pack heading into corners.

The pace picked up a little on the second to last lap as expected but not as much as I thought it might. Even the last lap was not as hectic as I expected and I found it fairly easy to be at the front going into the last turn. My time trialling power is much better than my sprint power so my strategy for each of the races I have been in this year, including the Midweek Crits, has been to try and get into a break. But if it comes down to a sprint, as this race did, I've learned that my best chance of placing well is to get an early jump. So I positioned myself 3rd wheel going into the final turn. With the distance from the final turn to the start-finish line being 500 meters or more, I was a bit surprised when the rider ahead of me jumped. I stuck to his wheel hoping to be able to sling-shot around him a little closer to the start-finish line but he ran out of gas a lot sooner than I expected. Riders flew by on both sides. It was "deja vu all over again" as I looked to be boxed in once again but because the main straight-away on this course was wide I was able to get out from behind the rider in front and onto a faster wheel. I heard some screaming behind me, apparently from someone I had cut in front of but with the road being so wide I considered his reaction a bit over stated.

I gave it everything I had to the finish line, passing a couple of riders along the way and it looked like I might get 4th place but I was nipped at the finish line and had to settle for 5th. Fortunately for me, one of the riders who finished ahead of me was an E4 category rider and so I ended 4th M3 rider, earning the 6 upgrade points needed to move up to M2. Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Provincial Criterium Championships 2012

Four of us drove to Windsor Friday night for back to back criterium races on Sat and Sun. The Provincial Criterium championships was the first of these, held at the Ciociaro Club in Windsor. The Masters C/D race, for men 50 and over, was scheduled for 1:00 pm on Sat. While we could have easily made the 350 km trip on Sat. morning, arriving the night removed the added pressure that comes with racing on a travel day.

Friday night was spent consuming copious quantities of alchohol. I didn't intend to consume that much, myself, but once I lost track of that tipping point, it went all downhill from there. Not that I'm complaining; I had a great time discussing race strategy with Stan who was equally inebriated. From a race-preparation perspective, our consumption was less than optimal. But from a fun perspective... well, I had a blast.

Saturday morning, we had a quick continental breakfast in the lobby of the Howard Johnson hotel we stayed at, watched the last hour of the Vuelta a España, and then drove to the race site, arriving with plenty of time to pick up our race numbers and get in a warmup.

Ciaciaro Crit Course

The Ciaciaro crit is run on a 1.3km course with 8 meters of climbing per lap.It is a 20+ feet (1.5 car lanes) wide track designed specifically for Bicycle Racing. The turns are gradual and safe. A small hill, approximately 8 meters high, is situated in the south-west corner of the course followed almost immediately by a downhill. The Masters C/D race was scheduled to be 50 minutes plus 3 laps.

Only 17 riders lined up for the start of the Masters C/D race, consisting of 13 Masters C (age 50-59) and 4 Masters D (age 60+). Three teams were represented with two riders each, including 2 Team Zuck (Marc Polsinelli and Bruno Grossi), two Team London (Charlie Squires and Joe Narciso), and Stan Blazek and myself riding for Kurzawinski Coach / Charlie and Marc were 2nd and 3rd behind Stan at the Provincial Road Championships so I figured they both would be a factor in this race but Stan had told me before hand that Bruno also was a strong rider.

From the start of the race it was Bruno who did most of the attacking with Stan marking every attack. I sat at the back of the pack for the first several laps and nearly got dropped when the 2 riders in front of me got gapped on one of the pack surges. I stood on the pedals, bridged up to the pack and kept my momentum going along the Southwest stretch of the course where I noticed that Stan and Bruno were beginning to establish a gap. I blew by the pack and quickly bridged the gap to Stan and Bruno but before the three of us could even get a rotation established, the pack and reeled us in. 

A few laps later, Bruno again launched himself off the front with Charlie Squires in tow. Being close to the front this time, I was able to get in this break and we were soon joined by a London Wheelers rider. I thought that this break might have a chance to stay away but Polsinelli shut down our advantage before we got a chance to stretch it out.

A lap or two later, Polsinelli and Squires drifted off the front a bit. It didn't take long for my team mate, Stan, to jump on this one and, with Grossi and I both patrolling the front of the pack, the break got a bit of a gap. Grossi and I were soon joined by the 2nd Team London rider, Joe Narciso, and between the three of us, we managed to disorganize the pack long enough for the break to get established. For the next several laps, the gap stabilized. There were 3 or 4 riders from the pack who were willing to work to try and close the gap to the leading trio. But each time that a worked would move to the front, Grossi, Narciso, and I would jump on his wheel, effectively disrupting any organization that the pack tried to establish. With about 15 minutes left to go in the race, the break had extended its lead far enough that the pack was no longer much of a threat. 

One of the three riders in the break, Charlie Squires, was a Masters D rider, so I knew that a podium spot in the Masters C category was still up for grabs. So, on the last lap, I tried to position myself near the front for the final sprint to the finish. Since sprinting isn't one of my strong points, I wanted to try and get away early and hope to surprise the rest of the pack. But Narciso was way ahead of me and jumped before I had a chance to do so. I quickly jumped on Narciso's wheel but by the time he reached the final turn, he had run out of steam with me stuck behind him. I watched helplessly as half the pack went by on the outside and ended up crossing the line 4th or 5th out of the pack. But before I had even crossed the line, I heard Phill yell out that Stan had won which made my race effort satisfying after all.
Stan Blazek takes Provincial Championships, Marc Polsinelli (left) second.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Centurion Ellicottville 2012

23 km Time Trial

Three of us made the drive from Brampton, ON to Ellicottville, NY, early Saturday morning. My scheduled start time for the TT was 2:39:30 pm. We were on the road shortly after 8:00 am, leaving us plenty of time to make the 2.5 hour drive. But a 1.5 hour delay at the border, a 45 min stopover at the outlet mall, and an outdated GPS that took us slightly off course turned a 2.5 hour drive into 5.25 hour drive. I had barely enough time to put my TT bike together, register, and do a quick warmup before my turn came up to mount the start platform.

While in the staging area, waiting for my turn to mount the start platform, I had a chance to chat with Bruce Bird who had asked me what my start time was. I told him I was 1:30 ahead of him and that my goal was to try and hold him off until the turn-around. He kinda laughed and rolled his eyes as if a victim of his reputation. [Perhaps, Mr. Bird, you'd prefer my reputation, having crashed out of 3 races this year] When it was my turn to start, I lifted my bike onto the starting platform, climbed the metal steps to the platform and clipped in. The person holding me was a bit unsteady so I was trying to get him to lean me a bit towards the left when I head the announcer say "Go!". "But, but... I'm not ready," I thought. Too late for that; I was on my way.

On the start platform, not quite ready to go yet.
The 15 mile course (see map and profile below) was more or less an out and back. The first 3 miles were uphill but not terribly difficult. The next 4.5 miles were descending but into a headwind. The first 4.5 miles of the return trip were uphill, starting with a nasty little climb which was not particularly long but was slow. The last 3 miles was downhill into town.
Ellicottville 15 Mile Time Trial Course

Once on the course, I made a right turn then another right and had just about gotten up to speed when ... TRAFFIC? Wtf? I thought the course was supposed to be closed. I was about to pass on the left when the car in front put his left turn signal on. "What does that mean," I wondered. I put on the brakes, thinking the car might be turning into a driveway or something. But when it appeared the driver was turning left onto the same road out of town that I was looking for, I passed on the left anyway and was finally on my way.

Away and heading into the first right-hander.

Once on the road out of town, I could see my 30-second man ahead. I was still a bit frazzled from my shaky start and the incident with the traffic. So I focused on my 30-second man and settled into a steady rhythm. Though this part of the course was uphill and into a headwind, I started to feel felt good. And then Bruce Bird passed me just as I was cresting the hill to begin the descent. So much for holding him off until the turn-around. The descent to the turn-around loop was uneventful. I watched Mr. Bird disappear into the distance and then I was at the turn-around.

On the return trip, I caught and passed my 30-second man just before the nasty little hill. I also passed his 30-second man at the same time. Then we hit the sharp climb where one of them passed me back again. It didn't take me long to catch and pass that rider again, once we crested the short but steep climb. I passed another rider just before the 3 mile descent and picked it up a little on the descent into town to try and discourage that rider (or any of the riders I had passed) from using me as a carrot. A sharp right, a left, and then another left and there was the start-finish line. I gave it one final hard effort and I was done, good enough for 10th overall and 2nd in my age group.

Final turn heading towards the finish line.

10 Richard WESTWOOD     Brampton, CAN     9556    0:34:38.8    25.5    M50-59    2/5 10/45

full results:


While I love road bike racing, an event like Centurion Ellicottville provides a better overall experience than most of OCA-sanctioned races I've done so far. Part of that experience is in the nature of the course itself. In at least 5 of the  "real" races I've done this year, the course consisted of x-laps of a rectangular circuit, usually surrounded by farmer's fields. In contrast, the course at a Centurion takes you on an adventure through some of the nicest terrain I have had the pleasure of riding. Next, there is the venue itself. Ellicottville is primarily a ski resort town and as such is geared towards entertaining visitors. "One bank, one grocery store, one gas station, and about 20 bars," Jim said. A joke maybe but the wide choice of places to eat and drink certainly made the place attractive. And finally, there are the friends who go on the road trip with you. So it was that, after my time trial, my 6 friends and I went to the Ellicottville Brewing Company for a brew on the patio. The beer there was made on premises and was amazingly good, as you would expect from a craft brewery.

At the Ellicottville Brewing Co. Left to right: Nat, Colin, Judy,  Ian, Me, Jim (Laura took the photo).
A couple of hours on the patio and we were back the Inn preparing our gear for the big race the following day. Even something as simple as preparing for a race is more fun with friends. We finished off the evening with some wine and pasta at Dina's restaurant where the food and the wine were equally delicious.

At Dina's restaurant: L to R: Ian, Laura, Me, Nat, Jim.


The weather forecast indicated cooler temperatures and chance of rain. I cursed myself for not having brought a vest or jacket. But I did bring arm warmers so I donned those before wheeling my bike out the door (Actually, it was Jon's Opus I was riding, since the derailleur hangar on my Masi had broken yet again just 2 days earlier). The scenery surrounding the Inn at Holiday Valley Resort was spectacular. On the morning of the race, the peaks were bathed in a translucent mist which looked breath taking from our vantage point in the valley. But the price for that spectacular view was a very cool ride from hotel to race site and I was shivering by the time we reached the start line.

The view from the Inn at Holiday Valley Resort.
The start time for the C100 was 8:00 am. While we stood shivering in the cool morning air, the C50 race, which had started at 7:00, did a a "fly-by" through town after a 7 mile opening loop. So we got to cheer Jim and Nat as they completed their opening 7 mile loop. After the last C50 rider had come through, we were permitted to line up.

Jim and Nat in the C50

At Centurion Canada last year, 942 people lined to start the C100 event. I don't know how many of those 942 people started in the "racer" corral with me but I was quite far back from the front by the time the race started and because of this I had no chance of making it into the front pack. This time I was determined to make that front pack and so I lined up early. But with only 209 people in this race, getting a good start position was really not an issue and I easily found a starting spot on the start line along with a phalanx of Team Sound Solution guys. Laura took up a spot right behind me.

On the start line: Me (far left), Laura in Blue, Ian in white rain jacket.

The C100 course has two cat 3 climbs, two cat 4 climbs, and four cat 5 climbs ( The first of these, a 2.53 km climb with an average gradient of 4.4 % comes just 1.29 km into the race. This climb broke up the peleton from the start, including me. Laura also lost contact with the front pack but we both were both able to rejoin the front pack of 30 or so riders on the descent. The next 20 km or so were reasonably flat with the pace not hard at all and I was content with my position about 15 riders back from the front. At a certain point, riders started moving up on the left, disregarding the yellow line rule and I quite quickly found myself drifting back in the pack. It occurred to me that we must have been caught by a chase group. I waited for a place on the course that would thin the pack out a bit (a trick I learned from Coach Kurzawinski is that there will always be places in a race where the pack would come together and there would be places where it would thin out. The best time to move up is when the pack thins out) and moved back up towards the front at the first such opportunity. Thereafter, I stayed fairly close to the front.

Ellicottville 100 Mile Course
After a 37 km opening loop, the course returned back through the town of Ellicottville in the opposite direction from which we started. There was a category 5 climb just before we re-entered town but it wasn't too difficult and I easily stayed with the pack this time. In fact, the next 40 km or so were fairly easy which gave me a chance to look around at who I was riding with. Bruce Bird was always near the front as I would have expected. There were also a number of teams in the front pack that had several riders: "Sound Solutions", "Nacsworld", "Octo-Cervelo", and "Team IFG". Interestingly, these were all Ontario-based teams which made riding in the pack reminiscent of the Midweek Tuesday night Crit. In addition to Laura, there were also a couple of strong women riders with the pack: a Team Kenda rider and a Collingwood Cycling rider. Both looked very lean and fit. There were a number of attacks off the front along this section but invariably these breaks would be reeled in. With a number of strong teams present, it was tough making a break stick. But eventually an Octo-Cervelo rider was able to stay away, helped in part by a couple of his team mates coming to the front of the pack and slowing things up Around about the 65 km mark, with the peleton settled into an easy pace, a second rider just kind of drifted off the front. I didn't think much of it at the time, assuming he would be reeled back in, but then a third rider went. I thought briefly of going with him but hesitated. And that's the thing about bike racing: a moment's hesitation can make a big difference in the character of one's race. In retrospect it would have been a good move for me to have given it a go. Laura rode up beside me to let me know she was still here which made me smile.

At around 75 km into the race, we turned off the main road and began to climb. I didn't know it at the time but this was the King of the Mountain hill, the first of the two category 3 climbs. I struggled right from the base of the climb. I watched as the front of the pack slowly pull away. I probably could have stayed with them if I had buried myself but the climb looked long so I just rode at my own pace. Up ahead, Laura was climbing well but also losing contact with the pointy end of the peleton as were many others around us with the severity of the climb (which included an 18% gradient at one point). Right behind Laura was the Collingwood Cycling Club woman, Nancy Newman, who apparently was the overall female winner of the first two 2012 Centurion races. Nancy strategically stuck to Laura's wheel all the way to the top of the King of the Mountain climb eventually taking the top female KOM spot from Laura by 1.4 seconds. As it turned out, the KOM climb was a defining factor in the race at the front. The top 5 times were around the 7'10" mark with the 6th best time at 7'45". That's a pretty sizable gap and enough to allow the leading break of 5 to stick. I'm guessing that these 5 joined up with the original lone Octo-Cervelo rider to form the 6-man break, 5 of whom stayed away for the remainder of the race.

At the top of the KOM climb, the road leveled off somewhat but there was still more climbing yet to do. Upon reaching the top of the climb, I could see the front pack about a kilometer down the road. By this time, the pack had thinned out considerably and there was nobody with me so I tucked in and descended as fast as I could in an vain effort to close the gap by myself but as the road began to level off it became clear I wasn't making any ground so I sat up and waited for the next group to come along. The next group was a group of about 7 or 8 riders which included Laura and a very strong Nacsworld rider. Between us we managed to reduce the gap to the leading group to within 50 meters... just before the start of the second monster climb.

We rounded the turn to begin the second of the two category 3 climbs and a few of our group bridged up to the the front pack. I thought about it but had a feeling it was going to be a long climb and chose to go at my own pace once again. This turned out to be a wise choice as I passed quite a number or riders who had started out too aggressively. Though this climb was longer and steeper on average than the King of the Mountain climb, it had fewer severely steep sections and I found myself climbing well. Laura was a little ahead of me most of the way up the climb and I passed her close to the top of the climb going slow enough that I thought that she would jump on my wheel as we crested the summit. But that was the last I saw of her until the end of the race. As it turned out, Laura ended up riding mostly solo the rest of the way which is a shame because had she been on my wheel, I'm sure she would have finished with me.

The following descent was long and fast. Apparently, the lead group of riders were clocked at 100 kph going down this hill. My maximum speed was somewhere around 87 kph. I was glad for the my Swiss Stop Yellow King carbon brake pads as I had to brake several times at that speed to avoid rear ending the rider ahead of me. As we approached the bottom of the descent, I could see the front pack as they made the right turn onto County Road 18. They were perhaps 500-600 metres ahead. I made the turn and focused on a group of two riders not far ahead, bridged up to them and recovered from my effort. A Nacsworld rider, probably the same guy who had helped bridge the earlier gap, sailed passed our group of three so I jumped on his wheel and working together three of the four of us were able to bridge up to the front pack.

After the two cat 3 climbs and the effort required to bridge up to the pack, the rest of the race was comparatively easy up until the final climb. One of the 3 Nacsworld riders tried to get some organization into our pack to try and chase down the break-away group but when that fizzled the pace just seemed to get slower and slower. At about the 135 km mark, I found myself at the front for a good 15-20 minutes. I wasn't pulling particularly hard, riding at about Tempo, but at some point I had to pull over into the oncoming lane in order to get off the front. The entire pack slowed up as one as nobody seemed willing to be at the front. It was kind of bizzare. But a "Sound Solutions" guy (one of 4 in the front pack) went to the front and picked up the pace. The Sound Solutions guy (who it turns out was Ed Makarchuk, 4th overall in the TT) pulled very strong pretty much the rest of the way to the final climb. At one point, I glanced down at my power meter and I was pushing 285 watts while in the draft so I can only imagine what he was pushing. So hats-off to that guy for the epic pull.

The final climb of the day was the same climb with which we started the day but in reverse. A couple of riders (Octo-Cervelo and Sound Solutions) shot off the front at the base of the climb followed by a few others. As with the previous climbs, I elected to climb at my own pace. and eventually caught and passed those who had gone hard early. I was feeling good and as we crested the summit, I was in the second position of the pack. By now, there were only about 20 riders left in the front pack. With 5 riders in the break-away group (it had been 6 but we had swallowed up one of those 6 prior to the final climb), I was pretty much ensured a decent overall placing. All that was left now was to fight for an age group spot. We reached the bottom of the climb just as we entered town. A Sound Solutions rider sprinted by me. I gave chase but eased up as I reached his wheel. Several more riders sprinted past and, still recovering from my effort, I let them not realizing how close the finish line actually was. A couple more riders sprinted past. I followed. We turned a corner and there was the finish line. I sprinted as hard as I could pushing the rest of the way until my front wheel crossed the timing line. Finally, it was over, I thought. Now I could rest.

My sprint finish (center)

As it turned out, our group of 22 splintered a bit on the final climb. So, out of the 10 who made it over the final climb more or less together, I came 7th in the final sprint. Not a great showing. I definitely still have a lot to learn when it comes to sprinting. But 12th overall and 1st in my age group. I can't complain about that.


All in all, it was a pretty good weekend for our entire group. Colin placed 3rd in his age group in the C25 while Judy placed second in her age group. Nat placed 3rd in her age group in the C50. And Laura was first female overall in the C100. But more than that, there's something about working really hard at something and achieving a goal that leaves a "glow" that lasts for awhile. It could have been the beer at the Ellicottville Brewing Company that gave the glow but I think it was more than that.


7     1:06:19.6 1:06:19.6 22.6   3079 MOORE, Colin 7/57     3/22   M50-59   
19     1:17:43.0 1:17:43.0 19.3   3065 KUBAN, Judy 4/28     2/12   F40-49     

full results:


101     3:17:34.9 15.2   2319 DALZELL, Natalie 17/32     3/5    F35-39    
102     3:17:35.0 15.2   2318 DALZELL, Jim 85/121   18/25   M50-54    
full results:


12 4:32:56.4 22.0   1215 WESTWOOD, Richard  12/179    1/15   M55-59 
full results: 


Here is an interesting alternative perspective from one of the IFG riders in our pack. Interestingly, I was one of the two riders who jumped on his wheel near the top of the final climb. But I passed him before the top and it was the Octo-Cervelo rider and I who were the first two on the descent and not the Sound Solutions guy. Otherwise, his recount is similar to mine with a few additional details I didn't know about.

And another perspective from the front of the race by Bruce Bird.