What’s my secret when it comes to cycling and the performances I’ve achieved in only two proper seasons of bike racing?
That question has been asked of me quite a lot lately. I’m flattered and humbled. After all I’m just a guy that’s going on a life cycling journey of discovery and I’m surprised that people are actually interested.
So here goes, three things…
1. Mountain biking
3. Point six
I’ll come onto mountain biking another day. But if you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s so bloody obvious. Leg strength, bursts of power, upper body strength, climbing, bike handling, interval training, top level endurance, that’s down to mountain biking. And I’ve been a regular mountain biker for more than 25 years. As the joke goes it's not rocket salad!
The second thing is consistency. I’ve said it before when Peter Sagan (ex mountain biker) became World Champion, he was finishing consistently in the top 5 of races. The press were having a field day, almost trying to yank the chain of the coolest cucumber in the peloton. Big salary, big pressure, no wins! Then, boom, Rainbow Jersey (the most coveted prize for any cyclist both professional and amateur)! He successfully defended the jersey last year almost with consummate ease after a season of high profile victories. No one questions him now when he comes fourth in a race. He’s earned his rainbow stripes well and truly.
But even if you’re not trying to win a Rainbow Jersey, how do you improve? In the words of Fausto Coppi…”Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike”. It’s really that simple. It’s all I do. I try and ride everywhere, resisting the temptation to take the van out and if I do there HAS to be a bloody good reason. Transform car laziness into bike sharpness. One burns hydrocarbons, costs money, pollutes the atmosphere and makes you fat, the other burns fat, costs nothing (particularly if you’re Ketogenic burner like me), makes you fit and is much better for the environment.
So over the winter, I just rode my bike. As I had no Strathpuffer to “train” for, I just rode, rode, rode like Fausto told me to and nearly all of my rides came out at Point Six or 0.6 as you can see in my TrainingPeaks PM Chart in the picture (blue dots from November to February). Not by design, but by circumstance.
What is Point Six?
Most coaches measure the intensity of an aerobic workout by comparing it an individual’s maximal hour effort. That is the maximum effort you can do for an hour before you and completely and utterly burst and death seems like a soft option. So years ago Borg came up with Rate of Perceived Effort or RPE. And on the 0 to 10 scale, I use 7 as the maximal hour effort. This is everyone’s personal hour record. Utter hell. Eddy Merckx said when he broke the hour record it took years off his life. It was that bad for the world’s best ever cyclist!
For the rest of us, time triallists in particular, you can use a 25 mile TT as a marker because most riders are around the hour mark and/or want to break the hour. And in a race, you are focussed and dialled in. But then I would argue on the Borg scale it’s actually a 6 because most time triallists drive or cycle home after the race and not spend the rest of day recovering like Jack Borbridge had to do when he failed in his attempt at taking the hour record in between Brandle and Dennis. And he had someone to catch him at the end of his hour of hell so he could give it full beans.
Anyway, I digress. Point Six. Yes, so to determine how hard your workout was you simply divide the metric you are using against the value you generate for your own maximal hour. It’s a way of normalizing things and TrainingPeaks refers to it as an Intensity Factor or IF. Strava just labels it as Intensity. A newish software product I’m evaluating as a coaching alternative to TrainingPeaks, Xert calls it Target Power. Whatever you want to call it, Point Six is 60% of your hour maximal hour effort, however you choose to measure it.
However, for my money the Borg scale is too vague and subjective (how you feel on the day very rarely translates to how you can actually perform) and therefore not very accurate, but better than nothing. Average Heart Rate (HR) is a much better form of measurement, but again HR just measures the input (how fast your heart is beating), not the output and can sometimes be inaccurate due to caffeine intake, illness, fatigue, excitement, anxiety. A better measurement of effort is of course power. Energy expended per second. Your energy that is used to turn the cranks and propel the bike (hopefully) forwards. It’s not perfect and I’m not as evangelical as I use to be about power, but it’s pretty damn good in most circumstances, particularly time trials (but not CX races – I’ve got a future blog already lined up to discuss some very interesting findings).
For all of my winter rides I just used my Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) and decided I was just going to ride my bike for fun. With the Puffer off the racing calendar I had no short-term goals and so I decided to totally mix it up and ride my CX bike to an early grave, which I succeeded and then put my CX wheels on my hardtail and rode that too to the point of destruction. I had a blast. What a laugh. The mild and dry winter no doubt helped, but at least we made the most of it.
And as the 2017 season is about to start, the result? I’m fitter, stronger, faster and generating much more power than last year without consciously trying. I’m well ahead of schedule, perhaps I shouldn’t bother with a schedule too? Whether it comes to anything racing wise is an another issue and I'm not bothered anyway as I'm only interested in being fitter, stronger, faster and there are plenty out there who are already that.
Just ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike. Well it worked for Coppi and Point Six seems to be the sweet spot and in my opinion should never be underestimated. Point Six means you can (literally as well as metaphorically) have your cake (yes Ny) and eat it. Isn’t that what’s it all about?