THE TOUR DE FRANCE – A COACH’S OBSERVATIONS
July 18, 2017
THE TOUR DE FRANCE – A COACH’S OBSERVATIONS

I’m sure we’ve all been enjoying this year’s Tour de France as much as previous editions, especially (as I write this) with Orica-Scott’s very own Simon Yates poised to hold the Best Young Rider’s White Jersey all the way to Paris, & thus emulate his twin brother Adam’s exploits from 2016.

In Mumbai the monsoon has hampered riding conditions and meant many sessions on the home trainer, in front of the TV, watching live coverage of the Tour. Here’s what we can take away and apply to our own training regimes:-

Cadence

Whilst on the home trainer, watching one of the many long range attacks, I synced my cadence with that of the escapees. The result? I was pedalling at about 92rpm. Once the TV cameras settled back on the bunch I did the same again…….and was still pedalling at 92rpm. Near the end of the stage when the break was desperately trying to stay away, I repeated the exercise……… 92rpm. Back with the bunch, now travelling faster to bring the break back……..guess what? Yep, 92rpm.

Now, I admit, the numbers were probably a bit of a fluke, but if all parts of the peloton spent most of the time cruising along at ~92rpm we can assume it must be pretty efficient. So, what can we do? Simple, spend more time pedalling with a higher cadence as I’m sure most of you (like me) are usually in the low 80’s. After all (as I continually remind clients!), a smooth, efficient pedalling technique is one of the cornerstones to being a good cyclist.

Time Trial

The Training Peaks website has published the data of various riders, on various stages from this year’s race. We can see how Orica-Scott’s Damien Howson (67kg) went about warming up for, then executing, the Stage 1 time-trial.

Warm Up

  • 8 minutes of easy spinning at less than 100w
  • 6 minutes at 200w
  • 4 ½ minute ramp – building from 220w to 405w over duration
  • 5 min Recovery
  • 2 min at 426w (i.e. just above TT pace)
  • 2 min recovery
  • 30 second hard effort at 500W
  • 5 minutes of easy spinning at 100w

So what can we learn? Well, a pro’s TT warm up routine is 30 minutes long – i.e. longer than the effort they are preparing for (you can also assume that they would’ve done an easy 30-60 minutes in the morning to ‘loosen’ the legs). More importantly, it includes a ramp up to their sustainable TT pace and a 2 minute effort at ~105% of their expected output. For those of you that have trained with me in a turbo training class you’ll remember one of my (many!) mantras: do the first hard effort in the warm-up!

Time Trial Race

Damien’s time was 16 min 47 sec & he averaged 404w. His average speed was 48.3kph & his cadence was 95rpm

The 14km course could be broken down into three sections: the straight outward leg, the technical middle bit and the straight return leg.

Damien started hard & hit his one-minute peak power before coming onto the first straight, averaging 509w, with a max of 764w in the first 0.8km. Once the initial corners had been negotiated he settled down to a 3 ½ minute effort of 422w, averaging 54 kph.

In the mid-section, riders had 12 corners to negotiate during the 5.8km. Damien he hit his peak 30 second power after exiting one of these corners, where he lifted his effort to an average 571w for 30 seconds, hitting a max of 735w.

This type of effort was seen across most of the 12 corners where Damian had to ease off on the approach to each corner (due to the rain), then hit a hard 10 to 30 sec effort of around 550 w to 700w to build back up to speed after safely negotiating the bends.

Once safely back on the return leg with the long straight to the finish Damian powered at 444 w average, for the last 4:37 minutes of effort to the finish line.

What can we mortals take away from this? In short, pacing. Being able to start hard, but not so hard that we can’t recover from such an effort. Clearly, at the beginning of any event we will have more energy reserves but it’s important not to dump all this stored power in one big effort. Knowing the demands of the event is also critical i.e. we can see that Damien was able to slow for each tricky corner, then accelerate hard out of each turn, going way above his sustainable threshold.

Finally, rather than fading at the end, Damien was able to lift his effort over the last 4 ½ minutes to 110% of his average for the race…….this being on top of all the ~700w accelerations he’d already done.

If we want to train for an event like this, it’s important we can repeatedly go just ‘over & under’ our threshold – try it for 10 minutes the next time you’re on your turbo & see what happens…….

A Sprint Finish

With the absence of Orica-Scott’s Caleb Ewan as the team’s designated sprinter, the team have had slightly less to do at the end of stages (as if keeping Simon Yates protected wasn’t enough!) and I don’t have any Orica-Scott specific data to share, however, we can look at one of the other sprint specialists, Alexander Kristoff from the Katusha team.

Here’s how he got himself to the line in Stage 6, which lasted a little over 5 hours at an average of  42kph:

In the first two ‘relaxed’ hours Kristoff ‘hid’ in the bunch, while riding at ~40kph and was able to keep his heart rate at an average of just 99 bpm!

He ‘woke up’ for the intermediate sprint after 108km. Here, Kristoff maxed out at 1156W and averaged 867W for the 22-second effort.

As the race approached the finale, from 5 km to 2 km to go the average speed of the peloton was a staggering 61.6 kph. Still Kristoff ‘only’ averaged 314w as he stayed in the wheels of his teammates.

From the 2km banner to the 1 km to go banner Kristoff averaged 406w, at an average speed of 63.8kph as he moved up through the front of the bunch.

With 1km to go he was positioned perfectly and waiting to make his jump. In the last 400 m Kristoff made his final effort as he launched his sprint.

In the 21 seconds it took him to cover the final 400m his average was 954w, with a max of 1287w.

Learnings? Being able to ride at a very high pace, in the wheels, whilst conserving as much energy as possible. Being able to deliver a near max effort halfway through the race, recover, then do it again at the end; oh, and this time you’ll need to spend about 90 seconds at 400 watts before launching your biggest effort of the race.

What can we do? Try introducing 3 or 4 max effort sprints (10 seconds should be enough) at the end of your next 2 or 3 hour ride. Understand how the fourth sprint differs to the first & then work on making the fourth as good as the first (& how much recovery you need in between efforts).

As an aside, whilst sat on the turbo I decided to find out what it took to ride at 70kph. With my biggest gear being 52 x 12, I needed a cadence of about 130rpm to hit ~70kph. Next time you’re out on the road, try and sprint in your biggest gear & find out how much effort is required to turn that gear so fast!

Endurance

Orica-Scott Team Coach Alex Camier holds two big training camps leading up to the Tour. One is in early May before the Dauphiné (and 8 weeks before the Tour), then the second is after the Dauphiné and used to fine-tune any specifics for the Tour. During the first camp riders get in roughly 30 hours per week, incorporating some long seven-hour days for endurance, mixed in with some four hour, race-specific intensity rides.

In the second camp, they do a lot less volume. If the goal is to be good in the Tour, then most of the work should’ve already been done by now. Thus, the second camp focuses more on some VO2 sessions, both indoor and outside, in order to tax the riders just enough while also confirming their fitness heading into the Tour.

A typical one hour session could include: no more than eight minutes at high intensity, then periods of 30 seconds really hard, three minutes a bit lower, followed by some fast sprints and recoveries to simulate racing scenarios a little bit.

Try this on a turbo at home – understand how you recover from a long (8 minute) high intensity effort & how this ‘recovery’ is compromised when you introduce some 30 second max efforts!

Stressful situations!!

Finally, no amount of finely tuned fitness, coupled with acute bike handling skills and a perfect team plan can predict and react to an untimely mechanical or, worse still, crash. Our mental state will determine how efficiently we can recover from the unexpected. Sports psychology should not be over-looked.

As a coach, I’m always looking for ways to introduce unexpected ‘stress’ into the rider’s routines. It could be an additional effort at the end of a turbo session; sending another rider up the road for everyone to chase straight after a climb, creating a ‘feed station’ scenario where you deliberately withhold someone’s musette or creating a situation where a rider has to stop & someone else has to slow down & pace them back to the group.

We’ve seen riders react to these un-planned situations right through the tour – staying calm, knowing what to do and communicating it clearly can save so much time. Next time you’re out on a group ride, plan something unexpected between yourselves then try and deal with it. It’s not only fun, but can liven up otherwise quiet endurance ride whilst building additional skills.

Let’s hope the excitement of the Tour continues to Paris and then bring on La Vuelta!

Ride safe!

 

Nigel Smith
Nigel Smith

Nigel Smith is an avid road cyclist and a British Cycling Level 2 certified coach, making him one of the most qualified cycling coaches in the country. With a deep understanding of the sport and racing at the many one day classics that the world of cycling has to offer, Nigel brings about unparalleled understanding of the sport. Nigel is from the UK and has been living in Mumbai for the past year and a half.

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