Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Final Week

Mission accomplished...

Tour Director Christian Prudhomme wanted to create an exciting TOUR right from the start. Through his creativity and vision we have been able to sit back and enjoy daily excitement. The Tour de France is always a special event, but the "new" TDF is an exciting and unpredictable race. What no one was expecting was the multitude of crashes that have taken almost half the overall contenders out of the picture. Still, we can't put the burden of responsibility on the organization for this bad luck. It's the peloton, and when almost every rider there is dreaming of pinning on a number and making a name for himself, the risks are high.

The race has just left the Pyrenees and people are already talking about who is going to win. To be honest, we now know who the best climbers are and this particular talent will once again shape the final GC result. We’ve still got 6 riders in contention, but what people are REALLY talking about is Thomas Voeckler and team Europcar! Voeckler’s faithful lieutenant, Pierre Roland, is a stud and has been successful in past Tour's. But let's take a step back for a second and remember what took place late last fall with the almost total demise of Bbox Bouygues Telecom – which is now Voeckler’s Europcar team.

It’s late fall and BBox is on the verge of folding. Thomas Voeckler has multiple secure and high paying offers to leave but what does he do? He stands by his long time mentor and team director, Jean-René Bernaudeau and does not jump off the sinking ship. True, Voeckler raised the stress level pretty high for everyone by waiting till the bitter end to make his team decision, and he continually pushed back a meeting that was scheduled with Cofidis on the final day of the decision. But just before the deadline strikes which would have sent BBox – and all its riders – into the annals of history, Voelkler commits and the team signs a new contract with Europcar. The team is saved and the rest is history.

Talk about leadership! Wouldn't you ride yourself into the ground for a team leader like that?!! Europcar has created something special and all the money in the world can't buy this type of connection. Is good karma enough to hold on to the yellow jersey? In my heart, I sure hope so. Voeckler has the heart of a lion and who doesn't want an underdog to pull off the miracle. The numbers don't add up, but F#@% the numbers! He has the yellow jersey and he is not about to just give it away. He is riding above his capability and that is what champions do. Living in the moment, crushing it on the bike, and laughing and smiling when he’s done each day. He has nothing to lose.

Anyone could learn from Voeckler. Do you think he is looking at a power meter? I know he doesn't have one, but learn from this! A power meter has very little use in the middle of a stage race when you do whatever is necessary at any given moment. When you look at your powermeter after the fact, more often than not you’ll surprise yourself by blowing away your previous expectations. Live in the moment, execute your plan and see what the competition throws at you. I’ll admit, his ultimate chances are still small – but didn't a 40 year old win the Tour of California this year!?

OK back to the racing analysis…the TDF has not even entered the Alps and we now know who the best climbers are at the moment: Schleck x 2; Basso; Evans; Contador; and...Voeckler. The attrition doesn't lie. Some riders are better placed but these are the guys that are watching each other and making the moves at the critical times. Of course, Pierre Rolland is up there but since he is a domestique I have not included him in the mix. Even the greatest Tour rider of all time, Lance Armstrong called Rolland and Voelker out two days ago on Twitter…"He has 2:06 on Evans. Final TT is 42km. He's French. It's the Tour de France. He won't lose 2:06 in the final time trial assuming he keeps them close on Alpe d'Huez. His teammate Pierre Rolland has been a rock star and has to continue to be. Lastly, the dude knows how to suffer. Will be fun to watch."

There are two, possibly three, stages left in order for the blue chippers to take the yellow away from TV: Stage 17 into Italy on Pinerolo; and then the final big two - Stage 18 summit finish at Serre-Chevaller, and Stage 19 classic on the summit of Alpe-d'Huez. So far it's been cat and mouse with Evans, Basso, Contador and the Schlecks each nullifying each other’s attacks. This has played into the hands of TV as well as Evans. If this continues and Voelkler’s legs continue to surprise him, he will podium in Paris! Contador has a lot to make up and we'll see if Evans can continue his fine form.

At this moment in time, I give the edge to Evans since he really "only" (and do I use this term VERY loosely) needs to hang on and watch the others attack each other. Evans improved leg speed has allowed him to follow the accelerations of the Schleck's and Contador on the climbs, and that has been the main reason he is poised to make history next week. There is a week of exciting racing left and I'll be glued to the TV to see how the race unfolds. Enjoy it!

Coach Walton

Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's that time of the year again.Viva le Tour!!! Time again to kick things off this coming Saturday with the 2011 Tour de France! In keeping with Cadence tradition, I will once again offer up my 2011 analysis in hopes of providing you all with a coach's inside perspective, while illustrating some of the tools I use to come to conclusions. These are the same tools I use to coach and interpret all of your own performances and training, so if you notice some parallels, know that it's not a coincidence!

To get things started, this year I've created an initial rider ranking system to open up some discussions! In short, I weighed past results, athlete strengths, team support, and team goals. I've followed closely this year the results of the traditional build up races towards the Tour de France - the Giro, Dauphine, Suisse, and National Championships - and I've reminded myself of last year's Tour results. In the end, results don't lie, and they are the primary indicator of upcoming performance. Without real results, all we've got is a bunch of speculation.

Check out my PREDICTION SPREADSHEET. Each rider is rated on each category on a scale of one to five with 5 being the strongest score.

1. Climbing: Pretty straight forward. Natural ability. 125 pound power to weight freaks. The guys are ranked against each of the top riders.

2. Time Trialing: Again, pretty straight forward but I have weighed more heavily time trial performance during stage races. Again, ranking is against each of the contenders.

3. Peak, Progress and Goal: Who set out to peak for the Tour back in the beginning of the year and who is progressing or "peaking" according to plan? You may lose a half point if you were flying back in May - an indication of poor seasonal planning.

4. Team: Ranking of the strength of each rider's complete team. Climbers, team time trialists, roulleurs (able to sit on front of group and set tempo for 100km's), directors with strategic experience, etc.

5. Recovery: This ranking is a little more subjective than the rest. (Pun intended) I judged riders by their "bad days" in the Grand Tours, their results through the final days of stage races, results on back to back to back mountain stages, results the day after time trials, etc. I also look at rider technique and skill - how do they generate their power, how does their technique change in different performances? Ultimately, this category influences the race leaders more than anything else!

6. Past Life: Pretty simple, show me a resume! Who has done it in the past in the big ones!

7. X-Factor : See individual comments in my PREDICTION SPREADSHEET

It will be a nontraditional road race start this year and Tour Director Christian Prudhomme has made the first week eventful. The riders start by going over the Passage du Gois, an epic roadway that disappears under high tide! Stage Two is a 23km team time trial, followed by more stages through the heavy, punchy roads of Brittany. The Tour will not be won in the first week but it could be lost! Stay out of trouble and conserve as best you can is the goal for overall contenders through the first week. Look for Columbia to win the TTT over Garmin, and Cavendish to be in yellow early followed closely by the always-classy Gilbert. And for anyone who thinks that Contador will easily cruise to victory, keep in mind that the last time anyone pulled off the "double" (win the Giro and Tour in the same calendar year) was in 1998 by the late, great Marco Pantani. The deck is stacked against him.

Enjoy the race and my forthcoming commentary, and feel free to chime in with your own take, too!

Friday, June 17, 2011

What I've Learned

I’m definitely one of those people who believe that things happen for a reason.   Just two weeks ago, I sat down with Brian and Holden to discuss my performance in the Ixtapa (Mexico) Continental Cup on May 28th.  In Ixtapa, I finished in a disappointing 23rd place and missed an opportunity to pick up some points which would have helped me climb the ITU rankings list.  Brian, Holden and I acknowledged the race had been a failure, but that the experience would not be lost if I could learn something from what went wrong.   Two weeks later, I’m coming off a 2nd place overall finish in the Cartagena Continental Cup and a nomination to the USAT’s Project 2016 National Team!  Here’s the story…
I walked out of our meeting that day feeling incredibly motivated.  Even though the race itself was a failure, I could still benefit from the experience if I corrected the variables that doomed my race.  I sputtered to the finish with the race’s 26th “fastest” run split after coming off the bike with the leaders.  Knowing that my finishing time was not indicative of my ability, I resolved to do a better job of being prepared to run fast off the bike. 
The following Thursday, I was back to the airport for a series of flights that would take me to the northern coast of Columbia for the Cartagena Continental Cup.  On paper, the race looked similar to the one in Ixtapa—a choppy, tough ocean swim followed by a hot and humid bike/run.  I arrived late Thursday night and spent Friday and Saturday enjoying the city and doing some course reconnaissance with fellow American triathletes Sean Jefferson, Nic Tautiva, Lauren Goss, and Kaitlin Shiver.
Race morning was hot, and with temperatures only getting hotter leading up to our 12:00 race, I stayed out of the sun and took in as many fluids as my body would allow.  As usual, the start to the swim was very physical.  After getting through the mêlée, I was satisfied with my position and settled into the main pack.  By the finish of the two lap ocean swim, I had navigated myself to the front of the main pack and prepared for a quick transition onto the bike.
I settled into the main bike pack and immediately began taking in fluids.  By the time we were on the course, the temperature had reached 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) and the heat index, according to the race organizers, was 44 degrees (111)!  Given the conditions, no one in the pack really wanted to work too hard, and we biked just hard enough so the chase groups wouldn’t be able to catch us.
Going into to T2, I knew that the race would be decided on the hot, flat run course—just like the race in Ixtapa was two weeks before.  This time, though, I was prepared.  My plan was to start conservatively and to try to negative split the run, but emotions got the best of me and I went out with the guns firing.  By the end of the second lap, I was shoulder to shoulder with Chile’s Felipe Van de Wyngard.  We matched each other stride for stride over the next 6K, and by the final turnaround had built up some mutual respect for the suffering we were putting each other through.  Serbia’s Ognjen Stojanovic had broken away with USA’s Ben Collins towards the end of the bike, and after passing Collins earlier in the run, both Felipe and I had our sights on the Serbian up the road.  The heat, though, proved too great an adversary for us both.  Stojanovic crossed the line first, and thirty seconds later I edged Felipe for second place in a sprint to the finish.  I was thrilled to have registered my best international finish to date and the race’s fastest run split!
The finish gave me enough points to qualify for the Edmonton World Cup on July 10th, and it was another big step towards my ultimate goal of competing on triathlon’s biggest stage.  Also, because it was my second top-3 finish in an ITU Continental Cup race this year, it qualified me for USAT’s Project 2016 National Team.  I’m obviously very excited about the progress I’m making—but more importantly I’m having a blast and learning more and more about myself along the way.  My quick rebound between a disappointing performance in Ixtapa and a strong race two weeks later in Cartagena is a reminder of the close link that exists between success and failure.  And, of course it helps to have some great coaches who aren’t shy about pointing it out to you whenever the failures or successes come along!

List of lessons learned…
Ixtapa, didn’t bring enough performance drink mix.  Cartagena, brought 2 canisters.
2 water bottles to Ixtapa, 3 to Cartagena and left one in T2.
Hydrate several days before the race…work hard to hydrate!
Eat at a restaurant you have tried before for the pre race meal. 
Don’t sleep in too long, stay on a schedule.
Winning is in the details.
"Don’t stress, peak performance comes from joy, not stress." – H. Comeau

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Training with Allergies

It's hard to believe that allergies could play a factor with your training at the moment with earth playing the best April Fool day joke showering Philadelphia with snow in the morning! But warm weather and spring is right around the corner and with that comes buds, pollen, allergies and wheezing and sneezing! Below are a few tips to help alleviate some of the problems.
The map above shows pollen counts for the spring. That's right, Philly is bright red!

1. Avoid peak pollen times. If you can stay inside between 10am and 4pm when pollen counts are highest and exercise during off peak hours or train indoors.

2. Take a shower. Pollen can accumulate in your hair and skin. If you take a shower before bed, you may find your sinuses are clearer and you sleep better.

3. Irrigate. Nasal irrigation is a part of daily routine's in India and Southeast Asia. Simply using nasal spray is a great deterrent.

4. Limit your dairy intake. Many doctors believe that dairy products increase mucus production which can agitate allergy symptoms.

5. Anti-inflammation diet. When you are suffering from allergies your nose is already inflamed. Avoid eating foods that will cause more inflammation such as sugar.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


2011 marks my first season as a multisport athlete. You may have heard me joke over the past few months as I trained for my first event: When can I say I'm a Duathlete or Triathlete? Is it only when I attempt and finish my first race, or is multisport a state-of-mind?

I like to think the latter.

If you follow our blog you know I attempted a marathon during my first year at Cadence as a bet with the Tri coaches. I needed some motivation over the fall and this fit the bill. I have continued this tradition every November, feeling more confident each fall when I strap on my running shoes again and give the bike a break. Each year, I find myself wanting the racing season to be over sooner so I can start running. Clearly, my state-of-mind was changing, even before I could admit it to myself. I have been a bike racer for so long it seemed foreign to want to attempt anything else. But the more I ran, the more I was reminded of why I loved this sport in high school.

So there's the back story; let's get to the race. Making this transition I knew I would have to choose my first few races very carefully. I knew longer races would suit my cycling legs better and a duathlon was an obvious choice while I worked on my swim. This is where a coach comes in handy. Sitting down with Holden and Jack, we discussed my strengths and weaknesses and came up with a good annual training plan and some key races, the first being a long duathlon in Alabama. It happened to be the National Championships, but that was really just an after thought. This was going to be a trial race to see how my legs dealt with the stress of run, bike, run; a combination I have never attempted. So the race was picked, the training was written and now I had to execute.

The first step is telling people about the event. (This is really only so I have to do it.) Verbalizing your goals makes them more real for some reason. I'd rather attempt and fail then tell someone I didn't try after I already told them I would.

Next was coming up with a race strategy. The race was a 10k run, followed by a 60k bike and another 10k run at the end. Holden and Jack helped me with the run and transitioning while Brian and Colin helped me with my bike. Even for coaches, we realize the importance of the coaching team. None of us can do this alone. We decided my bike would be the strongest leg and that I'd need to sacrifice some time on the first run to make sure I was fresh enough to ride fast. I'd even wear a foot pod to monitor my pacing on that first run. It's tough to LET people run away from you when you are competitive. But I knew I'd see them again soon.

The lead runners started fast. There were about 100 men ages 39 and under together at the line and many left me right away. I stuck to my plan and ran within myself, not digging too deep at any point. Even still I ended up running about 90 seconds faster than planned but I was feeling fresh and ready to get on the bike; but not before my first ever transition. I didn't think I did that bad of a job but at 1:17 seconds I was a solid 40-45 seconds slower than any of the other top competitors. This is not as easy as it looks from the sidelines. It takes some skill to move quickly through a transition.

On the bike I felt right at home. Working with Jack and Colin, we maximized my position on my Cervelo P2 to get me as aero as possible without sacrificing my strong cycling muscles. This means I had to be further back behind the bottom bracket than most other riders but I knew I needed to rely on my strengths. So maybe I wasn't the most aero rider but this was an acceptable sacrifice. Three laps of an out and back course gave me lots of opportunities to pass lots of riders. With so many racers on the course though, and the Pros and 40+ groups starting 10 and 5 minutes ahead, respectively, it was hard to know my real competition. I was amazed at how quickly 60k was over. Breaking it down into 10k sections and trying to match my power for each of these legs kept me focused. The only problem was at the end I knew I had another transition to deal with.

Transition 2 wasn't as bad a the first. I was under a minute this time, but not by much. I was pretty shocked when I arrived and only one bike was hanging there. (Actually there were more bikes but each race had its own section for transition so I knew any bikes around me would be from other 39&Under competitors. Could I really be in second? I headed out on the run course, trying to pace myself, talking to myself in my head over and over like a mantra. "Second would be incredible for your first race, just don't get run down by the guys behind." Not a very proud moment for sure. I joked with my brother, Aaron, who also competed, that I was afraid to have someone close to me at the end of the race because I wasn't sure if I'd be tough enough to do what was necessary to beat them. Racing within yourself is one thing but competing head to head at the end is something else. That has nothing to do with fitness or training and more to do with who is willing to risk more and I was beginning to let the fear in, not thinking I had the guts to take any risks near the end. These are the thoughts running through my head at this moment. Not, "go catch first place," but rather, "run for your life, you are literally getting chased. Don't get caught."

Thankfully, I didn't have to worry about it. Our plan had worked. I gave up some time on the first run, made it up on the bike and was still strong enough to run a faster second 10k than the first. I caught first place at mile three and kept on going. After he was out of sight I was able to coast in for the last 2 miles for my first ever duathlon victory. I had won my age group and had the best time of any racer 39 and under. Only 3 40+ racers and 3 pros went faster. I had a great day where everything went perfect (except for maybe my slow-as-molasses transitions).

It wasn't until standing on the podium, receiving my award that I began to add up all the people I needed to thank for helping me. It truly takes a team to achieve success, no matter what you are attempting. There is a lot of sacrificing that needs to take place to do what we do and it wouldn't be possible without the support of family, friends, co-workers and coaches. Even the whole community at Cadence was integral to my success. Getting advise and friendly words from so many people before and after the race makes me truly realize how special this little shop in Manayunk really is. So thanks to all of you.

Next up... swimming. I am not looking forward to this. Look for another post close to the Philly Tri. Only then can I truly say I'm a Triathlete!

Here is my race bike the night before. I chose the P2 over the P3 for the added headtube height. I'm not very flexible and it let me ride a bit more upright than the P3 would allow.

The Zipp 808 Carbon Clinchers were a huge benefit, saving me between 3-4 minutes on the 60k course. The Vittoria open tubular tires road superb and the natural skinwalls have a retro look to them on a very non-retro looking bike.

I fought it nearly until the end, but the ISM Adamo saddle was a huge key. I couldn't have stayed in my position for that long without it.

I also used a Quarq, crank based power meter, with a Joule 2.0 to track my average wattage and make sure I was staying consistent lap after lap. Add to that my Look Keo Blade pedals and I had no excuse not to succeed.