Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cadence Battenkill Reconnaissance Ride

Well this weekend we got to experience the Battenkill course in the best and worst conditions, 60 degrees with sun and 45 degrees soaking wet. This course will be hard under perfect conditions and down right carnage if it is wet.

Saturday we were greeted with beautiful skies and 60 degree temps. If not for the pre-loaded map on my trusty Garmin 705 we would have had some problems given my nack for passing by the correct route. Even with the Garmin the distractions of a fun group caused me to miss a couple turns. For a new group of riders I was shocked at how well everyone performed double and single pace lines. There were some occasional etiquette mistakes which we talked about later that evening but overall I was very impressed with how the group riding went.

The course is everything that the website details, a leg burning grind fest on less than stellar roads. This was exemplified by one of our clients. After cramping near the end of the ride an anonymous rider in our group took advantage of a head start on the last major climb. We came around the corner to find him squatting behind his bike in the middle of the road, as if trying to hide from the hill’s evil. He was unable to stand because his quads had gone into full tetanus! After 10 minutes of crouching they relaxed enough to climb back on the bike and he was able to make it over the rest of the climb (compact gearing next time Ryan, take it from Charlie… ;)

In dry conditions the dirt road sections were not all that bad minus a couple 30-60 yard swaths of “golf ball” sized gravel that layered the road way like sprinkles on frosting (except for Meeting House Road…a proper nasty dirt road just as you would imagine it). Hopefully these gravel sections will be
cleared by race time because race speeds they are
nearimpossible to race over. News flash, flats will be a factor. We had 7 total flats in our 2 days and one pair of cleats that needed some screw swapping. Fast speeds and loose stones will make ill chosen tires pay the price. My Hutchinson tubeless made it unscathed through the weekend and performed like champs on all road conditions. In most categories the Juniper Swamp road will be a selecting point but the climbs just before are no joke. Even though they are paved the downhill after is short and if a group gets a gap you better close it quick because Juniper will come fast. If it is all together after Juniper it may come down to a race of attrition as this course will surely suck the life form your legs in “Baton March” fashion. There really is no easy part of the course. You are up or down and on the flat and rolling sections there always seems to be wind blasting you in the face. A small break will have a hard time if it is windy in the middle of the course. Watch out for the descent off of Joe Bean Road. This is where we got 3 flats within 15 minutes. The Willard climb is not so bad but a fast pace will make you hurt and if your legs are hurting here attacks on Meeting House may be the deathblow. If you are a small group going into Meeting House the initial climb is a good opportunity but after that you might as well wait for Stage road to deal the pain. Six stair-steps up this climb and you are home free. The run in is flat and seemed to be the only place on the course with a tailwind, perhaps the only reward for a long hard day in the saddle for many riders!

Sunday was a chance to experience the course all wet, and we rolled out just as it poured. It was not long before getting comfortable but in low 50 degree temps and steady rain it’s riding a fine edge teetering on “just bearable” and “lets go home”. The pace was spirited to keep the blood flowing and the only thing that could ruin it was stopping for a flat...Murphy’s law rules at the Battenkill. After 10 minutes of standing in the rain we got going again and this was the worst part of the ride. At least the Mad Alchemy embrocation kept the legs feeling toasty, if only a placebo, thanks Dave! But we soon got the blood flowing and the rain lessened. Even in the dry the roads seemed to suck your wheels into the earth but in the wet you created ruts and had to negotiate sections of quick sand that virtually slowed you to a stop. For anyone doing the Pro 1 or 2 race the initial “extra” loop may sort things out from the start if it is as wet as it was today. However, as was explained to me later this was a “dark” road and just thawed out from the winter so there has been little traffic this year. By race day the sand should be a little more packed. In the wet the traction was not so bad going up the hills but you had to push even harder because of the “road suck” and on this climb the road “sucked hard”.
Wet or dry the race will be hard, but pray for dry.

Thanks for the great company and riding Dave, Bruce, Bryce, David, Kristan, Ryan, Bryan, and Charlie. Many thanks to Christine Hoffer at the Rice Mansion Inn for helping with the weekend, it was an exceptional place to stay and I highly recommend it if you ever come to Cambridge!

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Traveling Cyclist: Andalucia, Spring 2009. Part One.

On a shockingly clear mid-March morning in Salobrena, a small village on the Costa Tropical of Spain, the sun is already hot, the Mediterranean is its lustrous turquoise blue, the swallows are dipping and diving like trapeze artists at the circus, the almond trees are in various stages of bloom, the orange and lemon tress hang heavy with fruit, and the strong scent of rosemary is enough to make one giddy.
Then the infernal, ubiquitous blue-white smoke of the farmers' valley fires rises to sear your eyes. Depending on the direction of the win--and generally, there is wind--the lazy smoke will turn north towards the mighty giants of the snow capped Sierra Nevada, or it will sway listlessly out over the sea. There is yet a third and rarer option if there is no wind: the wiry thin wisps of smoke will twist like spun cotton and rise ever upwards until the temperature variation traps the ghostly vapors and the valley fills with a smoky haze smelling of burnt earthly refuse.
In all cases, the smoke merges with the dust and other pollutants and particulates—which in the south of Spain are abundant for a number of reasons: the sun-scorched earth and beaches are a constant source of dust and sand; the multifarious plants are in a near constant state of bloom meaning pollen is omnipresent; and in the far south of Europe, where northern European uppityness and love for regulations like emissions controls is flagrantly snubbed, thousands of antiquated Citroens, Peugeots, Seats and Fiats trundle around carrateras and autovias in sundry states of disrepair to lend an (un)healthy dose of unfiltered diesel and gasoline fumes to top off the cocktail. The resultant mixture is a haze that migrates from a pleasing bluish-white at about 7:00am to a poor imitation of slurry brown by 3:00pm.
But none of this, not the ceaseless smell of burning palm leaves, not the afternoon brown cloud, not the choking fumes of derelict vehicles, not even the eardrum shattering din of 49cc motorbikes heralded by testosterone crazed 16 year olds can detract from the destabilizing beauty of this remote corner of Andalucia.
Salobrena lies roughly 90 kilometers to the east of Malaga and equally as far south from Granada. Within the confines of the points which form this triangle is some of the most strikingly beautiful and inhospitable land in all of Europe. But the abundance of water from the Sierra Nevada, the fertile coastal plains and valleys of the southern Mediterranean, the natural ports and ease of access to north Africa made this such an attractive destination for numerous historical peoples including the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Visigoths, and eventually Arabs and Jews impressed upon al-Andalus a glorious and lasting infrastructure and culture that resulted in such masterful works as the Alhambra and a sinewy network of irrigation canals and an unprecedented lattice work of trellises and sublime stone terraces.
In addition to all this, the cities of Cordoba and Granada were unrivaled centers of modernity providing scholarship and learning where Europe's first universities were founded, and where advances in medicine, art, architecture, and mathematics flourished. These ingenious advances carry dramatic influence on our contemporary, everyday life (including algebra and algebraic geometry). Public waste removal, public and private plumbing, sewage systems, hydro-powered water mills, and even street lighting were for the first time introduced in Andalus in the 9th Century.
What was accomplished in Andalus between the 8th Century and end of the 15th Century was earth shattering in the history of human development. But it was arguably undone--or at least, unravele--when Los Reyes Catolicos took control of the political reigns. In 1492 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle unified Spain and, in a rousing display of historical irony, ruled it from the glorious Moorish palace, Alhambra. In short order their initial semi-tolerance for Arabs and Jews was betrayed by the declaration of Reconquista, the zealous reconquering of the existing and harmonious geo-political-cultural landscape with their own brand of divisive and intolerant Christian ideals (in reality, a thinly veiled attempt to steal the wealth of non-Christians and to set off about the "New World" looking for gold under the holy subterfuge of spreading the word of the Christian God).
Religious intolerance is a remarkably common theme.
But forget about that: I'm in Andalucia, more precisely in the provincial town of Salobrena, to do what I love most, ride my bike. One could do much worse than land on their feet in this part of the world only to climb on two wheels for some much needed spring training.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Balancing Theory with Craft - A Forum with Allen Lim

Balancing Theory with Craft;
A Forum with Allen Lim
March 15, 2009
Presented by CRCA, New York, NY

A Re-cap by Ann Marie Miller, MA

What a thrill to be able to spend an afternoon discussing the latest advances in training and cycling with the mastermind behind the Garmin Slipstream Cycling team, Allen Lim. Recognized as a leader in the study of training with power, and his work with Powertap power meters, Allen has been the mentor to many of the world’s top cyclists.

John Eustice, 2 time US Pro Champion and promoter of the Univest Grand Prix, served as moderator for the presentation and discussion with Allen Lim. The afternoon started with a review of what had been a stellar week for the Garmin-Slipstream team on the European circuit; with stage wins at both Paris-Nice (Christian Vandevelde) and Tirreno-Adriatico, including a breakthrough win by Tyler Farrar over uber-sprinters Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, et al. Allen feels like it is no surprise the team is coming together; he could see from testing and results on training that they have the potential for these wins and even bigger things.

Although Allen is known for crunching numbers and analyzing Power files, the presentation focused more on the intuitive side of training and progression. Allen continued to emphasize the importance of applying science individually, and how his method isto ask riders how they feel after workouts and races to teach the athlete how to interpret these sensations along with the data they collect form these rides.

He noted how other aspects of fitness, such as body awareness, flexibility and core strength contribute to improved performance. Even body weight strength exercises, like squats, push ups, etc., can aid in overall muscle efficiency. He believes strength training, even just body-weight exercises like 1 legged squats, and core work with a physioball can make a huge difference in a rider’s integrity and performance. He cited the fact that Christian Vandevelde suffered from back problems for years, but started a core training regime using physioballs, and does not have those pains anymore. He claims Christian keeps up a maintenance routine even when they are racing in season! He said the Garmin team looks like a traveling circus checking into hotels with their physioballs, foam rollers, and other fitness accessories! (Good news for me – everyone makes fun of me for doing strength training year round. Not to mention my “aerobic warm-up” packed with squats, push-ups and core work of all manner).

Allen noted that strength training was a catalyst to improved performance, and emphasized strength training for Masters’ Athletes, to maintain fast-twitch muscle fibers. He admitted not having worked extensively with the Masters’ population, but reiterated the studies that show Masters’ athletes tend to maintain slow-twitch muscle fiber over time, and that those who continue to exercise don’t show much of a loss of cardiovascular fitness, but the fast twitch muscle fibers are the first to go with age. Strength training and plyometrics can delay the decrease in fast-twitch muscle performance.

Since gains from strength training show a steep decline after 6 weeks of de-training, he advocates maintenance strength training throughout the year, if possible.

He reviewed the periodization calendar of the Garmin team; riders peaking for the Classics in March-May do high volume training in December; those aiming for the mid-season and the Tour De France train for volume in January, while riders peaking for late-season and the World Champiosnhips might not start volume training until March.

He believes in focusing on skills and easy pace for early-season training, and says your body will only do what it can handle, so start slowly.

Although Garmin does extensive testing, he does not prescribe exercised in terms of “Lactate Threshhold”. Although they don’t use LT to prescribe exercise, he said it is valuable to teach athletes to identify their limits. Rather, they start with intervals such as 20 minutes at a steady pace, then break the 20 minute segment in to halves, doing “negative splits”, then quarters, using a “hard/easy, hard/easy” approach. Then they proceed to motorpacing, using “watts/kg” as the criteria for intensity. They break the levels into 2-4 watts/kg pace, 4/6 watts/kg pace, 4-6 watts/kg, 6-8 watts/kg, and as unthinkable as it sounds, 8+watts/kg. In my dreams!!!

He discussed some of the adaptations the Garmin team had to make as Americans racing in Europe. Basically, they did best by maintaining their identity as Americans, rather than trying to convert to European culture. They cling to American-style eating and lifestyle habits.

I expected his philosophy would be strictly scientific, and I was pleased to see how he married science with the humanity of the sport. He uses a lot of intuitive application in exercise prescription; some riders respond to certain training or stimulus; others need another approach. They try to give the riders as much information as they can accept, in a way they can deal with it; he doesn’t hit riders over the head with facts & figures. He admits he has no proof that the scientific information is helping the riders, but he uses is because it is the best evidence they have.

He expressed reservations about taking the results of LT testing too literally because he believes the stages in a typical LT test are too short. He claims that LT results would be very different for most riders if the stages were longer, and that these stages that are too short may over-estimate an individual’s LT

Working one of the preeminent physiologists who served on powerhouse squads like ONCE Allen says the data from the Garmin riders suggest they are as strong, if not stronger than the ONCE athletes had been, so he has high hopes for their performance this year.

He noted that yes, it IS possible to have breakthrough performances after utterly “bad days”. In truth, if an athlete bonks, or reaches glycogen depletion, and then restores the muscle glycogen, there is a “Supercompensation effect” that allows the muscles to increase their capacity to absorb glycogen. This is basis behind the old “carbohydrate-depletion, carbo-loading philosophy, in which athletes would limit carbohydrate consumption while training, and then increase carb intake while cutting their training load to max out glycogen storage. (Can’t imagine how cranky I’d be craving a chocolate chip cookie if I had to restrict my carb intake!)

Some of the most innovative approaches they use concern recovery methods. They use pneumatic compression devices (developed to promote circulation in lymphodema patients) applied to the legs after races to gently “pump” blood through the muscles. He said a key to recovery was to lower the high core temperature to stop the catabolic processes.

Although icing can reduce inflammation, it constricts the capillaries and reduces local blood flow to the muscles, so they prefer the pneumatic devices for recovery.

Acknowledging variation between riders, he said people with different LT values can get similar performance results using different mechanisms; there are many ways to get a good result – different bodies rely on different systems and physical mechanisms.

He said physical asymmetries were the biggest injury problem for pro cyclists; and correcting these problems had to be done off the bike, “fix it in the gym first”, in real life, and then on the bike.

He does not believe in IV’s for rehydration after long endurance events; he will not let his athletes “take a needle”. He says if the IV solution contains glucose, you miss an important step in muscle glycogen storage because when glucose hits your small intestine, it stimulates a hormone which aids in glycogen storage.

Also, the bolus of cold water hitting your gut aids in cooling & minimizing muscle catabolism.

Since Allen is the stage racing expert for the team, I asked what the local amateur racer could learn from his Grand Tour experience and apply to shorter stage races like Fitchburg, Green Mountain, etc. He offered these tips:

* Weigh before & after each stage & replace the amount of fluids lost as soon after the race as possible. Many riders sink into a gradual state of dehydration from day to day in stage races.
* Eat a recovery meal consisting of carbs & some protein immediately after the race; and fuel adequately later as well.
* Increase your sleep by 1-2 hours the week prior to the event.
* Get off your feet as soon as possible after the race, & STAY off your feet as much as you can.

*\36-48 hours before a prologue, the Garmin team does a “Hot workout” in an elevated temperature to induce profuse sweating. This releases a hormone to improve aerobic performance by increasing blood plasma volume. For our purposes, the workout could be 1- 1 ½ hours long, with at least 20 minutes high intensity.

To avoid burn-out, he suggests taking a break in the middle of your season for a week or two, so you are “hungry” to return to training.

Since his name is synonymous with power meters, he encourages riders to train with power to create greater awareness. But he asks his athletes to fill out manual “training logs” & comment on how they feel when training to compare with actual power output data. He is developing software to allow an athlete to record their physical sensations and feelings and compare to power output.

Allen’s likable boyish approach and blend of the most advanced scientific information with sensitivity to the individual’s personality is most appealing and a good model for any coach or mentor. Next time, I’d love to have him spend a day leading a training session!


Monday, March 9, 2009

Interview with Dominique Rollin and his coach, Brian Walton

Note: Dominique Rollin is a multi-time Canadian national champion and professional cyclist for Cervelo Test Team Professional Cycling Team. Dominique had an outstanding 2008 season during which he won Stage 4 of the Tour of California, took home the overall points leader jersey at the AToC, and won numerous NRC events in the United States. His impressive 2008 palmares landed him a spot on one of Europe's top road teams for 2009. His coach, Brian Walton, was likewise a multi-time Canadian national champion and was a silver medalist in the 1996 Olympic games (points race). Brian has been coaching Dom (reverently refered to as "the Horse from the North") since 2007.

5 Questions for coach Brian Walton and rider Dominique Rollin:

1. Now that you have moved from a top level North American team to Cervelo Test Team, one of the top teams in Europe, what is your role and responsibility on the team?
• DR-"Well it changes from race to race depending upon which race I am doing. This year is all about learning. Learning the courses, learning from Thor and Carlos, learning from our Director Sportif's, tactics and where I fit in but I will have my chances!"
• BW-"My job as the coach is to have him ready for when the team tells me! And an important aspect of Dom's role will be being a domestic or team helper during the races. Sacrificing himself for the team and team leader. Dom will play a very important part of Thor Hushov's lead-out."

2. What are your early season goals?
• DR-"Stay upright, learn, finish the early season healthy and do well at Paris Roubaix!"
• BW- "In his first year the early season goal is the classics and Paris-Roubaix. Dom is built mentally and physically for PR and the Spring Classics. Coaching is not just about the numbers, especially in his first year. It's about helping the athlete at adapting to a new environment on the bike, within the team, and off the bike in Europe."

3. How was the start to the European Classic Season for you?
• DR-"Man it was tough but I loved it! My first Classic was the old "Het Volk" in Gent, Belgium and Thor won the race! I flatted with 60km to go and it was really the end of the day for me. The next day we had another 200km classic, Kurnne-Brussels-Kurnne. I felt good even after the race the day before. My pack positioning or placing ok, not the greatest. I lost my concentration for a couple of minutes and ended up at the back and out of contention. I need to work on staying calm while fighting for position. I get shoved too easily. I missed the front group because of that and not because I couldn't be up there, got slowed down by other riders and couldn't bridge after the Kwaremount!"
• BW-"For me it was a great start to the season for Dom. He is where he should be physically at this point in time. He has not done the racing that he did last year at this time but then again his goal race is a little further into the season. He made a few rookie tactical mistakes in Belgium but Dom is very smart and will only make these mistakes once!"

4. How is it different than the Tour of California?
• DR-"Tour of California was ugly this year, rain and cold for the first half of the stage race! Last year I had my best day on the bike as a pro when I won Stage Four and attacked George Hincapie at the end of the long stage. This year I was strong but it was my first race of the year. I was there to help Thor and we did that when he won Stage 5. This year the stage race was all about preparation for Europe."
• BW-"As Dom said this was his first race of the year this year. Last year I had Dom go to Mexico for a week long stage race and also a couple of road races in California before ToC. It was his goal of the year. To showcase his talents in front of the top teams in the world. He pulled it off perfectly! A stage win and the green sprinters jersey! This year, learn, stay healthy, and use the hard stage race as a solid training foundation for the early European season."

5. What is a typical training week during the Classics?
• DR-"I'll leave that one to the coach. He tells me what to do! I give him feedback if I have not recovered from the racing and traveling or if I am feeling run down. I may change a recovery day here or there or lessen the miles if something comes up but for the most part, what he says goes!"
• BW-"That's what I like to hear! Dom is very coachable and not because he listens to me. He is a very smart guy and the training feedback he gives me is invaluable. We are a great team and I could not build a training program without his knowledge and support. As for a typical training week during the classics season…Man it's tough! This is where I earn my keep. Race, rest, recover and still fit in true workouts…It's crazy and we are constantly tweaking the training. A quote I like to use is "Less is More" and this is especially true when an athlete finishes an 8 day stage race, travels back to Europe and then has two races the following weekend. Sometimes you need to throw tradition out the window. Dom's heart rate may come back to resting rate and I may give him a couple of intervals after three days but if he can not get his heart rate and wattage up into the correct zones Dom has the green light to shut it down."

Next up for Dominique Rollin on Saturday March 7th is the 190km classic in Italy, Eroica. With over 50km of dirt and gravel…on his Cervelo S2 road bike.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Wassner Twins Race Schedule for 2009

Check out Rebeccah and Laurel Wassners' updated website at: www.wassnertwins.com! Here's their race schedule for 2009:

02/22/09 Desert Classic Duathlon Bec 2nd
03/08/09 ITU Ecuador
04/26/09 St. Anthony's
05/09/09 Iron Girl Las Vegas
05/17/09 Columbia Triathlon
06/14/09 Eagleman 70.3/Alcatraz
06/20/09 ITU World Champ DC
06/27/09 ITU World Cup HyVee
06/28/09 Philadelphia Tri
07/11/09 Life Time Fitness
07/25/09 Uberman Sprint Tri
07/26/09 New York City Tri
08/02/09 SheROX Philly
08/23/09 Iron Girl Columbia
08/30/09 Chicago Tri
09/13/09 70.3 Muskoka
09/27/09 Westchester Tri
10/04/09 Los Angeles Tri
10/11/09 U.S. Open Tri
10/14/09 70.3 World Championships