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