Monday, January 16, 2012

Training - Working on Descending

The other day I read an article where Andy Schleck says he doesn't feel like "working on descending" is a good thing.

To quote:

Schleck explained that he had already begun efforts to tweak his time trial position, but he was less enthusiastic about working on his descending, in spite of his travails on the road to Gap and Pinerolo last July.

"I don't really know how you should train descents. I think that it's a little too dangerous to train on," he said.

I'm actually a bit shocked at this statement.

See, descending is free. It doesn't even require getting on a bike, at least not any more than what a pro regularly does for training and racing.

Descending is about cornering.

If you corner poorly you'll descend poorly, I guarantee it, especially on descents like those that affected Andy in 2011.

You can work on cornering whenever. In fact, I got some cornering lessons hammered into my head playing one of the versions of Gran Turismo. Early apexes kill you there, as does less smooth driving.

Andy could work on his descending after dinner, when he's resting, legs elevated, in the comfort of his house (or hotel).
Cornering takes no fitness. In fact I stand by my much earlier post about letting bike racers use other vehicles to practice cornering. Go karts, cars, even boats, they all teach you how to corner.

Really there's just one thing that virtually all racers need to work on - late apexes. That's a cornering line where you wait a long time ("late") before cutting in to the apex of the turn ("apex").

I know I've said it before, but it's one of those things that needs repeating:
Work on late apexes.

All the time.
This means take late apexes every time you go drive your car, whether it's to work or to pick up some much needed milk (or whatever).

Every entrance ramp, every exit ramp, every right turn, every left turn, they're all opportunities for you to work on late apexes.

Heck, I have three opportunities to work on late apexes after I've turned into my housing complex, in about 30 or 45 seconds of driving. My 3 mile commute on quiet country roads, with just a half dozen turns, gives me about 12-15 turns and curves to practice late apexes.

Do I focus on driving?


Do I focus on cornering well?


Should you?

Well, let's put it this way. If you go hot into a turn, do you want to decrease the chances of hitting the deck? Do you want to decrease the chances of wrecking your car?

Then your answer is yes.

And if you're unable to do so because you can't focus, then put down the food, get off the phone, stop fiddling with the music, and ask your passenger to "zip it for a bit".

When you're cornering at the limit (usually inadvertently, like in rain or snow), a late apex can literally be a life-saver. Late apexes give you more of an out, they give you the most room to maneuver once you realize you've underestimated the turn.

You can always attack yourself out of a late apex - it'll slow you down a touch if done over aggressively - but you'll be upright to do a surge.

I've been sitting on the trainer regularly, watching first the 2006 Tour (the Floyd fiasco), then the 2007 Tour (the Rasmussen fiasco) and now working my way through most of a 12 hour set of the 2011 Tour (the Schleck fiasco if you will).

The 2006 Tour illustrated just how poorly Rasmussen cornered - when Floyd spent the day off the front, Rasmussen was cornering so poorly that he totally disrupted the beautiful arcs of the peloton in a tight series of switchbacks, the overhead view from the helicopter.

He couldn't have messed it up worse if he tried.

Now we're seeing a similar pattern emerge from Andy Schleck. His descending performances are second to everyone. He spends so much time and energy working on taking time on the climbs but he gives all that hard work back, hand over fist, on the way down the other side of the mountain.

Only when he had a teammate guiding him, in a small group, did he descend anywhere near normal.

(And I can't imagine what his director was yelling in his ear on that one descent; it might have been more detailed navigation than a rally car navigator talking to his driver.)

If he's going to lose a minute on a short descent (like he did on one stage of the 2011 Tour), he should lessen his focus on climbing well. After all, if he's just going to give it back then he might as well focus on something more productive. All those training camps, all that reconning on the mountains, it's a waste of time if he doesn't figure out how to descend, and, in doing so, figure out how to corner.

Instead he can work on something else, like his time trialing.

Oh, wait, that doesn't work either.

Because, as you may have realized, in time trials you still go around turns.



Anonymous said...

if you're in a pack (not single file) - and not the 1st guy, doesnt that make late apexing difficult/impossible?

seems like if youre 3 or 4 wide into a corner, say a crit, makes this technique difficult, no?

(newly minted cat5 - dumb question alert^^)

WPI Cycling said...

Loving this - after reading about your exploits in treating aspects of driving like aspects of racing ("closing the gap" on the highway when you were transporting those Euro (German?) racers from the airport, late apexes, conserving energy (less braking, utilizing good lines and momentum) I've seen the subtle differences when in the saddle. Not an improvement in performance, persay, but confidence; instead of worrying about the corner, I'm thinking "past" the corner with my head on a swivel, ready to respond to a surge or setting up the next line.

As for the Schleck-let, I was hoping that last year would be a turning point for him; he has the potential to win a stage race (or a stage) many a way, especially with his team. Instead, he seems to be (a trend that seems to be growing) pulling a "Lance" and only focusing on the Tour, and only, like you said, focusing on the climbs.

And, not like it's exact (it's on a simulation), but use Pro Cycling Manager as an example (I've dabbled in the '08 version): you can lose a handful of time (1:30) on a climb and, if you climb it and leave a little bit in the tank, you can "attack" the descents and make up the ground a) in no time and b) using up significantly less energy than if you tried to close the gap on the way up. Climbing well gains you 3-5kph on the way up, but bad lines could cost you 10kph (or more) on the way down. Or, if you overshoot and land in someone's driveway ::cough:: Voeckler ::cough::, it's minutes. Also see CVV's botched descent in the 2007? TOur (the one they talk about in the Garmin-Slipstream documentary).

Aki said...

You're absolutely right. You can only choose your line if you're at the very front or at the very rear of whatever group you're in.

In a tight field you really have to do the "flock" thing, react to whatever is next to you.

Often you'll find that racing isn't quite that tight. There'll be times where the field is strung out, maybe there'll be gaps here and there, etc. That's when your cornering can make a difference.

It is beneficial to know about cornering lines and be able to react to a bad choice of riders in front of you. For example I normally follow other riders quite closely but if someone makes one or two poor decisions I'll back off pretty quickly.

I'll also choose to back off on a descent in order to set up a pass when a rider in front of me is cornering poorly. A late apex line is perfect for passing a scared early apexer - as they go wide and slam on their brakes, you're blasting by on the inside, accelerating.

Aki said...

I haven't seen CVV's 2007 descent.

Keep in mind that the game is just a game. But yes, you can make up some decent distance/time on descents. Although the best descenders are "great" (Popovych, Cancellara, even Sammy Sanchez), it's not unreasonable for a GC contender to be only a little worse than "great". Ideally a team would have a great descender in a break, get caught by the leader at the top of a long descent, and let his leader follow his line all the way down.

btw Sammy Sanchez, in the 2011 Tour, went into a turn super hot and lifted his rear wheel about 6" off the ground mid-turn. Then he kept attacking the turns (with Contador).

I focus pretty heavily on cornering when I drive. There's one particular turn in my complex which invites an early apex but is best done with a super late turn in. If you turn in early you end up on the wrong side of the road. You literally need to skip the first 20% of the road to the right before turning right - I think they moved the first part of the curb inward so 18 wheelers could get around the bend. I find myself looking across the passenger seat to look at the road.

There's also an exit ramp (Exit 38 off of I91 north) where I do the same thing, look way to the right to see where I'm going. I have a dash cam so I record what's in front of the car - I find it ironic that I'm not looking at what's being recorded.

It's like a movie where the camera points forward and you feel like you're being swung left and right as the car goes through turns (watch Steve McQueen's Lemans for a particularly disappoint example of that kind of camera work). It's one of the reasons why I wear the cam on my helmet and not my bars/bike - it's because it shows where I look.

When I take that turn in the complex by my house my helmet cam shows where I'm looking - way around the corner, with glances forward to make sure I don't turn in too much (I've hit the curb with the car when I've apexed).

I have to admit I haven't taken Exit 38 off of I91 on the bike with the helmet cam.

Anonymous said...

Link it case it is helpful.