Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tactics - Struggling With Peak Speeds

Peak speeds. One racer, after my leadout on Tuesday, said something about how fast Cat 3s can go. Really, though, anyone can do it. I'm no pro and in fact a strong Cat 2 could do what I did for many laps at a time. So what's the secret?

There are a few things you want to think about, to execute. I alluded to the possibility of a fifth post but I incorporated two things into this post, position/aero and peak speed workouts.


First is your position on your bike. If you look at a picture of a Cat 5 race you'll see a lot of racers up high, hands on the hoods, torsos upright, racers that look like parachutes.

Then look at a pro race, or even a reasonable Cat 3 race. You'll see racers much lower, much more aerodynamic.

2012 Keith Berger Crit, Cat 3 race, from my post here.

The above picture is a nice example of some random corner in a random crit. The Expo rider to my right is a former New England Crit Champion (I was in that race and he and his leadout man just rode away from the front of the field, super impressive). He's been racing for eons. The rider in front of him is also a long time racer, I think he won the Cat 1-2 Killington Stage Race one year (and he's won all sorts of minor races). Both are on the drops, in total control, low on the bike, aero, efficient, and comfortable.

(I thought of putting a Cat 5 picture up but I think that a racer would take it personally if it was them, and every picture of a Cat 5 race out there are pictures of racers who are people. Therefore I avoided putting up a Cat 5 example picture.)

Low Position

That lower position isn't only more aerodynamic, it's more powerful. Think about how you pedal when you're climbing a hard hill. You lean forward, your nose to the stem. You're doing this instinctively because by leaning forward you can recruit more of your major muscle groups.

The same "lower position" obviously happens on flatter roads. By leaning forward more you recruit those same muscles, increasing power, but now there's the added benefit of aerodynamics on the typically-higher flat road speeds.

Last Tuesday I did a big effort on the last lap. I averaged about 450 watts for about a minute. The power level is in the realm of possibility of many of the riders in the race. You may be able to do it for 20 or 30 seconds but if you can do that then the power is there. More importantly that means the speed is there also.

By getting aero you gain more power and you reduce the power required to go fast.

One major aero rule - an angled surface, like an angled forearm or an angled bike tube, is LESS aero than a similar shaped vertical surface, like a vertical forearm or a vertical bike tube. This is why TT bikes have vertical seat posts - it's more aero than having a 75 degree seat post (or whatever non-90 degree angle).

Likewise it's more aero to have your upper arms vertical and your forearms parallel than to have your whole arm at an angle. Finally, relating to your bike on a Tuesday Night Race, a bottle in your seat tube cage is more aero (vertical) than the same bottle in your downtube bottle cage (not vertical).

Now I'm not saying you should be sitting upright so your torso presents a vertical surface, but if you're down low, you're struggling, and you have a choice of hand positions or bottle positions then you can make a more educated choice.

With that in mind let's move on.

Position Basics

Some position basics:
1. The most aero position is where you have your forearms parallel to the ground, which usually means the hoods. However your drops give you more control. If you're in the field then you want to be in the drops to retain more control. If you're at the front, if you're willing to gamble your collarbone that nothing will happen for a bit, then the hoods are fine.

Note: since it's a gamble to be on the hoods I prefer to be on the tops. Much of my riding is either on the tops or the drops, even in races, except when climbing. The tops offer no illusion of braking ability so it's a more honest position. It's a real gamble to ride on the tops in the field, but that's what you're doing, in a sense, when you're on the hoods in the field. Either way it's a gamble. I tend to gamble on the tops more than most people. I can ride on the hoods, I've ridden a lot on the hoods over the years, but the drops are my safe choice.

Note: in a related safety related thing I always wear long fingered gloves. It took one fall for me to skin my finger tips before I wore them all the time. Any glove helps absorb the scrubbing energy of pavement, but those with finger tips will save your finger tips.

2. Elbows in. There's no reason to have your elbows splayed out like chicken wings. You'll see some sprinters do it in the sprint but even they tend to keep their elbows out of the wind. One of the most amateur things you'll see in the lower category races are elbows out.

3. Knees in. Unless you have a physical problem (typically a hip problem), there's no reason to have your knees splayed out like chicken… wings. Their knees don't splay out so anyway...

4. No hip rocking. It's easier getting low when your saddle is a bunch higher than your bars. However your saddle-pedal relationship is sacred. You need to make changes relating to aero/position up front. Raising your saddle and making your hips rock is not the way to get more aero. When you fit a bike you start at the cranks/BB, go up to the saddle, then forward to the bars. If you need to change your torso angle etc without major changes then you need to do it using the front end of the bike.

There's a great piece on position, equipment, and aero drag somewhere, and for the life of me I can't find it. Basically someone did a test on a rider (I think a pro rider, and I think it was on a track). They had the rider use different positions and different equipment, from riding a road bike on the tops with a road helmet to the other extreme of riding a TT bike on TT bars with every aero bit of clothing available. Each set up had a power number next to it, telling you what sort of power you needed to put down to go a given speed (40 kph? 45 kph?). The numbers fell dramatically, from something like 400w to somewhere in the 290w range. That's huge, and it drops the power numbers from pro-level to Cat 3 level (and I daresay a lot of Cat 4s and 5s as well).

*edit - I sort of found it thanks to Mike R in Texas - it's in the German magazine Tour and it's from 2006 or 2007. The pertinent stuff is below and I can't find the original page/link for credit:
They put Uwe Peschel on a normal bike:

Needed Watts for Speed = 45 km/h :
Stevens San Remo bike with normal handlebar 465 Watts needed to go 45 km/h
Same bike Hands down the drops: 406 watts needed
Same bike Easton Aeroforce bar: 369 Watts
Same bike Triathlon position (5.5 cm lower bar, saddle forwards): 360 Watts
Same bike Triathlon position (5.5 cm lower bar, saddle forwards) and
carbon Tri spoke wheels front and rear: 345 Watt

Cervelo + Tri spoke front 328 Watts
Cervelo + Tri spoke front + disk rear wheel : 320
Cervelo + Tri spoke front + disk rear wheel +Giro helmet: 317
Cervelo + Tri spoke front + disk rear wheel +Giro helmet + speed suit: 307
Cervelo + Tri spoke front + disk rear wheel +Giro helmet + speed suit +
saddle 3 cm further back: 293 Watts
What I found interesting is that if you skip the major illegal-for-mass-start stuff (TT bars, aero helmet) you end up with a substantial amount of potential aero savings simply by changing position, using aero wheels, and using a few select pieces of cycle wear. This means that you can realize significant savings on your road bike when you compare a "not very low" position to a more aero position. In fact, by going to the drops the power requirement drops almost 60 watts, or about 13%! It's the largest savings of all the possible ones, and obviously it's cheap because it's free.

By the time you get to the bottom of the list he's down below 300 watts to hold 28 mph. That's closer to a mortal wattage.

In a related thing there was some article (that I really can't find) about Colby Pearce. He's a compact rider, a former domestic pro in the US. His claim to fame was his extraordinary time trial efforts. He wasn't that powerful for a pro - he could put down 311 watts for an hour for real - but he held the US hour record at 50.191 kph or 31.3 mph (that's when he did the 311 watts for an hour).

You'd think that going 31+ mph would take massive wattage but he did it at a touch over 300 watts. That's a very sane number, something that some Cat 3s could probably hold. The trick was his aero-ness, if you will. Holding 311 watts is one thing. Holding 31.3 mph is another. To put it in perspective he spun a 55x14 at about 100 rpm for that hour.

Also if you read some of the articles carefully about this or that aero bike, you'll see that the front-facing products (bars, head tube, front wheel, front brake) make the most aero difference. In fact I saw an interesting tidbit when Bontrager introduced their aero drop bar - the bike they showcased (a Trek 7-Series Madone) was supposed to save you something like 120 seconds over a 40 km time trial but the bars alone were responsible for 23 of those seconds (drag reduction 14g). The integrated brakes saved a bit more, 16g of drag, and the frame 60g. Although I don't fit a Madone, although I don't have a bike that can take an integrated brake fork like that, I can install a Race Lite Aero bar. I haven't, but it's a thought.

A final thought on aero stuff - if you want to use just one aero wheel, a front one gets you more aero benefits. However most aero wheels compromise your bike's handling a bit, so you have to think about that. I used to race with a front Tri-Spoke (aka HED3), a front wheel that's acknowledged implicitly to be the fastest front wheel you can get, at least based on all the Tour riders that use them in time trials even if they're not sponsored by either Specialized (the original wheel rights owner) or HED (the current wheel rights holder). My rear wheel was a plain spoked non-aero wheel for a year or two, the only 10 speed wheel I owned at the time.

Pinning Your Number

The racers that know me joke about how many pins I use on my numbers but there's a reason. I read somewhere (again, I don't have a link) about how much drag a flapping number generates. It's huge.

More importantly it's absolutely and totally preventable.

You know how I keep harping about using the drops? It's so that you can reduce the chances of losing control of your bike, at least compared to being on the hoods or the tops. If you know that in, say, every 1000 times you have to brake hard on the hoods you'll crash five times and but you'll crash only once on the drops, why wouldn't you just use the drops all the time?

Likewise if you know that your flapping number is worth 20 watts or whatever, then why don't you take care in pinning your number? It's free power and it's available every single time you pin your number on.

My number from last Tuesday.

I pin the number on the jersey while it's flat on the ground (or the grass in this case). Start at one corner (I like to use the spot where the pocket and side panel intersect, in this case the lower left part of the number). Starting at that point I know my number will be visible to the sides as well as from above.

I then work my way along the edge (lower edge for me). I start adding pins in the middle, to keep the number from ballooning out. I put those in the black part of the number so they don't screw up any kind of finish line camera.

Finally I finish with a row of pins at the top.

You'll notice that one pin ripped, probably while I was getting the jersey on.

As a promoter I bring my own pins, sometimes a box of them (1440 pins when the box is new). Since I'm using my own pins I don't have to worry about taking a lot of pins from the promoter, plus I reuse the pins. The trick is to keep them dry so if my jersey is wet I immediately unpin the thing. Rusty pins ruin your jersey so toss them in the metal recycling bin before you resort to using them for some reason.

Other Clothing

Although not a factor in most summer races, if you're wearing some cold weather gear - a vest, a jacket, stuff like that - make sure it's not flapping around. You give away power hand over fist when you do stuff like that.

At the 2014 Bethel Spring Series I wore a jacket in the first race. Not a big deal I thought, it's cold and I want to be warm. I noticed a lot of other racers used jerseys and vests. Then I saw a picture of myself with the jacket on. It had flattened out in front, turning into a huge wall of fabric.

I decided that I had to avoid wearing the jacket. It fit a bit loose and I needed something a bit more snug. I decided to wear a rain shell under a long sleeve jersey. That handled the wind (brutal when it's cold) and the long sleeve jersey snugged everything up. I raced warm and a bit more aero from then on. I happened to do a bit better but I think there were so many other factors that I can't give credit to my slightly more aero clothing.

Note: Motion attracts attention like nothing else, at least for humans. Humans see motion, color, then shape. Therefore when I train out on the road I try to use my blinky tail lights (mine have a super bright LED in the middle), I try to ride properly, and, if the weather is under, say, 70 degrees F, I wear a vest. I don't zip it up until I actually need it, which is more like the 50 degree F range, but I wear it if I can bear it. It flaps nicely in the breeze and helps attract motorists' attention. I got this tip via a motorcycle and bike riding EMT/fireman who once had an absent minded driver (he was thinking of his tennis game, this in the age before cell phones and such) ram full speed into a fire truck parked next to a burning house, firemen all around, and hoses and such leading to the burning house. I figure the flapping vest helps me train a bit harder even in my "always low always aero always riding in the same position as I race" training rides.

Um, Power?

Okay, so that's all great you say but you were going to tell me about how to go really fast, how to deal with peak speeds. What about power and all that? I mean, don't I have to pedal the bike in some special hard way to go fast, to hit those peak speeds?


Okay, yes, you do, but it's a pretty straightforward process, at least it seems to be based on the feedback I've gotten on my technique detailed below. Basically you can do it now, it's just that you haven't practiced, you haven't done it fresh, so you don't know you can do it. Remember the power number I rattled off somewhere before? 450 watts. Everyone can go 450 watts, it's just a matter of how long you can go at 450 watts. For me it's about a minute. For Taylor Phinney he can do more (488 watts) for a touch over 12 minutes. Whatever it is for you, that's what I did to go "really fast" that last lap of the Tuesday race last week. You can hit that power and more and often it requires no actual training, just some practice when you're fresh.

It sounds a bit odd but it actually takes practice to sprint really fast. If you don't believe me then try sprinting when you're descending at 45 or 50 mph. It's really hard to apply power to the pedals at that speed without losing control of the bike. Likewise if you're used to topping out at 35 mph then responding to a 40 mph tailwind attack will take you into foreign territory. You need to familiarize yourself with those speeds so that they are at least familiar to you if not second nature.

The basic idea goes as follows:
1. Determine your Maximum Optimal Sprint Speed. I'll explain in a bit but basically this is the fastest you can go on a flat road in optimal conditions.
2. Compare your MOSS to various race pace numbers. I'll rattle some off to help you out. Average speed, 25 mph. Attack speeds, 28-32 mph. Normal fast sprint speeds 36-40 mph. Very fast sprint speeds 40-44 mph. I'm not going to go into the hyper fast sprints that you see on training rides, which can exceed that 44 mph mark.
3. See where your MOSS lines up. Ideally your MOSS will be in the normal sprint speed range, 36-40 mph. If it's below 32 mph then you need to work on it.

The problem is if your MOSS is low, like 30 mph. This puts your optimal max speed within a normal attack speed, a speed that even I can keep up for a lap at the Rent. That means that if someone attacks hard you'll struggle to stay on the wheels.

Your goal is to increase your MOSS as much as possible.

For more on MOSS go here. I explain how to find your MOSS and how to train it.

For inspiration here's a video that I put together from a bunch of training rides while out in SoCal in Jan/Feb of 2011. It includes two MOSS efforts, both about 49 mph:

(Tip: for YouTube videos embedded in the post you can click on the YouTube logo to view it on YouTube. It's bigger and you can see more. I've reduced the embedded size to fit smaller browsers so it's not great to watch the clip in embedded form.)

More Power Stuff?

No, no more training stuff. For most riders they already have the ability to deal with peak speeds. They sabotage themselves without realizing it and end up getting shelled when they could have stayed in the field.

Remember the prior posts, some of the points made there.

First, don't work unless you need to work. If you do a massive 25 mph pull for a few laps, great, but when you pull off and someone attacks at 32 mph, will you be able to follow? If the answer is no then you shouldn't do that 25 mph pull.

Increase the attack speed to 35 mph. Will you be able to follow?

Next, if you can't follow at 32 mph attack, what do you do? Do you pummel yourself at 28 mph, losing ground at 4 mph, hoping the attacker blows up? No, you don't, unless you're one of the last few to react. If you're already spent then you need to rely on others to close the gap for you. It's not always about you.

Of course if it's a teammate then you absolutely do not respond, unless the teammate is your leadout man. Normally if it's a teammate attacking then you ease if you're at the front. You ONLY follow another non-teammate's wheel. If another teammate follows the first one to jump then you wait again. You want to have one teammate go with each counter, with any well placed teammates at the front acting as deadweight at the front of the field.

On the other hand if you look around and see that everyone else is looking around then maybe you'll need to work. Or maybe the attacker will blow up. Whatever happens it's good - you're thinking about it instead of responding like a robot.

Example of Fit + Tactics as Relating To The Rent

So does this all work? Well, I can't make it work every time but I do have an sample size = 1 experiment from the past.

A friend and now-teammate of mine (I refer to him as SOC in the blog, but most of you who race in the area know who he is) had hit a plateau at the B races at the Rent a few years ago. An obviously strong rider, he had trouble doing well at the B race. He got second a bunch of times but couldn't quite win. Until he asked for help I didn't offer it (because that's the way I was taught to do things), but when he asked I think he got a lot more than he realized. I casually mentioned that I might want to change his position a bit. I had some tactical advice as well, but that would follow the fit part of things - without the fit he'd be wasting a lot of energy.

Fit Changes

So we made a major, major change in his fit. We raised his saddle 17 mm, moved it forward 10 mm. We dropped his stem 25 mm (a full inch!) and installed a 12 cm -10? degree stem to replace his 10 cm -6? degree stem. I'm not sure of the angles, I'm pretty sure I was just looking for the longest, lowest stem we had in the pile of "borrowed take-off stems" from the local shop.

Those are some massive, massive changes, and in fact I played it a bit conservative because they were already getting so big. I think I vocalized the fact that I wanted to try a 13 cm or even a 14 cm stem (-17 degree), and if I didn't I was thinking it quietly.

We arrived at the fit just like any other fit - start with the saddle position, finish with the bar position.

I didn't want to change his saddle height much because it would screw up his legs, and by July he had a bunch of miles on his legs. I don't think we changed the height, we just moved the saddle around the arc of the circle defined by his saddle-to-BB distance. This keeps the saddle height the same (as far as the legs are concerned) but rotates the pelvis forward. I think we flattened his saddle out a bit, it might have pointed down more at the beginning. With the saddle position now set we could work on the front end.

(Keep in mind that since we didn't really change the saddle position it wouldn't really affect his leg muscles. There'd be soreness from the other changes but the legs would mostly be the same, except for the heavier emphasis on the glutes and related muscles. This means that any prior training would be applicable.)

For me the goal was to extend the reach so he'd have more weight on his arms while still allowing him to breathe and see normally. It wasn't just "slam the stem" - we actually thought about the changes. He felt comfortable, albeit a bit low, and once he started pedaling he had decent weight distribution between the saddle, bars, and pedals.

The lower and more forward bar position would increase stability in the turns by weighting the front end more. It did slow the bike's turning at walking pace, like if you were turning around on a sidewalk, but once you get over about 12-15 mph the front end of the bike feels super stable. The heaviness of the slow steering so unnerved him that he almost turned around halfway down his 50 foot driveway, but with my encouragement he kept going.

The lower and more forward position also enabled him to recruit more muscles, especially his glutes. This in turn allowed him to exert more power to the pedals.

Finally the longer and more forward position gave him a much lower profile, improving his aerodynamics.

I'm sure that with more fine tuning we could make even more improvements but at that time it seemed like enough.

For the fit I only drew on my past experience, feedback from the rider (before, during and after the fit, the latter in case there were any major problems with the position), and the available parts we had with us. We didn't have any longer stems, no -17 degree stems (zero rise), etc, so we did what we could do given the ingredients we had in front of us.

Tactical Advice

The other thing I told him was that he shouldn't be attacking willy nilly all race long. It's a rehash of some of the stuff in the earlier posts of this set. Sure, he could do the odd move here and there, but if he wanted to win then he needed to learn how to win. I told him to sit and wait and build reserves for the finish. Follow wheels, make sure to keep gaps closed, and meter his efforts. His fitness would get him to the finish, his hopefully improved power bump him up a bit, his better aero let him be more efficient, and finally the better weight distribution on the bike would make it easier on him in the turns. However he had to execute in order to win.

During the course of the next few weeks he raved about his new position. He had more power, more speed, and he felt the bike was more stable in the corners.

So how did it work out?

Result Of The Fit and Advice

The first race out he won the B race.

He won the next B race.

He got 3rd at a very tough weekend race. (When we raced it together as Cat 3s in 2010 he got 2nd and I was almost dead last, and that was the year I upgraded to Cat 2).

He won the next B race. And he finished the A race, which for me is always a challenge, even in the aforementioned 2010 season.

In years after that there was one thing that stood out in particular - He had a sudden flat (tubular tire) in Turn One at the Rent. He'd just bridged to a break so he was probably going about 28-30 mph. Not only did he not go down but he rode for a bit, confirmed he had a flat tire, and then finally stopped on his own. Yes he was on the drops. I have it on helmet cam somewhere but it was so undramatic I haven't even bothered getting a still of the incident.

Also, in 2010, he won an A race outright, something I've never done.

He is still using the same position.


So that's my bit on approaching the Tuesday races at the Rent for a newer racer in the B races. You should struggle the almighty struggle to stay in the field. You have to think a bit about drafting efficiently. You need to think about cornering properly, safely and efficiently in the field. You need to do some exploration of your maximum optimum speed. You should give yourself an honest fit appraisal ("an honest, no BS assessment," to quote some movie whose title/story/theme/etc that I can't remember now.. this inability to remember things is really bugging me).

In 4-6 races you should see a dramatic improvement in your performance. You should be analyzing your races more closely. If you get shelled then you need to think about why you got shelled. It's not just "I blew up". It might be something like "I wasn't on a wheel going into the headwind for 5 laps and I had to sprint for 100 meters every time we exited that turn." With that kind of analysis you can think about how to improve.

Even if you don't get shelled, if you didn't win or didn't help a teammate win then there's room for improvement. Think about where you made mistakes. Did you leave gaps in certain turns? Did you stay left when the wind was from the left, even though you had room to move right? Did you do a hard pull without saving anything as a reserve and then watch the winning move go up the road after you pulled off?

Unfortunately if everyone applies themselves then the races will become that much faster, that much smoother, and perhaps a little bit harder, so when you chase improvements you'll be chasing a moving target.

Ultimately, though, all this results in you being a better, more capable racer. It requires no extra training, save a few efforts to determine your max speed. I haven't said a word about hours per week, about wattage or intervals or cadence or gearing or anything else relating to training. It's partially because I don't know about all that stuff, at least not well enough to talk about it to anyone. But it doesn't matter anyway because you already do all that. Now you can apply all that precious work to your racing more efficiently, more effectively.

The beauty of bike racing is that you can always strive to race better. Our fitness and preparation vary throughout the years, changing year by year, month by month, sometimes week by week. Work, family, school, personal stuff, it can all take a toll on your bike racing. However, once you're at the race and you've pinned a number on and you're lined up at the start then it's time to race bikes. You don't have to worry about anything else. You have what you have, based on your fitness level and experience. You can't change your training now. You also can't dictate what you do in the race - it's not like everyone is going to ease up so you can go 180 watts for the race. When you finally clip in as the race starts it's up to you to go and make the most of it, whatever that might mean to you.

Final inspirational video for you:

The above video includes someone leaving a gap, watching SOC attack and letting others work, following a counter (and then getting countered hard), ending up in the 3rd group, getting gapped off the back of that group, watching the 3rd group catch the 2nd group, team attack, catching the break, lots of attacks/chases, hanging onto wheels, and a field sprint.

(Disclaimer/note: I am putting these posts up in response to some internal requests from individual riders for advice etc. I am not singling out any particular rider or their request, and this advice works for all racers. In fact I'd claim that these pieces offer universal advice for all new mass start bike racers.)


Ken said...

The best way to attach race numbers is by gluing. Spray back of number with 3M/Scotch Super 77 glue. Wait a minute or so, smooth firmly on jersey. Peel off after race (don't wait too long as it gets harder to remove). Most of the glue will come off with number, for any that remains on jersey paint thinner takes it right off, and hasn't damaged any of my jerseys.

Perfect, flat contact for best aero attachment, no holes in jersey, no poked fingers, faster to attach and remove than 13 pins, no possibility of rust stains.

Aki said...

The spray adhesive works, yes, but it is a higher risk process. I have multiple cans of dried up Super 77 because I bought a can about every season or two for many years (the nozzles eventually clog with glue). In the days before the rule that every rider had to use a pin in each corner I'd use just the spray. I lost a number or two due to the uncertainty as far as how much spray, if the nozzle was clogging, etc. Now, with four pins required, with the risk of screwing up a jersey, it's not as appealing to me, and I haven't bought a can in a while.

Ultimately my thoughts are about reducing the chances of things going wrong. I put these thoughts down for racers that have told me things like "the only thing I try to do in a race is stay near the front". My approach with these posts is a "you have to first finish to finish first" kind of approach. My goal was to lay out a plan for racing that is the most consistent, the most predictable, and hopefully the safest.

However, those that want to try the Super 77 trick I think I did a post on it, a long time ago. I feel it's less pertinent now, after having used the technique for many years (10?) and with the rule requiring pins at the corner of each number (specifically passed in response for those racers that used too little spray adhesive).

The best thing I've seen are the adhesive numbers that we used at Bethel for a year. The fact that the numbers were actual decals meant that there was no guessing how much was too little or too much, etc. They were great, they would peel off cleanly even after a week. However by that time the 4 pin rule had been in effect so everyone was supposed to use pins as well.

Ken said...

USA Cycling doesn't require pins, so I don't understand your comment about "the rule requiring pins at the corner", see USA Cycling Rule Book para 1J7.

Simply spray the number until covered and just wet,it's not difficult. Invert can after spraying and depress nozzle for a second or two until glue stops coming out and the nozzle will remain clog free and reliable.