Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fit but not fast?

I've got a friend who recently moved from Los Angeles to Portland, an unashamed bikerace-mad follower of all that is great and good about anything slightly related to high quality racing in any discipline. He raced BMX as a youngster, worked for some of the worlds finest professional mountain bike teams, and what he doesn't know about Pro Tour road racing and the guys who do it, well even with big writing you could get it on the back of a stamp.
But he's never done cyclocross. He reads about it, knows more about Sven Nys than Mrs Nys does and is probably a member of the fan club, but until he moved to Portland he hadn't actually lined up for a race. So I sent him a bike over (he needed something that would score him good euro points...), he trained like a demon... and got his ass kicked.

Now my friend is a fit guy; he trains hard and with a coaching background he knows what he is doing. He takes good care of himself, does his split session days, rests properly, works on his technical skills on a 'cross circuit, and I'll be impressed if the majority of the people that beat him at his first couple of races are anywhere close to having the physical condition and focus that he has.

But he is losing time during the 40 minutes that his category race for and he is frustrated, so we had a chat on the phone after last weekends race and the majority of the chat focussed on what we ended up calling the "transition" sections of the course, as it appears this is where he is struggling.
We termed these transition sections as anywhere on the course that you have to lose speed, so a set of hurdles, a run-up, a set of consecutive tight slow corners, anywhere that breaks your rythm, forces you to brake, or naturally loses you speed. Now the actual 'cross technique might be very good in that he is lined up for corners correctly, he picks his bike up for the hurdles, can shoulder it fast for the run-ups, but its the section immediately after that where he is not getting back up to speed quickly enough that is losing him time. If you approach a set of hurdles at 25kph and exit them at 18kph then you need to get back to 25kph as quickly as you can, the same goes for a corner or a run-up or even a section into a headwind. Get back to your optimum speed pronto.
Now although some of this is a fitness related issue in that you need to accelerate hard out of the saddle for a few revs to pick the speed back up and that takes some specific training, its more about realising that you need to do it. Its easy to wait a couple of revs after a section or a remount before you launch yourself off your chair and into action but that will be a second or two lost, and if you figure that on a typical lap there are probably a minimum of five of these transition sections then 10 seconds a lap turns into a minute in a six lap race.
So if you are training hard and dont think that your race results quite match your level of fitness spend some time thinking about where you lose time, especially where people nip past you. If its before these sections then its probably technique (late braking, correct line), the need for more recovery (trying to get a couple of breaths in freewheeling before the corner/sandpit/run-up), fear (approaching hurdles too fast gotta scrub some speed off), or simply not concentrating.
If its after a section then see above; come out of of it and hit it hard to get back up to speed, only then can you sit on a wheel and get a quick recovery.
Finally if people are getting past you during the section, its likely to be technique at race-speed which is letting you down.

It'll be interesting if my friend starts to move up the result list without necessarily getting any fitter but simply by using his fitness in a different way and mentally tuning in to where and when he needs to use the big efforts. I'll keep you posted...


Brooke Hoyer said...

Funny you should mention this. Just today I was out at noon working on this exact "skill." I only had 30-40 minutes of ride time at lunch today but there is a park adjoining my work and I have a short course I ride (1:45 per lap) that has lots of turns and three dismounts per lap.

The drill is to do a bunch of hot laps -- usually in sets. Stomp on the pedals after every slowing. I get out of the saddle so that I feel comfortable doing that in races. Sure it may only be a few pedal strokes but the point is to get comfortable hammering out of the transitions. Especially when fatigued.

Hey, email me your friend's name. Is he in the 50+ race? I usually don't get there early enough to see those guys but I'd say "Hi" if I ran into him.

josh said...

your last post said to post questions. I have one. I'm posting it here and hope thats ok.

Why, after what is often a minor crash, do we (or maybe just me) tend to "go backwards" for a lap or two before settling back down. I had a pretty small slide out on a tricky spot on a race on Sunday. It is my first full season of 'cross and first full season actually riding (road, not mtb) if that has anything to do with it, but as has happened to me at least two or three times this season is I have a somewhat "minor" crash where I overcook a turn or slide out or whatever, get up, and just can't find my rhythm for a lap or two. I loose a few spots during this time before sort of settling back down to where I more or less finish. Any advice?

- Josh

About Simon said...

I'm a technological dumbasss when it comes to a lot of things computer; although I've looked hard and pressed some buttons I cant find your email address link. My Mate raaces 40+ so maybe you two are fighting it out?!

About Simon said...

ignore the last post, I've found your address, mail on the way!

Anonymous said...

we were just discussing this issue yesterday. I have always felt that a crash -even small, takes a lot out of you race wise. First you have to get up off the ground, typically jumping up, Then you have to work your way up to speed from a complete standstill. And then psychologically you might have just been passed by several riders that you worked really hard to get past five minutes ago.
I went down in some deep sand on three consecutive laps last weekend, -pedal hard as possible, -fall, -jump up, kick sand off bike, -run out of sand, -try to gain speed,- three times and I was cooked.