I was surprised to see an extensive article in the NY Times today on cycling training according to Christian Vande Velde. Good article and useful info. Thought I'd share it with youse...
An Olympic Cyclist’s Levelheaded Advice
Franca Pedrazzetti for The New York Times
MOST cyclists think that you have to train on hills to be competitive in road races, which typically feature multiple vertiginous, lung-busting climbs. Not Christian Vande Velde, who’s expected to be selected next month for the United States road racing team for the Summer Olympics in Beijing. “I’m proof that you don’t have to ride hills to do well on hills,” he said recently.
Mr. Vande Velde, 31, who spent last winter training near Chicago, is enjoying the best season of his career. He spent a day last month as the leader of the prestigious Giro d’Italia and won the individual time trial at the Tour of Georgia in May.
He and his coaches have developed innovative training techniques, nutritional plans and strategies. Here are a few cues from Mr. Vande Velde’s training regimen that road cyclists can use to ride faster, longer and smarter.
FIRST, SPEND WISELY “If you want to race, you will have to spring for a $1,500 to $2,000” road racing bicycle, said Jonathan Vaughters, the manager for Mr. Vande Velde’s cycling team, which added a sponsor this week and is now called Team Garmin/Chipotle with H3O.
But don’t feel pressured to overbuy, Mr. Vaughters said. “The difference between a $500 bike and a $1,500 bike is huge,” he said. “The difference between a $1,500 bike and an $8,000 bike is very small.” Invest the saving in good-quality bike shorts with a firm, thick pad and a price tag north of $75. “That may be the best thing you can buy, in terms of comfort,” Mr. Vaughters said.
POWER OUTPUT Until the last five years or so, Mr. Vande Velde said, serious cyclists typically used the heart rate or a cadence — the number of times the pedal cranks rotate per minute — to gauge effort. But now, cycling professionals and a growing number of serious amateur riders rely on watts, or power readings.
Watts are a measurement of energy output, the amount of energy that a rider applies to the pedal. On a bike, that figure is determined by a meter integrated into the rear hub.
The meter also records a rider’s speed and the time and distance of the ride (as well as heart rate and calories burned per hour), using this data to determine the rider’s watts at any given moment. That number, which changes constantly, is visible on a small screen on the handlebars, and the files can be uploaded to a computer. “Watts is the most reliable way to gauge effort on a bike,” Mr. Vaughters said. “It’s the best way to track your progress from day to day, and also to set training parameters.”
But power output is highly individual. The bigger the rider, the higher the output. Mr. Vande Velde, a relatively slight 5 feet 11 inches and 150 pounds, maintained an average of 470 watts in the 10-minute Georgia time trial. “That’s the most I’ve ever done,” he said. But he has a teammate, a much larger man, who he says, “does that in warm-up.”
To determine your watts range, Mr. Vaughters said, sprint for 10 seconds and record your watts output. For that short burst, the figure should be in the 500s. Then push as hard as you can for five minutes, recording your average watts throughout. Finally, and preferably on a separate day, pedal at top effort for 30 minutes, recording your average watts readings (which may be barely into the hundreds for novice riders).
Then set about increasing your average wattage. Mr. Vande Velde does this by punctuating rides with five minute “power bursts,” dropping into a low gear, pushing his pedals as hard as he can, his wheels turning at his top sustainable watts and barely 50 revolutions per minute. In the next five minutes, he’ll click up into an easier gear, pedals whirring at low watts and about 90 r.p.m. (which any recreational rider should be able to maintain). Then he’ll repeat.
Less-experienced riders should throw in similar spurts during several of their weekly rides, Mr. Vaughters said, but for as little as 30 seconds to a minute at first. “People think cycling is an endurance event, but really races are won or lost more because of power,” Mr. Vaughters said. After a month, repeat your watts tests.
PASS THE NUTELLA RICE Next to power, nutrition is perhaps the most important element in cycling performance, said Allen Lim, who has a doctorate in physiology and serves as the team physiologist and nutritionist. Mr. Vande Velde, for instance, burns through 3,500 to 4,000 calories during a training ride or race of several hours, Mr. Vaughters said. Even average riders, he said, can burn 500 calories in an hour or more. That energy must be replenished.
“Some people can eat full meals” during rides, Mr. Lim said. “Others vomit.” To provide on-bike fuel without queasiness, Mr. Lim has devised several proprietary recipes. One involves, surprisingly, ham and eggs. “Athletes often forget how much of a performance boost you can get from real, simple, natural food,” he said.
The combination of protein with carbohydrates is particularly important, he said, ensuring that the blood sugar boost from the carbohydrates isn’t too rapid, and that it lingers, providing energy for a longer period of time. The salt is equally essential, he said, because a cyclist can lose so much sodium through sweat.
His recipe for sushi rice bars:
3 cups medium-grain Calrose or sushi rice, cooked
Soy sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos (a soybean-based liquid protein concentrate)
A handful of prosciutto or cooked bacon
Scramble the eggs with the soy sauce or the Braggs Aminos. (“The guys like the flavor of the Braggs better than the soy,” Mr. Lim said.) Add the prosciutto or bacon. Pile the rice, eggs and pork into a 6-by-9-inch pan. Pour a small amount of balsamic vinegar and soy on top. Salt to taste. Mix and mash into the pan. Let sit for 20 minutes, then, using a silicon spatula (“anything else and the rice will stick,” Mr. Lim said) cut it into 1 1/2-inch squares. Wrap in foil. Yields about 24.
As a sweet alternative, use “a big jar of Nutella, a bunch of all-natural peanut butter and the same amount of rice,” Mr. Lim said.
WHO NEEDS HILLS? Study the altitude-gain profile of the race you’re doing, Mr. Lim said. “Then climb at least that much, at least once or twice a week.”
“If the race has 3,000 feet of climbing, find a hill that’s 500 feet and climb it six times, fast, no resting between,” he said.
But if you live in a flat area, listen to local weather reports and note the direction of the wind. A strong head wind can simulate hill climbing, Mr. Vaughters said. “You need to push hard into the wind,” using “a big gear, for at least six minutes and no longer than 45 minutes” once or twice a week “to get the aerobic benefits of climbing big hills,” he said. (In recompense, you get a tail wind all the way home.)
HOW TO HEAD DOWNHILL FAST Descending a steep road at 40 to 50 miles an hour, especially in a pack of riders, “never stops being terrifying,” Mr. Vande Velde said. But few rides and even fewer races have no descents, so a rider should know how to make a safe descent.
“Relax, shift your weight back,” Mr. Vaughters said. “Most riders put too much weight on the handlebars.”
Mr. Vande Velde said, “Do not look at the wheel of the rider in front of you,” or stare down at the road. “Scan far ahead for any obstacles,” he said, because they’ll arrive very rapidly, and then quickly glance at the road just ahead. “Your eyes should always be moving.”
When negotiating curves, he said, position your feet so that the pedal on the inside of the curve is up, with the outside pedal down (which keeps your weight balanced). “Don’t throw your bike from one corner to another,” he said. “Brake before the turn, and turn gradually, aiming for the apex.”
Acclimate yourself to the feeling of other bicycles pressing close, Mr. Vande Velde said. He added that the team has set up stationary bicycles with the wheels practically touching each other. “It’s a good, safe way to get used to being right on someone’s wheel,” he said.