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  1. #1
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    Palmeres not the right metric

    The media struggles to compare LA with past riders. Is there any metric that can work?

    I argue here that the length of the Palmeres (list of victories) is NOT a good metric. This is because modern training (periodization) allows riders to be much better than they used to be, but only for a select few races each year. Because everybody is focussing, it is nearly impossible to win races that are off your peak (somebody else is peaking then!). Hence, the best riders win less frequently.

    The incomparable Merckx (Palmeres Superman) and his best contemporaries raced all season, focussing on races as they came. They might not race all three grand tours in one season, but sometimes they did. Merckx's extraordinary talent allowed him, in countless races all season, to dominate a field that was not effectively peaking for any event. His talent and drive resulted in a huge Palmeres.

    But modern riders know that they can only be at their absolute best for a few races each year, and they select these races very carefully. Hence, the winners of each event, such as the Vuelta, Giro, TdF, Liege B L, FlWall, etc., are very likely to be those who focus their training on those events. Lance Armstrong is the most famous here, focussing only on the TdF, but others do this for other races.

    In the old days, the best rider won the most races - it was an idyllic period when fans could watch their heroes compete weekly, and in the case of extraordinary talent (i.e. Merckx) expect them to win weekly. Today, modern training methods yield a different test: The best rider in a given specialization wins the biggest race in that specialization, and Lance is the modern champ of stage races.

    But modern training has made comparisons across the ages impossible. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this...

  2. #2
    don d.
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    Just curious.

    What is the difference between an athlete training so that he achieves a "peak" at a specific period, called peaking, and periodization?

    If an athlete 40 years ago could train and race in such a manner to achieve what was called then a peak, for a specific competition(and they could), how is that different from an athlete today using a training program called periodization to achieve his highest level of fitness at a specific competition?

    Is periodization really a new training technique or just a different word applied to a well known training and fitness regimen called peaking?

    It is fairly well known that riders of past generations used to come into the TDF a little out of shape and overweight after "tapering" off their fitness from the preparation tours and ride themselves into their peak during the TDF. Isn't that similar to the technigue of periodization?

    Since the riders of past generations had to ride more races for economic reasons, isn't it possible that they were even more in tune with how to keep themselves at a high level of fitness by using tapering and building technigues to peak weekly or for a specific series of events like the spring classics or the TDF?

    Even today some riders use races like the Vuelta to prepare for the Worlds, or they use the TDF to prepare for the late summer, early autumn classics. Isn't that periodization? That has been done forever.

    And if all the riders today raced all year round like some, not all, of the riders used to, wouldn't that level the playing field so that the best riders would still win at their specialties? And wouldn't some riders still ride certain races easier to avoid peaking or tiring before their target races, like say a rider who rides easy in the Tour of Switzerland to build slowly to a peak for the TDF?

    Do you think it may be possible that riders were effectively peaking for their events even though they may have ridden more of them? Is it possible that the riders were using races to hone their fitness?

    Just curious.

  3. #3
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    Riders back in Merkx's time had to race reguarly in order to make a living, and you had to win reguarly to make a good living. "Peaking" didn't occur like it does today, as every rider was pacing themselves to survive the season.
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    I think the only way to settle the debate is to take the five riders who have won the TDF at least five times and put them back on their bikes for a race. I suppose Anquetil can be excused. Or we can keep arguing this subject ad infinitem. There will never be a objective way to do it.

  5. #5
    Senior Member shaharidan's Avatar
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    i think we like debate it so much because we will never get to see it, but wouldnt that be a great race no matter who won?
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  6. #6
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    ESPN did this crazy "dream season" with dominate NFL teams a few years back. Maybe, if there is enough footage from Anquitel's and Merkx's Tours, there could be a fictional dream Tour de France between Lance, Miguel, Eddie, Jacque, and Bernard.
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  7. #7
    Crank Crushing Redneck SamDaBikinMan's Avatar
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    The truth could be known if Armstrong were to try for the hour record and beat merckx time when he held it by a significant amount. It would need to be a significant margin however to account for advances in bike technology that make for lighter and more efficient power transfer compared to a 70's era bike. Or they could ressurect Merckx old bike and make Lance ride it.

    This in my humble opinion would be the only thing that might give us some insight into who's stronger.

    All in all this comparison is really just a big pee pee contest which clearly cannot be won. Merckx dominated the sport like no other cyclist ever has and perhaps ever will. It is one thing to dominate in one particular race but entirely another to dominate in almost evry major race there is in a given season or career.

    I vote Merckx even though I am an ardent LA fan.

  8. #8
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    Regarding the Hour Record: Chirs Boardman holds the current OFFICAL record. The UCI rules for the record hour require the same technology Merkx used. The records Boardman and Graham Orbee set with their special bikes have been regulated to hour events.
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  9. #9
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    To answer Don D.'s question, training for a peak is a strategy that is actually a type of periodization.

    Periodization is, generally speaking, no more than a system of hard training periods interspersed with recovery periods. So in any week there are hard days and easy recovery days. Then every few weeks, maybe 1 out of 4, there may be an easier recovery week. Eventually even a couple of months off or extremely easy. The concept is that the recovery periods give the body time to adapt to the hard efforts, therefore getting stronger. Also, the recovery periods let the body rest so that the hard efforts can be even harder than a constant steady level of effort would allow. You can think of it as longer and longer "interval" training from "intervals" a few seconds long to a few minutes to a few days...the concept is more or less the same. It allows greater intensity during the intense periods.

    Working to peak at a specific time involves starting off with weeks of gradually longer and longer, easy to moderate intensity period, rides to build an endurance base, then slowly adding shorter, higher intensity work, all periodized, to maximize what one's capabilities just in time for a short recovery period before an event or several events. The hard work days are tailored to adapt certain body systems to pre-determined needs or anticipated situations- speed, endurance, power, etc. Carmichael talked about specifically training for Lance to be able to perform during the several hard days in a row in the mountains. The peak can only be maintained for a relatively short time before the body begins to tire and needs a recovery period.

    This is all simplified and may not be a 100% accurate description, but it is pretty close. Lance and more importantly Chris Carmichael have taken both concepts to new levels. Carmichael knows Lance's body so well that with that knowledge and daily biometric data, they can figure out exactly how much work Lance needs to do pretty much each and every day in order to peak for the TDF. They seem to have eliminated just about all guess work.
    Last edited by RainmanP; 07-28-04 at 12:48 PM.
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  10. #10
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    <The media struggles to compare LA with past riders. Is there any metric that can work?>

    Yeah. How many important races did you win in your career, records did you set, great champions did you ride against and beat?

    <I argue here that the length of the Palmeres (list of victories) is NOT a good metric. This is because modern training (periodization) allows riders to be much better than they used to be, but only for a select few races each year. Because everybody is focussing, it is nearly impossible to win races that are off your peak (somebody else is peaking then!). Hence, the best riders win less frequently.>

    Lance is the best stage racer today but he doesn't win much, because he doesn't race much. Riders always focussed on races they thought they could win and most peaked for limited spells in the season. Oh, and which of the lamentable current crop of top riders is "much better"? Don't "the best" riders want to win the biggest races any more?

    <The incomparable Merckx (Palmeres Superman) and his best contemporaries raced all season, focussing on races as they came. They might not race all three grand tours in one season, but sometimes they did. Merckx's extraordinary talent allowed him, in countless races all season, to dominate a field that was not effectively peaking for any event. His talent and drive resulted in a huge Palmeres.>

    Merckx tried to win everything (look at his record). The serious rivals saved themselves for the most advantageous match-ups. No other rider was ever as voracious and versatile as Merckx, let alone as strong. Guys picked their ground to challenge Merckx, e.g., Italians in Italy, Belgians in Belgium (but not exclusively)Just as Spaniards are thin on the ground in cobbled classics nowadays, specialists abounded back in the day, and regionals on small local teams. As you say, his super talent and good team resulted in the Palmares you mention. Your expression, "Palmeres(sic) superman" was not intended to be insulting, I hope?
    Riding three tours has never been popular or common. The Vuelta was always considered small time compared with the others. This was one reason it's dates were moved back from spring to Fall in the calendar.

    <But modern riders know that they can only be at their absolute best for a few races each year, and they select these races very carefully. Hence, the winners of each event, such as the Vuelta, Giro, TdF, Liege B L, FlWall, etc., are very likely to be those who focus their training on those events. Lance Armstrong is the most famous here, focussing only on the TdF, but others do this for other races.>

    Do you think guys like Lemond and Roche were 'pre-modern'? Roche won the triple crown as late as 1987. When fit, Lemond could be competitive in april, july and october. I just think a lot of the contemporary riders are inferior to the 80's generation. Better equipment, better roads, better medical support.....hey, better drugs- might make them look fast but a lot of the team leaders are mentally weak and settle for place money behind a true champion like Armstrong. Indurain used to dishearten them as well. Hinault and Anquetil were psychologically dominant also, at their peaks.

    <In the old days, the best rider won the most races - it was an idyllic period when fans could watch their heroes compete weekly, and in the case of extraordinary talent (i.e. Merckx) expect them to win weekly. Today, modern training methods yield a different test: The best rider in a given specialization wins the biggest race in that specialization, and Lance is the modern champ of stage races.>

    In Merckx's day, he was the best rider and took the lion's share of everything. He won 1 of every 3 races he ever entered as a pro. I assume that's what you mean by the old days. Anquetil was older still and did not win everything he wanted to. He peaked, specialised, whatever......

    Nobody ever won 'weekly', except Eddy.

    Some of Merckx's rivals were fantastic riders and gave him all the competition he could handle -in their areas of specialism. Example- De Vlaeminck in the spring classics. This was a golden era of competition, and still Merckx was good enough to dominate. Surely you aren't suggesting that the likes of Virenque and Beloki are similarly competitive with Armstrong?

    <But modern training has made comparisons across the ages impossible. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this...>

    Your thesis is a recipe for low ambitions and gives a lot of riders every excuse they need to roll over for the true champions. Armstrong's racing programme is so small, that he has a huge advantage at the one rendezvous he targets each year. From this, I draw the obvious comparison- that he is a rich, fortunate guy with options even Hinault and Lemond did not enjoy. Indurain started this trend, of course- Lance takes it further towards it's logical conclusion by not even riding races he has ridden successfully in the past.

    Following this stratagem, Lance might win another 2 or 3 tours which would make him the world's greatest ever cycle racer- according to the American media, which sees no value in the sport, beyond domestic human-interest driven (cancer survivor, celebrity entourage)headlines. I think he knows that a place on the top table of history requires him to do more than re-write one record book and maybe we will see him attempt a more recognisably respectful campaign next season. At the moment, he looks like a dilettante part-timer of independent means, cherry-picking the Tour. I don't think USPS or Discovery care about that perception but I am sure Armstrong understands the culture and history. Whether he is strong enough to extend the 'sweet spot' of July form to win in spring or fall again we will never know, unless he tries. The idea that the irresistable peaking power of his contemporaries would preclude this, is laughable. Race wins are spread around because so few truly dominant riders have been produced in this generation. There is no Coppi, who can put 10 minutes into the field up an alpine ascent yet still win Paris-Roubaix. There is no Kelly, who can win 4 green jerseys, numerous classics and a Vuelta. The question is- can Armstrong go some way to emulating his predecessors, by doing a double or winning a few classics? It's all about him and his legacy; 'advanced' training is a smokescreen: he wins for old-fashioned reasons.
    *

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flaneur

    In Merckx's day, he was the best rider and took the lion's share of everything. He won 1 of every 3 races he ever entered as a pro. I assume that's what you mean by the old days. Anquetil was older still and did not win everything he wanted to. He peaked, specialised, whatever......

    Nobody ever won 'weekly', except Eddy.

    Some of Merckx's rivals were fantastic riders and gave him all the competition he could handle -in their areas of specialism. Example- De Vlaeminck in the spring classics. This was a golden era of competition, and still Merckx was good enough to dominate. Surely you aren't suggesting that the likes of Virenque and Beloki are similarly competitive with Armstrong?
    What makes you think that Merckx's rivals were part of the 'golden era of competition'?

    I know that he and his rivals get talked about as if they are gods, but I never heard a reasonable explanation.

  12. #12
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    I didn't say it was the golden era, you said that.

    Any generation producing a long list of all-time great riders will do. My point was that Merckx beat a lot of riders who were themselves successful enough to be remembered with respect, men whose names appear prominently in the record books. Men with acknowledged class, who could inject force into a break or chase, who had the willpower and tactical acuity so conspicuously absent in the Tour peloton of '04, USPS excepted.

    Apart from Armstrong himself, how many of this year's Tour entrants will become as celebrated, 35 years hence, as Thevenet, Gimondi, De Vlaeminck, Janssen, Godefroot...........?

    Put another way- Hinault raced against Zoetemelk, Fignon, Kelly, Lemond, Anderson, Roche, Raas, Moser, Saronni, Argentin, Kuiper........winning in this class of competition seems like a tough accomplishment to me.

    This year, only two men thought they could win the Tour. It was the same with Indurain- after Rominger, who was there?

    Merckx extended this physical and psychological dominance over a whole career, yet his rivals had the opportunity (and the ability to exploit it)to test and sometimes beat him in favourable circumstances. The measure of a Thevenet or Ocana is their refusal to bow to Merckx's intimidating power. Every achievement of this generation of riders came against the backdrop of Eddy's Palmares. Who profits during Armstrong's prolonged absences? No-one in particular, it appears. Wheelman calls that the result of modern advances in training, I call it mediocrity and tactical fragility.

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