November 08, 2011

Indoor Training - The Sufferfest Goes Under The Microscope

Suffer (verb): Experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant). To tolerate or endure evil, injury, pain, or death. In general usage the preferred preposition after suffer is from, rather than with, in constructions such as He suffered from hypertension. Within cycling a more apt preposition might be for, as he suffered for cycling.

By Matt McNamara

The gang of n’er-do-wells at The Sufferfest have consistently raised the bar on quality indoor training videos over the past couple of years. Toolbox editor, and avowed hard man, Dr. Stephen Cheung wrote a thorough overview of the series in 2010, while the Pez himself gave two tired thumbs up to “Local Hero” earlier this year. So what is left to say? Well, as a power based coach and one who loathes indoor training more than most, I thought I’d look at the training value of the videos from a power based perspective to put a little science behind the praise.

Easy to follow on screen instructions encourage maximum volume for the musical accompaniment.

The Method
When starting this project it was immediately obvious that the only way to truly measure the effectiveness of the videos was by using a CompuTrainer system. CompuTrainer is a stable and highly accurate ergometer that has been the industry standard for over a decade. Although showing its age in a few important areas (read: user experience), the CompuTrainer Lab model is accurate to within 0.5% when calibrated and offers a downloadable format that can be imported into various analysis software. [Note: CompuTrainer reports that a very redesigned software package is coming soon. = ed.]

Thanks to special licensing with the UCI, you get to join the racing on some very famous courses.

The next step was to decide what I wanted to measure. Once again the obvious choices presented themselves: By looking at training stress score (TSS), intensity factor (IF), and interval composition I could get a pretty comprehensive view of the workouts and their efficacy as training tools.

The final piece of the puzzle was to translate the workouts into a file format that would work on the CompuTrainer. This was a daunting task, frankly. Each video is an hour or more and the workouts are based entirely on self selected Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale efforts that are cued by on screen prompts! That meant I would have to watch each video, record the time stamps of all on screen prompts and then create an erg file that matched those up with my own RPE scale.

Fortunately, I stumbled across a critical component when I found an excel spreadsheet by Ted Meisky, a Sufferlandrien of some repute, who had already broken each video into the component sections I needed. Further, his spreadsheet was laid out as a text file that is easily converted to a CompuTrainer compatible format. You can download his spreadsheet here and a bit more information about the rationale here .

He has also given the spreadsheet several custom inputs for each athlete including the ability to select the threshold power level and the percentages of threshold power used for recovery and maximal efforts (those nefarious 10 on a 10 scale intervals). I used my FTP (functional threshold power) with recovery at 50% (most athletes will self-select a 50% threshold effort for recovery) and max effort at 140%, as that scaled the workout to match my preferred RPE scale where a 7 is considered a circa-threshold effort.

Since I wanted to know the individual TSS and IF scores for each video, I went ahead and created each workout again in Cycling Peaks ERG+ software. The ERG+ software allows me to see TSS/IF values and to scale the workouts for different FTP levels. Unfortunately, it will not open a standard .erg file, so I had to manually create each workout (so much for saving time!). In the end it was worth the effort because I now have good data on each of the videos, so let’s see how a few stack up…

The Hunted
This wasn’t the first video produced, but it was the first one I purchased a little over a year ago. Like most, I was immediately impressed with the quality of the experience. Not only did I complete the ride, but I actually wanted to come back for more! For me, the key was the music, each song kept a good rhythm that helped me stay on task. Admittedly, the first ride was not at the same power level that would be assigned by the .erg file – but I think that is one of the true benefits of an RPE based workout; you can scale your effort to your current fitness level, enjoy the experience and simply go harder as fitness allows.

That said we are here to quantify the workout from a power perspective so let’s look at some data from both my ride (ahem!) and an estimate of actual work expected.

Here is the graph of my ride. Not as disciplined as I might like, but at least the efforts at the end – those oh-my-G sprints – were decent:

So it worked out to be 58 minutes at a Normalized power of 252W, an IF of 0.84. Training Stress was 67 points and I burned through 825KJ’s. Compared to the erg file build which looks like this:

Total TSS is up to 81 and Intensity Factor rises to 0.89 – right in that “Sweet Spot” zone we coaches espouse so readily. Still, I’d say that I got pretty close for not having an erg file to push me!

Next up we have The Downward Spiral

Looking at this one from a coaching perspective I can say that the composition of the workout is surprisingly difficult! With a TSS score of 100 and an Intensity Factor of 0.98 this is one tough hour I set the “max effort” values at 140% of FTP to better correlate an RPE of 7 with a threshold effort, and that had the hard intervals at and above my Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP/VO2max). Fortunately, one can adjust intensity down pretty easily using Mr. Meisky’s erg spreadsheet, so you can scale it to a more sustainable level that is maybe 115 – 125% of FTP. When scaled down to 125% the hardest intervals fall just below MAP and the TSS and IF scores fall to 82 and 0.89 respectively.

A saving grace of this workout is that the MAP efforts are all fairly short ranging from 15s to just over 2 minutes. These short intervals fit nicely into the school of thought espoused by Dr. Guy Thibault (read it here: Intervals Part 3: MAP Intervals) regarding intensity and duration of MAP efforts and recovery. That doesn’t make it any easier to do “The Downward Sprial,” but at least you’ll know you are following a sound strategy.

Local Hero
Finally, I wanted to look at “Local Hero” the longest of the series so far at 85 minutes. This story-book tale of a young man-gone-good represents a great cross section of cycling with a cyclocross race, a criterium, lots of on-screen heckling, a selection of toe tapping good music, and the appropriately engaging Melbourne World Championships road race as a back drop. So what’s the breakdown?

Ouch! In about an hour and a half you get 130 Training stress points with an intensity factor of 0.95 when you build it with max power set at 140% of FTP. It is a manageable workout, but probably not in your early base period. To me this is yet another example of the wisdom of building several erg files to represent different levels of fitness (or desire) If you aren’t up to a 130 point workout at 95% FTP, simply build an erg file that has a lower percentage of FTP for maximum. At 125% max this workout scales down to 107 TSS at 0.86 IF. A bit more relaxed, but only a bit.

The return of winter sees the inevitable return of indoor training. This time tested right of passage will lead you to a fitter and faster next year, but that doesn’t mean it has to be as tortured as you might think. There are numerous tools and programs that will help you pass the time without going crazy and the finest among these is the Sufferfest series. Professionally produced and with an air of tormented humor, each of the videos so far has been just engaging enough to make me want to come back time after time. But of course, being a coach, I expect more than just entertainment value, so I put Sufferfest to the test.

Specifically, I turned to the venerable CompuTrainer system to see just how hard the workouts are and if they address specific systems development. The short answer is the workouts are well designed and appreciably difficult. Each workout measures north of 85 points in TSS and Intensity Factor when they are corrected against an athlete’s functional threshold power.

Though originally designed around rating of perceived exertion, the videos are equally useful for those wanting to build their own ergometer files, and in fact offer a unique ability to adjust the workload for those who do. Simply modulating the workload changes the profile to suit each athlete’s specific fitness needs. Dial it down 10-15% or so, and a challenging Level 4 workout becomes a manageable Level 3.

While the specificity offered by an ergometer based approach is quite robust, it should be noted that simply applying an appropriate RPE scale will accomplish much of the same thing. In short, as designed, an athlete with sufficient self knowledge and desire can make each of the Sufferfest series serve a useful training purpose at most any time of the year.

October 07, 2011


Crossover Talent and Depth Highlight 2011-12 Roster


SUNNYVALE, CA (September 8, 2011) – Brimming with talent the Sterling Cross p/b Sendmail, Inc Cyclocross Team is set to light the afterburners on a spectacular racing season in just a few short days. Boasting its strongest roster yet entering it’s fourth season, the team is deeper, faster, and more focused than ever on winning races and upending the status quo in Northern California racing.

Led by three time Olympian Eric Wohlberg, the mens team includes talent and depth in the form of standout road riders Adam Carr and Rand Miller, both of whom made successful transitions to ‘cross last fall and look to be even stronger this season. Fresh off a 2nd place at this past weekend’s Giro di San Francisco, returning rider Martin Acosta is another rider to watch this season having made the jump from Cat 5 to Cat 1 in a little over a year. The future is bright for this speedster from East Palo Alto. Elite Single Speeder Patrick Kitto is out to ruffle the feathers of the SS establishment this year, and coming on the heels of a very successful 2010 campaign, you can bet he will be punching tickets at the front all season long!

The womens team is led by 2010 Idaho State Cyclocross Champion, and Giro Donne finisher, Liza Rachetto, who looks to be primed for a breakout season. New to the team this year are the talented tandem of Anna Barensfeld and Starla Teddergren. Both ladies are coming off strong seasons on the road and looking to parlay some of that fitness into podiums at races on both coasts this fall. Returning rider Carmen Elliott rounds out the squad having rediscovered the fitness that kept her competitive in the pro-mountain bike ranks just a few years ago.

In addition to the elite team, Sterling Cross p/b Sendmail, Inc also has a deep and talented masters roster that includes 2010 Bay Area Super Prestige Series Champion Bill Strachan, making the jump to 45A’s this season along with perennial top 10 masters Rich Stone and Jamie Willin. Matt McNamara, with multiple district podiums will round out the roster in 35A’s.

Not to be outdone, our development squad has over a dozen hard charging members who are looking to continue the tradition of excellence that has become a staple of the Sterling Sports Group program. This year the team includes a small east coast contingent eager to carry the Sterling mantra to new audiences, and add their name to the history of the team. Who will be this years standout rider?

On the sponsorship side of the team are a committed group of partners including Sendmail, Inc back again as presenting sponsor. Also returning are marquee partners Southwall Technologies – a leader in environmentally advanced glass applications, HELP Pain – provider of high tech medical solutions to remote communities, and JF Fitzgerald – legendary makers of World class custom furnishings. On the equipment side the team is pleased to welcome back TRP Brakes and Challenge Tires, while embracing our newest sponsors Lazer Helmets and Mavic Wheels.

Sterling Sports Group ( is the result of over 20 years of passion for the sport of cycling. Launched in late 2003, Sterling Sports is a growing company focused on creating a seamless interface between athlete and coach, technology and personal attention. They can be reached at 408.891.3462 or ###

August 19, 2011

USAC West Regional Development Camp

Every year we get to watch the rise of talent on the professional scene. From new riders who seem to rise from obscurity to greatness before our eyes, to those we’ve watched toil and grow for years who finally break through to a new level. Each is inspiring and it’s easy to forget that, in truth, these riders have all paid their dues to the sport. Sometimes it’s nice to see the starting point of the journey too…

By Matt McNamara

I have previously written and talked about the value of the Old School to the heart and soul of cycling. Last week I was fortunate to spend a few days at the USA Cycling Western Regional Development Camp meeting and working with some of the new school. This is an annual camp offered by USA Cycling to give young riders the chance to learn the craft of racing while offering USA Cycling a look at the next crop of rising talent. It is the perfect first step in the pipeline to becoming a pro.

This year’s camp was again headed by coach Larry Nolan, a multi-time Masters World Champion and director of one of the top junior programs in the U.S. Larry’s professionalism and experience have made this one of the premiere camps offered by USA Cycling. In addition, his staff of coaches and support personnel including Laurel Green, Steven Meilich, Deb Nolan and Justin Morgan, brought all of their talents and focus to the thirty-four attendees for each of the six days.

Here is the whole crew:

Talent Identification
One of the primary goals of the camp is talent identification. The riders complete two separate field tests designed to estimate their functional threshold power and maximal aerobic power. The first test is approximately twenty minutes, the second around five. Both offer that unique level of pain and suffering that we cyclists seem to cherish. It’s true what one of my early mentors said: “You must suffer like a dog, Mattie!” Too true…

The rider and bike are weighed and then sent out on course. Several of the campers had power meters, but since we know the length of the courses, each rider’s weight, the elevation gain, wind speed, and their time, it is fairly easy to get power numbers for each of the participants. These numbers are then forwarded to USA Cycling along with an evaluation of each rider and a recommendation of who might be ready for the jump to international competition.

This is my second year at the camp and one of the first things that stood out was the improvement of the returning riders. Nearly every returning rider posted a faster time than the previous year, some by as much as two minutes on the twenty minute test. While the ramp rate of year-to-year gain may taper, a 10% improvement is certainly impressive

The other thing that really stood out this year was just how fast everyone was. The general pace of the rides was manageable, but when they decided to throw down we were easily and frequently above my 320’ish watt threshold as I watched some group of riders climb away from me. That they could recover and hit out again as often as they wanted was the really impressive part…they just kept coming back for more.

Skills, Drills, and Laughs
Each day we would practice a different race skill or scenario. Group pace-lines, attack and counter attack, leadouts, fast cornering, and a simulated road race to name a few. Then we got to my bread and butter… cornering skills.

We set up a great little race course in a giant parking lot, the riders were divided into 8 teams of 4 and the course was divided into 4 sections: a straight line sprint, a short but narrow set of tight corners, a wide open set of “S” turns, and finally a combination of all towards the finish line. Each member of the team would rotate forward one station on each lap, so everyone got to ride all four sections.

The brackets were set up so the top two teams would advance to the final four, and the last two teams would battle for fifth through eighth. This guaranteed that each team would race twice for a total of 8 laps on the course. The fun thing about the circuit is that, while it favors those with good snap and excellent handling, it’s a team race so the competition ended up closer than you might expect. Of course the greatest satisfaction was that there were only two minor crashes and no injuries. Whew!

Developing Young Adults
Perhaps the most impressive part of camp are the riders themselves. These guys and gals are focused on cycling and truly love the sport, but more importantly they demonstrated a degree of maturity that was not entirely expected. The riders were always pleasant and respectful to the coaches and staff, often addressing us with mister or missus - a nice change from the all too common entitlement attitude seen in many of today’s teens. Their parents can be proud of the young men and women they are raising.

The riders were similarly toned towards each other. I didn’t hear one argument or disparaging word throughout the camp. Rather they functioned as a team, each rider encouraged and cheered by their peers.

Of course they’re still the ‘young’ side of young adults so plenty of antics, jokes and pranks were devised, and a few late night “go to sleep, now!” requests had to be enforced. I think the perfect crescendo of the team ethos meets youthful exuberance had to be the re-test offered to a camper who had been sick on the first day. The picture below covers all you need to know, except that it was hilarious and a blast to be part of the group, though I kept my kit on!

The USA Cycling West Region Development Camp serves several important goals. It is a talent identification tool used by USAC to help bring forward the next wave of young riders, but perhaps more important it is a crucible for developing riders to challenge themselves in new and familiar areas. That it fosters such a sense of community and loyalty year over year is a testament to the talents and commitment of the staff that works it, and importantly the riders who attend. To see the USAC pipeline in action is to marvel at the depth of talent that has embraced cycling as their discipline. The future is bright and I can’t wait to watch it…

July 28, 2011

2011 Cyclocross Team Kits Unveiled

Sterling Cross - presented by Sendmail, Inc is pleased to debut our 2011 Team Kit. Thanks to the tremendous support of our sponsors we'll be unveiling our biggest and best program to date later this week.

I am especially proud of this years kit because EVERY SPONSOR that made the jersey has contributed significantly to overall health of the team! I feel very honored that so many great companies would step up to support our program!


Next up we'll be releasing our rosters by category, starting with the singlespeeders (which seems appropriate since The Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships are in SF this year!)

May 24, 2011

Latest Toolbox article on Pez

Training Zones: HR and RPE:

For racers, and many recreational riders, tracking ones training is a standard part of each days routine. We jump on the bike with our power meter, heart rate monitor, GPS and speedomet looking to document, and later interpret, what we’ve done. But what measures truly matter? This first of two articles looks at some of the more common methodologies and metrics.

With both the Tour of California and the Giro D’Italia capturing our attention last week it’s easy to be repeatedly impressed by the efforts and talents of the pro peloton. Rider after rider produced mind numbing efforts during both races, surely piquing the interest of aspiring racers and fans eager to baseline those efforts against their own talents and abilities.

Of course these performances are built on years and miles of consistency and diligent development of the varied physiological systems required. Chances are these riders have a keen knowledge of their training zones!

The Value of Training Zones:
Nearly all training zones are based on maximums. How much, how long and how high? Heart rate based training has long been the standard of measure most often used and cited. One reason that max heart rate is so strongly held is because of its expected relationship to VO2max and other measures of physiological strain. Since VO2max represents maximal aerobic capacity it provides a great reference point for what is happening to the athlete physiologically. Lactate blood profiles, cardiac output, and other measures track similarly.

Pick up any mainstream information source, and many educational ones to boot, and they will as likely as not reference the ubiquitous 220-Age calculation as a starting point for setting up those zones, but why is this?

A Short History:
Robergs and Landwehr, researchers out of the University of New Mexico, sought to find an answer via their 2002 article in the Journal of Exercise Physiology. Their paper did an exhaustive review of the literature seeking to find the roots of max heart rate calculations during exercise, especially 220-age, as well as best practices in applying the correct calculations and metrics. The eventually referenced the origin of the formula to Fox et al in 1971 and as they put it “...surprisingly, the origin of the formula is a superficial estimate, based on observation, of a linear best fit to a series of raw and mean data.”

The Fox article looked at research conducted on activity and heart disease. The original citation had a mere 35 data points and was not derived from original research. In fact Fox et al noted in their article that “…no single line will adequately represent the data on the apparent decline of maximal heart rate with age. The formula maximum heart rate=220–age in years defines a line not far from many of the data points.” So even the researchers in the original article that became the bedrock for decades worth of fitness musings, teachings and prescriptions didn’t feel that it was an absolute measure!

To try and parse out a ‘true’ Max Heart Rate (MHR) calculation, Robergs and Landwehr went back and attempted to replicate the research and cross reference with additional research that is often cited in relation to MHR estimation. They looked at over 30 different ways to calculate MHR, including the first known effort by Sid Robertson in 1938 (whose estimate was 212 – 0.77(age)). Their conclusion was that, indeed, even the original research cited by Fox had failed to support the 220-age calculation. Instead they built the following formula as the best overall starting point based on the research presented in the graph below (a reproduction of the Fox research):

HRmax=215.4 – 0.9147(age)

The Karvonen Version:
The prevalence of the 220-age calculation is reinforced by another commonly referenced training zone calculator – The Karvonen Formula. Karvonen is credited with the idea of Heart Rate Reserve (HRR), which is an effort to better understand the available capacity of the individual. The HRR Calculation looks like this:

(220) - (your age) = MaxHR

(MaxHR) - (resting heart rate) = HRR

(HRR) x (60% to 80%) = training range %

(training range %) + (resting heart rate) = (your target training zone)

Interestingly, Karvonen, when asked by Robergs and Landwehr, said he had never published original research of the formula and instead referred to the work of Astrand for the original calculation. Astrand, also deferred to other researchers when asked about his role by Robergs and Landwehr in September of 2000.

Whatever the derivation, the main takeaway message seems to be that using a univariate approach to estimating maximum heart rate is open to errors due to the variability within individuals, but they do provide a good starting point

Perceived Exertion:
Another common metric across time has been the estimation of effort based on the athletes perceived exertion. Perceived exertion has been shown time and again to correlate well with the actual work load in experienced athletes. The work of Gunnar Borg is the most often used baseline for rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and dates to 1970.

The original Borg scale used a range of efforts between 6 – 20 to delineate subtle differences and offer a highly refined value. Some feel that taking one’s base RPE multiplied 10 should closely correlate to exercising heart rate, offering yet another way to cross reference effort. More and more athletes and coaches are using a modified Borg scale that ranks effort from 1 – 10. This is partly to ease use and interpretation for the athlete as it requires less pre-workout education and is more intuitive for many athletes.

Training zones and intervals are as common in cycling parlance as wheels and tires. Nearly every athlete uses some metric to track their training and improvement. Yet, the most common measure used over the last three decades was not built on direct scientific research, and is prone to error. The standard 220-age calculation was derived from an interpretation of unpublished research but does provide a starting point for creating ones training zones. Similarly, the Karvonen formula is a derivation of 220-age, yet also offers a form of insight. Borg’s scale of perceived exertion has also been a long standing reference of well established validity

To be sure the science of performance has made strides over the last years, but do these measures provide a more accurate baseline for training? Next time we’ll delve into the efficacy and value of power and lactate based training zones by asking some of the sports most noted coaches and physiologists their opinion!

ROBERT A. ROBERGS AND ROBERTO LANDWEHR, THE SURPRISING HISTORY OF THE "HRmax=220-age" EQUATION. ISSN 1097-9751, Volume 5 Number 2 May 2002, Official Journal of The American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP).

For racers, and many recreational riders, tracking ones training is a standard part of each days routine. We jump on the bike with our power meter, heart rate monitor, GPS and speedomet looking to document, and later interpret, what we’ve done. But what measures truly matter? This first of two articles looks at some of the more common methodologies and metrics.

May 16, 2011

Giro Stages 9 and 10

Today the field rolls up the Eastern edge of the country on a terribly flat route that says - pack, let's talk about some other stuff...

Namely Wednesdays stage to Castelfidardo!

That is a stage! It just screams "fun" if you're a decent climber and a strong all arounder...what they call a rouler...a roller...someone who can charge full tilt on the flast, manage the climbs, and be tenacious and audacious enough to give it a go!

It may well shake out as a GC stage fight as well....lots of riders are hovering at the 1 - 2 minute gap and they'll be looking to advance, but I'm hoping for a bit of Panache in the break that leads to a memorable experience...and i've got a couple of ideas (prescient analysis if it proves correct!)...

Johnny Hoogerland (Vaconsoleil) - that guy is fun to watch!On stage 7 he rode across TO the break, then immediately THRU the break....guess he felt strong. He's a good bet to be assertive, as is stage 7 winner Bart De Clercq (Omega Pharma) and Oscar Gatto has shown some pop on an uphill finish - and tasted the sweet nectar of victory, which is terribly addictive.

Can't wait to see what shakes out on Wednesday...

Giro Peloton Errante

We always talk about the front of the GC....but the real eye opener is to look at the bottom of the field. It will give you an additional insight into just what it is to be a pro. The last 20 after stage 9 included:

Mark Cavendish and his leadout man Mark Renshaw, Francesco Chicci - the 2002 U23 World Champion (and winner of at least 8 races last season), Robbie Hunter (Tour and Vuelta stage wins), Alexander Kristoff (3x Norwegian National Champion), Tom Peterson (white jersey at 2006 Tour of California), and sitting in the Lantern Rouge - Adam Blyte a 5x British National Champion, 2x European Games champion, and winner of the 2010 Circuit Franco Belge!

That's just a random sampling from the bottom 20 and every one of them has had success at levels most of us would surely resepct...and here they are at the tail end of a 3-week race with two weeks left to go!

Euro Pro IS Pro!

May 13, 2011

Giro Stage 7

Blogger was down last night so this went up on Facebook instead:

It’s nice to see Alessandro Petacchi sprinting well in a variety of situations. Long known as the guy who put the exclamation point on the end of one of the most fearsome lead-out trains in cycling (Velo, Tossato, Baldato, Kirchen, Bossoni, Hauptman, and Aug among others) Petacchi has instead shown a true affinity for the nuance of the pack sprint this year. Exhibits 1 and 2: I mentioned the prowess shown by Petacchi and his leadout guy Danilo Hondo at the end of stage 2. Yesterday, however, he showed he has the high level fitness that took him deeper into the maglia ciclamina jersey prior to the first mountain finish. He didn’t win, but he did pounce and isolate any of the other sprinters buy quite a few points. I’m betting he can wear red into Milan.

Stage 7 offers up the first of 8 summit finishes. The Santuario di Montevergine climb averages “only” 5% - but it does so for 17 kilometers and is a lovely climb for the first summit finish, meandering and switchbacking it’s way up a regional park. Will the big dogs come out to play or leave it to the ambitious aspirants? My guess, based on the first couple of climbs thus far….the big guns will take a run at the finish just to see if they can shake out any of the pretenders, but the real action will be saved for another day as a small group or riders will leap from the attack and counter-punching of the GC contenders on the lower slopes. Then again, someone WILL be looking for a few seconds advantage. Someone like Le Mevel (only a few seconds out of Pink), or Di Luca (desperate to redeem himself). Here’s how it looked in 2007:

May 09, 2011

Giro Stage 5

Today marks the start of the second Giro. This iteration perhaps more reflective of just what it means to race a Grand Tour and to be a professional cyclist.

Stage 5 may well be the perfect re-immersion for the offers strade bianchi, the first glimpse of real climbing (two cat 3's) on a constantly undulating route that offers up a Poggio-esque finale that may well see a small group jump away to an inspiring victory.

The only real question is of the riders motivation. Certainly the past 36 hours have offered a lifetimes ride on a roller-coaster of emotion and it remains to be seen if they will plug into the task at hand. I think they will embrace the familiarity of the rolling peloton and the release offered by hard riding.

It favors the roulers like Dario Cioni, Popovich, DiLucca (which is a brilliant tactical play if he can take time and get, or at least get close, to the pink jersey) or perhaps Scarponi comes looking for early advantage....

May 06, 2011

Giro Stage 4 - The Legend of Pistoia

As we don't know what the racing will be like for Stage 4 - I think it's fair to say that since this stage rolls into Livorna and represents another, mostly, flat route that will likely end in a group gallop if they race at all. My guess is they will ride a la Motorola for Casertelli:

So let's talk about something else...

Not Mr Weylandt...that is a tragedy that I cannot speak to, nor would I try since I don't know him. I will say that I am proud of the racing community - from the world over, large and small, pro and amateur that have taken the time to offer condolences and a prayer for Mr Weylandt and his family during what is surely a heartbreaking time.

Rather than try to understand or comprehend, let's talk about Pistoia.

Recall that in 2004 we had our wedding in Italy and as part of the honeymoon we planned to take in a stage or two of the Giro. After leaving the Amazing Amalfi Coast on May 11th, we headed North in our little rental car intent on seeing some bike racing! Without much in the way of planning - a nod to Starr's letting me run the show since that is NOT how she rolls - we stopped in the quaint sounding town of Pistoia, just over the pass from the next days start in Poretta Terme. Smooth...

Except that Pistoia just felt wrong from the moment we rolled into town. We found an adequate room that was, if memory serves, at the top of a series of medievel looking stairs and floors. There was a single light in the room that shone bright as day, yet when out the room was darker than any I'd ever seen...So dark we slept with the lights on!

I don't recall if it was before or after we got that 'weird' feeling that we learned a bit about the city's history..but it certainly made an impression on us whichever the timeline. Like much of Italy it was full of war and treachery, occupation and counter-occupation. Michelangelo famously referred to Pistoiesi as "enemies of heaven" and there are dark days in it's history. Maybe we learned before...

We headed out to dinner and found a nice place that radiated dour. The atmosphere and staff were reserved, uninviting. Watching the people walk by on a nice May evening you'd expect young lovers awash in romance, or families enjoying the fountains - but none of that was to be seen. Shadows and dark shapes plied the night as we hurried through our meal and back to the hotel. It was a restless night of sleep.

Thankfully the next morning dawned rainy, but full of promise. We were heading to the race, but first we took in a sight or two - including the famous black and white marbled octagonal baptistrey...

We left from there for the drive to Poretta Terme and the start - it was all pink and grandiose. Cipollini was still King and Simoni wore the Maglia Rosa. Damiano Cunego's days were coming and ultimately the 2004 Giro would prove mostly uninspiring except for Damiano Cunego, who's been mostly uninspiring since. On our way out of town we got WAY lost and ended up at the top of a dead end road miles above the small town the race started in. We were deep in rural Italy and it was awesome! It took a few hours to find our way to the highway that would take us to Finale Ligure...but the day we spent there was a highlight of the trip for both being a bit weird and beautiful. It was Italy after all.

Giro Stage 3 - Perspective

Petacchi and his leadout man offered a crash course in riding a leadout. Recall that I said yesterday that if a rider gets the jump on Cavendish he's proven unable to overcome. Well Petacchi has the HUGE bendfit of having Danilo Hondo as his last rider in the run to the finish. Watch the video and you'll see over the last few kilometers that they hold and maintain a top 5 to 7 place (well, I haven't found more than the last few hundred meters yet), but don't take too many turns at the front. The trick was letting other teams come forward to drive the wind - by not pushing to the front unitl very very late it gave Petacchi the reserves of speed to launch. The second key was the jump...he hit it about a second before Cavendish and it was enough. He was wheels clear before he came acros Cav's line, so the relegation argument is moot in my opinion. Nice ride by a true professional Chapeau apologies for not counting you amongst the favorites today. Won't happen again...

We are still a few days out from our first summit finish and any real climbing but I thought this was a very cool graphic:

It shows all of the stages longitudinally, with climbs noted. The Universal Sports guys were sayin that it was close to 100,000 feet of climbing! Anyway, I just thought it gave a nice perspective.

Speaking of perspective...most will predict that stage 3 ends in a bunch finish. It's just too early and the sprinters teams only have a few chances this year so they won't want much to get away. What that assessment lacks is perspective.

The Category 4 summit comes with just under 10kms of racing left..which is the perfect distance for a small group to successfull attack and stay away. So now the question becomes who is in the break? Let's get some perspective...

GC riders will sit this one out.
Sprinters and their teams won't be able to bring it back (says me)
That leaves opportunists and the feeling lucky?

Androni Giacattoli is feeling lucky. Colnago CSF and BMC feel lucky too. Leopard Trek, Moviestar and Omega Pharma NEED to make some luck or this could be a long Giro. For me I think Vaconsoleil and Quickstep will be the luckiest...

1. Johnny Hoogerland - Vancansoleil
2. Dario Cataldo - Quickstep
3. Andrea Noe - Farnese Vini
4. Fabio Sabatini - Liquigas
5. Mauricio Ardilla - Geox

Giro Stage 2

Forgot about those speedy HTC guys! Bob Stapleton's crew threw down a speedy gauntlet that the others couldn't match and put Pinotti in the pink jersey first...a harbinger of the final in Milan? I can say that it was a mistake to not count the HTC guys...but hey, I hit it pretty good on the rest of the podium! Radioshack and Liquigas flipped my prediction, while Garmin-Cervelo in fifth, and Vaconsoleil in 10th did me proud! Astana...whoops. Ok, off to Sunday's stage...

Ding, ding, ding! Calling fast finishers, calling fast finishers...

This stage will undoubtedly be nervous and twitchy as riders slowly try to settle into the rhythm of the race. Fortunately, the route is very straight forward without much in the way of twists and turns. Mark Cavendish has the reputation and the stage wins that brough it - so he's the number one, for now. Clearly Tyler Farrar is also near the top of the heap and has shown steady progression year over year. I think the sprinters are starting to figure out the way to beat Cavendish - hit it out early and make him counter-punch in the finale.

There have been a few suprises in the sprint finishes at other races this year and I'm looking forward to seeing who really steps up their game this month. Rafael Valls of Geox-TMC is due for a big win, and don't forget Radioshack's Manuel Cardoso, Mateo Tossato of Saxo Bank and Brice Feillu of Leopard-Trek in your considerations. The equalizer may well be the 244Km length....but with everyone still fresh and the flat route it should be a full on finish! Given that, and HTC's prowess in the TTT I think they put Cavendish into the perfect spot to win, but I think Farrar will simply be faster if he can jump Cav.
Stage Prediction
1. Farrar
2. Cavendish
3. Valls - Geox TMC
4. Borit Bozic - Vacansoleil
5. Petacchi

Giro Stage 1 - My Italian Roots

The Giro D'Italia starts tomorrow and I'm gonna play blogger...trying to post something for every stage. Not all of 'em will be wordy and prolific, but perhaps a few will be worth the here goes.

While most American fans have had a love affair since Andy Hampsten's '88 win, my personal Giro story starts in 2004. Of course I've always followed the race, but in 2004 I was lucky enough to get married in Italy and see my first ever Grand Tour live. Here's the route:

Given that memorable reference point, I thought it might make a nice back drop for this year's race. So...let's start off with a little comparison:

Total Length:
2004 - 3435 Kilometers
2010 - 3525 Kilometers

Individual Time Trial KM's
2004 - 59Kms
2010 - 45Kms

Mountain Top Finishes:
2004 - 3
2010 - 8

Total Climbing:
2004 - 18,500m (61,000+ feet!)
2010 - I can' nail it down precisely...but Stages 13, 14 and 15 have over 13,000m alone, adn there are 5 other mountain top finishes! Fortunately, we'll have plenty of time to discuss all of these in detail...

Top Contenders:
2004 - Gilberto Simoni (defending champion), Stefano Garzelli, Yaroslav Popovych, Andrea Noe, Franco Pelizotti, and Damiano Cunego (eventual winner).
2010 - Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Denis Menchov, Michele Scarponi, Roman Kreuzinger, and Joaquin Rodriguez.

Ok, enough compare and contrast for now....let's get to Stage 1's Team Time Trial!

I haven't read all there is to read about it....I'm just going on two things. Roster and cohesion. While team Sky and Garmin carry big reputations in the time trial department I don't think they brought the squads to win this years TTT. Ironically (because I'm not a huge fan) Radioshack may pull out a suprise and I'm very curious to watch both Liquigas and Vaconsoleil race because they both have such great esprit d'corps. So my top five for stage 1

1. Liquigas
2. Radioshack
3. Astana
4. Garmin
5. Vaconsoleil

Ok, time to reset to Stage 2...

March 31, 2011

Vlaanderen's mooiste

Over the past decade or so I've really grown to appreciate the Ronde. Though it's always been legendary, I'll admit that I was less than insane for it in my first few years. Respect, yes. Reverence, not quite. For sure, great champions like Merckx, the Planckaerts, and Museew made their careers into legends on the bergs, but Roubaix always held my attention because the battles were more visible to an impressionable young American. LeMond stoked my early racing fire and he was rarely (7th in '85) a factor in Flanders (but he still got this pic in his first Sports Illustrated article in 1984 - yea, you should read it!)

Then Van Petegem won. He wasn't even really on my list of 'favorite riders at the time, but he took the win from wonder-kid-come-never-ran Frank Vandenbrouke and super-hero Johan Museew. It stuck in my memory for some reason and a deeper appreciation was born. That he went on to pull the Flanders - Roubaix double in 2003 is just sweet! Here's a short summary of that '99 race...

Of course Boonen was impressive in his wins, but much like Museew they just did't enthrall me (I'll give him his props for the tenacity of last years race, and for a stirring sprint victory at Gent-Wevelgem last week though. Good on ya Tomeke!)

The sweet spot for me was Stijn Devolder...and really that's where the love of Flanders comes from for me. Forget winning back-to-back (as only 5 others have done, including Boonen), it was the WAY he won those races. Pure Panache! Yea, he took some heat for the win in 2008 when Tomeke was 'supposed' to win...but watch the video and listen. He was on the attack from 46k, and smartly launched a tactically astute counter just as the break was caught...perfect team tactic! In the Belgian Champions tri-color no less! Awesome, simply awesome...

Ok, enough nostalgia..let's get to this year. The runnup has been fun to watch. From the E3 to Gent Wevelgem and 3 Days of Depanne...there has been great racing that puts a variety of riders on the 'watch' list and will hopefully* make for a great and thrilling race. Let's work our way thru the destruction sure to be metted out...

It's only fair to give due credit to the incredible depth that is coming to the race. Many of the teams have multiple threats that just might create the tactical situation Fabian Cancellara can't overcome. While not quite favorites for Sunday Thomas DeGendt and Marco Marcato at Vaconsoleil, Nikki Terpstra, Gert Steegmans and Sylvain Chavanel at Quick-Step, Leif Hoste and Fillippo Pozato at Katusha, and quick rising Lars Boom at Rabobank may just add to the story line. And that's only a partial list. Among my top favorites:

Stijn Devolder - you knew he'd make my list right? I'd look for him to be active early in the hopes that he can sneak out to a worthwhile margin and force the others to come to him. He's not been seen in the mix much yet this season, but that may actually serve to his tactical advantage

Phillippe Gilbert - On good form, if not quite up to his traditional fall flurry of fitness, Philippe will play a roll in the race. I see him forcing a selection on one of the infamous middle climbs like the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg or Koppenberg. It won't break the field, but it will seal a fate or two.

Juan Antonio Flecha - has suprisingly agressive race at the RVV. He's often an instigator and may well be in the break as they cross the Taaienberg and Valkenburg, but I think the Muur - Kapelmuur will again be the make or break point - and he's very good on that climb. Good enough to stay in touch with

Alessandro Ballan - he's ridden well in the spring. He's won before. He has Van Avermat to play the foil. Maybe, just maybe it'll go his way. To do so he needs a small group together over the Muur.

Thor Husovd - Tyler rode very well last year (5th), but I just think Thor is better suited to this race. Motivated and tough, he may be the guy to tag onto the super-duo

Tom Boonen - you can't forget his two wins. It simply means too much to Tom to win and he dearly wants another crack at redemption. He doesn't have to drop Fabian, he just has to take him to the line. then again...

*Cancellara may simply ride away...


March 25, 2011

Ghent Wevelgem - Spring is Here!!

Ghent Wevelgem is often considered a semi-classic, but in a true underdog run it is striving to raise it's profile. Previously held on the Wednesday between the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix, G-W moved to the Sunday before RVV last year, presumably in an attempt to become more relevant. I like the mid-week slot ties the week together and, frankly, the cycling world needs to embrace the mid-level race instead of always looking for bigger-better. I am curious to see how the lack of a mid-week race may impact the riders freshness and agressiveness though.

They call is a 'sprinters' classic - and a quick persusal of the results bears this out for the most part, but it is equally likely that an all-arounder will win as evidenced by the variety of winners since 2000...

Sprinters: Van Bondt, Cipollini, Hushovd, Freire, Eisel

Roulers: Boonen, Mattan, Boasson Hagen, Hincapie, Burghardt, Klier

Ok, enough history - who's gonna pull it this year? Well...the list of POTENTIAL winners is as long as any other spring race..perhaps longer given the sometime selective/sometimes not nature of the course - in which case weather is the likely decider. Belgian wind and rain can take the measure out of any favorite who isn't on the sharp end at the right time. Unforunatley it's looking sunny.
Among the interesting storylines that might develop would be Andre Greipel getting a huge helping hand from Philippe Gilbert after his selfless riding at M-S-R last weekend. I don't think Gilbert will want to put it all on the line for this race with RVV coming up, so it's a natural tactic...and I wouldn't be suprised to see him working. Similarly Hushovd may well be at the disposal of Farrar given the proximity of RVV and Roubaix, if Farrar can make the selection.

Being a fan of the underdog I have to give a shout out to a few other potential spoilers. Yoann Offredo and Dominuqe Rollin could be a really deadly combination if the weather is deep (wouldn't you love to see that?). Thomas Voeckler is another shadow player in previous classics who is on better form than he's ever known (even when in yellow!). My regard for the Frenchman has gone up quite a bit since his World Cup win in Canada last year. I'm just sorry Stijn Devolder won't be on the start line.

Ok, enough writing - I'm going somewhat against the grain's just too tempting given the vast array of commentary that is picking Cancellara or Gilbert (both of whom would be very deserving winners) is my list of possible winners, not necessarily their finishing order (but hey, why not)...
1. Thos Husovd
2. Leif Hoste
3. Juan Antonio Flecha
4. Sergei Ivanov
5. Yoann Ofredo

March 21, 2011

Journalism-ish and Great Racing

More and more I find myself getting my race information from ever-more-sublime sources. There was a time when Winning Bicycle Racing Illustrated was the only read to read honestly. You can check out some 30+ covers - and I read every one!
They also produced the Tour De France Special Issues - BIG oversize format and chock full of great images...I promptly cut up the first few just to get some pics of LeMond and Hinault in '86, but I digress.

After Winning, VeloNews held the top spot for a long time. Big format, lots of Euro coverage, and a host of local stuff. VeloNews WAS cycling journalism.

Then the internet came along and the original crossed my path about mid 1998 and I was hooked. HOOKED! You can look through the "way-back" time machine and relive those heady days. It was just so cool to get up to date content from far away Europe and Australia. Bill did us all a great service and I hope he made a good return when he sold it...

Unfortunately, he sold it..and therein lies the problem. All that is cool is absorbed and diluted. Winning was cool. VeloNews was cool. CyclingNews was cool....then they weren't. Now they are aggregators of information, publishers of press releases, passers-on. They have somewhat made the sport as dull as race radios are purported to do. I can read the same article word for word on at least a half dozen sites

I admit it for awhile I was bored with pro-cycling. It was all so pre-destined, even the racing to a degree. The love was still there, but the passion was waning a bit.

Fortunately, my salvation came in the form of blogs about cycling by informed, smart, and intelligent writers, by not-so-run-of-the-mill content on bigger sites, and by live streaming video of races! Just this past weekend I went out and bought a converter to watch live video streams from my computer on my's awesome!

While most of these don't fall under the auspices of real journalism, I think it's fair to say that real journalism, at least in mainstream cycling media, is mostly a myth anyway, so I'll take my faux journo sites for now.

The other side of the equation is the racing. Watching Tierreno Adriatico and those incredible finishes pushed me back to full-throttle love for the sport! Forget the prognostications, the new technology (ok, not all of it), and the over-analysis and just watch the racing. It's been really good this year and we're just getting started. Now if only we had some great video coverage of smaller/local races we might be on our way...

Let's end with some racing:

March 18, 2011

Late Night Prognostications - Milan San Remo

The spring racing has been tremendous this year. Thanks to cyclingfans I've been able to watch a variety of races that I wouldn't normally have seen, and we can't forget the often great coverage afforded by Universal and Versus (but please get some new commentators!). So we have a good idea of who's riding well and it's a long list:

- Thor Husovd demonstrated some power at Tierrno Adriatico
- Damiano Cunego looked good too
- Ballan was very good at Strade Bianche and Tierreno
- Phillippe Gilbert...come on, that guy is a threat all the time
- Cancellara seemed to be improving but does he have that extra gear?
- Farrar (but honestly, I think Husovd will have the power after 300k)
- Peter Sagan has shown some flair in the early season.
- Oscar Freire has to be on any short list that's made

and there were some disappointments:
- Cavendish...just ain't getting it done
- Boonen is close, but not quite there yet
- Petacchi seems to have lost more than a step this season (yea, maybe it's illness, maybe not).

But let's throw a wrench or two into the mix - The Longshots
- Vincenzo Nibali is a great foil to Peter Sagan
- Alessandro Ballan is another rider coming into 2011 with something to prove. Solid on the Strade, a great worker for Cadel at Tierreno...I think he makes the podium, perhpas.
- JJ Haedo has shown that he can win at this level and might just be a suprise podium finisher - hey, it's called the longshots section for a reason, right?
- Thomas DeGendt or Marco Marcato are my ultra-longshot...i love the way Vaconsoleil races and they've been solid top 20 riders in several races this season, including DeGendt's 3rd place from the break in Stage 4 of Paris Nice.

So, who's the final podium? Well, it's always a guessing game so my guesses are
1. Thor Husovd
2. Phillippe Gilbert
3. Oscar Freire
4. Peter Sagan
5. Thomas DeGendt

we'll know in a couple of hours!

February 15, 2011

Sterling Spring Schedule of Clinics

Greetings Nor Cal Racers!

The season is in full swing, but the learning never ends. After a fun and successful Early Bird series we are pleased to bring forward our Spring Camps and Clinics. We don't do a lot of them, but the ones we do, we do very well and we'd love to have you join us at any of our Spring events, or contact us to schedule a custom program for your club or team. Additional info at or call 408.891.3462. Coming up this Spring:

Advanced Racing Clinic - March 20th
Larry Nolan dropped a note about this one last week...but it's worth a second look. We're putting you in the mouth of the fire hose, behind the moto, in the gutter and on camera working through the nuances of race speed tactics and skills. Look for Advanced Racing School page on Facebook to see pictures and video from our first camp - and we've brought the second one up to 11!

Climbing & Descending Clinic Level 1 - March 26th
The basics are essential. Time and again the basics of safe and fast descending are mentioned as THE biggest limiter athlete’s face, with efficient climbing a close second. No problem...we've got a proven process that takes you from low speed skill competence to real world practice mastering the art and science of fast!

SuperCamp - May 17-22nd
The big show! We're doing a spectacular 6-day training camp that includes a 120 mile ride down Highway 1 from Monterey to Morro Bay, an estate house in Solvang repleat with staff chef, mechanic, and evening presentations from top physiologists Dr Stacy Sims and Dr Stephen Cheung, professional feedback from elite coaches Matt McNamara and Andres Angulo, and mile after mile of learning alongside 3x Olympian Eric Wolhberg. To up the ante even more….you can enter to WIN your trip to camp by simply registering for a FREE account on Want more info? Drop us a line -

January 25, 2011

Panache Racing!

The new racing schedule has just been published and you are riding a wave of excitement at the coming season. A race every weekend and each more intriguing than the previous, but how do you set your goals and expectations accordingly?

OK, it’s not exactly spring in most areas of the world, so the idea of a “Spring Schedule” may be a bit of a stretch, but there is likely a schedule of events set to commence sometime in the near future and you’d like to be ready right?

Winter Preparation Creates Spring Expectations
The first thing to recognize when you start to dream about that perfect season is that it is built on the back of a winter’s worth of work. Time and again racers can be heard talking about “racing their way into fitness.” This is an amusing approach that likely plateaus their development and stagnates their season in one fell swoop. This is because without the requisite aerobic development, but with heavy dosing of intensity early on, they are much more susceptible to burnout, injury, and lackluster motivation as the season starts to get up to speed.

Instead, commit yourself to being really and truly prepared for this season by starting (or hopefully continuing) the foundational work that will allow you to reach a peak of fitness. If you’ve read my other articles, you know that I am not advocating huge amounts of LSD training or weeks on end of small ring riding – instead I tend to focus my athletes on quality workouts that are sub-threshold and highly focused. If you have more than 12 or 14 hours per week to train, then by all means give yourself plenty of long, free form rides…they really do help, but for the 8-12 hour per week athlete a steady diet of tempo and circa-threshold level workouts will more than fit the bill

Those First Races
With a strong fitness foundation you can make race plans with more confidence. Don’t look at every race as being relatively the same, instead get to know the courses and events that suit your early season goals and plan accordingly. Early season races should include a healthy dose of practice. Work on moving around easily, cornering safely and getting back in the flow of the field. If you’ve recently upgraded, don’t be afraid to work your way around the group and get acquainted. Ideally you’ll have a few teammates to help you settle in and work with. If you’ve planned your training well you should be well prepared for any early season race you choose and that is, to my thinking, the larger picture of spring racing. Don’t sign up until you are ready to race and make a difference. Don’t race until you can show some panache!

Race With Panache!
Panache. I love the word. It sounds regal and visceral in the same breath. Panache is that certain way of racing personified by the likes of Jens Voigt and Bernard Hinault. Think Claudio “Il Diablo” Chiappucci’s awesome all-day solo breakaway to Sestriere in the 1992 Tour despite being one of the marked favorites. It is throwing caution to the wind at every opportunity, going for the insanely long breakaway or just hammering away at the front mile after mile because it feels good and delivers some pain to your rivals. Panache is the lost art of racing.

Too often amateur racing is about as thrilling as watching paint dry. The fields roll around and kill any attack, keep the pace modest and arrive at the finish with fresh legs and aggressive hearts – a sure recipe for field sprint disaster. As a coach I watch a lot of races at every level and I want to see riders testing their limits, and those of their competitors. I want to see that fourth and fifth attack by a guy until he gets away – even if he comes back in a lap and it was all for naught. It’s spring racing – be fearless, be the one to sell it all out in the pursuit of something other than a predictable sprint finish. That’s Panache!

The first races of the season are likely right around the corner and you are probably itching to get after it. Before you send in that registration, take a moment to consider just what it is that you are hoping to accomplish. Short of winning there are a number of other important goals that can be had at early season races. From learning the courses and competitors, to testing your fitness and race panache, make this the year that you take your racing to a new level. Challenge yourself to get dropped. Race without fear and see what happens. Be the racer who keeps drilling it. Race with PANACHE!