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...