199 Laps (pt5)

Bradley Wiggins was reported earlier today as competing in two track events at Glasgow’s Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This later changed to just one event, the Team Pursuit with no Individual Pursuit planned for the former Tour champion. What are we to make of this decision, is he shunning his old friend, I doubt it, he has other plans, it’s about time for a bit more wild speculation to add to my previous beardy ideas….

After many reports of seeing Brad training on a GB pursuit bike since his public exclusion from the Sky Tour de France team, I had perhaps incorrectly assumed he was out to prove something with a world standard pursuit ride at Glasgow. I’d have no doubt that if he put his mind to it, Wiggins could certainly still record such a time, but that would involved much shorter & harder training sessions, which would likely have a detrimental effect on his time trial form for the rest of 2014.

I think we’ll see him go on to attempt an Hour Record ride in a short space of time after Glasgow, obviously that period of time will depend on form, I doubt even he knows. The current revised UCI Hour Record ride is within relatively easy reach of a rider such as Wiggins, if you can complete 199 laps within the Hour, or 49.75km, you’ve got it, all on a UCI regulation conforming pursuit bike. Exactly like the one he’s been doing Team Pursuit efforts on, which require high power output & fast recovery, also ideal for muscle adaptation for rattling out a high power output for an hour on the bankings.

It all makes sense now, taking time out for pursuit training would have made a bigger dent in his road season, ditching that one event complements his other goals, such as Worlds TT & the Hour Record. The beauty of the Hour Record, is that he can pick & choose the date when he’s in form & attempt to knock it out of the park for a Cancellara attempt. Whoever goes first will get it, but whoever goes second is under a much greater amount of stress. These guys can’t really fail to ride 50km in an hour, but every km above that gets harder & harder, the advantage is in going first. Time is slowly running out to become that first rider with others expressing interest.

Having looked at the long-range weather forecast, there may be a chance of low temperatures & rain on the date of the time trial in Glasgow. So to add to the speculation which always surrounds Bradley these days, I’d suggest that he may still start, but it’ll depend on the weather. Normally he probably wouldn’t be bothered, but if he’s on a specific plan to a specific goal, then a cold ride like that could set him back, it’s better to train by yourself than to risk illness.

A possible time trial victory in Glasgow, closely followed by an Hour Record ride, set against an underperforming Sky team at the Tour de France is a good marketing opportunity for a UK rider attempting to raise their public profile. Watch this space & we’ll probably only hear a week before he’s booked the London Velodrome for his ride.

Previous Outrageous Hour Record Speculation below:

 

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It’s Not Over Yet

Nibali looks very much the superior rider on all terrains in this years Tour, what other absent riders may have done is interesting, but ultimately inconsequential. Nibali has arguably avoided similar downfalls by being consistently well placed & skilled, which is what sets racing apart from riders who attain great watts per kg in a lab, you need to have the full package to be a Grand Tour winner. But can he be caught in the final week, where have his major gains been accrued & could a minor mishap turn this Tour on its head?

Stats

We’ll look at the top 5 riders currently in the General Classification, during stage 15 to Nîmes & where they lost time on Nibali.

Valverde (@4:37): 2:26 lost in mountains (53% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 2s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 8: (mountains) : 16s
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 20s
  • Stage 13 (mountains) :50s
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 60s loss

Bardet (@4:50): 2:39 lost in mountains (55% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 2s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 8 (mountains) : 28s loss
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 22s loss
  • Stage 13 (mountains) :1:23 loss
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 26s loss

Pinot (@5:06): 1:42 lost in mountains (33% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 16s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 6 (flat) : 59s loss
  • Stage 8 (mountains) : 8s loss
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 15s loss
  • Stage 13 (mountains) : 53s loss
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 26s loss

Van Garderen (@5:49): 2:35 lost in mountains (42% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 2s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 7  (flat) : 1:03 loss
  • Stage 8 (mountains) : 20s loss
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 22s loss
  • Stage 13 (mountains) : 1:23 loss
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 30s loss

As you can see, Pinot is the next best performer in the mountains behind Nibali, had he not lost that 53 seconds on stage 6 he would be in 2nd position overall. That small gap of 16s between himself & Bardet, based on mountain form as shown above is likely to get wiped away in the Pyrenees.

The Gist Of It

We have three mountain stages left in the Pyrenees, followed by a flat stage then a 54km individual time trial, before the procession on the Champs-Élysées. It may look like Nibali is incredibly dominant, but the time gaps in the mountains have been very small for the top five, compared to recent Tours. The bulk of the time was taken on the cobbled stage, where Nibali demonstrated his superior bike handling skills & team support. Into the 3rd week of this Tour & having held the yellow jersey for so long, Astana will now be suffering. Any one of those top five riders could launch an assault, or another team could cause mayhem chasing a stage win, as Garmin showed us last year, putting all sorts of riders & domestiques into difficulty.

There really is still everything to play for, the advantage Nibali has in the mountains isn’t all that large based on the time he’s been able to take from the other, illness, a crash or a bad day could turn everything around. This Tour isn’t nearlyover, we’re used to seeing the yellow jersey crush everybody & take huge time in the mountains, that’s not happened this year. If things turn around we could see a very interesting & exciting final time trial in Périgueux on Saturday.

 

 

 

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More Than Marginal

Nobody can deny that Team Sky has had a substantial effect on the pro peloton since it appeared in 2010. After a shaky start, it had a major influence in making the attention to tiny details acceptable in the culture of pro cycling, which may not produce a flamboyant spectacle, but has proved very successful in getting results. Although not many of their innovations are particularly groundbreaking in themselves, the culture of the ‘Accumulation of Marginal Gains’, (multiple small gains leading to one large gain) has now been widely accepted in a sport which did many things along the line of established tradition.

No More Margins?

There were obviously plenty of riders & teams implementing small improvements long before Sky, but having the freedom to develop those innovations was likely met with the “we’ve always done it this way ” mentality. It now seems that any further technical improvements are extremely marginal with current technology & budgets, alongside the fact that everybody else is doing it now, suddenly Sky don’t look so special anymore. So where do the teams go from here to gain a further legal advantage over their rivals? (a Team Sky motorbike is not acceptable)

With four years of marginal gains in the peloton, it looks like we’ve eventually come to a point where those gains are so small, that vast sums could be spent on virtually unmeasurable improvements. This isn’t a smart use of a team budget, when they’ve successfully ‘fixed’ most of the big things & have left themselves with the worthless scraps to attempt to improve upon. The philosophy appears to have been quite simple, produce more watts in the critical situations, or reduce the wattage required in that critical situation in order to win races. Which is why Sky’s 2012 & 2013 Tour victories have appeared more clinical & effective, than overflowing with panache.

It may appear like I’m having a go here, I’m certainly not, Sky’s management noticed a gap in the market, they saw an opportunity to exploit that gap until it closed. The gap in 2014 looks to be on shaky ground, in 2015 they’ll almost certainly not win a grand tour with this philosophy alone. The other teams & riders have taken their opportunities & replicated Sky’s ‘Marginal Gains’ philosophy, it looks like we’re back to pretty close to a level playing field & it’s now up to Sky to decide how to get back on top.

Tactics

Ensuring that your team leader produces more watts/kg than the next guy on mountains  & more watts/drag in the time trials works when you have a significant advantage on the competition. When things are more level, it either takes a bigger margin in watts, weight, or drag to maintain your advantage. I’ve covered the weight issue in Skinnyfixation & Weight a Minute, we know that the bike weight cannot go below 6.8kg (the UCI know about the ice-cube trick, fill the seat tube with ice cubes for weigh-in & let the melted water drain out the bottom bracket hole before the hills).

It looks like it’s perhaps time for a team like Sky to attempt to deal with more with the uncontrollable, up to this point their tactics have been relatively simple, making their riders & equipment better than the others at the critical points in a race. The groundwork had been planned & implemented in the years & months prior to that point in time, but as a result, with riders & staff moving to other teams, those advances are now common knowledge amongst the peloton. Intricate tactics were not really required when your rider could out-climb & out-timetrial the opposition in a stage race. If you could control the race until your main focus, where you knew your team leader had an advantage, then you would win. As we’ve seen a few times recently, when things go slightly wrong, they go dramatically wrong, on two occasions Sky have lost their leader in the Tour de France due to a crash, in 2011 & 2014. It’s still to be seen if their backup rider Richie Porte can fill that gap with Chris Froome missing from the 2014 Tour. As I’ve said before, he may struggle to ride consecutive days with the best, drop Nibali on a climb, or take any deficit back in a time trial, we see that Sky’s effective but simple plan no longer functions if you don’t have the best rider.

I don’t doubt Sky knew their advantage was going to diminish sooner or later , it was inevitably going to happen at some point. The success of Sky meant that the other teams had to adopt Sky’s practices & match or excel them, so things will be very interesting if Sky now deviate to a goal of tactical superiority. I’m hoping that we’re going to see Sky trying a few things, regardless of the consequences, in order to test new tactics while gathering their much valuable data. A combination of continued marginal gain philosophy & advanced tactics are the only way it’s possible for Sky to consider winning the Tour in the future. They’ve never hired what would be considered the best stage racers in the world, but they have created them producing an incredible amount of success. The margins are now smaller, controlling the uncontrollable is now where things have to go.

The Gist Of It

The next couple of years will either be very interesting & experimental, failing that we’ll simply see all the teams catching up. For a team like Sky, allowing this to happen is unlikely, they seem to always be pushing, but it’s possible that the current direction of that push is severely limited. The marginal gains philosophy will continue, but possibly coupled with more tactical ways of beating superior riders from other teams.

Perhaps this is more of a wish than reality, I’d love to see Sky’s support riders go out & race, rather than support their team leaders on most occasions. Riders like Geraint Thomas, who have reputedly signed another deal need to given some scope to leave their leaders side & go for the win. This blog was written at the first rest day of the 2014 Tour, where the next few days are crunch time for Porte in the GC race, so we may still see Thomas, Kiryienka, Nieve, Porte & the others going for stages. Wouldn’t that be nice, to see some panache, maybe make some mistakes, but seeing riders of this quality actually racing rather than supporting is what I look forward to. Lets race.

 

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Tour 2014: Yorkshire

An incredible & eventful couple of days in Yorkshire, with both stages featuring plenty of action & literally millions of roadside fans. The Tour’s main contenders have emerged at this early stage, with one of the top sprinters lost & one of the GC favourites losing nearly 15 minutes.

Stage 1: ‘The Jensy’ went on the attack, bluffing his breakaway companions that he was just going for a sprint, he took that & just carried on. The others were never to see him until he was eventually reeled in by a charging peloton led by the sprinters teams. The final incline nearly put a spanner in the works with Cancellara attacking & only getting caught in the last 300m, making the rookie error of sprinting on the hoods, tut tut Fabs. But the main drama was still to come, local hero Cav (by means of his mum) was boxed in while trying to stay on Sagan’s wheel. Rather than backing off, he tried to shift Gerrans, by making contact using his head, Gerrans had nowhere to go & in turn leaned on Coquard, taking both Cav & Gerrans down. It looked like a broken collarbone for Cav, but turned out to be a dislocated shoulder, potentially a longer healing process due to possible ligament damage. We later found out that alongside being unable to continue in the race, Cav may be struggling to race much more this season & has already indicated he wont be in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games. Kittel won the stage, with surprise ‘sprinter’ Froome in 6th, keeping out of trouble we assume.

  • Big Loser: Mark Cavendish
  • Big Winner: Marcel Kittel

Stage 2: A very tough parcour awaited the riders, touted as being similar to Liege Bastogne Liege. The obligatory break of seven formed quickly, as the race progressed & the peloton’s speed increased, the sprinters started exiting the back of the bunch, including yellow jersey Kittel. We saw a tongue lashing attack from Voeckler, then later on Rolland (obviously targetting the polka dot jersey later on), but the main GC favourites then ripped the race apart in the finale, with Chris Froome having a go. Sagan was there too, but didn’t race as well as he’s capable, allowing Nibali to get away & take the stage by two seconds. Unfortunately for Nibali, he’s now got the responsibility of defending the jersey for the next few days, which will take some effort from his team, the Sky & Tinkov-Saxo riders will benefit from this, less fatigue & less pressure. The big loser today is Joaquim Rodriguez, a pre-Tour podium contender, but having lost over 14 minutes, he’ll now be hunting stages.

  • Big Winners: Froome & Contador (with their rival defending the jersey)
  • Big Loser: Joaquim Rodriguez

Spokey Dokey League

This is the important bit, we have 29 teams entered, with some incredibly bizaree names, so should be good for bragging rights. Anybody who’s picked Cav or Rodriguez will be very dissapointed, a big loss to any teams. HERE

After the first two stages BMFW’s ‘I’d Turn For Tom’ team has 673 points, quite far ahead of 2nd place Mike Hewison’s ‘It’s a Piti About Velverde’ team with 512 points. Everybody else is pretty close for now, we’ll have another look in a few days.

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Skinnyfixation

A significant number of high-profile riders have been reported ill in 2014, both before & during events. This seems to have been occurring more often in the build-up to the Tour de France, with several riders dropping out of events recently. Could this poor health be a result of the extremely low body fat percentages riders are now attempting to reach before the primary target of the year? Are we on the verge of another big problem in the sport, with the Tour starting tomorrow, may some riders have developed eating disorders as a result of pressure from themselves or others to gain an unhealthy performance advantage?

Percentages

Fat is required to keep us healthy, we all need some reserves, some have lots, some seem able to keep very little, but pro riders often look like they’re running dangerously low these days. We don’t have a recommended average body fat percentage figures for professional riders, although it’s been reported that pro men have been recorded well below 6%. ‘Essential Fat’ is 3% to 5% for men & 8% to 12% for women, so running near this without proper supervision is likely very unwise & particularly unhealthy.

It has to be noted that these riders don’t have to operate in the normal world that most of us inhabit, traveling to work on the bus & train around the general public with their coughs & colds. You & me would find it very hard to function at this kind of fat level, it’s not conducive to normal life & health. I have to admit, that in the distant past I too had developed a bit of interest in my weight, while I was at a point I was racing several times a week & getting obsessive with my training. At the time I’d probably not think/admit that it had got to a problematic level, but I was getting regular fat skin fold measurements & weighing myself daily, while marking it in the training diary. I managed to ‘survive’ for approximately 2 years at a level below around 8%, dropping right down to nearly 5% at one point. during this period I did get some good results, but I suspect my low body fat percentage contributed to a combination of health problems, mostly the ease by which I was able to contract colds & other illnesses, I got very run down & had the Epstein-Barr virus, all too common with underweight cyclists. It wasn’t a healthy or sustainable way to live, but at the time it seemed the ‘normal’ thing to do with those I was spending time with, who were all similar racing obsessives, caught in the same bubble.

Having a low fat percentage makes us look ‘ripped’, it intimidates our rivals & makes us look more ‘pro’. But what we don’t consider is that the professional riders who can stay healthy at very low fat levels are monitored by their teams physicians & coaches. They also don’t have to go to work 9 to 5. Everybody probably has a healthy range where they can fight off coughs, colds & other more serious illnesses, but without experiencing these negative effects, we don’t know where that line is drawn with each individuals physiology. Percentages are irrelevant, the warning signs are always there, but it is incredibly hard to discount them when riding a bike fast is really all you’re bothered about.

Carlos

Lets take Carlos Betancur as an example. The recent information regarding Colombian climber Carlos Betancur’s weight brings back memories of Jan Ullrich’s expansive winter issues. Betancur’s weight gain is in no way similar to Ullrich’s, it’s very mild by comparison, but the Colombian has managed to put on 6kg over the winter, when you consider his race weight is 56kg, that’s quite a large percentage increase (although he has just managed to win a stage Haut Var). At 62kg (about 9stone 10pounds) & 167cm (about 5’6″) tall, Betancur would still be considered quite a little chap in normal society.

If we assume that he was at least 8% fat percentage, then at his 56kg race weight, he was carrying about 4.5kg of fat. So we can deduce that his 62kg weight increase resulted in a fat percentage of about 20%. As a comparison, for this piece I actually reverted to the long forgotten past & checked my own fat percentage using one of those fat-guessing bathroom scales, it said 14%. I’m a Sunday cyclist these days, fit enough for club rides but not for racing, I’d suggest that Carlos has indeed let himself go a bit if he’s fatter than a chopper like me.

This may not be the whole truth here of course, we’ve no idea if this is all fat that he’s gained, some could be muscle, he may have been doing some weights over the winter break. The rider in question has other issues, so the weight gain could be linked to problems back home in Colombia, but is still useful as an example.

Why they do it

If we take things on a simple watts per kg basis, we can see some examples of the performance advantages riders can get running at very low body fat percentages, while gambling with taking weeks of with illness & perhaps missing the their target events.

We can take our Carlos Betancur example again. At 56kg & a perceived 8% body fat, we deduce that he carries 4.5kg of fat. If we take Carlos’ fat percentage down to 5%, his total weight will be 54.2kg. If we then add some W/kg values we see where the gains are made. From the Andrew Coggan chart, an international pro has a functional threshold ranging from 5.69W/kg to 6.4W/kg. So if Carlos (for example) was at the bottom of this range & at 8% body fat, he would be expected to produce 319 Watts at threshold. If he managed to reduce his body fat percentage to 5%, his W/kg would increase from 5.69 to 5.9W/kg. What this means is that the weakest of the international pro’s can gamble with their health to elevate themselves from somebody struggling to maintain a contract, to a rider who is around a mid-level international pro & should be much more employable. The danger is that it’s likely only at the higher end where the pro riders have the medical support which can allow them to make such changes to their bodies, without the expected detrimental effects of their physical condition. Others may be making bad decisions in order to reach the pro level, without any medical support.

The Gist Of It

Losing weight for the hobby cyclist or weekend warrior is most likely always possible, but it’s a very different case for elite level riders, who could already be teetering on the edge of health problems, while being in the form of their lives.

An 85kg club rider who reduces his fat percentage from 20% to a reasonable & healthy 15%, would save the weight of 6.8kg, an important number because it’s the UCI’s minimum bike weight. By eating a bit better, riding your bike more & cutting down on beer & fizzy drinks you could shed the weight of an entire bike! So getting rid of that belly or bum is a big bonus to riding a bike for most people.

For elite riders, losing some weight may result in an increased risk of illness, meaning that all that training could be wasted by losing a big chunk of the season. If you’re racing in the UK, getting to dangerous fat levels is not only unwise, it’s also not going to benefit you as much as it would if you were racing up 15km long Alpine Cols. We have to deal with bad weather, especially in Scotland, leave the dangerous fat levels to the continental pro’s, racing in temperatures above 25°C & monitored by trained medical staff. If you try to race here at ridiculous fat percentages, you’ll probably have to wear extra clothing to just keep warm most of the year, best to keep that safety buffer in natures choice, a healthy layer of fat.

An unhealthy obsession about weight can develop into an eating disorder, this can happen to anyone, not just the to the media’s common target of teenage girls. Athletes can can encounter this problem too for an entirely different reason, performance, not body image. Stay healthy, stay lean, but let your body find its own level by eating a healthy balanced diet while training, if you go overboard on weight reduction, you may get more than you bargained for. Some natural weight reduction advice that anybody can do, as told to me by a former coach, “make sure you have a thorough visit to the toilet before every race”.

 

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