Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What I’ve Learned in 45 Years of Bike Racing

By PCG Elite Coach Bill Brunner

What I’ve learned in 45 years of bike racing is everything, or at least everything important.  Certainly, I learned how to ride a bike, train properly, and eat well…all the obvious things that come from being around the sport for so long.  What about the things we can’t measure with a power meter or heart rate monitor?  There is no function in WKO4 to calculate the willingness to suffer, the perseverance not to quit, the accountability to oneself and one’s teammates, or the balance of risk and reward.

How many times have you seen the strongest or fastest rider not perform the way you had expected?  Something prevents them from taking their right to win.  Many would say that these traits are inherent in the individual.  I would argue that these characteristics can be acquired though “smart work.”  I have made nearly every mistake that can be made, some many times over.  Although I had some wonderful mentors and coaches over the years, most of what I learned was from trial and error.  Today, athletes have the opportunity to interact directly with professional coaches, and avoid many of the time-consuming setbacks of approaching training and racing by the “chamois of their bibs.”

My bike displays an orange dragon on the head tube to encourage me to persevere.  A dragon never quits.  There is a balance as to whether you quit a race after being dropped, or continue somewhat aimlessly to get lapped and pulled.  Leaving a race early is not quitting.  Giving up on the last 10 seconds of suffering to keep you in touch with the field, and in the race for one more lap, that’s quitting.  Success in this sport is built on small successes.  Finishing the group ride with the front group, and not getting dropped in the local race and all the way up, you will reach your personal goals.

Here are the top nine items that, in my experience, will make you a better bike rider:
·         Thank everyone. You never know when you will need some food or a replacement tube.
·         Plan everything. Plan your year, your month, your ride, your race.  Write it down, post to Training Peaks, whatever works for you.
·         Stay clean. Inside and out. Have the cleanest bike.
·         No excuses.
·         Eat, drink, and be faster. This is often overlooked by athletes.  What and when you eat on and off the bike can make a huge difference in your performance.
·         Be smarter than you are stronger.
·         You worked for it, you deserve it, take it.
·         Training starts 9 months ago.
·         Seek help.  Find a team member, or local rider, who will help you avoid mistakes.  Join a team that focuses on development.  Work with a coach.

As the director of the Montclair Bikery Development team, I ask prospective athletes, “Are you sure you want to be a bike racer?  We play in the rain.  We fall sometimes.  It hurts most of the time.  And even the best rarely win.  This I will tell you. You will be a better rider, student, and person for your efforts.”

Friday, November 11, 2016

PCG Team Coaching Case Study: How PCG Can Help Your Team

By Peaks Coaching Group Master/Elite Coach Earl Zimmermann

            Racing your bike is a blast especially on a team: weekend team rides, racing together, training with others instead of just by yourself.  Sounds great!  If it only worked that way in real life.  What really happens is that sometimes teammates won’t join a team ride because it doesn’t follow their coach’s planned workout for them.  Then due to work/life schedules you may train solo, but are you sure you are spending enough time in each zone to improve race fitness?  Ultimately, the race strategy doesn’t go as planned, with only one or two finishing the race in the top 10.  What’s the alternative?  Having a team coach. A team coach can make a huge impact on increasing the success of the entire team.

For the past three years, I’ve coached a team out of Northern California while living in Seattle.  Yes, remote coaching does work.  Prior to team coaching, these guys had been through it all.  Constantly training too hard thinking if their legs didn’t hurt after a workout they didn’t train properly.  This led to legs blowing up during a race and having to be off the bike.  Letting race anxiety get the better of them by putting out their best numbers in the first 20 minutes, and not having any legs to contest the finish.  Most experienced some type of cramping while racing, but most of the time not while training.  By the second year of team coaching, they were firing on all cylinders with more teammates on the podium, winning Best All-around Team Cat 4 35+, and this year they won the Red Kite Ominum Top Team award!

            There were some challenges during the first 90 days of team coaching adapting to a “different” way of training.  We were working with a core group of six, and sometimes up to 10 athletes.  Each of them use a Training Peaks Premium account, receiving four key workouts per week to develop specific physiological systems.  With their first race in February, I added more intensity during the winter training phase, reducing the frequency of long base miles.  We discussed how and why they could move a workout during the week to fit their life commitments.  At first, it was hard for some of them to really do a recovery workout, while others found it difficult to stay in Vo2 max for at least 3 minutes.  Using Training Peaks turned out to be a better tool than expected, as the teammates at the extreme ends of training and racing could see the charts in the Dashboard showing them what was limiting them from making progress.  Now the whole team is doing similar workouts during the week, and the team rides on the weekend are more beneficial for everyone.

For the monthly videoconference calls, the team contributes to the agenda.  We allow time to address their immediate concerns, then move on to cover the coach’s topics.  Skype allows up to 10 users at a time, with the ability of sharing the coach’s screen with the group.  We watch race videos together, so not only could we discuss what was happening during the race, we could also see if one member was really staying out of the wind.  Then we review the race file to see who was using more matches chasing surges than others.  Watching the videos together also allows the coach to suggest proper cornering techniques to maintain speed through the turn, and to see them on their bikes while racing.  Watching the video can lead to bike fits to eliminate leg cramps and other posture issues.  For some, the saddle was too high, while for others the stem was too long.  These corrections stopped the leg cramping.  We spend time discussing various charts in Training Peak’s Dashboard and drilling down into workout and race files.  This makes a huge difference in their understanding as to why they were doing the workouts.

Everyone likes competing against others on Strava.  In the past, teammates were very competitive to get Strava segments, or KOM, and get bragging rights.  These “wins” during training didn’t always transfer very well to races.  Now it’s a tool to monitor one’s progress.

As everyone’s fitness improved, the level of competition rose to new heights during the team rides, with more teammates contesting at the sprint zone.  Everyone went into the team camp feeling strong, and these guys didn’t hold back.  Over the years, the team camp has now grown to 20 teammates, which are broken up into three separate groups.  This allows athletes to push themselves and test their limits.  Rather than some teammates getting frustrated from not being able to stay with the lead group, the bond amongst the teammates grew.  Each of them really got to know their teammates strengths and weaknesses on various terrain:  the longer climbs, the rollers, and the flats.  This proved beneficial in developing team strategies during the race season.  The team was coming together in perfect time for the spring races.

The strategy was laid out for the first few races, select a protected rider, and have multiple teammates covering any breaks.  A very common race strategy that is not always easy to pull off.  Teammates with a few seasons in their legs were now getting on the podium.  Others with less racing experience and mind were doing awesome, placing in the top 10, and just missing out of a podium.  The team was learning how different racing in the top 10, and being in the proper position to sprint for the finish can be.  These were perfect topics for the team call, along with watching the race video.  After just a few more races, everything fell into place.  Teammates were less distracted by outside influence, gained more confidence in their racing skills, and dealing with the chaos during the final kilometer.  By mid season, there were numerous mark riders.  The competition didn’t know whom to cover because they had so many riders that could contest the win.

Having a team coach allowed for each member to gain their own strength and speed, but also allowed them to truly be part of the team, all reaching for the same goal.  A team coach coaches each athlete, while coaching them all in how to be a team, race like a team, and most importantly win as a team.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Patterns of Maintenance Changing as Cyclists Move Indoors

By PCG Associate Coach, Rachel Zambrano

With winter coming in the northern hemisphere, many of us are driven inside to ride on our trainers.  However, with the increase in computer and app based programs to keep trainer time interesting, more and more athletes are choosing to remain indoors even when the weather is nice.  While I don’t have the statistics to support it, I suspect that the demographic of our sport has shifted.  The same applications that were meant to keep hard core athletes from losing their minds, when riding outside wasn’t an option, have opened the door to athletes that were not otherwise able to enter the sport.  This includes parents with limited childcare options, working adults with complicated work schedules that rarely see daylight, or even students that want to participate in sports not available from the schools that they attend.  The globalization and socialization of our sport, means that you can ride on a trainer, via Zwift or similar platforms, with people from eight or more different time zones, at the same time, or suffer with others during the Tour of Sufferlandria from The Sufferfest every spring.  The possibilities are limitless, and the world has become a smaller place as we connect with athletes we can identify with half a world away in real time.  But as we move indoors, our bikes are developing new patterns of use and abuse, and we need to recognize that.  Over the past year, I’ve baffled my local bike shop twice with a front brake that has seized up. 

Pssssssttt….  Here’s the gross part:   I did it with sweat.


Yeah, I know - nothing new.  We’ve all seen the pictures of rusted out base bars and head tubes due to athlete sweat.  It’s toxic.  That acid they used in the Alien movies to eat through just about everything?  They got it from us.  What is new and needs to be addressed is where our bikes are getting destroyed.

Let’s start with the front brake…  My entire front brake was seized up - mainly from the collection of sweat that was allowed to dry, over, and over again.  Pretty soon the spring and the moving parts could no longer spring or move anymore.  Since it wasn’t something the shop was used to seeing, the next logical step was to replace the brake.  I’m stubborn, AND cheap: I took the brake off, took it apart, and since nothing was rusted beyond repair, I was able to clean everything up, re-lubricate moving parts, and rebuild it.  I put the brake back on and *voila* just like new.  Kind of.

I put out a post on social media when I realized that what I was seeing was a new pattern of destruction, and quite a few pictures and stories started coming back.

Rear Brakes

Second verse, same as the first.  This is worse if you have rear v-brakes, mounted just behind the bottom bracket.  Again, cotton swabs and chain oil help, but if the brake is bad, you’ll need to remove it to clean hard to reach areas.

Pedals and Shoes

With the exception of riding in a rainstorm, rarely do you see shoes full of water when riding outside.  Inside, it’s an entirely different story.  I recently stripped part of the sole of a pair of cycling shoes while attempting to the replace the cleats.  Sweat had rusted the cleat bolts into the nut that was molded to the sole of the shoe.  Quite an expensive mistake.  When looking at the pedals, they can get quite sticky, and the cleat release becomes stubborn.  In this case, I was able to work the screws and use some light chain lube to get everything moving the way it should, but in the future, I’ll be paying closer attention to those details.

Headsets and Stem

These are the normal casualties of war.  However, a problem elsewhere indicates you need to check these as well.  Make sure you take the bar tape off every year and replace it; every six months if you’re a high volume cyclist.  Check the headset every few months, and make sure you don’t see any evidence of rust.  You’ll know if sweat is collecting inside that area if you see it - replace and grease before you put everything back together.

Front Hubs

While everything should be sealed, sweat eats everything and gets into everything.  When it gets into moving parts repeatedly and dries, and the front wheel doesn’t go anywhere but the pain cave, you can expect that front hub to feel pretty awful during actual movement.  Cotton swabs moistened with chain oil can help to remove grime that collects here, but make sure no cotton gets left behind.

Bottom Bracket

This is also supposed to be sealed, but repeated applications of sweat, allowed to dry, will cause problems to develop here too.

Cables and Cable Housing

Think of this as the gutter lines for your bike - cables can wick sweat in and start corroding those all-important brake or derailleur cables.  The worst part is, you can’t see it or feel it until you take the bike outside and need those cables.  I’ve gotten into the habit of adding a bit of grease at either end of the cable housing when I’m running new cables, and occasionally using a light chain lube on the cables then working them through to prevent this, but if you’re a heavy sweater, this is something you’ll need to address.  You may need to run new cables every few months - but safety is something that should always come first.

Moral of the story? Indoor training means more sweat on the bike, more sweat on the bike means more destruction.  Clean the bike.  Clean it.  And did I mention CLEAN THE BIKE?  Five extra minutes after every training session can prevent expensive repairs.

My favorite tools for cleaning the bike happened by accident: baby wipes and tooth picks.    After getting two minions out of diapers (three years ago), my house had an overabundance of baby wipes.  So what do we do with all those baby wipes?  I put them in my ever-growing tool kit for bicycle maintenance.  If you decide to go the baby wipe route, you’ll want to make sure they’re the lint free version so they don’t leave cotton in moving parts (bad ju-ju).  The toothpicks work very well for hard to reach areas when grit and grime gets in and you can’t reach it, but they’re soft enough that you don’t scratch the paint or risk doing damage.

So here’s my personal plug for taking care of your bike: Start getting personal with your bike.  Get intimate.  Learn how your bike fits together and where the sweat hides.  You’ll be surprised to find out just how many places the bike can be damaged by sweat.  Watch a lot of YouTube videos and read the manual on your bike.  Start taking the components off and cleaning them, then put them back on.  (Pro tip: take pictures every step of the way - even if you think you can remember how that part goes or if you’ve done it before - if a screw falls out you’ll want to know exactly where it went.)  If the parts need cleaning bad enough that they might need to be replaced, you can’t usually mess things up badly enough that the bike shop can’t fix them.  In the process, you learn.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve shown up (with breakfast tacos or coffee) when the shop opens with a bike that needs a derailleur adjusted, a chain fitted, or a bottom bracket pressed in, when I haven’t had the tools or the know-how.  Learn the names of the people behind the service and repair counter, and get to know them.  They’ll be your biggest advocates and teach you the tricks to bicycle maintenance you won’t find on the internet or in a book or manual.  I’m happy to pay for service and parts just so that they’ll teach me.  The result is that I can handle most mechanical problems when I’m away from the shop, and don’t have to be without a bike for long very often.

In closing - clean and maintain your bike.  There are safety issues that can arise indoors that can surprise you when you go outside, but a clean and maintained bike is also less expensive in the long run.

photos are courtesy of Rachel Zambrano, Jim Williams, and Meredith Gardner