Sunday, April 8, 2012

CEO Challenge - Power Review with George Hincapie

By Hunter Allen, as seen in   

Last fall, I enjoyed great riding and attend quite a few camps with many outstanding athletes and was able to spend some quality time coaching and riding which is always fun! I have more power data than I can analyze, and pretty often I’ll get some super exciting data that I haven’t seen before. This fall, it was George Hincapie’s SRM data from his stellar 2011 season and he had quite the stand-out year. Many of the tactics and strategies that he was able to employ successfully this year are things that each of us can use in our own racing or riding. 

One of the camps that I coached at was the CEO Cycling Challenge event in Greenville, South Carolina which is the home to George Hincapie and Hincapie Sportswear. George has been a part of the CEO Cycling Challenge event for some time now and for the attendees it’s a great opportunity for them to spend some time riding with George, asking racing questions and enjoying the excellent cycling in Greenville. At the camp, Quarq power meters were kind enough to supply the CEO’s with demo power meters and we ran the CEO’s through our normal testing protocols of 5 second, 1 minute, 5 minute and 20 minute tests, in order to figure out their FTP and Power Profiles. This was a great way to introduce the CEO’s to power training and also provide some great comparisons to themselves and to “Big George’s” numbers. Everyone was feeling good about their numbers until George was kind enough to share all of his data with us and we all saw just how incredible a rider he continues to be. With the amazing data set at my fingertips, I immediately went straight to his Tour of Flanders file to see how difficult it was to place 6th in an event as hard as Flanders. 

Power Training

The demands of the Tour of Flanders are absolutely astounding and there is no doubt why this is considered one of the hardest one day races in the world. In the 160 mile race, George did 6123 kiloJoules of work which is one of the highest expenditure of kJ’s that I have ever seen. Since 1kJ is roughly equal to 1kCal, then George burned over 6100 calories during the race, which is more than any stage in the Tour de France this year. George’s normalized power for the 6hour race was 342 watts for the ENTIRE race…which most of us can only do for just a few minutes. He created 353 Training Stress Score points in the event which puts it solidly in the “EPIC” category. One of the more interesting things about the race was that George spent the first two and half hours resting, relaxing, sitting in the peloton and taking it as easy as possible and while this is somewhat expected, the clear delineation between this first easier part of the race and the final 3.5 hours is quite obvious. In figure 1, note how his power hovered down in the 200 watt range for most of those 2.5 hours and all of the sudden it was as if a switch was thrown in the peloton and the race started! This race ‘demand’ is characteristic of most pro tour classic races and is something that has to be trained in order for the rider to do well at the end of the event. How can you train to ride easy in the first 1/3 of the race and why would you want to even train for that you ask? Pro-tour riders and elite professionals have become incredibly efficient and economical with their internal body processes and external energy output. One of these is the ability to burn fat at a relatively high level of intensity. This ability is critical to succeeding in these longer events and ‘teaching’ your body to do this takes years of practice, training and careful nutritional planning. One of the tips that you can use to help your own body to burn more fat at a higher rate of energy output is through riding at your upper endurance pace for two hours BEFORE you have anything to eat for the day. Get up early, have some water and get straight on your bike and no eating until 2 hours into the ride(unless you are in imminent danger of bonking) and then at 2 hours start consuming protein and complex carbs in order to keep your body going and burning that fat. This is an ‘old school’ trick that actually works, but it does take time to ‘teach’ your body to burn fat. Give it a try this winter and spring. 

The next power file that caught my attention was George’s 2011 Paris-Roubaix file and this was particularly exciting since I had not gotten a file from Paris-Roubaix from one of the top contenders before. Paris-Roubaix is another incredibly epic race just a week after Flanders and George again cracked out a HUGE amount of work with 6175kiloJoules in this 6 hour 12 minute race, and averaged 323 watts normalized, which makes this his second hardest race for the year behind Flanders. One distinct difference is that in P-R, George was on the GAS for the entire race and examining Figure 2, shows that he spent very little time resting and relaxing in the peloton. 

Power Training

Paris-Roubaix has no equal in its demands and while most of us will never get a chance to race in P-R, we can learn a bit from George’s file. What strikes me as most interesting is that despite being on the gas from the start, George still was able to put over 370 watts after 4 hours of racing, which means that his muscular endurance is highly trained. Muscular endurance is something that all of us can use and means you have the ability to contract and relax your muscles at a relatively high force for a long period of time without fatiguing. Normally if muscular endurance is an issue, then you’ll get cramps in the race or event you are doing especially if the majority of the race has been harder than expected. How do you improve your muscular endurance? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this and you just have to commit to longer and harder rides than you have done in the past. Length will challenge your muscular endurance, but without intensity, it will not be specific enough to help you come race day, so make sure that in your longer rides this winter and spring, you add in plenty of sweet-spot, threshold and even big gear intervals into the mix so you can prepare for those hard events in 2012. 

The last race file that I was eager to analyze was his great stage win at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Aspen, Colorado. This was “The Queen” stage for the inaugural event and for George to win such a huge mountain stage at elevation really shows the depth of his abilities. This stage included 8,000’ of climbing up to a maximum elevation of 12,000’ and over two massive mountain passes, one of which was gravel! The race was kept largely under control on the first climb, but all heck broke lose 20 minutes from the top of the second climb, Independence pass. Here George had to average 367 watts in order to be in contact with the front group of climbers (all of which were much lighter than George!). While 367 watts isn’t much for George, we have to factor in the elevation and add nearly 20% to his wattage to get close to what he would have averaged at sea level, which equals 440watts and is quite a feat for anyone! George chased hard to catch the leaders on the descent and upon catching them, he commenced attacking them and taking some riders with him into the city limits of Aspen. George set himself up well for the win, by carefully rolling through the wet and slippery turns and then unleashing one of his legendary sprints from the front and easily taking the stage win. In Figure 3, one of key things that we can each all use is that there is always a ‘sprint’ before the ‘sprint’. In every race, no matter how big the group is that you are with, you’ll always have to sprint at least once before the actual race finishing sprint starts. This is something that you have to train and be prepared to do in every race. When was the last time that you did 98% sprint for 100meters and then coasted for about 5 seconds and unleashed your final 250-300meter all out race winning sprint? IF you haven’t been doing that, then it will probably be a good workout to add in 2012. 

Power Training

The opportunity to ride with George and the CEO’s at this camp was very exciting and to be able to spend time analyzing power files from an old friend and world class cyclist made it doubly satisfying. Many of the participants commented, “ is very humbling to be ‘hammering’ up a climb only to have George pull up beside you, say ‘hi’, then effortlessly pull away to talk to the next person up the hill…but also pretty cool!” While most of us will never ride at George’s level, we can still learn from his power data and use some of these things in our own training and racing. This is one of the many things that keeps me excited about cycling after 30 years of racing and that is the fact that no matter what level of cyclist you are, you get to employ the same tactics and strategies that even the best in the world do and that creates a bond among cyclists everywhere.

Come join George and I this year!!  Click on the CEO Challenges logo for details: