Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pieces of the Puzzle

The puzzle which I speak of is bringing all the pieces together to be able to Time Trial at my best on June 24th, 2007. The various pieces consist of sustainable power also reffered to as Functional Threshold Power (FTP), Flexibility (core strength), Fit (again I bring up fit), Efficiency and Equipment. Its very safe to say that any one of those without the others wont get you all the way to your goals. Well, this is my blog so it wont get me to my goals.
First off and by far the most important is FTP. It is this number (reffered to in watts) that tells you the maximum wattage you can sustain for an hour, but not much more. A great deal of scientific research is dedicated to this and is readily available in books and on the internet. In its simplest form, the higher the better. Watts equates to speed and the more watts you can put out for an hour, the faster you can go. Even what may sound like a miniscule increase in speed over say 25 miles (40k) can make the difference between 1st and 10th or much lower. For example if you average 26mph for 25 miles you would end up with a time of 57:41 (a very respectable time too), but if you can increase your average speed by only 0.5mph, you would finish in 56:36. Thats a difference of 1 minute and 5 seconds!! I cannot stress enough how big of a difference that is at the end of the day. I am hopeful of increasing my ftp bit by bit all summer and with a smart winter program again next year, come out even faster in 2008.
Next up is flexibility and core strength. Without a strong core, your more likely to have your back muscles fatigue early losing you power. Also among many other things, core strength gives you more stability on the bike and the ability to stay in an aerodynamic tuck for longer. Stability is ultra important on a Time Trial bike because the extreme forward positon and arm position can make the bike twitchy and swerving loses you momentum. Flexibility is obvious, more flexible, more aerodynamic comfortably. I would rate both a 6 on a scale of 1-10 right now and definately both a big fat 0 last July.

Efficiency is just as it sounds. Relaxed upper body on the bike and a smooth pedal stroke burns less energy leaving you more to put into the pedals all race long. Fighting your downstroke pedal by countering its action with your upstroke pedal is very hard to feel, but we do it till we train ourselves not to. There are of course obvious exceptions like power house time trialers like Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara, but for us mere mortals smoothness pays off big. Hard to quantify for sure, but important none the less. How are those pieces fitting in? Well, I dont know. I think efficiency on the bike takes your whole cycling career to improve. Safe to say I am working on it and it is improving!!

Fit-oh how fit is so important and as always I put my trust in Mike Vannuci at Bike Authority. He has an eye for what makes power and what doesnt. Fit or maybe Position is a better term for time trialing is a work in progress. While being ultra aerodynamic (small frontal area, flat back and stomach (parallel to ground), arms close together will lower your aerodynamic drag, it will almost without fail come at the expense of wattage output. Simply put, the most aerodynamic position in the world may be worth 5mph over your road bike position, but if you cannot put out the same power, you may go slower. If not over a short distanace, for certain over a long distnace like 25 miles. Theres a balance to be had and the only way to find out is to put the position on the bike and test, test and test. Why is this, well its too much to say here and i am in no way qualified to give scientific data, but sometimes its due to not being able to breath in an extreme tuck, not flexible enough and improper hip angle (a key to powerful pedaling). At some point you find a Position that gains you speed due to reduced drag, but still allows you to put out power as close to your ftp as possible. In the end its about miles per hour.

Having the proper bike frame and wheels , helmet, skinsuit all add up to precious seconds and minutes saved. I have read many times that number one is your helmet, then wheels and the frame. Which pays off bigger, wheels or frame comes down to if you can or cannot achieve an aerodynamic and powerful position on the road bike. I would say that I can put out the exact same power (watts) on my Cannondale Sixthirteen road bike in road race form or on the clip-on aero bars. What I am also sure of is I can go faster down the road with less aerodynamic drag. I can achieve this by punching a much smaller hole in the air. Right now I my upperbody is quite high and me being smaller with smaller wattage, its harder for me to go through the air quickly, especially into a headwind. But remember the importance of position. I am going to make the leap to the Time Trial specific frame whihc gives me these immediate benefits: Lower frontal area, aerodynamic frame, seatpost, handlebars. but most important is by using the steeper seat angle and forward position on the bike I can punch a smaller hole AND maintain proper hip angle. Other benefits are that my legs wont hit my stomach while pedaling, I can shift gears without leaving the aerodynamic tuck due to shifters located at the ends of the aero bars and a TT bikes geometry puts weight back over the rear wheel even though your body is much further forward increasing stability. The next decision for me is what testing procedure do I use that is repeatable so I can balance drag and power!! For sure i wont nail it down in a few weeks, but it will be a start!! Now compare my position in the picture above with one of the best in the business, Pro rider David Zabriskie. Somewhere between these I hope to find my fastest position and my puzzle will be even closer to being complete.

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