Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Tour de France 2014 route rumors

| September 17th, 2013 | No Comments »

Tour de France 2014 route rumors are in full swing! The 2014 Tour de France route will be officially announced on October 23rd by the ASO in Paris. As we prepare our Tour de France final week bike tour for our guests, we keep a keen eye on the latest rumors. As of September 16th, here are the latest: 


Stages  Day Dates Start  Finish Comments
1 Saturday 7/5/2014 Leeds Harrogate road stage
2 Sunday  7/6/2014 Sheffield York road stage
3 Monday 7/7/2014 Cambridge London road stage
4 Tuesday 7/8/2014 Le Touquet Lille road stage
5 Wednesday 7/9/2014 Ypres, Belgium Ypres, Belgium Team time trial
6 Thursday 7/10/2014 Ypres, Belgium Reims road stage
7 Friday 7/11/2014 Epernay Verdun or Nancy road stage
8 Saturday 7/12/2014 Verdun or Nancy Garardmer road stage
9 Sunday 7/13/2014 Gerardmer Mulhouse road stage (Mountains)
10 Monday 7/14/2014 Mulhouse Plancehs des Belles road stage (Mountains)
Tuesday 7/15/2014 Besancon Rest day
11 Wednesday 7/16/2014 Besance Oyonnax road stage
12 Thursday 7/17/2014 Bourg-en-Bresse Saint-Etienne road stage
13 Friday 7/18/2014 Saint-Etienne Chamrousse road stage (Mountains)
14 Saturday 7/19/2014 Grenoble Risoul road stage (Mountains)
15 Sunday 7/20/2014 Tallard Nimes
Monday 7/21/2014 Carcassonne – rest day
16 Tuesday 7/22/2014 Carcassonne Luchon road stage (Mountains)
17 Wednesday 7/23/2014 Luchon Pla d'Adet road stage (Mountains)
18 Thursday 7/24/2014 Pau Vallee du Gaves road stage (Mountains)
19 Friday 7/25/2014 Maubourguet Bergerac
20 Saturday 7/26/2014 Bergerac Bergerac or Perigueux Time trial
21 Sunday 7/27/2014 Paris  Paris road stage



Cyclists Under a Time Crunch: How to Train with Limited Time

| April 11th, 2013 | No Comments »

In today’s busy world many of us struggle to schedule regular training rides that will lead to consistent improvements.  At first we manage to train well for a while and then life happens with work pressures and family commitments breaking the training pattern.  As a result we train less and only infrequently which causes us to lose fitness. This cycle seems to repeat itself which can lead to feelings of frustration.

What if you could maintain and even improve your fitness with 3-4 short rides each week that are designed specifically to maximize your training time available? I know you can as this is what I have done for many years training just 4-5 hours each week. By training in a highly specific way I am able to stay competitive on local group rides and keep my threshold power at high levels.

Another challenge many cyclists have is knowing what type of training is going to lead to real improvements. Many cyclists are still unfamiliar with the concept of interval training and how it can benefit their cycling ability. I often see cyclists go out with the intention of holding a certain speed or pace. Although this type of training is good, a plan that will lead to real improvements must include specific interval training that addresses different energy systems. 

The concept of interval training involves a series of high intensity efforts (intervals) interspersed with easy pedaling. Interval training is typically performed at a high intensity to improve speed and cardiovascular fitness, or with a strength focus (big gear) to improve leg strength. 

So how do you incorporate specific interval training in to your weekly training schedule? Let’s presume you are starting from an average fitness level, have no health issues, and, can train 3-4 days in an average week, your training over a 3-week block will look something like this:

Week 1

Monday – Rest day

Tuesday – 3-4 x 8 minute Big Gear (65-75rpm) strength intervals (feels “somewhat hard”) with 2-3 minutes of easy spinning between intervals. Total ride time: 60-90 minutes (45 minutes for Trainer).

Wednesday – Rest day or swap with a scheduled training day.

Thursday – 2 sets of 4 x 90 second VO2 or Breakaway intervals (feels “very hard”) with 2-3 minutes of easy spinning between intervals and 10 minutes of easy spinning between sets. Total ride time: 60-90 minutes (45 minutes for Trainer).

Friday – Rest day or swap with a scheduled training day. 

Saturday – 2 hour Tempo ride (feels “somewhat hard”) or alternatively a Group Ride “On Feel”

Sunday – Rest day or 1.5-2.5 hours Endurance ride. 

Week 1 is designed to build strength in your legs and work on improving your base fitness with lots of “somewhat hard” or Tempo riding. The 90 sec VO2 intervals will boost your high intensity fitness. This will help you to dig deep on your local group rides when there is a hard acceleration or attack.  

On Week 2 the goal is to build on Week 1 and address other areas like your ability to accelerate and sprint.  

Week 2

Monday – Rest day

Tuesday – 2 x 12-15 minutes Threshold Zone 4 intervals (feels “hard”) with 10 minutes of easy spinning between intervals. Total ride time: 60-90 minutes (45 minutes for Trainer).

Wednesday – Rest day or swap with a scheduled training day.

Thursday – Perform 20-30 second acceleration simulating an attack or long sprint (feels very, very hard) followed by 2.5 minutes of easy spinning, repeated for a total of 30 minutes. Total ride time: 60-90 minutes (45 minutes for Trainer).

Friday – Rest day or swap with a scheduled training day. 

Saturday – 2 hour Tempo ride (feels “somewhat hard”) or alternatively a Group Ride “On Feel”

Sunday – Rest day or 1.5-2.5 hours Endurance ride. 

Remember you can perform the training on any day of the week which will give you flexibility should you be unable to train on Sundays, for example. For each session a minimum of 15 minutes of warm-up is always recommended. 

Time Crunch Cyclist Training Plan image

Click Image to View details of 12 Week Training Plan for Cyclists Under a Time Crunch 4-6 hours/week

On Week 3 I recommend cutting back a little on the intensity by performing an easier ride at the start of the week followed by a strength ride. Weekends can look very similar to week 1 and 2. This completes a 3-week block of training with the third week being more of a low intensity/recovery week. 

By following the training outlined over 3 weeks and then repeating it, you will not only improve your fitness but you can also make some significant improvements in speed and strength. If you repeat the 3-week block then you have the option to extend some of the intervals in duration.

I have designed a 12 week training plan based around this training concept which can be purchased through Training Peaks called “Cyclists under a Time Crunch, 4-6 hours/week”. It comes with a more detailed training plan that builds over the 12 weeks and also includes a training zones calculator for training with heart rate, power or perceived exertion. To view the training plan details, click here

Even just 45 minute rides performed consistently each week can do wonders for your fitness! The right training sessions with specific interval training will maximize your training time available which will lead to a gratifying experience of improved fitness, strength and the feeling of training with a purpose! 

An Epic Ride up Mont Ventoux

| September 16th, 2011 | No Comments »

Mont Ventoux, or the “Giant of Provence” is a mountain in the Provence region of Southern France located some 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Carpentras. Although Ventoux is geologically part of the Alps, it is considered separate due to the lack of mountains nearby. 

Mont Ventoux is a legendary mountain in the Tour de France. It has been ascended 14 times since 1951 and has been witness to dramatic scenes like the death of British cyclist Tom Simpson in 1967 who collapsed from exhaustion near the summit. In recent years it has been the stage for battles between Armstrong and Pantani and legendary solo breakaway wins of Richard Virenque and non-climber Eros Poli.

On an unusually cold and rainy July morning, I headed out as lead guide for Gourmet Cycling Travel to tackle this epic mountain.
There are three ways to climb this monster of a mountain. On this day we would climb from the Bedoin side, the hardest and most popular for amateur cyclists and the Tour de France.
Starting in the beautiful Provence village of Bedoin, the total ascent is 1617 meters (5300 feet) over 21.8 kilometers (13.5 miles) of relentless uphill. The total climb starting from Bedoin has an average gradient of 7.5%. The first 5-6 kilometers (3-4 miles) are quite gentle at only a 3.9% average gradient. The road then kicks up with the remaining 16 kilometers (10 miles) at an average grade of 8.9%!
As we started the climb a torrential down pour of cold, icy rain greeted us. My goal was to ride within myself and take care of the group. I am always surprised at how hard the majority of the climb is with no breaks in gradient. The first few “easy” kilometers tricks one in to believing the climb is not that hard. 
The middle third of the climb is through wooded vegetation. As one approaches the final 6 kilometers (3.7 miles), a left turn takes one to the barren final kilometers to the summit. Originally forested, the barren final part to the climb was systematically stripped of trees from the 12th century onwards to serve the demands of the shipbuilders of the naval port of Toulon.
In the final kilometers and in view of the lighthouse, a strong head wind was blowing, typical for Ventoux whose name is said to originate from the French word Venteux or windy. The temperature had now dropped to 4 degrees C (40 F), a huge drop in temperature from the earlier slopes. Gary Stern and I battled towards the summit, passing the Tom Simpson memorial which singled we were almost there.
The final switchback is incredibly steep and required every last bit of strength from weary legs. We regrouped at the summit, took photos as evidence then descended back down the mountain, a nice reward for the sweat and pain over the last 2 hours of climbing the Giant!
Today’s climb would take us 1 hour 48 minutes. Most amateur cyclists will be able to conquer the mountain in 1h30m-2h30m. Professional riders take between 1h-1h15m on average. The fastest time so far recorded has been that of Iban Mayo in the individual climbing time trial of the 2004 Dauphine Libere in 55' 51"!

Six Gap Century Training Tips and Strategy

| August 31st, 2011 | No Comments »

Six Gap Century is just a few weeks away. Here are some training tips and strategy that will help you ride your best Six Gap - 

1. Training – in the weeks leading up to the event, perform a simulation ride over a distance similar in time and distance to Six Gap. A good time for a simulation ride is 14 days and again 7 days before the event. If you live in an area with no long climbs, simulate climbing by riding in a big gear (low cadence) for extended periods of time, similar to the time you will spend climbing at Six Gap.

2. Taper- in the final days before the event it’s important to cut back significantly on your ride time. If your last hard ride is 7 days before the event, you can fill the days that follow with short, recovery rides where the focus is on leg speed and a few short bursts to add some snap back to your legs. If a long drive is required to get to the event, try and spin your legs out when you arrive. Also remember to wear your compression socks for the long drive.

3. Pre Ride Recon – if you have never ridden Six Gap before, or are tentative when descending, it’s a good idea before the event to go over the Gaps and especially the descents that follow. Pre ride recon will give you greater confidence as you will know what to expect.

4. Pre Race Meals – already 2 nights before the event, eat a meal rich in carbohydrates. The night before should also include lots of carbohydrates. In the 24 hours before the event, drink lots of fluids, both water and sports drinks with extra electrolytes. Avoid drinking only water as this can result in increased fluid loss. Being an early start event, avoid eating too heavy a meal for breakfast. Rather get your big meal the night before and some carbs like oat meal, toast with honey, or cereal in the morning of the event.

5. Pacing Strategy – to achieve your best Six Gap time, you should try to hang on to the strongest group you can follow up the climbs so that you can take advantage of drafting a pack on the downhills, flat sections and on some of the lesser steep climbs. To achieve this be prepared to go deep on the first two climbs of Neels and Jacks, knowing that once a natural selection has formed, your group will ride at a steadier pace up until Hog Pen where it’s every man for himself.

6. Feeding strategy – A good strategy is to eat one energy bar (200+ calories) at the top of each Gap. Also fill both bottles with a good sports drink. You want to aim for 300+ calories/hour or 70-90 grams of carbohydrates. Force yourself to eat in the first 2-3 hours knowing that this will give you the reserves necessary to be able to finish strong. The hotter it is the more you will have to drink. Start the day with a big bottle of your favorite sports drink before the event start. Once the ride has begun, take large sips of your cycling bottle every 20-30 minutes throughout the ride.

7. The Final Gaps – up and after Hogpen, you are better off working with another rider or a small group of cyclists than going it alone. If you are alone after Hogpen and there is a group not far behind you or just in front of you, rather join up with the group than go it alone for the final Gaps and rolling hills towards Suches where riding alone will be more fatiguing and usually slower.

Wishing you a Great Ride!

To see the Six Gap elevation file, click here

Six Gap Cycling Challenge

| June 17th, 2011 | No Comments »

Each September cyclists from around the country test their endurance and climbing legs at Six Gap, a well known 100 mile century ride that starts and finishes in Dahlonega, north Georgia, and loops  through the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. The Six Gaps, or mountains, make for a very challenging ride with over 10,000 feet of climbing.

Every year I organize a cycling camp in this area; one of my favorites for cycling with its quiet, scenic and challenging roads in the Appalachian Mountains. This area is also a favorite for hikers with the Appalachian Trail running along the summits of the Gaps.

During our camp this early June, it was only fitting therefore that we stayed at the Hiker Hostel, about 6 miles north of Dahlonega and a perfect launch pad to do some epic cycling.

As our group rolled out to conquer the Six Gaps we knew a hot day was ahead of us. This area had been experiencing a heat wave recently and temperatures were expected to soar to over 95 F (35 C) on the road.

As we descended towards Turners Corner, I savored the last bit of freshness in the morning air. At Turner’s Corner a left turn on road 129 would take us immediately on to the first Gap of the day, Neels Gap.  

Neels Gap is the longest of the Six Gaps at over 7 miles (12 kms). The good quality road surface and steady grade of around 4% makes Neels quite manageable despite its length. Our group tackled the climb at a manageable pace, holding some strength back for later challenges.

A regroup at the summit to fill up on some cold water and then it was down the descent of Neels, a fun reward for climbing the mountain before Jacks Gap, our next challenge of the day.

The climb of Jacks Gap is 4 miles (6.5km) on a quiet country road with a rough road surface. The climb has some steep sections of between 7-10%. These steep sections are divided by short downhill sections, a welcome break from the challenging grade.

At the Summit of Jacks the road to Brasstown Bald forks to the left. Brasstown Bald mountain was made famous in the Tour of Georgia pro race as the climb that often decided the race overall. Brasstown is an incredibly steep climb with an average gradient of well over 12% and parts as steep as 22%! We would save this incredibly challenging mountain for another day.

The descent of Jacks is mostly straight before turning right on to Road 75 / 17 towards Unicoi Gap. This part of the ride is one of my favorite with mountain rivers and picturesque landscapes feeding the eyes.

Once we turned towards Unicoi Gap in the direction of the German village lookalike of Helen, the road became smoother again which also meant a road more traveled by cars. The climb of Unicoi Gap is one of the least challenging at an average gradient of just over 5% for 3.4 miles (5.4 km).

The descent down Unicoi is exhilarating  with sweeping turns on a smooth road surface. The better descenders of our group would be dropping even the motor cycles down Unicoi.

Three Gaps down and still three to go. Next up was Hogpen Gap, which is by far the most challenging of the route. Once we turned off road 75 / 17 on to road 75, a few “rollers” would warm-up the legs after the descent, something of an “aperitif” before the “main meal” of Hogpen.

At the 45 mile mark a road sign for road 348 “scenic highway” meant we had arrived at the toughest Gap of the ride, Hogpen Gap. Hogpen is about 7 miles (11 km) with an average gradient of 6%, not a true indicator of the severity of the climb and due to a few downhill sections falsifying the average.

What makes Hogpen so tough is that it pitches up at a constant 9-12% gradient for a good 3 miles. Combined with 95F (35 C) on the road, it was survival of the fittest to get to the summit. Some of our group could not make it on this day; the heat combined with the steepness was just too much.  

The descent of Hogpen is one of the scariest I have ever done where speeds of over 55 miles (88km) an hour are easily achieved.

Wolfpen Gap, the fifth Gap of the ride, is one of my favorite climbs with its many turns shaded by trees. The road surface being rough indicated that we were back on quiet, country roads.

Wolfpen is just over 3 miles (5kms). Some sections are quite steep at 7-10% but overall it is quite gradual with an average gradient of 3.5%.  Wolfpen is the last real challenging climb of the Six Gap route. After a fun descent a few more “rollers’ would sting our tired legs on the road to Suches. Once we arrived in Suches, a left turn on to road 60 meant we were very close to the final Gap of the day, Woody’s Gap.

After all the tough climbing of the day, Woody’s Gap, by comparison, is a little bump in the road at less than 2 miles in length and at a gentle gradient. The descent off of Woody’s is another fun descent and offers stunning views of the Appalachian mountains. A huge pile of rocks at the bottom of Woody’s indicates the bottom of the descent. Legend has it that a Cherokee princess is buried under the “rock pile” and dropping a stone on her gravesite will bring good fortune. 

From the Rock Pile, it was only one mile to our base camp at the Hiker Hostel. This challenging ride would take the majority of the group well over 6 hours to complete and included a total of over 9,300 feet of climbing. Epic! 

To see the Garmin File, click here

Climbing the Tour Legend Alpe d’Huez

| February 23rd, 2011 | No Comments »

I have been fortunate to climb Alpe d’Huez many times while guiding bike tour groups at the Tour de France. This July I am excited to test my NeilPryde Alize on Alpe d’Huez and on some of the alpine descents. NeilPryde Bikes have partnered with Gourmet Cycling Travel for their Tour de France final week bike tour and will be supplying their Alize and Diablo model bikes to all participants during the tour. Guest will be able to test their ability using a Diablo or Alize model bike up Mont Ventoux, Col du Galibier and of course Alpe d’Huez. 

Alpe d’Huez has been the stage for incredible race action and intense emotion over many years of Tour de France history. Tour fans will remember fondly epic battles between Lemond and Hinault in the 80s, Bugno and Indurain in the 90s, and dominating performances by Pantani and Armstrong more recently.
This year’s Tour edition includes a finish at Alpe d’Huez in the final week of the race. There is nothing quite like experiencing the mountain on race day with thousands of tour fans from across the world turning the roadside into a carnival like atmosphere.
Riding up the mountain before the pros arrive is a thrilling experience for an everyday cyclist. Tour fans cheer you on as if you were in the race. This year on the Gourmet Cycling Travel final week tour, we’ll be camped out at 4 kilometers to go in a prime location overlooking the course.
The climb of Alpe d’Huez has a total elevation gain of 1071 meters or 3513 feet. This is less than some of the longer climbs like Mont Ventoux or the Col du Tourmalet, yet it is the most famous and attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators who camp on the roadside for weeks ahead of the race.
The total length of the climb is 13.2 kilometers or 8.25 miles with an average gradient of 8.1% and a max of 10.6%; a challenge for any level of cyclist. Last year I saw gradients maxing at 14% displayed on my Garmin computer.
The climb’s initial impression is one of a very steep grade on a wide, straight road. Cyclists attempting the climb for the first time will do well to remind themselves that the later slopes are far less steep.
Tour de France racers, both super stars and lesser known names, have their names painted on the road. Some names are still quite clear while other names have faded over the years.
There are 21 switchbacks in total on the mountain. Each switchback has a sign counting down from 21 on the first switchback, to 1 on the last turn before the summit. Past stage winners like Hampsten, Bugno, and Pantani have their names displayed with each switchback number, sparking memories of past tour battles and race emotion.

It’s a good idea not to pay too close attention to the countdown as this can crack one mentally. I prefer to get in the “zone” by staying focused on the effort and looking only every couple of switchbacks at my current progress.
The climb initially zigzags at mostly 10% gradient in a serpentine fashion lined with trees, rocks and a protective wall. A welcome break from the steep gradient comes only briefly on the almost flat switchback turns before the road pitches back up to 10%.
Cyclists with a good base of fitness will be able to climb Alpe d’Huez using a compact crank and a 25-27 easiest tooth rear cog at the back. The first year I rode the Alpe back in 1992 I used a 39X23. More recently I have had the luxury of a triple chainring to keep a relatively high cadence up the climb.
In my role as a cycling coach, I recommend to cyclists who are going to ride Alpe d’Huez to perform specific training ahead of time to simulate the effort of the climb in the form of 60-90 minute big gear intervals at a cadence of 60-65rpms.
The surrounding scenery while climbing Alpe d’Huez changes from one of menacing, rock faced switchbacks in the first part of the climb, to one of green meadows and winding roads of milder gradient in the last few kilometers to the summit. In these final few kilometers one can see in the distance the finish goal up ahead, the ski station of Alpe d’Huez.
There is an incredible view on the final few turns of the climb just accomplished of the neighboring mountain ranges. A feeling of fatigue mixed with satisfaction and elation comes over one as the summit nears.
As one reaches the ski town lined with street cafes and souvenir shops, the amateur finish line together with a pretend podium is reached. If you are climbing with your buddy, this will be a natural sprint to claim bragging rights as the first one up. The pros continue on for another 1 kilometer through the town for the Tour stage finish line.
Many cyclists each year come and time themselves with the official timing system offered. At the Tour de France the climb has been timed since 1994. Pantani holds the current record in a time of 37 minutes and 35 seconds achieved back in 1997. Armstrong comes in a close second with 37 minutes and 36 seconds achieved during his time trial win back in 2004. On a good day I am happy to come within 20 minutes of the records to break the hour. This puts into perspective how good the top pros really are.
The Alpe d’Huez is a mythic climb to experience by bike and gives one a new found respect for what a Tour de France rider has to endure to make it to Paris!
For the Garmin file of Alpe d'Huez, click here

The San Antonio, Florida Group Ride Story

| January 21st, 2011 | No Comments »

On any given Sunday in San Antonio Florida, whether in the middle of summer or in the middle of winter, riders from central Florida converge on this small Florida town about 30 miles north of Tampa for one of the fastest and most competitive group rides in the state.

This is no leisurely Sunday group ride where you can ride with your buddies and chat. This group ride is more like an unofficial race with constant attacks and accelerations and three designated sprint points along the 50-60 mile route.

The ride course is both challenging and scenic with many short steep hills and over 2000 feet (650 meters) of elevation gained by the end of the 50 miles. The steepest hills take around 1 minute to climb and have a gradient peaking at 10-12 percent. These hills are usually attacked at sprint intensity with the strong guys using them as launch pads for breakaways.
On any given Sunday, this group ride attracts any number from fifty to over one hundred cyclists. Many of Florida’s best pro and category 1-2 riders come to San Antonio to “play” and fine-tune their race form. Having personally participated in this ride for the last seven years, I can say that it is often harder than many of the local races.
On this particular Sunday, I rode up with a group of clients and friends to add some extra mileage. The sun was rising as we rode up to meet the ride starting at 8am.
The friendly rivalry between Florida Velo and Ride and Roll, two of the best local teams, was ready for another showdown. Being both rider and coach of the Florida Velo team, my goal was to go on the attack and also to help set-up our best sprinters with a great lead-out. For the first part of the ride, I followed a big attack and immediately found myself in a three-man breakaway with two of the best local riders; Joel and Danny Chavez. The San Antonio ride would not be the same without the Chavez brothers who are always on the attack, breaking away or sprinting.
At the first sprint line I conceded defeat to Danny Chavez, one of Florida’s best sprinters. After the first sprint a short neutral zone follows, where riders congratulate each other on their efforts and take time to regroup. The second sprint follows about 10 miles later and is preceded by short hills with the names of: “Ice Cream”, “Boat Ramp” and “Triple Step”. This time a small breakaway with Joel Chavez and my Florida Velo teammate Jimmy Page would break clear on “Triple Step” only to be caught on the line by the best sprinters.
 A short rest stop at a local store follows the second sprint. Riders stock up on some well deserved nourishment while discussing the day’s action thus far.
The remaining 20 miles of this ride continues to be challenging with fast windy roads and three decisive hills to break-up the rides. The final sprint point is always contested by a select group or breakaway. This time Florida Velo teammate Derek Bennett won the final sprint in a select breakaway group.
 I rolled in a minute back with some of my Florida Velo teammates. The race action now done, it was time to regroup and head home while others headed back to the start area at a local sports complex.
I have ridden in many countries and on many group rides over the last 20 years. The San Antonio group ride is my favorite for many reasons; there is a strong respect and friendship among the best riders who are always ready for action and keep the ride challenging and interesting. The scenic course on quiet farm roads are some of the best riding roads in Central Florida and help make the ride all the more enjoyable. I would not miss it for anything.

An informal ride & “war stories” with Tom Danielson, Garmin Transitions Pro

| December 20th, 2010 | No Comments »

I was invited to do an informal ride with Garmin-Transitions pro rider Tom Danielson in Fort Myers, on the west coast of Florida. Fort Myers is a favorite destination to sun-seekers and retirees, and was once a winter home to world famous inventor Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to ride again with the now world famous pro rider after having raced with him back in 2003 when he was a young pro on the Saturn team.

In 2003 we raced together in the US Pro Championships in Philadelphia and in the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia. The 10-day Tour de Langkawi stage race was the fourth highest paying race in the world and attracted many of the world’s best professional teams.
Tom was racing for the Saturn team in the Tour de Langkawi. He had already established his remarkable talent early in the race by taking the leader’s yellow jersey. I remember clearly racing the decider stage up the extremely difficult mountain to Genting Highlands resort. As we approached the base of the 11 mile climb with a gradient ranging from 12-20%, Chris Horner and his Saturn team were charging towards the climb with the goal of setting up Tom for yet another attack. I was producing a steady 400-450 watts just to ride next to Chris and keep our best climber shielded from the wind and as fresh as possible for the immanent battle between the climbers.  
As soon as the first climber launched his attack, I went from being at the front to being spat out the back in less than 30 seconds. Close to 1.5 hours later, I approached the finish line, zigzagging the 20% pitch towards the resort hotel above the clouds. Dizzy and cold, and over 28 minutes lost on the climb, I learned that Tom once again had displayed his unbelievable climbing talents by winning the queen stage. He would go on to win the final yellow jersey.   
Back then as a young pro, Tom Danielson was beginning to make a name for himself as a powerful climber and strong time trialist. Fast forward 7 years and Tom has become one of the best US international pros, exploding into the big time when he defeated Lance, Floyd and Levi in the 2005 Tour de Georgia. His 2010 season resulted in a strong 8th place overall finish in the Tour of Spain, the third biggest stage race in the world.
For the past two Decembers, Tom, invited by Z Motion a top Florida racing club, heads to south Florida where he participates in two centuries for charity and resumes his base training.
As we left for our ride, I reminisced with Tom of our racing back in Langkawi and US Pro Champs. Our ride today would take us on a flat and fast 65 mile coastal route to beautiful Captiva and Sanibel islands, home to some of the top rated beaches in the US. Unfortunately, a thick coastal mist would hide much of the surrounding beauty on this day. It’s refreshing to see Tom’s humility and friendliness, void of any pretentiousness. He seems like a genuinely great guy.
Riding alongside Tom, my power meter was showing a steady 250 watts. I was thankful to be in good shape and riding my NeilPryde Alize, with its aerodynamic frame design. The Alize is perfectly suited for the fast, flat and windy coastal roads of Florida where wind drag is the main challenge to overcome.
Tom’s training included 5-6 hour rides each day at a similar pace for a total of 33 hours this week. I discovered his peak 20 minute power is 420W at 130lbs! No wonder he climbs as if he had wings.
After our 3 hours ride, most us weekend warriors were happy to call it a day. Tom however, would go out for another 3 hours. Such is the life of a top pro and this dedication is what is required to be one of the world’s top cyclists. 

The Horrible Hundred Ride Report

| November 28th, 2010 | No Comments »

The Horrible Hundred is an annual organized ride that takes place each November in the town of Clermont, Florida, just 20 miles from the major US city of Orlando.

This area of Florida is known for some of the best cycling roads in the state with lots of steep little hills on relatively quiet roads and scenery that resembles Tuscany at times. The Horrible Hundred route covers many of these short steep climbs and the dreaded Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest climb in South and Central Florida, coming at just under 20 miles from the end.

Beautiful November weather brought 1500+ cyclists for this 31st edition of the event over distances of 100 mile, 70 miles and 35 miles.

Even though this event is truly a ride and not a race with no official results posted and each cyclist responsible to obey traffic rules and navigate the ride directional arrows, it always turns out to be an unofficial race.

Leaving the start for the 100 mile ride the nervous energy was palatable. In the opening miles a few close calls and the resultant distinct smell of burning rubber did nothing to calm the nerves. The wind was blowing hard on this edition with gusts of over 25mph. These windy conditions combined with lots of short, steep climbs and frequent turns made it important to ride near the front at all times. It was not long before the strong riders took advantage of the conditions by forcing the pace and creating a front separation of 25 riders, among them many local Florida racers. I made the front split with two of my Florida Velo teammates. Together we helped drive the pace hard to establish a clear separation over the rest of the riders. My NeilPryde Alize equipped with carbon tubular wheels, was making its advantage felt on these fast and windy roads by slicing through the wind beautifully.

By the 60 mile mark the two bottles I started with had long been empty. The 70 mile sag stop was calling my name with its selection of cold drinks and delicious snacks but stopping would mean losing the front group who were still in full race mode. I skipped the sag while the thought of a drink became ever more prominent in my mind.

The strength in my legs suddenly vanished as I went from being one of the driving forces in the front group to barely hanging on. I finally had to stop and get some water, letting the front group disappear into the distance. I was a sorry sight as we hit the hardest climb of the ride – Sugarloaf mountain, which climbs for about ½ a mile (800 meters) at a gradient ranging mostly between 8-14%.

Thankfully the 80 mile sag stop was not far now, and this time, I made sure to stop and enjoy ice cold water, Gatorade, fresh oranges and freshly baked muffins. This ride is known for its great sag stops manned by friendly volunteers.

I now rode towards the finish at a leisurely pace, this time taking time to enjoy the scenery. In the final 10 miles I joined up with a small group which included fellow front group strong man Gary Stern and a few others. In the final 5 miles an unintentional wrong turn shaved 2 miles of our total distance. I was not complaining and happy to get back a little sooner to the finish area at Waterfront park in Clermont.

My total ride time was 4 hours and 29 minutes for 97 miles covered (to see the Garmin Connect file click here). My Garmin read: 4250 feet of elevation gain (1300 meters) which was impressive for the “flat” state of Florida and confirmed why the Horrible Hundred is known as the toughest century ride in the State. 

Which Crank Length is Right for You?

| October 13th, 2010 | No Comments »

Longer or shorter? Does it really make a difference?

I have been cycling for over 23 years and have raced and trained with crank lengths ranging from 165mm in length on the track to 177.5mm on the road.

When I raced in France in the 90s, the trend was to use longer cranks. We saw relatively short cyclists like Hinault and Lemond using 175mm cranks. Mark Madiot won Paris Roubaix twice using a massive 180mm crank length. In Italy shorter cranks were in fashion. The tall Franco Chioccioli won the Giro on 170mm and Michele Bartoli, the great classic rider, raced 170mm cranks throughout his career.

In the early 90s I was fitted by the same bike fitters who set-up Lemond, Hinault and Indurain. They recommended I ride 177.5mm cranks. I tried them the following season but never felt efficient with such a long crank.
In recent years I have noticed a trend among some cycling experts to recommend shorter cranks. I personally now prefer a shorter crank of 172.5mm in length even though I am 6’1” tall.

In a recent webinar I attended with Andy Coggan, he presented scientific data showing that big changes in crank length did not significantly change performance. He also went on to say that the optimal length for most cyclists is probably under 170mm in length.

3 ways to determine your ideal crank length -

1) Your Height and Leg Length
A 170mm crank length for a shorter cyclist may feel the same as a 175mm crank for a taller cyclist with a longer leg length. Therefore, shorter cyclists usually feel more efficient riding shorter cranks compared to taller cyclists who often prefer a slightly longer crank. This may not always be the case however, as sometimes we see shorter cyclists who are able to spin longer cranks very efficiently. Some examples of this are Fabian Cancellara spinning 177.5mm cranks at a very cadence and Lance Armstrong spinning 175mm at 110rpm+ like a machine.

2) The Type of Cycling
For cycling that requires lots of accelerations, sprinting, and high cadence riding, a shorter crank is better. For most cyclists this will be between 170-172.5mm. For longer road riding with lots of hills, mtn biking where you need good leverage at a low cadence, and time trials (depending how extreme your position is), a longer crank length of 175-177.5mm is usually better. If your time trial position is very low then a shorter crank will give you less resistance at the top of the stroke and may work better.

3) Power & Feel
In my experience, your best crank length is the length of crank where you produce your best power while feeling very smooth, relaxed, and circular in your pedal stroke. This crank length will vary depending on the cadence requirements for the type of cycling you are doing (see #2). 

Possible Signs that a shorter crank will work better for you –

  • Feeling resistance at the top of the pedal stroke
  • Feeling like you your pedal stroke is choppy (not circular) at a higher cadence
  • Experiencing pain in the front of your knees
  • Lower back pain

Even though a correct bike fit is more important than having your optimal crank length, it is still good to be aware of the subtle difference crank length can make to your performance and pedaling efficiency.