Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Departs - Keeping it Fun in the Mediterranean

Getting started on a new journey is always an exciting undertaking, but it is not always easy.  People need movement to stay healthy and refreshed, yet it seems that our very nature is, at the same time, very sedentary.  We like the known - the comfortable.  It is ironic then, that we are often at our best when we are out of the comfort zone.

Liam on the midnight ferry to Corsica
Both Liam and I had been looking forward to exploring Corsica all year.  The island, located in the Mediterranean sea would be the venue for the first three days of the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France.  Corsica seemed like a world apart.  I don't know why.  It was a relatively easy trip to get there.  Overnight ferry boats leave for the island from the Port of Toulon located only about 45 minutes from our house.  We planned the trip several times, but something always seemed to come up and the trip was put off.

The rugged Cap Corse
Finally, last week we made the leap.  We loaded up the bikes and the training gear in the van, and hit the midnight ferry to Bastia.  Bastia is a beautiful city in the northeast corner of Corsica.  We arrived at 7 am and our first stop was a boulangerie for some fresh baguettes- we were still technically in France after all.  Then we headed out to the northern most tip of the island called Cap Corse. This is a remote cape, but as soon as we arrived we realized the cycling was fantastic.  It was a lot like riding the West Maui mountains of Hawaii.  The only difference being that Corsica is not a volcanic Island.  The topography, however, was very similar.  Green lush seaside cliffs running down to a deep blue sea.  Our apprehension of the unknown soon turned to a wonder-lust of exploring what other great finds lay ahead.

The watch tower at Nonza - one of many on the island
We spent four days biking, swimming and running our way around the island and down to Porto-Vecchio.  Corsica is a very large island with 2000 meter mountains and a diverse and varied landscape.  We rode through subtropical jungle, desert swept plains, and high cool mountains.  Since it has been a very long winter in Europe we decided to concentrate, for the most part, on the coastal roads, beaches, and coves.  Liam came up with the idea of the "Corsica Triathlon." We would locate a beach that looked promising on a map. Then we would bike to the beach with swim suits and goggles in our pockets.  When we arrived at the beach we would run the beach and then we would swim the length of the beach.  It was a great workout, but it was also a ton of fun. We took a page from our playbook from our Hawaii days to come up with a strength and conditioning workout shaka style. You find a heavy rock and a nice stretch of water with a sandy bottom.  We would take a few deep breaths and the run the rock along the bottom of the sea. It's a blast!

Hitting the Corsican coast on the bike

Corsica Triathlon
We made it to Porto Vecchio on Wednesday evening in time for the Tour team presentation the following day.  Porto Vecchio is a beautiful city located on a small hill just above its port.  There are several  restaurants overlooking the port, and all those that we tried serve excellent local cuisine.  From seafood to wild boar the Corsicans sure know how to prepare a meal.

Trying out the local brew- (Bill)
The depart ville was a perfect choice.  Porto Vecchio captures some of the best that Corsica has to offer.  A friendly small town feel with a relaxed atmosphere.  The town is very manageable on foot or by bike. Beautiful white sandy beaches are located to the south, and just inland are some very challenging mountain roads for more advanced cyclists and mountain bikers.

Evening view of the Porto-Vecchio Port
We had an excellent time watching the team presentation.  Although the atmosphere was relaxed there was still a lot of excitement in the air.  This was, after all, the eve of the Tour de France - the greatest bike race on earth.  The following day we rode the first 40k or so of the first stage of the Tour.  Several teams were out on the road as well.  At one point Liam and I were cruising along at about 40k an hour.  A BMC car past us going about 55k/hour.  Just behind Cadel Evans, Brent Bookwalter and another rider were motor pacing.  They all said hello and encouraged us along. We managed to hang in there for a couple of minutes.  Wow, these guys can really move!  It was pretty amazing. Here we were in Corsica, on the eve of the Tour de France, motor pacing with a champion. I had to get it on film.  I pulled the GoPro out of my pocket, filmed Liam, and then the riders in front, and just like that we lost the draft and they were gone.  Unfortunately, we couldn't stay in Corsica for the first three stages because Liam and the boys had one of their biggest races of the year over the weekend near Marseille.

Back in the fold of the Tour de France
Although we couldn't stay for the official depart, it was nevertheless an excellent start to our 5th Father Son Tour.  One that left little doubt about why we have so much passion for the sport of cycling.  We also have discovered a wonderful island with a rich and deep culture and beautiful landscape right in our backyard.  We will be back for more for sure.

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!

This is Bill and Liam Signing out.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Time to Try

Back in the 1990's I used to consider myself a triathlete.  Swimming, biking, and running were part of my daily routine – part of my life.  My goal, like that of almost every serious triathlete, was to get into the main event on the Big Island of Hawaii – The Ironman World Championship.  The race takes place in Kona each year in October and consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run.

Himalayan Training Grounds
As part of my quest, in 1994, I flew to Nepal and turned the Himalaya and a trek up to the base camp of Mount Everest into a 4 week altitude training camp.  I always loved training camps and setting up a camp in a remote part of the world was even better still.  I would run ancient paths up to Tibetan monasteries past yaks and through Sherpa villages.  I remember that the Sherpa along the trails would often ask me why I was running.  As if,  the only real reason to run at this altitude (often above 14000 feet) was if you were being chased by something.  I never came face to face with the Yeti (mythical snowman), but if I did, I was fast and hoped to be able to out run him.  After reaching the Base camp of Everest at about 18000 feet, I came down the valley and I spent a week with Tibetan monks at the Thyanboche Monastery.  In between 4 hour sessions of meditation I would run or sometimes play basketball (yes, basketball…they are into it) with the monks. 

Liam toeing the line for his first triathlon back in October
My journey to the Ironman World Championship began by way of Nepal, and it continued with a 5 year adventure that led to an Ironman in Canada, trekking and hiking in the Andes of South American, swim training in Lake Titicaca in Peru, hiking and mountain biking in the jungles of Thailand, 5am 3hour runs through Bangkok, Saigon, Tokyo, more running and swimming in the jungles of Vietnam.  I was a different type of tourist – the active traveler type. 

Liam running his way into 3rd place in his second triathlon a few weeks ago
After 5 years of pretty dedicated training I got the ticket - an entry into the main event, the Hawaiian Ironman World Championship in October of 1999.  I had already finished the Canadian Ironman in 1996 so I knew what to expect – it’s a long day. My goal for this Ironman was to finish in around 10 hours.  I was on pace to beat my goal, but 16 miles into the run with 10 miles to go I started to get leg cramps.  Every time I tried to run, my legs would seize up.  I ended up walking the last 10 miles of the race and finished in 12 hours.  I crossed the finish line and just like that my journey – that part of my life was over.

Aidan bringing it home in Saint Laurent du Var
I never really thought too much about triathlon again, that is, until this past fall when the boys decided that they wanted to give it a try. In September, Aidan and Liam and a few of their friends signed up for an Ironkids event in Aix en Provence.  The event was a swim/run aquathlon, not a full triathlon, but enough to give the boys the bug to want to do more.  We started to look around and found a real triathlon in Le Lavandou for the boys to do at the end of the season in October.  Both Aidan and Liam had a blast in their first event.  Both are excellent swimmers, strong bikers, and the two have a great run with a kick finish.  Roan couldn't participate last year because he needed to work on his swimming, and much to his credit he joined a swim club over the winter to be able toe the line this spring.

Roan - proud triathlon veteran

The winter and early spring schedule was filled with cyclocross racing, mountain bike racing, Swim meets and of course lots of road bike racing, but I think everyone was counting the days to the first triathlon of the year.  We chose a triathlon in Saint Laurent du Var on the 26th of May. And, wow, everyone had a ton of fun in the Cote d'Azur.  Little Roan, who is now 8 years old, powered his way through his first triathlon.  Aidan had a great bike split and run and ended up 6th or 7th in his division.  Liam had the fastest bike split of all the categories and finished 3rd place overall despite losing his shoe briefly in the transition!

Liam picking up some hardware in the Cote D'Azur
It is great to see the boys develop a passion for new sports, and I get to discover triathlon all over again as a father/coach and perhaps participant.  Its hard to stand on the side lines. I have a feeling I’ll be jumping into a few of those tri’s, as well, one of these days....

The Flanagan "tri" brothers

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well

This is Bill, Liam, Aidan and Roan signing out

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Science of Speed Part 3 – Training: an Interview with Benjamin King

Ben King laying it down during the Mont Saint-Clair Time Trial  (Photo RSLT)

Benjamin King (Radio Shack Leopard Trek) is a professional cyclist who is now in his third year of racing in the elite World Tour ranks.  Over the years, we have gotten to know Ben pretty well and we have nothing but respect for his work ethic. At the core is a commitment and dedication to his team, the sport of cycling, and the greater global community.  Ben has done some pretty incredible things both on and off the bike.  In 2010, at 21 years of age, Ben won the US National Pro Championship (the first rider under 23 years of age to do so).  In his first year as a professional, he won the best young rider competition at the 2011 Tour of Beijing. During the off-season you won't find Ben on the couch.  He spends his fall breaks volunteering his time for mission-based charities in Mexico and Central America.  Ben has a long term approach to his life and training which has turned this Virginia native into not only one of the strongest cyclists on the planet, but also a humanitarian who is out there making a real difference in people's lives.

Last 100 meters of the Tour Med TT

Back in the beginning of February, Liam and I made the trip down to Cap D’Agde for the 2013 Tour Mediterranean Time Trial.  Ben was racing the Tour and we wanted the chance to get to see him in action.  It was a very cold and windy day and the finish was at the top of a killer 2k climb up Mont Saint-Clair with sections over 19% grade.  It was so windy, in fact, that Liam almost got blown off his bike a few times as we rode the 24k point to point circuit in the morning just before the pros.  Coming that early in the season, it was a tough time trial course to race.  Ben’s performance was fantastic.  He finished inside the top 20 in 17th place.  It was amazing to watch Ben fly up the mountain and incredible how deep he was going into “the pain cave” pulling off that effort.  It was too cold at the top of the mountain to catch-up so Ben invited us down to the team hotel at the base of the climb for a coffee after the race.  Back at the hotel over coffee and hot chocolate, we talked about the day’s race, the upcoming season, the off-season, and how training was going so far.  It was really fascinating stuff - we wanted to know more, but it was getting late.  Ben had things to take care of (he was two days and 171k into a five day 700k stage race) and we had to ride back to the car in the cold and wind before it got dark. 

Ben and Liam post race

As we started preparing this Science of Speed training segment, we thought back to that day in February.  We e-mailed back and forth, and, true to style, Ben was willing to graciously share his knowledge and experience for the blog project.

The Interview:  
1) FatherSonTour - When we sat down for coffee after the Mont Saint-Clair TT during the Tour de Med, you had mentioned that your year is broken down into different training periods.  Can you walk us through your calendar year so that we can get a better insight into how it is structured from a perspective of training and conditioning?

Ben King - The training period is broken down into different periods to build on itself. We lay the endurance foundation with long miles in the winter and do some rides throughout the year to maintain that.  After that, we introduce more intensity and shorter intervals.  Races also increase fitness, and there are periods of the season when it's just "race, recover, race."  Before target events, we'll taper down the weekly hours to around 70% of our weekly averages. 

2) FST - Over the years you have been a part of several different cycling programs, at both the developmental and professional levels - Hot Tubes, Kelly Benefit Strategies, Trek-LiveSTRONG, and the different Radio Shack teams.  What have been your most useful training take-aways from these various programs?

BK - I have had to learn the same lessons repeatedly at each level of the sport.  My first year as a junior, I got my head kicked in, so [I] buckled down that winter, and built the fitness to regain confidence.  I only spent one year on KBS/Medifast racing mostly criteriums.  I improved my pack skills and learned to go all-in for the team, but I felt that to reach the next level, I belonged in Europe. On Trek-LiveSTRONG I always did my job for the team, but was lacking the confidence and/or fitness to read a race and take advantage of my own opportunities.  I trained like a maniac that winter and 2010 was my "breakout" season that launched me to the WorldTour.  On RSLT I have improved each year and served the team well, but recognize that I still have some adjusting and developing to do before I realize my full potential.  One of my coaches, Jim Miller, always tells me "trust in the process."  That has become one of my mottos.  It isn't about instant satisfaction.  It's about hard work, commitment, and determination.

3) FST - That’s some pretty sound advice.  USA Cycling coach Jim Miller lives in Colorado Springs, and you are based in Lucca, Italy.  With that much distance between you, how does that training/coaching relationship function?

BK - This year I have begun to work with one of our team trainers who is more directly involved with me throughout the season.  However, Jim continues to be a mentor and follows my training via the files that I upload to the internet.  I owe Jim a part of all the success I have enjoyed in cycling so far.

4) FST - Over the last two years we have followed along as you post many of your rides throughout the season on Strava.  You have done some pretty wild training and racing all over the world.  Is there any one ride that stands out and captures the spirit of what you love about cycling?

BK - Home sweet home:  http://app.strava.com/activities/519321. This is one of my favorite big laps.

FST - *Note:  It somehow comes as no surprise that, even after all his travels, Ben’s favorite ride is a 100 mile loop with 3600 meters of climbing not in the Dolomites or the French Alps, but in the hills around his home town of North Garden, Virginia.

5) FST - Since we are covering the "Science of Speed" -- if you had to choose one, what would be the single most important workout for increasing your bike speed.

BK - That's a trick question!  See number 2.  It's a process, and there is no magic.  Get stronger, get faster.  Get more aerodynamic, get faster.  Get lighter, get faster.  Shorter intensity workouts show quicker returns, like 1 minute on, 1 minute off, or 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off, 4x4minutes...  All of these spike your power when you've laid the foundation.

6) FST - This past fall you spent time in Mexico volunteering for a project helping communities in need.  You built homes for two families in Tijuana, Mexico.  It doesn't sound exactly like what most people consider to be "down time," however, when we talked with you about the experience it was clearly a source of inspiration and strength.  Can we link the great article you wrote for VeloNews about the experience? 

BK - Sure http://velonews.competitor.com/2013/01/rider-diaries/ben-king-journal-changing-their-lives-and-our-in-tijuana_272548  

FST - Thanks so much for sharing your approach to training with us.  Good luck in the upcoming Tour of California.  As always, we will be cheering for you! 

So, there it is, straight from Ben King.  When it comes to training, there are no short cuts.  Only hard work, determination, and commitment and, above all, having the faith and patience to trust in the process.  Oh, and those 40/20s can't hurt either....

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Science of Speed Part 2 - Bike Design and Technology

Liam and I had never been up to Belgium to watch the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen), but the trip has always been on my bucket list.  I had heard tales of millions of spectators lining storied cobbled climbs where epic battles of human will, endurance and strength take place.  I had watched the event on television, and it looked amazing.  Whenever I talked to my Belgian friends about the race, I saw a look of excitement come to their faces and their entire postures change in anticipation of the great event. The Belgians are crazy about cycling and the Ronde is the biggest bike race of the year in Belgium -- it is their version of the Super Bowl.  I read somewhere that in a country of 11 million people they estimate that 8 million Belgians are watching the race either live or on the television.  We weren't planning on making it to Belgium for the race this year, however,  when the opportunity to go as part of our continuing Science of Speed Blog project presented itself -- Liam and I jumped at the chance.

Belgian fans lining up hours before the race
 We had been hoping to cover Trek Bikes for our technology and design segment of the project.  Over the years, we have become friends with many of the people who work for the Wisconsin-based, bicycle manufacturer; and they all share one thing in common -- they are passionate about bikes and this passion drives them to continually work towards designing and producing the ultimate machine for the ultimate athlete.   So, needless to say, we were stoked to receive an e-mail from Jordan Roessingh (@TrekJordan) offering to meet up for a ride and talk bikes in Belgium on the Friday before the famous Flanders race.   

Cobbled section of the Oude Kwaremont - Flanders, Belgium
Jordan is the Trek team liaison for Radio Shack Leopard Trek (RSLT).  He is an engineer, former competitive cyclist from the University of Wisconsin, and an individual who is really passionate about bikes and cycling in general.  In his role as an interface between the bicycle company and the professional cycling team, Jordan wears two hats -- that of the cyclist and that of the engineer.  He takes what the riders tell him that they are feeling and what they want in a bike's performance, and then translates that to the engineers back on the ground.  Trek works very closely, in this hands-on manner, with their athletes.  The results are improvements in design and technology, which come out of real life demands under the most grueling conditions in cycling.  These improvements are then passed on through to the public, as the company continually improves their line of bikes.

Jordan and Liam on the cobbles
 We met up with Jordan on Friday at the RSLT team's hotel just outside of Brugge, Belgium as the riders were preparing to go on a training ride before the Flanders race.  We got a tour of the team set-up, a chance to speak to a few of the riders, and an inside view of the technical aspects of how Trek designs and produces bikes. The Tour of Flanders is one of three classic monuments of cycling.   These race classics are grueling one-day spring events that often take place over cobble sections and other generally rough and demanding terrain. The routes are often 250 kilometers or longer, and the riders can be in the saddle for 6 to 7 hours.  In these types of races comfort is often equally, if not more, important than aerodynamics.  Up until two years ago Trek did not have a "classic" specific bike. The challenge for Trek was to design and develop a bike that achieved comfort and compliance without sacrificing the aerodynamics, efficiency, and responsiveness of a stiffer "less-compliant" bike.

In April of 2011, Liam and I were up in Northern France at the Paris-Roubaix race (another of the classic monuments). We were there to watch the pros, and to ride the cyclo-sportive which is an amateur event over many of the same cobble sections as the pro race (blog post Queen of the One-Day Classics - Paris Roubaix).  I rode the Roubaix challenge with a great group from the Trek family.  These guys weren't there just to have fun (although they did have plenty of that - along with a broken hand and a few other bumps and scrapes), they were there to asses what the demands of the classics were and, from the ground level, get an idea of what was needed to create a winning bike for the athletes that use their bikes in this type of racing and riding.  

Liam with Trek's masterpiece Domane - the winning bike of Flanders
Trek went into action quickly.  By early 2012, Trek split their road bike line into two platforms -- the hugely successful Madone and the new classics inspired Domane.  The breakthrough with the Domane was the IsoSpeed pivot at the junction where the seat tube and top tube of the bike come together.  Trek had their engineers on the job experimenting with several different prototypes, and eventually got what they were looking for.  The IsoSpeed feature provided flex and compliance ("comfort" for us non-engineering types) to the saddle and the handle bars, but didn't take away from the stiffness of the bottom bracket and the responsiveness of the bike itself.  The result being that one doesn't necessarily have to sacrifice comfort for performance.

The IsoSpeed Decoupler

Everything was coming together last spring for the 2012 versions of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.  Trek had worked really hard to get the Domane ready, their athlete Fabian Cancellara (Spartacus) was in peak form.  One week before Flanders, at a race called Harelbeke, Fabian got a flat tire on the Kwaremont (which is a cobbled climb also used in the Tour of Flanders).  Just after the climb, Fabian pulled over and Jordan was helping change his tire, when suddenly, another rider, Carlos Barredo, crashed into them both.  Jordan broke his nose in 5 places and had 25 stitches - it was a serious injury.  Fabian wasn't hurt as badly, but he was shaken up.  He suffered a swollen knee and a bruised back, which meant that he had a lot of rehab that needed to be done before the big event the following Sunday.  Trek and the team where still confidant that they could pull off a victory; and despite his Harelbeke crash, Fabian was one of the favorites going into the race.  At the Tour of Flanders, everything was going well.  Fabian was confident and strong.  Then, bad luck hit again.  At a feed zone 65k from the finish, riders were throwing their used water bottles all over the road.  Fabian hit a bottle and was launched into the air, and when he hit the pavement he shattered his collarbone in several places.  And, just like that, a victory for Fabian and the new Trek Domane wasn't in the cards that year.  It was tough luck, but that is part of the sport of cycling.  If anything, I think the experience just increased both Fabian's and Trek's resolve to come back and get it right this year.

Spartacus checking his ride
It was clear that RSLT had unfinished business at Flanders.  Spirits were high, but at the same time the riders and everyone working around them were very focused.  We were able to witness the meticulous preparation for the race.  Bikes where checked for proper set up and geometry, wheels and tires checked and double checked.  A well-organized professional cycling team is a fascinating machine to see in action.

Jordan spent a good part of the morning sharing his knowledge of the technology and design that go into making Trek's truly incredible bikes (I now have a Domane on my wish list, although I am still very happy with my Madone).  We got a better understanding of what riders need for races.  Oftentimes different races and terrain require different equipment.  Similar to our experience in Lucca with our segment on power and watts, we started to pick up on an almost new language.  It was the language of bike design.  Terms like bike compliance, bottom bracket stiffness, race-stable geometry, and power transfer construction all started to make perfect sense.  For example "The next time I hit the pave I want to increase my power performance by optimizing my E2-down tube-rear wheel connection, but at the same time decouple at the seat tube to increase vertical compliance and add to my over all ride comfort." Translated --"the next time I ride a really rough road I want to go fast, but I don't want my butt to hurt."  It is an easy thing to say, but another thing entirely to design and engineer a bike that lives up to the challenge.

Liam jamming the 20% grade section of the Koppenberg
After shooting some video of the bikes, we took a quick tour of the RSLT team bus, and then Jordan, Olympic triathlete and Trek Sports Marketing Director Simon Thompson, Liam, and I headed out to Oudenaarde for a pre-race recon of some of the famous cobbled climbs of Eastern Flanders.  As Simon said, "it was a balmy zero degrees with light snow."  Once we got warmed up, however, it was a lot of fun out there hitting the cobbles.  We did a loop out to the Koppenberg, Paterberg, and the Oude Kwaremont - the scene of Jordan's accident last year.  The Paterberg and Koppenberg are short and very steep, at some points over 20% grade.  They hit you hard and take a lot out of the legs.  The Oude Kwaremont is longer, but its level of steepness varies from about 11% down to 2%.  This was the first time for Jordan to ride these climbs. He felt that it was important to experience them on a bike as opposed to a car in order to get a better understanding of what the athletes he works with are actually experiencing on race day. From what we have seen, that seems to be the Trek philosophy - get out there in the field and then bring this experience back to the drawing board to continually improve their bikes. 

Jordan, Liam and Simon back at the hotel after the ride
And, by now, we all know how the story ends. On Sunday March 30th, 2013 Fabian Cancellara, riding his Trek Domane bicycle, won the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders.  It was an important victory not only for the RSLT team, but also for a group of committed individuals that are passionate about building bikes and getting them right.
Spartacus on his way to victory
Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

*Bonus video - RSLT bus tour with Jordan

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In the Wake of Spartacus - Riding the white roads of Siena

One-day bike races become classics because of their great and storied past in the lexicon of cycling. When I think of these classics, which take place in the spring of the pro-racing calendar, the names Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) immediately come to mind.  In recent years, however, there is a third race that is rapidly gaining stature and popularity in the classics hierarchy.  This race is Le Strade Bianche (white gravel roads).  The race is 188 kilometers long and takes place in the Tuscan countryside all around Siena. The course profile is a lot like the Tour of Flanders in that it is made up of many short steep hill sections.  The race organizers then throw in 8 sections of gravel roads which are similar to the cobble sections of Paris-Roubaix.  Strade has all the elements of a truly great Spring Classic, and it is quite possibly one of the most exciting bike races to watch all year. 

The Tuscan countryside around Siena
Unlike the other classics, Le Strade Bianche doesn't have a long storied past, in fact, it has only been in existence since 2007.  By 2008 the event was incorporated into the "Spring Classics" season, and by 2013 --- only its sixth year running --- it is already considered by many to be one of the citadels of spring racing.  The course has all the elements of an epic day on a bike - varied terrain, strategic white gravel sections, very tough hills, and is set against a backdrop of Tuscan vineyards, olive groves, and beautiful medieval villages and towns.

Liam and I had wanted to go to Siena to check out this great event since last year when we saw Fabian Cancellara (Spartacus) win the race. We had been planning a late winter training camp in Lucca, Italy around the same time, but it just didn't look like the timing was going to work to get there this year.  While we were in Lucca, however, I got a message from our friend Jose Been asking if we were going to be at the race.  Jose (Tour de Jose) is a cycling reporter and she was covering the Strade imbedded with the Vacansoliel Team. That tipped the scale in favor of Siena and a white road pre-race recon.  Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to stay in Siena for the entire race, but we would be able to ride part of the course the day before, and go to Gaiole in Chianti for the start race morning.

Fabian looking over his racing steed
 We arrived in Siena on Friday morning, which was the day before the race.  We found our hotel, immediately got the bikes together, and then headed out in search of the famous white roads.  We were on a mission.  I had briefly looked at a map, but really didn't have a great idea where we were going.  I just figured we would ride and take things as they came.  Siena is a little hectic near the city center, and I was starting to regret not having a good map with me.  Just then in the distance we saw the Radioshack Leopard Trek team bus at a hotel just on the outskirts of town.  I figured we could stop by, say hello, and that they could possibly be able to point us in the right direction.  What took place next is hard to believe --- so it is a good thing I captured it on video.  Spartacus himself was getting ready to do a training session and dial in his totally awesome Trek Domane bike for the race.  Even better was the fact that he was heading out to a section of the Strade Bianche.  We had a guide, now all we had to do was keep up! 

Riding in the wake of Spartacus
I was beginning to feel like we were in a scene of Alice in Wonderland.  Instead of following the white rabbit though, we were following Spartacus himself out to the white stoned roads.  We rode behind in the wake of the legend at a distance of 5 to 7 meters (triathlon anti-drafting rule style) in order to give Fabian space to do what he needed to do to prepare for the race, but it was still a really cool experience.  And, just as promised, after about 20k of chasing the champion, we hit the first Strade Bianche gravel section.

Tough climbs on sections of the Strade

Liam was digging it!
We parted ways with Fabian and hit the white roads with everything we had.  Dust was flying and we were having a blast.  The climbs were tough, but some of the descents - especially on the corners - were gnarly.  Hats off to the pros - they make it look easy.

Liam and Jose in Siena
 That evening, we met up with Jose for a beer/Coke and had a great time talking cycling and watching several of the teams prepare for the upcoming race.  The logistics that go into getting a professional cycling team prepared for a race like Strade Bianche are amazingly complex.  (That no doubt will be the subject of a future blog post...)  The next morning we headed out to Gaiole in Chianti and watched the race start.  The riders headed south towards Siena, but we had to head north towards France for a seven hour dash back to Provence.  It was a great introduction to a classic race which I'm sure we will be closely following for years to come!  

The race start at Gaiole in Chianti

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Science of Speed Part 1 - Watts and Power

In the lead up to this year's Giro and Tour de France, Liam and I are putting together a series of blog posts on the "science of speed."  In these installments, we are exploring the more technical aspects of cycling.  These are the elements that enable cyclists to go from point A to point B faster, stronger and more efficiently.  The focus is on the key areas of power and watts, training and nutrition, aerodynamics and equipment, and mental preparation and race strategy.

A few weeks ago, Liam and I were looking over this list and we started brainstorming ideas, listing contacts we had in the field, and the information that we needed to obtain in order to get a better understanding of each category.  Soon we had an idea map going all over the living room floor.  The design looked a lot like a giant wheel and each area was an important spoke connecting the central hub to the outer circumference of the circle.  When they all started to fit together they formed a perfectly supported wheel --- the foundations of the complete cyclist.  From the living room floor it was time to head out into the real world and see how all this stuff actually worked.  And, just like that, --- the project was born.

Rob explaining some of the concepts of power and speed

We had a late winter training camp planned in Lucca, Italy and, as part of that trip, we had been hoping to get in some riding with our friend Rob Love.  When you meet Rob you can just pick up on his passion for riding bikes --- mountain bikes, road bikes, cyclo-cross and custom motorcycles are just a few of Robs interests.  He also has an incredible amount of information about power and watts and how that applies to bike racing from his work at SRM.  Rob was open and willing to spend a few days with us sharing his knowledge. 

 Liam had several questions about power, mostly coming from an article which he had read about what kind of sustained power it took to be in the top ten in the Tour de France.  There was a figure that was thrown around of a power of 6.2 watts per kilogram of body weight.  This means that if a rider could generate this type of power on the 40 minute climbs in the Tour de France, climbs which often come after 5 hours in the saddle, that they could win the Tour de France or at least be in the top 10.  Last summer when we rode stage 17 of the Tour de France (blog post "To the Pyrenees - Surf's up") we had been in the saddle for around 4 and 1/2 hours when we hit the Port de Bales which is a 19k HC "most difficult climb."  It is the same climb on which Andy Schleck lost his chain when he was battling Alberto Contador in the 2010 Tour de France.  It is exactly the type of climb the article was referring to.  Liam hit this climb, in the words of our friend Sofiane, "comme une fusee" (like a rocket).  Liam blew everyone on the mountain away that day.  There was no way I, Sofiane, or any of the riders that were riding the Tour route that day could keep up with him.  He was pushing over 200 watts average for the climb.  Liam weighed 35 kilos at the time.  We did the math together and figured that Liam was somewhere in the neighborhood of 5.8 watts per kilo.  Will he be able to keep up that ratio as he grows?  Let's say that he will weigh 65 kilos as an adult.  Then, to generate the same power to weight ratio, he would need to be sustaining 377 watts on the same type of climb.  All of a sudden watts, power, and the science of speed became a lot more interesting. 

There was a lot that Liam wanted to know.  He had a basic grasp of what power was and that it could measured and quantified, but beyond that, he didn't really know what watts were and how that applied to riding his bike --- besides the higher the number to faster you go.  When we were talking watts we might as well have been talking about the octane percentage of gasoline --- it didn't mean much out of context.  So the first thing for us to do was learn a new language and terminology of speed and power.  The lesson started as soon as we met up with Rob for a lunch ride in Lucca.  Rob was testing out a customer's power meter to make sure it was properly dialed in.  He took us out on a great loop.  Just a few minutes from the SRM Italian headquarters you are out in the Tuscan hills riding through beautiful olive groves.  This was the coolest classroom ever --- on a bike, riding these incredible roads.  Rob has an incredible depth of knowledge and, at the same time, a gift for sharing it in a passionate and fun way that makes it really interesting.

Rob and Liam looking over the data from our Lucca loop
We learned that power can be used as a language to describe effort and training.  Athletes can use this language to relay information to their coaches about the type of training they are doing.  Power profiles of entire rides can be used to determine strengths and weaknesses.  Perhaps a rider is very strong for the first hour or two, but then starts to see significant power drops thereafter, then they know they should work on building endurance.  We also learned that average power is measured in different time frames ---5 minute, 10 minute, and 20 minute power.  So, if someone says they are doing 500 watts it is important to determine in what context.  Is it 500 watts average for 10 minutes or is it sustained just for 30 seconds in a sprint?  These are different skill sets.  Some athletes can generate huge power for short periods of time.  These are usually the sprinters.  Others can sustain large but not huge power efforts over time.  These are the breakaway and time trial specialists.  As a competitive cyclist, it is important to understand what the strengths and weaknesses of your athletic ability are.  This all plays into race strategy and using the power you have in the most efficient way.  The strongest rider doesn't always win the race, in fact, it is often the smartest rider.

Both Liam and I learned an incredible amount over the course of the ride.  It wasn't all talk, however. We were able to put in some pretty cool efforts on some of the hills, and the winding descents were awesome.  Halfway through the ride we met up with our friend Ben King who is a professional cyclist with Radio Shack Leopard Trek. Ben actually went out of his way to ride with us for a few kilometers.  Just an average ride... only in Lucca!  Ben was getting in some final training before heading up to Belgium for the Three Days of West Flanders race.  After wishing Ben luck for his upcoming Belgian racing, we parted ways and Rob, Liam and I headed back into the hills.  We started cranking out the watts and had a really great final climb with a fun sprint between Rob and Liam at the top.

Rob at work
 After the ride, we headed back to the SRM "villa."  I say villa because that is, in fact, what the headquarters is.  It is located in a beautiful estate on a hill just on the outskirts of Lucca.  Rob had to get back to work, but before he did we were able to go over some of the data from the ride on the power meter Rob was testing.  On that final climb Rob was putting out 907 watts and Liam was most likely in the neighborhood of 450-500 watts.  Cool stuff!  And now it didn't only just sound good, we actually understood better what it meant.  We had learned a whole new language over the course of the ride.

SRM makes power meters which work with the crank drive of the bike.

The next day, Rob set aside some time for Liam and me to swing by SRM and continue with our hands-on lesson of power and watts.  SRM Italy is a service center.  Manufacturing of the power meters takes place in Germany and the US.  Liam had visited SRM Italy last year when we met Rob for the first time, but now he was seeing things with new eyes and with a deeper understanding of what he was looking at. The SRM power meter works in the crank drive of the bicycle.  There are other brands which work with the rear wheel, pedal, etc.., however, SRM was the pioneer in the industry and continues to set the standard in the field.  Rob spent a good deal of time walking us through the "nuts and bolts" of how the whole system works.

SRM power measuring unit with power control monitor

The SRM system works by measuring power with a unit which fits between the crank and the front chain rings of the bicycle.  When you apply force or torque to the pedal the meter is able to record the amount of stress that is put on the unit.  It then, in turn, calculates the cadence or how fast you are turning the pedals.  Watts are then calculated by multiplying the force applied to the pedal by the speed you are applying that force.  Watts = torque value (how much pressure is being applied to the pedal) multiplied by angular velocity (how fast you are turning the pedals).  The information is then transmitted to a handlebar mounted power control which gives the athlete an instantaneous power reading as well as a recording of output for the entire ride.

Rainbow striped world champion version- got to earn this one
 We left SRM with a new ability to quantify effort and power, and we were able to get a better understanding of how that translates into increased speed and smarter racing tactics on a bicycle.  All are important elements in our quest to learn more about the science of speed and better understand the foundations of what it takes to be the complete competitive cyclist.

Liam's favorite color scheme
Just before we said our goodbyes to Rob and SRM, I asked Liam if he had any more questions.  He thought for a second and then said with a smile, "when can I get one?"

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Rapha Festive 500

"Ride 500 kilometers on a bicycle in the week between Christmas and New Years." It was really quite a crazy idea. Liam told me so when I first suggested it, in fact, I think he thought I was joking.  I was joking at first, but only half-way.  There was a big part of me that was serious, and I had started to latched on to the idea.  Liam and I have done some crazy adventures over the years, but they usually involve traveling to a destination and riding and training in Italy, Spain, or following the Tour de France in July.  We train at home year round, of course, but somehow it seems like less of an adventure than the whole road trip type.  The beauty of the Festive 500 is that we could transform our local training roads in to an awesome challenge.  The journey awaited right outside our door.

We needed an adventure - something to share between a father and his, soon to be, teenage son.  It is hard to believe that this July Liam will turn 13.  I can tell that things are changing.  Our relationship is changing.  Liam is growing up.  Some of the growing comes with grace and other parts are coming less naturally.  It is hard to make the transition from boy to man, and even harder to find balance in the space in between.  It had been a fall of growing pains, and the holiday school break would give us some time to reconnect. For Liam and me it is on the bike that we communicate the best.  The rhythm of the ride breaks down barriers.

Holiday fun!
So there it was.  We had the challenge, we had the time, and all we would need was a little luck with the weather to have a good shot at nailing the Festive 500.  The challenge  took place between December 24th and December 31st, and miles ridden were to be tracked by GPS and downloaded to Strava which is a cycling internet site.  I wasn't sure that we would be able to complete the whole 500, but I knew that with a little luck we would get pretty close.

The Ride Report:

Monday, the 24th of December, we set out on a 100k (62 mile) ride which I call "Metric Century Monday."  The ride circumnavigates the Sainte Baume mountain range.  The Sainte Baume is a  beautiful group of mountains about 20 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean sea. Liam had never ridden this route before. The day was on the cold side and there was a good amount of wind.  We got though the ride which had over 3000 ft of climbing in just under four hours.  We didn't talk too much mostly because of the wind. Liam rode very well, however, and the ride gave him a lot of confidence for the journey ahead.  Day two was Christmas morning. The weather was very good. We had a 52K ride which can best be described as "festive" indeed.  We rode past old vineyards and through little French villages with the streets decorated in holiday cheer.  I like Christmas in France.  It is not as commercialized as in the states.  The French celebrate, but in a more low key way. Mostly people get together with family and friends and eat really good food (I don't know of any holiday in France that is not celebrated this way). We took Wednesday off from the bike, and instead had a wonderful hike in the back country with friends.  Thursday was back to it with a tough 64k in the mountains. Friday we got in 52k and this was a tough day. Legs were sore and we still had a lot to go to be able to finish the 500. Most Saturday mornings we ride with Liam's Velo Club.  Normally meet for the ride about 20k from our house in the Town of Aubagne.  By riding to the ride, and then riding home we would be able to get in 85k. Liam rides with a group of kids that are a few years older than him.  The pace tends to be high and the energy of the group is pumped.  The ride gave us some real motivation! We clipped off those 85k with an average speed of close to 30K an hour.  After Saturday's ride we started to get excited.  WE MIGHT ACTUALLY FINISH THE WHOLE CHALLENGE! We had 150k left and two days remaining to complete them.  The weather forecast looked great - sun and high temperatures in the low 60's.  We decided to do a little over 100k on Sunday and a celebratory 52K on New Year's Eve. 
short rest stop on day 2
As the kilometers ticked by on the road, the distance between Liam and me was growing smaller and smaller.  We were laughing again and having fun. The wind had settled down, so we were also able to ride side by side and talk about life. We talked about life in France, how things were going in school, goals for the year both on and off the bike, and plans for this year's Tour de France.  The last two rides went very well.  Liam was getting stronger and stronger as we got further into the challenge.  The last day was a celebratory ride.  I took the GoPro camera, and we got some good clips along the way.  As you can see in the video the weather was amazing. 

Liam got stronger as we got further into the challenge
 YESSSS! We finished the challenge! 7 days, 500 kilometers, 21 hours in the saddle, 10,000 meters or 33,000 feet climbed, and some invaluable time for a father and his son to reconnect.  Thanks to Rapha and Strava for the Festive fun not to mention the inspiration and motivation to get out and enjoy the road. 

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.