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Stage 12: The Importance of Pacing

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Stage 12

The Importance of Pacing

Today, as the race finally entered the big mountains, we had two great examples of the importance of pacing. Too often, cyclists, even the pros, blow up by trying to ride at a pace they cannot sustain.

Hang around coaches, elite athletes, or even online message boards very long, and you’ll soon hear terms like MLSS, Threshold, and FTP thrown around. The fancy terms and jumbled acronyms come down to this – the pace you can sustain for a long time; like say a hors categorie climb in the Tour de France, or maybe just the last 5 miles to the coffee shop on your Sunday ride.

Today we saw Geraint Thomas from Team Sky attack ~4km from the top of the Col de Tourmalet. This attack dropped Jeremy Roy from Francaise des Jeux. However, because Roy was patient and rode his own pace, he was able to catch Thomas and beat him over the top of the mountain; netting himself a cool €5,000, a bunch of mountains points, and more than a few bragging rights as a Frenchman winning a famous French climb on Bastille Day!

On the final climb to Luz Ardiden, race leader Thomas Voeckler came off the group with a little more than a kilometer to go. Again, he rode his own pace and only conceded 37 seconds of his precious grip on the yellow jersey, rather than a minute or more had he gone into oxygen debt and toiled his way to the line.

Both of these riders were under tremendous pressure, but were able to keep their wits about them and ride within themselves. It’s terribly hard to let someone ride away from you, but I promise that it’s even harder to crack, or blow-up, and crawl the rest of the way. Better to concede a few seconds than a few minutes, right?

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com

Stage 11: Who’s Turn Is It, Anyway?

One of the more misunderstood concepts in cycling is whose responsibility it is to pull, or work at the front of the group. In today’s stage, it was primarily HTC doing the pace setting. Let’s look at why this was their responsibility today, and why the other teams did not contribute.

There should always be a reason for doing work, and you should always avoid it if at all possible. If we exclude the teams who had no realistic shot at winning today (that is, no reason to work), that excludes 16, including Europcar, the team of race leader Voeckler. Since no one in the break was a threat to yellow, they had the day off. This is actually quite fortunate for them, as they’ll have their work cut out trying to keep yellow tomorrow.

So of the 6 teams in with a shot today, why was only HTC doing the work? Cavendish is obviously the strongest sprinter in the race, and has the best shot at winning. The other teams know that HTC can’t afford to let a chance at a stage win pass, so they sit back and wait, forcing HTC to pull. These teams finally contributed towards the end of the stage, but only enough to ensure a sprint finish and to keep their riders in position – in other words, only as much as they had to.

The next time you find yourself pulling a group along, ask yourself why. Whether you are trying to win a race, or just beat your buddy to the top of the hill, ride like the pros, and save as much energy as possible. The strongest rider, the rider with the most to gain, or lose, and the team with the most numbers almost always has the responsibility to pull. You, meanwhile, have the responsibility to make them! By saving your matches, and making them burn theirs, you greatly increase your odds of success.

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com

Stage 10: Wow

What an exciting finish. Bravo to Voeckler for staying aggressive even with the leader’s jersey. It’s beautiful to see someone just go for it, heart and soul. To be sure, we watch the Tour to be entertained, but today we were inspired as well. Did anyone with a pulse not feel their heart jump when the yellow and green jersey attacked?

Meanwhile, though Voeckler inspired with his courage, the bigger story today was Gilbert’s selflessness. From 10km to go, it was clear that he was on a suicide mission. The team tactics played out flawlessly, and HTC was forced to burn matches to bring back Gilbert. This set up his teammate, Greipel, for the win. What makes this even more remarkable is that Gilbert and Greipel are a little at odds for team leadership. Although Greipel is the designated sprinter, Gilbert has the green Points jersey, and a good chance to carry it all the way to Paris. Today he sacrificed himself, and put teamwork ahead of personal glory.

So for me, today was all about the beauty of cycling. Today’s stage was massively entertaining, but also massively inspiring – courage, sacrifice, team work. Cycling can be brutal, it has a dark side, but through it all it is beautiful, and Stage 10 showed us why.

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com

Stage 9

I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but today I am simply stunned by Stage 9. This Tour continues to be brutal. If anything good can come of these crashes, let it be that we all are more careful and look out for one another.

Let’s look at two take-aways from today’s stage. First, although Garmin relinquished the yellow jersey, it was the right decision. Sometimes you have to know when to stop, and while Thor’s run in the lead was magnificent, it had to come to an end. Pulling the plug when they did saved a lot of energy that will be needed over the next 13 days. Garmin did not give up, they did not quit, but they were able to make the right, albeit difficult, choice in the midst of chaos.

The second take-away is that persistence is rewarded. How many days now has Voeckler attacked? He was finally rewarded with a long day in the breakaway, and, ultimately, the yellow jersey. He said after the stage that he went out looking for yellow. He keeps searching, keeps fighting the good fight, and today he was rewarded. There’s a lesson there for all of us.

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com

Stage 8: Thunder

In Norse mythology, Thor is the god of thunder, oak trees, and strength. Today, Thor Hushovd lived up to his name. They say that having the yellow jersey gives you extra strength; I wonder if being named after a god does, too?

In case you don’t know, Hushovd is a sprinter; a man for the flat roads and fast finishes. Mountains are not his forte’, and he was suppose to lose the yellow jersey today. Apparently, though, he did not get the memo. Today’s profile (elevation map) was uphill from the beginning, with 4 ranked climbs. Thor’s tenuous lead of 1 second was sure to evaporate, but it didn’t. Cadel Evans, lying in 2nd overall, is 30lbs lighter, and one of the best climber’s in the business.

Let’s take a look at two keys from Hushovd’s tactics; don’t get overwhelmed, and don’t quit. Thor said in the post-race interview that all he did today was watch Evans. He took a very complex, potentially overwhelming problem, and reduced it to the most basic element. When I talk an athlete through a race beforehand, I am very careful not to overwhelm them. We focus on one, maybe two things. Don’t make things harder or more complicated than they need to be, drill down to the core issue and focus on that.

Hushovd actually lost Cadel’s wheel with 1k to go, but said he rode his own tempo, then made an effort to get onto the back of Cadel’s group at the finish, leading us to the second take-away from today – don’t quit. If, like Thor, you can keep from getting overwhelmed and resist the urge to give in – you’ll go far.

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com

Stage 7: Concussions

Chris Horner is among my favorite riders to watch. He’s just a blue collar stiff who puts his nose to the grind stone and gets things done. He’s not polished, he’s not pretty or even particularly well-spoken. He likes to eat at McDonalds and tell things like they are. He’s the Kelly Pavlik of the cycling world. And like Kelly, damn he’s good, and damn he’s fun to watch.

So today, watching the video of Horner at the finish, quite obviously concussed, was tough. Actually it was frightening. Apparently he was a little groggy after the crash, came out of it, and then the symptoms just showed back up while he was on the bike. From what I’ve read at the Science of Sport blog (http://www.sportsscientists.com/2011/07/tour-takes-on-new-complexion.html) that is how head injuries often present – after the fact.

We’ve all seen boxers and football players who aren’t quite right anymore. Not old guys, mind you, but 40-year olds who took one too many hits to the head. What you may not have heard about are athletes who hit their head, think they’re fine, and then drop dead a few hours later. Do a search for Natasha Richardson.

Yes today’s post is serious, but so are head injuries. Always wear a helmet, replace it after any impact, or after 5 years. If you do hit your head, get checked out. And above all, don’t continue. It’s just not worth it, and the consequences really can be permanent.

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com

Stage 6: All About the Benjamins

At the Tour, winning is not everything. The most obvious prize is the Yellow Jersey, or maillot jaune, of the leader. Next are the individual stage wins, which are obviously also important. But did you know that there three other jerseys up for grabs, and an additional two competitions?

We’ll save those for another day, and today focus on money. It makes the world go ‘round, and it makes the Tour go ‘round. More specifically, it is one of the main reasons for the long breakaways we often see that might have you scratching your head. “They never win, so why do they do it?” It all comes down to $$$. Or, actually, €€€.

The easiest to understand are the mid-race prizes. Each time there is a sprint or a ranked climb, the first rider(s) over the line get money; anywhere from €200-800 for first. Win a couple of those, and it’s not a bad day’s work.

However, the even bigger prize is TV time. In the 2010 Super Bowl, a 30-second TV commercial cost $2.6million. Teams are funded by sponsors who want to see their name on TV; lots of TV time means more sponsors, bigger paychecks and job security. If a breakaway lasts for 5 hours, that’s a lot of TV time! If we compare the number of viewers of the Tour to the Super Bowl, and assume a break is just on TV for 2 hours, that’s nearly $25million worth of advertising.

You better believe the directors of the smaller teams are telling their guys to get into the day’s breakaway – they can’t afford not to!

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com

Stage 5: Rubber Side Down

If this keeps up, I will be talking a lot about crashes during this year’s Tour, even though I’d really rather not. First, a little plug for my coaching blog, where I’ve got a two-part write-up on how to treat road rash: http://www.ontracktriathlon.com/?p=221 If you look around, there’s also a post on why crashing is beautiful, although I’m sure the guys in the Tour might not feel that way today.

What can we learn from the pros in the Tour to keep us “rubber side down” on our rides? First, big groups contribute to crashes. If you’ve ever ridden the MS-150, or the Hotter’N Hell, you know this already. But if you’re newer to cycling, you know this instinctively if you ever drive in a big city. I grew up in Houston, and now live in Dallas. I know there’s a much greater risk of a fender-bender on 610 or 635 at rush hour than on FM1175 at 8am on a Sunday. So be extra cautious if you do have to ride with a large group. Also avoid riding where there is a lot of vehicular traffic.

The second thing we can learn is that nervousness leads to crashes. If you are nervous, you’ve got a tighter grip on the bars, and probably locked elbows. A little bump, on the road or from another rider, is likely to make you fall, and you’re less able to make quick steering adjustments. If this sounds like you, practice riding, practice relaxing, and stay near the back of the group. If you see someone around you that looks nervous, just give them a wide berth. It’s also perfectly acceptable to ask someone to ride at the back, or even leave the group entirely if they are posing a risk. Of course if you’re not comfortable asking that, you can always choose to leave the group. Better a solo ride than learning what road rash is like!

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com

Stage 4: He Who Hesitates is Lost

Today Thor Hushovd hesitated, and it cost him dearly. Although he retained the yellow jersey, he lost a shot at the stage victory and precious points towards the Sprint competition.

Of course Thor is not the only rider who hesitated as the race rounded the final left hand bend, but as one of the biggest guys in the race, wearing bright yellow, and a favorite for a sprint victory, he was easy to spot!

In a normal sprint, there is a lead-out train the delivers the sprinters to about ~200m to go at absolute top speed, at or near 40mph. Today the finish was tactical because of the climb. Contador and Gilbert both tried to attack, but the bunch was obviously expecting this, and they came up short. As the climb flattened out towards the top and the field came around the final bend, the gap to the very front riders closed. Instead of accelerating around these riders, Thor and several others sat up ever so briefly. Cycling is a game of momentum, and they lost theirs. It’s easy to see Thor slow, then never quite get back up to speed.

Opening the sprint at that moment would not have been ideal – it was probably still a skosh too far out. However, you have to play the cards you are dealt, and it even if it didn’t net him the win, it would have resulted in a better placing and more points towards the Green jersey.

So today’s take-away is to seize the moment. It may not be perfect, or even what you were expecting, but when the time comes, don’t hesitate (funny how sport is a microcosm for life like that).

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com

Stage 3: America’s Day!

Garmin-Cervelo started as small pro team with hopes of one day making it to the Tour. “We want to get an invite to the Tour within 3 years,” is something I remember Jonathan Vaughters, the team director, saying.

Now, just a few years later, here they are with the yellow jersey and two stage wins. Better yet, an American rider, on an American team, won a stage of the Tour de France on Independence Day.

With a little luck, a lot of hard work, and the right people with the right attitude, anything is possible for a little pro team with big dreams. Or for a brand new country who decides to declare their independence.

Here’s to more wins for American teams, and another 235 years of the American dream.

Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at srose@trainingbible.com