Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Great Tarantaise Workout

This guy needs to work a bit on his peripheral vision...

The sun was back out today and temperatures went back up so it made for a perfect late afternoon autumn ride. Autumn is my favourite time of year in the mountains. The air tends to be still and fresh but the sun still warm enough to make it pleasant. I don't really know why but it seems to be the most peaceful time of year. The light has a special glow to it with the sun lower in the sky. It feels magical climbing the mountains in those conditions. 

Having rested for a few days recovering from running d.o.m.s. and letting the weather fronts pass through, my batteries were well recharged. A bit too well really having overindulged in a frenzy of "change of weather" comfort eating for three days! The obvious workout to go for was my usual 52km 6000ft climbing route around the valley through Moutiers. It's tough because the second climb is harder than the first and tiredness gets to you by then. I had no idea if I was up for a serious workout or not. In fact my head never really felt into it at all. It would be the first time I'd tested out the new pedalling coordination over a regular route so it would be interesting to see the result. The picture below is one I found of Andy Schleck climbing. It's chosen because you can clearly see how the extended leg is accompanied with the hip displaced backwards (his right leg). The left leg is pulling up on the pedal and so the hip is coming forward  (having been behind). His lower body - up to the ribs - is turned slightly to the right.

On the previous ride around this route I'd beaten my personal best (PB) by seven minutes so trying to get close to that would be very hard to say the least. To assist however I engaged the services of my Sony Xperia Arc and the Endomondo app, setting Endo to "Beat Yourself" mode. This would give me splits every kilometre and tell me (through earbuds) how far ahead or behind I was compared with the PB time. Of course I also set up the "tunein" internet radio app to listen to Folk radio UK to comfort me along the way. Music and caffeine do dull the pain.

Being well rested meant that I attacked the flats at the start with gusto - always something that you have to pay back for later! By the time I reached the bottom of the first serious climb - up to Montgirod - I was up by 59 seconds. Putting some time in the bank seemed like a good idea because it was going to be tough ahead. The first km split announced on the climb revealed that 30 seconds had been lost already - down to 29 seconds ahead. Worrying! My coordination was rock solid with the new movement pattern but I was a bit worried that perhaps it wasn't so effective after all. I responded to the feedback by stepping up the effort - despite really not feeling like it. For a while the gap remained at 29 seconds then started to drop in 10 second chunks. Reaching Montgirod I was already 27 seconds behind. There was still a long but more gradual climb (with a few steep bits) to get to Hautecoeur and the start of the descent. I decided to stay in the big chainwheel and try to use the new coordination to work hard. At Hautecoeur the tables were turned once again and back to 29 seconds ahead - breaking my PB time for this summit (starting at Aime) by 12 seconds. It was all uncomfortably close and with the nasty climb still to come. So far the new technique hadn't let me down and there was no back or foot pain.

Going into the long, steep and fast descent to Moutiers it wasn't possible to attack it flat out due to the shaded corners being wet and potentially slippery. I worked on cornering technique leaning the Centre of Mass into the turn and keeping the bike more upright but trying to use this to maintain a higher speed. It's amazing how the feeling associated with turning this way feels exactly like an advanced slalom turn on skis. Perhaps I won't explain that here! The goal now was to try to increase the advantage on the descent (a great test for cornering technique in the wet!) and by the bottom I'd clawed back another 30 seconds and so was back up to one minute ahead again. 

The flats at Moutiers are useful for re-hydrating so while keeping up a good pace I attended to those needs in preparation for the big climb from Pomblières to Notre Dame du Pré. There are frequent breaks in the 3G internet radio as it buffers data but there seemed to be awful silence from the Sony. Sure enough the system had crashed - which I suppose is better than me crashing - but how horrible it feels to be suddenly robbed of your feedback. The Garmin on the handlebars was still logging anyway and this is why I still use it. Complex smartphones are not 100% reliable. I paused for a moment, stopping the Garmin temporarily and starting a normal workout from the bottom of the climb with Endo. The climb had to proceed without any "Beat Yourself" feedback and without any idea of where I was in comparison with the PB time. Throughout the climb I focussed hard on coordination and was now listening to Afro Celt Sound System MP3s - which are always guaranteed to inspire. Somewhere near the start of this climb it dawned on me that I was gripping the top bar on handlebars. I never do that! My elbows were bent to 90° and the upper body was completely relaxed. I've always seen really top class climbers doing this but could never even get close to feeling anything like that myself. It dawned on me that this was a consequence of the right coordination. The upper body feels totally relaxed just like it does in skiing (for me at least). It's the alignment of the bones and muscles plus the synchronisation of opposite sides of the body that makes it happen. What I didn't realise was that I was in the process of beating my PB for this climb by over 3 minutes - and on a day when there was very little desire to work hard.

In the end the PB was improved by over 5 minutes and is now over 40 minutes faster than in April at 2:16:41. The new coordination really did seem to work and a great test of a change is when you learn new things from it - as happened today. 

Looking at Schleck climbing (you can see him on Youtube video clips) - always quite upright and with the realignment of the pelvis on each stroke of the pedals. Contador and a few others make the same sort of movements. Interestingly on some video of the 2009 TdF Bradley Wiggins was actually doing the opposite and was struggling to hold ground against the others. Wiggins tends to bend over more to get weight over his pedal then push with the quads and body weight, following through with the hip and pulling up hard on the opposite side. He looks flattened (upper body) and very different from the climbing specialists. The climbers sit very upright and because they pull the hip back instead of following through they can use the glutes and hamstrings along with the quads on the push while pulling up with the posas (hip flexion) and hamstrings (knee flexion) on the other side in a coordinated manner. Wiggins is yanking everything up on one side and down on the other. This might be very powerful but the alignment is not so good and the glutes and hamstrings can't be so fully accessed during the push as the body is not vertical enough (and hip not coming back - which is part of the mechanic of hip extension) - hence the quads are overused and the body flattened to get more force into them. Might work in a time trial where it would give aerodynamic advantages - probably best to have both options though.

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