The Cyclocross Workout Of The Day for Thursday, 10.29.15. “Yeah, I went there”

Howdy folks,

Ugh, sorry about the formatting on this post. WordPress glitch that I can’t figure out an easy way to fix. Please click on this link to read the post with proper (legible!) formatting!

I got an email from a reader recently that I thought I might respond to today, here it is:

Hey Matt,

Been following your workouts pretty well for 2 seasons now after your “boot camp” at Marymoor on Wednesday nights.  Want to say many thanks for all your advice and hope your back heals up fast! I do have a specific issue I’m struggling with. Last weeks race at Magnuson is a great example. I’m doing well (or at least keeping up with the pack) headed into the uphill section of the gravel road when I slow down on the climb so much so that I’m dropped by most of the pack.  Although I might pick off one or two riders on the flats or by taking advantage of their poor technical skills I never seem to be able to make up for the time lost on hills or inclines.
Any suggestions from “the master” much appreciated!!
First of all, “the master?” Hmmm…
Climbing is a tough one, because it’s really simple. It comes down to – essentially – two things:
 What’s your w/kg ratio look like?
 How much climbing do you do?
Above a certain degree of incline, where aerodynamic considerations become subordinate to the increasing toll of gravity, climbing is all about how much wattage you can produce relative to your mass.
Want to get better at climbing?
Produce more power, or lose weight, or both.
It’s a pretty simple equation, with a supply side and a demand side, and we just need to solve it for one – or, again – both.
Demand side –
When things go up hill, lower mass riders have an advantage. They’ve simply got less to haul up the slope.
Cyclocross climbs aren’t usually very long; heck, most of them wouldn’t even be considered climbs by road race standards, but they’re subject to the same law of gravity as every other discipline.
If you’re carrying a few pounds around the belly, you need to schlep it up the hill, and it makes a difference.
Sometimes a profound difference.
Want to climb faster? Drop the excess baggage.
Losing weight is pretty simple in concept, it’s just really difficult – and generally really unpleasant – to put into practice.
It’s very real, though, even in cyclocross, which generally tends to suit slightly heavier riders better than the road disciplines. Back to that in a minute.
Supply Side – 
The power you put into your cranks is what gets you up the hill. The more you put in, the faster you go.
Again, pretty simple stuff.
The question is, how much power can you put out, and for how long?
A cyclocross race is, at most, about 65 minutes long. You’re never going to do a 45 minute long alpine climb in a cross race.
really long climb in a CX race is maybe a minute or so in length, so when we’re talking about a rider’s ability to generate power, this is the type of duration we’re concerned with.
What does your 1-minute, maybe 2-minute power look like?
Robert Forsteman – pictured above – has pretty damn good 1-minute power.
He’s also freaking huge, which brings us to…
Balancing the Equation – 
As mentioned previously, bigger folks generally do pretty well in cross relative to the road disciplines.
Well, for one thing, the climbs simply aren’t ever very long. Larger riders can generally produce higher levels of output than smaller riders, but – again, generally – they can’t produce as much wattage relative to body mass for as long a duration as smaller riders.
I’m glossing over pretty much all of the relevant science here, but suffice to say that it’s not really controversial to suggest that sprinters in Le Tour are likely to be bigger than the guys winning the mountain stages.
One of the cool things about cross is that it’s a cycling discipline that favors the all-rounder, the rider that’s neither a large-group sprinter nor climbing specialist.
You’re redlined for an hour, so it’s ain’t ever a pure sprint.
You’re powering over climbs that take seconds to surmount, so it ain’t ever a pure climb.
You’re doing all of this while trying to stay upright on variable terrain, so it’s something else entirely.
What does all of this mean?
Want to be better on the climbs in cross? Try to balance out the equation.
If you’re on the big side of things, and you produce pretty damn good wattage in the 5 second – 1 minute range, losing weight might be the easiest path to improvement.
If you’re on the small side of things, and you can float up hills for hours at a time but get gapped by the big guys on the overpass bumps in group rides, working on your short duration power production is probably the easiest path to improvement.
Really want to see some headway?
Work on both.
Get stronger, and get as lean as is practical and desirable given your goals, aspirations, and lifestyle.
Note, please: I’m not suggesting that anyone go on some insane diet, or enter down the pathway to eating disorder.
Losing body mass sucks for almost everyone, and it’s often simply not worth the trade off in quality of life for something that is, for most of us, just a hobby.
Heck, Bradley Wiggins has essentially said, flat-out, that he wasn’t ever again going to put himself through the deprivations necessary to get down to the body mass required to win The Tour.
And he was getting paid to do this.
A Lot.
So, balance.
Maybe eat a little bit less, and a little more wisely.
And work to produce power in the ranges – and on the terrain – that’s one’s weakness.
For example, do more…
Hill Repeats that roadies would call short, but they ain’t on a cross bike!
Warm up well, ideally as you ride out to an area that has a climb that’s going to take you about a minute to summit, pedaling hard.
When you get to the hill, sprint up the damn thing. Hard.
Coast back down, go again. Hard.
Repeat x 5
That’s a set.
Recover for 2-5 minutes.
Do 5-6 sets, or as many as you can before seeing a precipitous drop in output level.
Warm down on way home.
As long as this was, by the standards of this blog, it’s still a really, really simplified version of things. Please don’t take it as more than what it is, and fer chrissakes, don’t go out and do any crazy diet insanity. Discussions of body mass are so incredibly fraught with subtext, self image, and even danger that it’s serious business to even raise the topic. The thing is, gravity is real, and we do need to raise the issue to discuss climbing proficiency in an honest way. Be smart, remember this is just a hobby for almost all of us.
 Ps – I’ll do some follow-up pieces over the next couple of weeks, and we’ll talk about some of the finer details on the supply side of the equation!

Thanks for following my blog!

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~ by crosssports on October 29, 2015.

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