Cycling, Podcast

Q&A on bike training | EP#381

 March 13, 2023

By  Bernardo Gonçalves

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE:

Lachie & Mikael - That Triathlon Show

Mikael and Lachlan Kerin answer listener questions on the topic of bike training for triathlon.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • Road bike and TT bike power differences
  • Doing intervals uphill vs on flats
  • Can your easy cycling be too easy?
  • How to execute endurance rides when the terrain is hilly
  • Low cadence training
  • Pacing strategies for races
  • Using rollers instead of trainer
  • Misc. equipment questions

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Shownotes

TT bike power vs Road bike power

02:58 -

  • 10% is standard because you're using slightly different muscle groups and closing the hip angle.
  • Many factors (crank length, drop from the handlebars to the pads) make it an entirely foreign position.
  • Even if you've had clip-on TT bars on the road bike, it's going to be much more forward using the quadriceps more and fewer glutes.
  • It may be better to talk about watts.  
  • A world tour rider with a 400W FTP will have a different drop percentage than somebody with an FTP of 280W.
  • For amateurs, the objective could be to get it to 5% or 10W below your road bike.
  •  10% is acceptable, but it shouldn't just be the norm.
  • We can expect that to come up with more time and position and potentially make minor changes along the way (shorter crank length or higher at the front).  
  • I had almost higher power on my TT bike than on the road bike because I spent much more time in that position.  
  • Two to three months of focused work on the TT bike will probably give you some close to the power of the road bike.

Training impact on uphills versus flats

05:59 -

  • It depends on the purpose. If we're talking about getting central stress, the heart and lungs don't necessarily mind if you're on the flats or going uphill. The stimulus is similar.
  • From the context of triathlon, I'm a big believer in pushing power with high kinetic energy when you're going fast. 
  • It is something the advent of indoor training, and Zwift has many benefits, but I've seen with athletes that it can hamper that ability to push power while they're going fast. 
  • Going fast is not essential if we're talking about zones 5-6. But if we're talking threshold, then there is some benefit to doing them on the flats. 
  • On the central cardiovascular adaptations, I think it doesn't matter, and that's why when I would give zone five intervals, VO2 max intervals, I tend to tell athletes to do them upright and on the road bike if they want to because that's how most athletes produce more power. 
  • However, it depends on the time of the season. 
  • So if you're racing in the summer and it's February, you can do them uphill and peripherally get some adaptations dependent on the power.
  • The downside would be the differences in biomechanics and when doing it at the highest speed. So the closer to the racing season, the more sense to do it on the flat.
  • When you're doing these efforts with a power target,
  • It can be easy that the torque can start to get pretty high if you're going uphill but at a low cadence.

Can we go too easy on low-intensity sessions?

09:32 -

  • In classic coaching style, I'll start by saying it depends. 
  • There's a massive difference between someone with a threshold of 200W versus 400W. (top of zone two for the 400W athlete might be 300W, and there are some limitations there around riding at 300W all the time)
  •  It's over 1000kcal/h. Then, you're going very fast. 
  • So there are safety and fueling concerns if you're doing a high volume. 
  • If your threshold is 200W, the top of zone two is 150W which is manageable from an output perspective, and you won't be going that fast unless you're incredibly aerodynamic.
  •  If you're the 400W athlete going out at 80W, there's probably not much stimulus. 
  • If you're the 200W athlete, every ride at a decent speed is likely to be in that mid to top of zone two.
  • It is possible to go too easy. I've never seen an athlete where an athlete would go too easy for it to have an effect. 
  • The trend is that many athletes want to push too hard on their endurance days and want to push that middle or top end of zone two. 
  • When you get close to your Ironman races, you need to do a lot of training there because that's close to where you will be racing.
  • However, when you have a bit more of a polarised period where you want to be hitting your hard sessions hard and do as best as you can, there's a lot for going easy.
  • I pull a lot of athletes down towards zone one rather than zone two for when they're far away from racing.
  • The one exception would be when you have an FTP of 200W or below.
  • A few age-group female athletes would fall into that category, and it can make sense to focus more on zone two rather than zone one because it's so easy to fuel.
  • However, many age groupers are in the 250 to 350W range for FTP.
  • I prefer most training in zone one rather than zone two in a five-zone system. 
  • When you have a lower output athlete, the zones become so much smaller that it can be challenging in the real world to control. 
  • Athletes can also use RPE to control intensity. 

Calibrate the power meter with the power meter app or a Garmin watch 

14:02

  • A calibration and a zero offset are different things. 
  • You can do a factory calibration where it is well-calibrated versus using the Garmin to zero offsets, which I would do most times.
  • I usually don't do it for every ride.
  • I always recommend ensuring the drive side cranks are at six o'clock. 
  • I have yet to use the power meter apps to do it.
  • You should be able to use either one because they should do that zero offset within the processing unit of the power meter.
  • With pedal-based power meters, I had athletes that didn't tighten them to the correct torque, and we had some peculiar values, but I'm not sure if that's still an issue.
  • I've been on Faveros for a few years, and it's never been an issue. 

Managing hills on easy endurance rides

17:06 -

  • We do this sport because we enjoy it. 
  • If getting off and walking up a hill decreases your enjoyment, I wouldn't recommend it. 
  • Sprinting the short hills in a low-intensity ride might not be optimal from a coaching perspective.
  • In terms of getting up them sustainably, that's more than adequate. There's always an option to go the flatter route, but the athlete is in an area with few flat options.
  • You have to be wise, which might be a case of sticking with that RPE up the hills. 
  • Many strong cyclists come out of hilly terrain, so they've grown up cycling, not being too bothered about not walking up those hills.
  • Being dogmatic about how hard you ride on every ride is not beneficial. 
  • When the options you have is all hilly courses around you, I tend to look more at heart rate and RPE than power because if the hills are short and you go up them moderately, your heart rate can quite easily stay in an endurance zone even if power is more in a tempo.
  • He still spends more than 95% in the zone.
  • Even if it's 80% in the heart rate zone, I would be okay with that.
  • It's also an excellent opportunity to practice some skills.
  • I've seen novice athletes who might have some speed into a hill and lose all their speed because they do not want to push too hard to get out of the saddle and almost sprint to maintain any semblance of speed.
  • If they had stayed pedalling hard, they could have held more speed up the climb and even over it.
  •  So there's plenty of opportunity there to practice some things that will be beneficial in racing.
  • If you don't have hills around you, it's more problematic because you never get to practice things like descending.
  •  I would rather have only hills than only flats.
  • In my early days, I would not like to do hilly rides because the power would go down when you're going downhill, and you would get a lower average power. However, every time I'm riding a hilly course, I don't care about that at all, and I see it as an excellent opportunity to practice technical skills and practice descending.
  • Hilly terrain should not be a reason to stay on Zwift if everything else is good for you to go out and ride.

Best power zone for low cadence training

22:21 -

  • It depends on what you're trying to achieve.
  • This area is starting to get more race research on the indoor trainer, but plenty of coaches are doing high-torque work. (under 40 rpm and high power)
  • Hopefully, it is one of those cases where the research starts to catch up with practice, but there isn't a perfect power zone to be doing low-cadence work. 
  • Zone 3-4 is the most common, but you also see shorter, higher torque zone 5 work.
  • We don't know what the best power zone is.
  • Sebastian Sitko was critical of this because there was no evidence supporting it. He wrote a blog post where he listed all of the studies.
  • Someone might be able to be at zone 2 at 320W, which is different from 140W at 50 rpm, so actual output matters.

Benefit of low cadence and high torque intervals

25:20 -

  • A study by Peter Leo looked at the pro continental level, and 23 million world tour rides and torque was a differentiator there as opposed to cadence.
  • We are not saying it doesn't work or we haven't used it before.
  • It's an area that is challenging to implement as triathlon coaches because we're always considering three sports.
  • You realise how much you don't know as you get more knowledge. We know the proposed reasons why torque intervals could work, but it doesn't make much sense to go into the hypothesis.
  •  For example, there's a course here in Australia that has a 60s hill in it.
  •  I see that juniors can quickly get stuck in too-big gear, and when you're halfway up the hill, you can't change gears, so they need to generate enough torque to get up the hill in that race situation.
  • However, that's not going to physiology because it is about the specificity of the race course itself.
  • The more you focus on a race with a steep hill, the more specific this type of training becomes, affecting what intervals and zones are best for your race.

Inertia when training indoors and outdoors

28:52 -

  • I've never had a trainer that simulates going downhill.
  • The LeMond Revolution was good for that road feeling.
  • It will depend on what you have available concerning the trainer.
  • Regarding triathlon, it's not who can produce the best power but who can ride the fastest.
  • I have a Tacx Neo 2T, which helps you ride outside erg mode.
  • The inertia is not the same as outdoors but a smoothed version, and you can change that setting, so it becomes similar to riding outdoors.
  •  You could set it to get closer to the real-world feel of riding downhill.
  • You can use it by not riding in erg mode and having it in the middle of the range setting.
  • Zwift is good with that because many courses have hills, so you have to go uphill and downhill and keep your power when downhill.
  • Even on hilly courses, unless the athletes are essentially freewheeling, I see files with more steady power output than outside because, down the hill, you can still push decent power.
  • It is an excellent experiment to set it to the most extreme setup that closely simulates the real world.

What makes a grinder or a spinner? Can this be trained?

32:41 -

  • If you want to see someone that can hold power at very high speed, the last turn of Ganna in the Team's Pursuit at the Olympics is one of the most extraordinary things you'll ever see.
  • Training in a varied way can lead to improvements (outdoors, hilly courses and practising generating power on a slight downhill).
  • It would help if you found opportunities to do it, and that's mostly outdoors.
  • Concerning power outdoors vs indoors, there are other factors like cooling, so I always recommend getting a big fan for indoor training. 
  • If you're in Australia, some air conditioning is also good because it's very hot.
  • I've certainly noticed on my indoor trainer that if I ran the front wheel support, my effective saddle angle was 1-2º tilted up.
  • It had me riding up a small hill all the time, so my hip flexors would get tight.
  •  But if I didn't have it, I was always riding downhill.
  •  Then, you have steady power output indoors. Even in Zwift Racing, you do not see a considerable discrepancy between normalised and average power.
  • You have this constant muscle-firing pattern when doing long sessions, which can be draining.
  • On average, people produce higher powers outdoors than indoors, but exceptions exist. 
  • Some people struggle with their trainer not being good, which could complicate things.
  • If you are going to spend more time on the turbo, there is something to get a good one.

Rollers as a training tool to substitute a turbo trainer

36:56 -

  • There's a new roller from wahoo where you do not work on those skills, but it allows for more lateral movement.
  • It depends on which rollers you're getting. 
  • If you watch some of Lionel's videos, his rollers give plenty of resistance.
  • From a skills perspective, if you're spending more time outside, it's not necessary.
  • With a good set of rollers, it could substitute for a turbo trainer. Nevertheless, most of your bike handling skills will come from outdoor riding.
  • Would I get a set of rollers? I answer no because I still want other entertainment, like watching WTCS races.
  • Then I don't want to risk falling off my bike when I focus on watching a race and training.
  • There might be a reason for acquiring them in different climates because you don't have that opportunity to go outdoors so much.

Tire width

39:39 -

  • It would be wise to check with the wheel manufacturer.
  • Some wheels focus on having a 28 mm tire from an aerodynamic perspective, so it depends on different setups.
  • It comes down to what you're trying to achieve.
  • In theory, it makes sense to do something like that: 25mm in the front and 28mm in the rear, but if it's for comfort, you can go wider than 25mm.
  • If you want to focus on aero, you should test whether it is faster.
  • You also have limitations by what your bike can fit.
  • An old Cervelo P3 cannot have 28mm tires on the back.

Disc and deep section wheels

41:54 -

  • Disc wheel should always be a go-to, but I usually don't take a rear disc when travelling more in racing.
  • First, I didn't want to ride around with them all the time for training before those races. Second, I had concerns about it getting ruined in travel.
  • Regarding racing, I'd always be reaching for the disc wheel.
  • Many people have worries about handling and wind.
  •  I've never coached somebody for whom that was an issue.
  • Nowadays, wheels are so good that they will not be a considerable risk.
  • If you are nervous or struggling, the front wheel is the more critical to change.
  • If I haven't ridden in an 80 mm front wheel for a while, the first ride in moderate winds feels more unstable.

Hydration systems for TT bikes

44:05 -

  • I have yet to try them all.
  • I would want to test the Profile Design Aero bottle, but it's a costly option.
  • If you have a custom stem, it's not an option either.
  • I like the idea of a regular bottle between the bars if that's easier for you to get the nutrition and hydration, and then one behind the saddle.
  • It depends on what bike you have and how it integrates hydration.
  • There shouldn't be anything wrong with the between-the-arms option.
  • Sometimes, it can be an issue if you don't get the right size bottles.
  • Even from an aerodynamic perspective, running a regular bottle behind the saddle and between the arms has some cost to drinking.
  • You don't have to sit up on the base bar, but you have to get the bottle out to drink, which has some penalty.
  • However, that will outweigh the time lost trying to fill up front hydration after an aid station.

Pacing on a hilly course

46:38 -

  • Metrics are highly relevant to the question.
  • 80% of 210 would be around 168W, which realistically is low output at 68kg.
  • On a hilly course, with 168W and 68 kg, you will move pretty slowly, so there will be an element of passing the hills.
  • Depending on the course, you may have to push up towards the 200W.
  •  It would help if you avoided time above 200 because that's when you start to burn only carbohydrates.
  • You should be at a variable power and close to the threshold on the hills. Depending on the steepness of the hills, you might have to go above the threshold.
  •  But generally, it will be better to avoid going above the threshold.
  • You should also focus on cadence on those hills and use your gears as best as possible.
  • If you have to go up to 200W, you could do that at a slightly higher cadence.
  • In this example, we should simulate the race course. (going out and riding on hilly courses and finding what the athlete can do)
  • Then, you can start to figure out what you need to do on race day.
  • It would be best if you were not too specific about the exact power but riding a course more with RPE.

Preparation for Olympic triathlon with rolling hills

50:27 -

  • There's an element of specificity.
  • For example, you're coming into an Olympic tri, typically with a program that includes 2x20min at the sweet spot.
  • But if it's a course of rolling hills, you're missing a lot of specificities.
  • The skill of riding hills while maintaining speed will net you a faster time.
  • Getting out and doing race-specific training on the hills is essential, especially with rolling hills.
  • I would not focus on low-cadence if it's rolling hills.

Cost-effective bike investments

51:53 -

  • In triathlon, starting with a good-sleeved tri suit, tight fitting with as little wrinkles is good.
  • My area of expertise is not aerodynamics; some helmets on the market are generally reasonably good for most people.
  • There is an old blog post from Shop For Watts from 2016 called Watts It Worth? 
  • They have put together a table with the wattage savings and the cost of different pieces of equipment and then calculated so that what is the cost per watt.
  • For example, shoe covers are at 10.7 £/W in number one down to ceramic speed bottom bracket for 1050£/W because it costs 210£ and saves you 0.2W.
  • Tires are a big one (going tubeless or latex inner tubes).
  • You could go on any excellent chain, but a waxed chain would do the job.
  • A bike fit is not in there, but a bike fit is perfect if you need to be in a good aerodynamic position.
  • You're not guaranteed to get a good bike fit.
  • It would be best if you did some research to find a suitable bike fitter; nobody has a 100% success rate.
  • Aero testing is where you can gain a lot and find out which of these investments you have the most to gain.
  • These investments help you avoid issues.
  • You lose some pressure with tubeless tires, but it seals up, and you can continue your race.
  • You saved yourself 5-10min that you could have wasted on the side of the road. 
  • The same with the bike fit: you can have the most aerodynamic position in the world, but if you can only hold it for 10k, it's not doing you very well.
  • Upgrading bikes themselves are a very ineffective investment. The difference between relatively modern bike frames is small in terms of performance. 
  • For well-designed integration, especially if you're doing Ironman, you can carry a lot of hydration and nutrition effectively without giving up power.
  • The cockpits are an essential piece of the bike: there are more affordable semi-integrated extensions and front ends coming out.

Training of different riders for the same race 

58:40 -

  • The one with the higher VLamax is more glycolytic, using their fast twist fibres more.
  •  In the context of a half-ironman bike leg, the one that's 20kg heavier with the same MLSS at 4 W/kg, it is a power difference of 80W, which is significant.
  •  If the athlete is also nearly 20cm taller, they will not be as aerodynamic, and their output will be much higher.
  • From a pure fueling perspective, it becomes more demanding.
  • One would assume that the more prominent athlete would have to target a lower percentage of their threshold than the other athletes.
  • When we're talking about a one-hour hill climb, then W/kg becomes much more of a significant factor.
  • Unsurprisingly, they're within seconds of each other in a one-hour hill climb.
  • The more prominent athlete would do some longer intervals at race pace but focus on dialling in nutrition and seeing what is you can take on and realistically what you could absorb.
  • The smaller athlete could be more aggressive in that respect.
  • Their threshold might be approaching a ceiling, so they should do high-intensity intervals to raise their VO2max.
  • The higher VLamax athlete would not need that as much because their needs are more on the aerobic side.
  • Given they have a similar W/kg, one would assume the athletes would have different W/CdA because the more prominent athlete has a higher absolute threshold, 370W vs 290W.

How to get faster on the bike

1:03:28 -

  • Maximising the time available to ride is a good starting point.
  • If you're in a group, you should understand where the best parts in that group are to get the most draft.
  • It's essential to have some structure to your bike training and be willing to invest time into it.
  • In a realistic world, riding more is not possible for many people.
  • It comes down to knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
  • It can be as simple as a critical power test, a 3-min and a 20-min test.

Questions from Instagram

1:05:19 -

What is the best way to improve descending?

Follow people that are slightly better than you at descending.


Is it as simple as more hours in the saddle for age groupers?

In its simplest terms, that equation has more aspects.
It's not as simple because most age groupers don't have the time.


Training on the road bike and racing on a TT bike?

If you spent enough time on your TT bike, no problem. If you haven't spent much time on a TT bike, I'd be training on the TT bike.


Tips on maintaining bike power outside and not overdoing

Being patient and accountable to yourself or your coach.


Intervals in position versus out of position: pros and cons

Suppose we're trying to get some central adaptations. In that case, it's less critical. Still, if we're talking about the specificity of a flat race where you will be in a time trial position for an extended period at reasonably high output, then you want to spend time in that position.
I like going out on the road bike and riding a hill. Fun things tend to be good for you.

Do aero socks make a big difference from regular cycling or no socks?

They make a difference. Otherwise, professional cyclists wouldn't wear them.
I tested calf guards, and the difference was 6W with the calf guard.
I've raced in calf guards and found them limiting on the swim and run.

Progressive ramp warm-up versus set/rigid warm-up on the trainer

It's good to do a more progressive ramp warm-up, recover, and jump into the main set.  It also depends on what the session is.
If you're going to ride at 50% and then do 6x3min at VO2max, I won't do that. Some athletes prefer, after an initial easy 10min, doing a ramp or five minutes at the threshold. For some people, the ramp might work better.
Professor Andy Jones did some good research back with warm-up protocols for middle-distance running.
I tend to prescribe a lot of athletes a 30-minute warm-up, including five minutes at tempo and then in the last 10 minutes of warm-up, 3-4 30s pretty hard at 3k pace efforts and some easy jogging to finish off.

Should I fuel on my easy recovery rides?

If it's an hour, effortless, it is probably not necessary.
If you've already done other sessions, you're glycogen depleted. If it's 90 minutes and there are traffic lights, all of a sudden, it's two hours.
If you take nothing, it's two hours that you're not eating.

Do we need so many names for minor differences along the LT1 to LT2 range?

In the triathlon realm, I use that range more as Olympic distance effort or 70.3 effort.
That range of output is where you start to delve more into the specificity of the race.
You will put more power at the higher end of the range, but the duration will be a bit lower.
You can do 4x10min at the higher end of the range or 4x30min at the low end.

How do you do a proper bike fit by yourself?

Many apps out there at the moment can show knee and hip angles.
The only caveat would be that those angles are a bell curve. You might be lucky to fit in the middle and be someone at the other end.
You do have to experiment with what's best for you.
One other resource would be Phil Burt. He has a book about how to do a bike fit yourself.
For example, I have an app called Bike Fast Fit.
I only use it for changing saddles.
I've historically not been one to love many saddles, so I'd play around a lot with saddles, but I wanted to ensure that I maintained the same kind of knee angle and hip angle between different saddles.
However, expect to put in much time and tinkering unless you are a macro absorber.

Where is the 70.3 race pace between LT1 and LT2?

It depends. In a professional male race, we move back and forth a lot in that range.
You should try to simulate the race course.
If you don't care about race dynamics, simulate the racing in training (6x20min at race pace). If an athlete can do in a heavy training week, what you can do on the workout could indicate what they can do on race day.

LT1 170W, LT2 220W and FTP 240W for a 60 kg triathlete: what to focus on for 70.3 races

I'd be saying that those outputs are already reasonably good for a 60kg triathlete (4 W/kg). If they can't even hold 170W for a 70.3, we'd need to work on that ability to hold constant power for an extended period.
The thing that everybody needs to focus on when doing a race is race specificity.
Knowing what they have done in the past 70.3s will help optimise this athlete's ability to perform better in future races.
I would like to see a critical power test.
Looking at that data, they could race close to 200W and still ride fast.
I would focus on aerodynamics, especially if it's a flatter rolling course W/CdA and smaller athletes have a disadvantage to more prominent athletes.

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Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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