Category Archives: Pedaling Technique

Cycling expert explains strategies for getting faster

This is an excerpt from Cycling Fast. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

“Climbs and descents make or break cycling races, according to cycling coach Robert Panzera. In his upcoming book, Cycling Fast (Human Kinetics, May 2010), Panzera covers hills and all elements that can make a cyclist faster, from conditioning to nutrition and key skills.

Panzera says even small climbs make a difference the closer a cyclist gets to the finish line. ‘Climbs are additive, meaning a 200-foot gain in elevation may not seem like much in the first few miles, but near the finish, it can seem like a mountain.’ He advises cyclists to take special note of hills toward the end of the race because these hills split the race into two groups—the leading group going for the win and the chasers trying to pick up the remaining places. In Cycling Fast, Panzera offers 10 tactics for managing hills and staying in the lead:

  • 1. Be near the front for corners that are followed immediately by hills. ‘This helps you prevent being gapped,’ explains Panzera.
  • 2. Shift to easier gears before approaching hills. ‘This prevents dropping the chain off the front chainrings when shifting from the big front ring to the small front ring,’ he notes. “Quickly go around riders who drop their chains.”
  • 3. Close gaps on hills immediately, but with an even, steady pace. ‘Once the group starts riding away on a hill, it is nearly impossible to bring them back,’ Panzera warns.
  • 4. Keep the pace high over the crest of the hill, because the leaders will increase speed faster than the riders at the tail of the group.
  • 5. Relax and breathe deeply to control heart rate on climbs.
  • 6. Dig deep to stay in contact on shorter climbs. ‘Once a group clears the top, it is difficult to catch up on the descent,’ says Panzera.
  • 7. On longer climbs, ride at a consistent pace that prevents overexertion.
  • 8. Always start climbs near the front. If the pace becomes too fast, cyclists will be able to drop through the pack and still recover without losing contact with the pack.
  • 9. Hills are a good place to attack. ‘Know the hill’s distance and location in the course before setting out on an attack or covering an attack by a competitor,’ advises Panzera.
  • 10. Try to descend near the front, but not on the front. Being near the front, as opposed to the back, gives cyclists a greater probability of avoiding crashes.

Panzera also advises noting all the descents before a race begins. ‘Long, straight descents may require work to stay in the draft, and twisty or narrow descents may require technical skills,’ Panzera says. ‘If the descent seems technical in review, it will definitely be technical at race speeds.’

Cycling Fast covers the latest information on new high-tech racing frames, training with a power meter and heart rate monitor, and coordinating tactics as part of a team. Readers can learn how to periodize training and use the numerous tips, charts, and checklists to maximize effort.”

“Toy syndrome” affects cyclists

This is an excerpt from Mastering Cycling. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

“Most cyclists learned to ride bikes as children and haven’t revisited the basic skills of bicycling as adults. “There appears to be a notion among many cyclists that an activity they learned as children requires no further instruction,” says John Howard, three-time Olympian and 18-time national masters cycling champion. “This ‘toy syndrome’ continues to affect cycling.”

Howard stresses the importance of cyclists’ developing more power, comfort, and safety for riding on the streets in traffic, negotiating turns and terrain, and dealing with road hazards, including other cyclists. “Equipment has evolved, speeds have increased, and the rigors of competition have tightened, but the basic techniques aren’t being taught to masters cyclists,” Howard says. In his upcoming book, Mastering Cycling (Human Kinetics, July 2010), Howard addresses the top technical skills that are essential for every cyclist.

Climbing in the saddle
Fast, efficient climbing requires cyclists to recognize the precise moment when action is needed and to know what action to take. “Delaying the decision too long will result in the loss of both speed and momentum,” Howard says. Gear selection and shifting sequence depend on the cyclist’s available power, fitness level, and pitch of the climb. The length of the climb also dictates the approach. “If you are starting to climb a long, gradual hill, use a gear that is comfortable and lets you maintain an rpm of about 90,” Howard explains. “When your cadence begins to slow down, downshift to an easier gear. If you are going to stand on the pedals, you may want to shift up to a higher gear so that you don’t waste energy spinning.”

Climbing out of the saddle
When climbing out of the saddle, the goal is to maintain a consistent heart rate and increase forward momentum. “Gravity will win the battle if you surge on the pedals, pull and push your upper body forward or backward, or worse, pull your upper body up and down, disengaging the important core muscles,” Howard says. “The primary force in moving the bicycle forward is generated at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions of the cranks.” A common mistake among less-experienced riders is mistiming the thrust of the cranks. Power is dissipated at the top and bottom of the stroke, which is essentially a dead zone when out of the saddle.

Cornering requires the ability to quickly judge the elements of a turn, including sloping, curvature, traction, and other factors that limit speed. A bicycle cannot be steered around a curve but must be leaned into the turn. “A cyclist must estimate how much lean is needed to counteract the physical forces that want to project the cyclist and the bicycle in a straight line,” Howard says. “The amount of lean depends on the speed traveled into the turn, the tightness of the turn, and the degree and direction of the road bank.”

Two approaches to braking exist. One stops the bike quickly to avoid a collision or other hazard, and the other consists of feathering the brakes to slow or stop forward progress. Feathering is the practice of applying light, even pressure on the front and rear brakes and is used in most circumstances. The hot stop should be used when there is no choice but to stop. When hitting the breaks, cyclists should slip to the rear of the saddle to adjust the center of gravity. “The action is accompanied by an approximate bias of two-thirds on the front brake and one-third on the rear brake,” Howard explains. “Cyclists will have very little time to slip back in the saddle and apply the front brakes. When it is done properly, the bike can stop in half the distance that it would normally take.”

Maintaining a smooth speed with an efficient cadence prevents overtaxing the muscles and cardiorespiratory system. “Whether you are a competitive or a recreational cyclist, your cadence needs to be as comfortable and smooth as possible, never jerky,” Howard says. He advises shifting one gear at a time and avoiding big gear jumps between ranges. “Cyclists should listen to their bikes and avoid crossing the chain over radical angles, such as the big chain ring and the larger cog in the rear. This will save wear and tear on the drive train and the knees,” Howard adds.”

Top 3 bike selection steps for triathletes

Having the right bike for you and having it dialed in can make a lot of difference.  It will make the ride performance better all around.  It can also help prevent injuries associated with cycling and cycling position.  This excellent excerpt from Triathlon Workout Planner by John Mora reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics.


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Selecting a bike

“If you’ve only recently been bitten by the triathlon
bug, the very first, most obvious symptom is an inexplicable need to
visit the nearest bicycle shop. Once you’re there, your symptoms might
progress toward writing out a check for a thousand bucks, or worse,
taking out the plastic. Hold on there. You might not need to shell out
four figures at this point.

If you currently own a bicycle and just want to finish
your first triathlon, you might be able to get by with what you have
until you’re sure you’ll be a lifelong multisport maniac. It’s not
uncommon for beginners to use a beat-up old road bike or a fat-tire
mountain bike for their first event, and there’s nothing wrong with
that. However, if you don’t have a bicycle (or can’t borrow one), then
you have no alternative but to look into buying a triathlon bicycle.
Also, if you’ve done a few triathlons and are looking for some advice
on making your first serious multisport bicycle purchase, the following
sections provide some guidance for you.

Tri-Bikes, Step by Step

Making your entry into the complicated world of cycling
equipment can be expensive and intimidating. Somewhere among the fancy
designs, shiny components, and black rubber is what you need. Without
some basic knowledge, a good understanding of your current needs, and a
clear vision of what lurks on your triathlon horizon, there’s a strong
chance that you’ll purchase the wrong bicycle.

Fear not. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making that
first big multisport purchase, with advice from triathlon bicycle
dealers, manufacturers, and coaches. Add to that some tales of woe from
professionals who can tell you (through their experience) what not to do when you’re making that big purchase, and you have no reason to panic.

Step 1: Set a Budget

Walking into a bicycle shop with no plan can mean
walking away with no money. Although most bike dealers will not
deliberately take advantage of an eager first-time buyer, by setting a
budget you are taking the first step toward controlling a situation
that might seem uncontrollable.

A cautionary word about overemphasizing equipment is
warranted. “Your best bet is buying a reasonably priced, entry-level
bike with a clip-on aero bar,” says cycling coach Bob Langan. “It all
comes to this: It’s not the seconds equipment will save you; it’s the
minutes a good aerodynamic position and proper training will.”

How much will you spend on your first triathlon bike?
Generally speaking, prices for entry-level racing bikes range from $900
to $1,400. Of course, the sky’s the limit on how much you can spend (if your bank account can handle it), but spending more than $1,400 is risky for two reasons:

1. You might not know what you need.

2. You might think you know what you need, but you might be wrong.

Does that mean you should go the other way and get the
cheapest two-wheeler you see on the dealer floor? No. Although the
frugal side of you might want to buy the cheapest Wal-Mart special you
can find, you’ll likely find it to be less than what you need. Better
to buy the most bike you can afford and be able to train and race with
comfortably, than have to start all over a few months down the road.

Step 2: Don’t Forget Accessories

One common mistake is excluding accessories from the
budget. Earmark $300 to $500 for accessories, more if you intend to
purchase optional equipment such as an aerodynamic disk, tri-spoke, or
deep-rim wheel. Some of the more basic bicycle accessories include the

  • Frame pump
  • Patch kit
  • Spare tubes
  • Helmet
  • Clothing (shorts, jerseys, jacket)
  • Gloves
  • Cycling shoes (optional)
  • Clipless pedals (optional)
  • Aerobars (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Computer (optional)
  • Sunglasses (optional)

As you can imagine, your $900 bicycle purchase can run
well into four figures with the addition of these or other accessories.
Is all this stuff really necessary? Most of it is. You can’t race
without a helmet, and you need the additional comfort and safety that
cycling shorts, jerseys, gloves, and the other necessities afford you.

If you intend to transport your bicycle in your car, a
roof-mounted bicycle rack can run you well over $500. A less expensive
alternative is a trunk-mounted rack. Still cheaper is taking the wheels
off your bike and throwing it in the back seat or trunk.

In recent years, many bicycle manufacturers have included
clipless pedals, contraptions that attach your shoes to the bike for an
efficient, more comfortable pedal stroke, as basic equipment on
entry-level road bike models. This addition will save you close to $150
that you might have earmarked for this accessory. (If the bicycle
you’re interested in doesn’t include clipless pedals, it’s time to
start negotiating with your dealer.) Though many people fear being
attached to a bicycle with clipless pedals, you can get out of the
pedals at any time simply by extending your heel outward.

Cycling shoes are designed for use with clipless pedals.
Cycling shoes are stiff and transfer energy more directly to the
bicycle than do rubber pedals or toe straps. Cycling shoes vary widely
in price, from $100 on the low end to more than $200.

Aerobars help you slice through the wind. Better
aerodynamics with aerobars increases your speed and helps you save
energy for the run. As you train for longer distances, this accessory
will definitely fall out of the “optional” category and into the
“mandatory” list.

Speed Demon Fact

If you recall, Greg Lemond’s historic victory in the
1989 Tour de France came as a direct result of the performance
advantage of his triathlon aerobars. Wind tunnel testing has shown an
estimated average time savings of five minutes during an
Olympic-distance bike leg (40K) when a cyclist maintains an aerodynamic
position on aerobars. Other studies have shown that cyclists in a
proper aerodynamic position are more relaxed and experience decreased
heart rates.

Step 3: Understand the Choices and Know What You Need

Purchase a good racing bicycle that is versatile and
durable. Buying an entry-level racing bike that is upgradable can save
you time and money in the long term. For example, pioneering duathlete
Ken Souza’s first duathlon bicycle was a Nishiki International he
bought in 1982 for a scant $175. Though the bicycle served its initial
purpose, it was a touring model (a bicycle designed primarily for
casual riding) that Souza quickly outgrew. Yet the pioneering athlete
who put duathlons on the map continued to pour money into a pocket full
of holes. “It was ironic. I was spending all this money trying to
upgrade, trying to save a few dollars by not buying a racing bike. I
could have bought a real racing bike sooner if I hadn’t tried so hard
to upgrade a bike that wasn’t worth it.” So Souza’s experience makes an
important distinction—find a good upgradeable bicycle, but just be sure
it’s something that’s worth upgrading over a reasonable period of time,
You may very well outgrow an entry-level bicycle, but try and find
something that will last you for as long as possible.

Souza’s solution to his novice woes was one that you
might want to consider if the opportunity arises: “I bought a used
racing bike—a Vitus carbon fiber—from ex-pro Mark Montgomery. I think
that’s one of the smartest things a beginner can do. You’ll get
top-of-the-line gear, you can get a great deal, and it’s usually not
beat up.”

Back strengthening can prevent cycling injuries

Strengthening can be a part of your routine and many might say say it should be.  Triathlon, multi-sport, uses many of the muscles in your body during a race or brick work-out.

I like researching question like, “How can a muscle be strong and flexible?”  “Is strength just the capacity for movement in relation to distance and time?”  If so, strength training will always play a part of my training.

Here’s an excerpt titled, “Developed back muscles prevent cycling injuries”, from Cycling Anatomy, reprinted here by permission of Human Kenetics. One of the best things about this book is each exercise is explained in detail including which muscles are used, and how exercising that muscle groups is useful in cycling.

“The importance of a strong and fit back cannot be overemphasized. The back and spine provide the foundation for almost every activity performed, and cycling is no exception. Unfortunately, back problems are a frequent complaint of cyclists. Because of the bent-over position on a bike, back muscles are constantly engaged. This stress can wreak havoc on the body if it isn’t conditioned and trained to withstand the ongoing effort. In addition to withstanding the strain of the cyclists’ position, the back must also provide a solid base that enables a cyclist to generate power during their pedal stroke. Back muscles stabilize the spine and pelvis, allowing the legs to generate maximal power.

The best strategy for a healthy back is to proactively condition the body to avoid any problems before they arise.  Take time to build strength in the back—this will pay dividends in the long run.

Stability Ball Extension


  1. Lie with the lower abdomen draped over a stability ball.
  2. Keeping one foot on the floor, arch the back while raising and
    extending the arm and opposite leg. The elbow and knee should be
    straight (extended).
  3. Slowly lower the arm and leg. Curl the body around the stability ball.
  4. Repeat the exercise using your other arm and leg.

Muscles Involved
Primary: Erector spinae
Secondary: Splenius capitis, gluteus maximus, deltoid

Cycling Focus

The erector spinae muscles must withstand enduring workloads when riding a bike. For the majority of rides, these muscles will maintain a forward leaning posture. If the back becomes sore or fatigued, the erector spinae muscles are usually the culprit. The stability ball extension is particularly effective because it provides full range of motion at maximal extension. This will counter the hours spent with the back arched forward on the bike. Added weights are not needed to make
this workout effective. Remember that stretching and moving muscles through their complete range of motion will help get the most out of muscle fibers.”

Triathlon Brick Training

In this terrific excerpt reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics, Championship Triathlon Training, you’ll learn some brick training techniques and strategies.

Combination Training
The bike–run transition is addressed first because it is much more difficult than the swim–bike transition and thus the most practiced. Often referred to by many longtime triathletes simply as bricks, combination bike–run training is more than simply following a bike ride with a run. In the modern application of the method, a variety of combinations of two or even all three sports are used in training, primarily to help the body adapt quickly to the stress resulting from rapid changes in movement patterns. When you stop doing one activity and begin doing another very soon afterward, your body must make adjustments in blood flow, nervous system regulation, and muscular tension. For example, while the majority of blood flow has been directed toward your upper body during the swim, it must be redirected to your legs for the bike ride. During the ride, you hold your back muscles in an elongated, flat position with tension. For the run, those muscles must rapidly readjust and shorten to hold you in a more upright posture.

Your leg muscles may have grown accustomed to a slower turnover pace (cadence) during an extended period of cycling at 80 to 90 rpm. In the run they will need to adjust quickly upward to a stride rate of 90 or more per minute. Your ability to make each of these basic physiological adjustments improves with training that is specific to the demands of transitioning between sports rapidly. It stands to reason that just as performance in each sport improves with better training, as you practice and train for the changeovers and related adjustments between the sports, they will go more smoothly too. By learning to make the physiological adjustments in training, you are also training to be more successful psychologically by building realistic self-talk and a positive mind-set regarding the same transitions in racing situations.

The modern approach to combination training for successful transitions uses short training bouts in each sport while focusing on moving through the transitions to the next sport at race speed. This allows for more transition-specific practice, and it creates better overall quality in the swimming, cycling, and running segments of the session. It also makes the training more varied and more interesting. For this approach you set up physical locations specifically for practicing transitioning and plan routes that make such transition practice convenient. Practice for efficiently switching from one sport to the next simply becomes part of the training process in a way that adds a unique element to multisport training and increases enjoyment.

As noted, in triathlon and duathlon for most athletes, the bike-to-run transition is the most demanding one. This is probably due to the relatively high levels of fatigue and dehydration that occur as the race progresses and the change from a relatively static and crouched position on the bike to an upright and dynamic one on the run. Thus the most commonly emphasized combination training element is the bike-to-run transition. However, at the elite amateur and professional levels, the swim-to-bike transition, while not as difficult, is still extremely important in keeping overall times down. At these levels of competition, the bike speed of the racers is very high, at times more than an average of 25 mph. Thus the need to stay close to the other competitors, even in nondrafting events, is critical for successful performance. Of course, in draft-legal elite racing, how you do in the swim–bike transition can completely make or break your race. Losing just a few seconds in the transition process can easily lead to riding on your own rather than in a pack. Losing the advantages of drafting usually means that you have to work much harder on the bike. That will often lead to an increased split time in cycling. Then you will have the same problem on the run because you will be more tired when you get to it than you would have been if you had been in a draft pack on the bike.

Transition-focused training sessions require more preparation to organize and conduct than typical one-sport workouts. Thus their use is emphasized for race-specific intensities and endurance along with course-specific preparation in order to get the most out of the training. You should use a generic training setting that is similar to most triathlon courses (rolling hills) or a race-specific practice course to prepare for specific events. Ideally this will include a closed loop for the bike and a loop or out-and-back course for the run. For the swimto-bike transition training, an available lake or outdoor pool with a nearby cycling loop is ideal. To do either one, you will need a safe place to leave your bicycle and other equipment in a transition zone.

A typical combination training session includes two to four repeats of cycling and running or swimming and cycling at a speed endurance effort. This level of effort is a little lower than full racing effort yet faster than typical aerobic training. It is also definable as a tempo-effort, comfortable-speed intensity, or a specific level of work that represents your current projected speed for approximately twice your race distance. In other words, if you project a 7-minute-per-mile pace for 10K and a 7:30-per-mile pace for the half marathon, you would run this kind of effort at a 7:30-per-mile pace. Essentially these are miniduathlons or triathlons done at just below race speed.

Before completing the target combination sets, you should do a full warmup for both sports and for all three when you are doing triple combinations. This should include all the elements of the warm-ups described in chapter 5, including a progressive warm-up in each sport followed by skill sets and a set of progressive alactate efforts.

You begin each bike-to-run work interval by running to the bike at race speed as if you had come out of the swim. After mounting the bike at full speed, you ride the bike segment at tempo effort as described previously. Then you move through the transition to the run at speed and complete the run at tempo effort. The same scenario would occur in a swim-to-bike session. You begin the swim at speed, ideally using a start method similar to what you will use racing, then exit the water and proceed through a transition at speed, followed by the mount and your bike segment at tempo effort. You should use any equipment (such as a wet suit) that you anticipate using in the racing environment.

By breaking this training session into multiple efforts in an interval format, you will improve your performance quality while overlearning the transition skills and physiological adjustment processes. The primary goal of this training is to achieve a total training effort somewhat in excess of race distance at a power output that is similar, although less, than race effort when preparing for Olympic or sprint-distance races. If you are going for a longer race, you may not be able to do the full race distance in training on a regular basis. Note that this training can also be done at aerobic intensities. A lower-intensity approach to combination training is useful during base training periods (when most training is in an aerobic range of intensity) as described in chapter 5. A cool-down for the session should include both cycling and running, or swimming and cycling, or all three depending on the number of individual sports involved. The typical training session follows:
45-minute cycling at progressive aerobic effort with 10 3 30-second single-leg
pedaling drill (see chapter 3) and 6 3 15-second alactates
15-minute run at progressive aerobic effort with 6 3 60-step butt kicks followed
by 6 3 15-second alactates
Main Set
3 3 9-mile (14 km) ride and 2.5-mile (4 km) run with transition at speed,
several minutes of recovery between each set
15-minute run cool-down
30-minute cycle cool-down

You can modify the length, number of repetitions, and targeted intensity of training to create various physiological effects yet retain the basic emphasis on combining sports. As noted, this type of training requires you to set up a transition area where you can leave the bike and other equipment while you run. Therefore, it becomes a great opportunity for a coached workout. A coach or helper can take splits, evaluate and provide feedback on transition skills, and take care of nutritional needs as well as provide security for equipment. For International Triathlon Union (ITU) racing (that is, draft-legal racing), training with a group adds specificity to the transition-practice environment. This focus could become the basis for a very enjoyable age-group training session as well. To reduce concerns about bike theft, in solo training you could use a trainer for the cycling and then do the run workout from home, although this option reduces transition specificity considerably. Some athletes bring a trainer to a track and do their bike–run combinations there so that their equipment stays
within easy view for security.

Potential Physiological Benefits of Altitude Training

This is an excellent excerpt reprinted from Burke’s book with permission with permission from Human Kinetics, High-Tech Cycling-2nd Edition.

“Human physiology is affected in different ways at high altitude. In general, the various systems of the human body—pulmonary, cardiovascular, endocrine, skeletal muscles—respond and adjust in an effort to provide enough oxygen to survive in the hypoxic environment of high altitude. Some of these life-supporting physiological responses may also enhance athletic performance, particularly in endurance sports.

The scientific rationale for using altitude training for the enhancement of aerobic performance is based on the body’s response to changes in the partial pressure of inspired oxygen (PIO2) and the partial pressure of oxygen in the arterial blood (PaO2). PIO2 at sea level is equal to 149 mmHg. At Mexico City (2300 m, 7544 ft), PIO2 drops to approximately 123 mmHg. At the summit of Mt. Everest (8852 m, 29,035 ft), PIO2 is approximately 50 mmHg or only about 30% of sea level PIO2.

High-Tech Cycling book coverBecause of the altitude-induced decrease in PIO2, there is a decrease in PaO2, which leads to a drop in renal PaO2 and renal tissue oxygenation (Ou et al. 1998; Richalet et al. 1994). It is hypothesized that this reduction in renal tissue oxygenation stimulates the synthesis and release of erythropoietin (EPO) (Porter and Goldberg 1994; Richalet et al. 1994), the principal hormone that regulates erythrocyte (RBC) and hemoglobin production. In turn, an increase in serum EPO concentration stimulates the synthesis of new RBCs in the red bone marrow by promoting the cellular growth of immature erythrocytes, specifically the colony-forming unit-erythroid (CFU-E). Erythropoietin receptors are present on the surface of CFU-E. Binding of EPO to CFU-E receptors initiates the production of cellular transcription factors, synthesis of membrane and cytoskeletal proteins, synthesis of heme and hemoglobin, and the terminal differentiation of cells (Bell 1996). The RBC maturation process takes five to seven days from the initial altitude-induced increase in serum EPO (Bell 1996; Flaharty et al. 1990).

These hematological changes may significantly improve an athlete’s V·O2max by enhancing the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to exercising muscles. It has been shown that improvements in RBC mass, hemoglobin concentration, and V·O2max enhance aerobic performance (Berglund and Ekblom 1991; Birkeland et al. 2000; Ekblom and Berglund 1991). Essentially, many athletes and coaches view altitude training as a natural or legal method of blood doping.

Research by Chapman, Stray-Gundersen, and Levine (1998) suggests that some athletes experience a better hematological response at altitude than others do. Female and male collegiate runners who completed either LHTL or traditional “live high, train high” altitude training were classified as responders or nonresponders based on their performance in a postaltitude 5-km run. On average, responders demonstrated a significant 4% improvement (37 s) in the postaltitude 5-km run versus their prealtitude performance; nonresponders were approximately 1% slower (14 s). Hematological data showed that responders had a significantly larger increase in serum EPO (52%) compared with nonresponders, who demonstrated a 34% increase in serum EPO. Similarly, postaltitude RBC mass for responders was 8% higher (p < 0.05), but nonresponders’ RBC mass was only 1% higher (not statistically significant) compared with prealtitude values. A breakdown of responders indicated that 82% came from the LHTL group, and 18% came from the “live high, train high” group. The authors concluded that each athlete may need to follow an altitude training program that places the athlete at an individualized, optimal altitude for living and another altitude for training, thereby producing the best possible hematological response.

Skeletal Muscle
As described, the primary reason endurance athletes train at altitude is to increase RBC mass and hemoglobin concentration. In addition, they may gain secondary physiological benefits as a result of altitude exposure. For example, altitude training has been shown to increase skeletal muscle capillarity (Desplanches et al. 1993; Mizuno et al. 1990). In theory, this physiological adaptation enhances the exercising muscles’ ability to extract oxygen from the blood.

Other favorable skeletal muscle microstructure changes that occur as a result of training at altitude include increased concentrations of myoglobin (Terrados et al. 1990), increased mitochondrial oxidative enzyme activity (Terrados et al. 1990), and a greater number of mitochondria (Desplanches et al. 1993), all of which serve to enhance the rate of oxygen utilization and aerobic energy production.

Nevertheless, scientific data in support of altitude-induced skeletal muscle adaptations are minimal, particularly among well-trained athletes. Only Mizuno and colleagues (1990) examined elite athletes; Desplanches and colleagues (1993) and Terrados and colleagues (1990) examined the effect of altitude training on the skeletal muscle characteristics of untrained individuals. Additional studies conducted on elite athletes failed to demonstrate significant changes in skeletal muscle microstructure caused by altitude training (Saltin et al. 1995; Terrados et al. 1988). Furthermore, Desplanches and colleagues (1993) conducted their study at impractical simulated elevations (4100 to 5700 m, 13,450 to 18,700 ft), an altitude too high for athletes to train at. Thus, based on the current scientific literature, it is unclear whether altitude training, as practiced by most elite athletes at moderate elevations of 1800 to 3050 m (6000 to 10,000 ft) improves oxygen extraction and utilization via favorable changes in skeletal muscle capillarity, myoglobin, mitochondrial oxidative enzyme activity, and mitochondrial density. Additional research is warranted.

Another important physiological adaptation that may occur as a result of exposure to moderate altitude is an improvement in the capacity of the skeletal muscle and blood to buffer the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+). High concentrations of H+ are known to contribute to skeletal muscle fatigue by impairing actin-myosin crossbridge cycling, reducing the sensitivity of troponin for calcium (Ca2+) and inhibiting the enzyme phosphofructokinase (PFK) (McComas 1996). Thus, an enhanced H+ buffering capacity may have a beneficial effect on aerobic and anaerobic performance.

In support of this, Mizuno and colleagues (1990) reported a significant 6% increase in the buffering capacity of the gastrocnemius muscle of elite male cross-country skiers who lived at 2100 m (6890 ft) and trained at 2700 m (8860 ft) for 14 days. Significant improvements in maximal O2 deficit (29%) and treadmill run time to exhaustion (17%) were observed after the athletes returned to sea level. In addition, a positive correlation (r = 0.91, p < 0.05) was demonstrated between the relative increase in buffering capacity of the gastrocnemius muscle and treadmill run time to exhaustion.

Gore and colleagues (2001) reported that skeletal muscle buffer capacity increased 18% (p < 0.05) in male triathletes, cyclists, and cross-country skiers following 23 days of living at 3000 m (9840 ft) and training at 600 m (1970 ft). Furthermore, they found that mechanical efficiency significantly improved during a 4 3 4-min submaximal cycling test following the 23-day LHTL period.

The precise mechanisms responsible for enhanced skeletal muscle buffering capacity following high altitude training are unclear but may be related to changes in creatine phosphate and/or muscle protein concentrations (Mizuno et al. 1990). Improvements in blood buffering capacity may be due to increases in bicarbonate (Nummela and Rusko 2000) or hemoglobin concentration.

Four Cs of bike racing

Ever ridden at 5:00am on a cold morning? Ever wonder why? Ever feel way out-classed at the starting line? At some point I think every cyclist and triathlete has done both. This except from Bike Racing 101 (by Kendra Wenzel and Rene Wenzel reprinted with permission) will help you walk through and prepare for that inevitable feeling.

“You can make use of tactics successfully even in your first race if you use the building blocks of strategy we call the four Cs: course, competition, conditions, and confidence.

Just as every bit of preparation you do should focus on the goals you set up for yourself in chapter 3, the races you choose and the way you conduct yourself in those races must further those goals. Applying the four Cs to each race you enter will go a long way in ensuring that you move closer to your goals with each race. In chapters 15 through 18, we apply the four Cs to each type of road racing, pointing out the nuances of each race and the preparation, skills, and practice you need to be successful.

The course is one of the most important factors in how you perform in a race. Knowledge of the hills or gravel sections is strategic information. Even choosing to do the race (or not) based on its terrain is a strategic decision in your race season. Relate your strengths and weaknesses to areas of the course. Does the course have hills, flats, or windy sections that favor your strengths? In which areas might you be vulnerable and have difficulty following stronger riders?

All riders should study course information ahead of the race, but many don’t bother. Knowing the course well can go a long way in improving tactics and morale. While the most effective way to scout a course is to ride it ahead of time, it won’t always be possible. In that case, find a map that details the roads of the course. The race Web site may even link to a map of the course. Perhaps the promoter has provided a map of the course in the race packet or has posted a magnified version on a bulletin board near the start. There may even be a course profile showing the race’s climbs and descents.

Be familiar with the course so that you will recognize major turns coming up. The misfortune of going off course, even if it is not directly your fault, is still your responsibility according to race rules. Some riders even write course landmarks onto a piece of athletic tape and then tape it to their stem before the start. This is particularly effective in longer races.

Once you have information about a race, process the facts. Knowing a course has 360 vertical feet (110 meters) of climbing per lap is a fact. But knowing that the 360 feet all occur in one 10 percent grade climb after a sharp right-hand turn, and that you need a 39 x 23 gear for it, is tactical knowledge. Ask riders who have done a particular course in the past, particularly those in your category who have done well there, to fill you in about the course’s challenges. If you don’t know someone who has completed the course, ask riders before the start of your race.

Once you are at a race venue, become as familiar with the course as possible, especially near the start and finish. There’s no excuse for not knowing the first and last kilometers of a race; you should have arrived in plenty of time to check them out, even if you have to ride on the sidewalk while other races are in progress. Courses often have signs posted marking 5 kilometers, 1 kilometer, 500 meters, and 200 meters to go. Look for landmarks to signify these points in case you miss the signs in the heat of the finish.

While the course provides the venue, the competitors make the race. As you race, take the time to discover the strongest competitors and teams weekend after weekend. Study their strengths and weaknesses. Just as important, consider how the other teams and individuals in your race may interpret your strengths and weaknesses.

Being familiar with your competitors can remove some of the element of surprise in a race by helping you to anticipate their moves and to make moves of your own to isolate their weaknesses. If the same climber wins races weekend after weekend by climbing away on the main hill and riding solo to the finish, examine how this individual is allowed to get away with it race after race. Maybe one answer is to get to the hill before that rider, which would require an attempt to break away without that rider earlier in the race.

In beginning racing, individuals rather than teams often affect the outcome. However, some individuals in the same club may be organized enough in the category 4 and 5 races for you to take advantage of that team’s strategy for your own benefit. More details on this are included in the upcoming chapters for each event.

As you prepare for a race, consider the weather conditions and potential wind. When you arrive at a race venue, check the direction and strength of the wind and consider how it might affect various parts of the course. Knowing which way the wind blows will help you decide which side of the pack to be in at any point in the race. It will also help you plan ahead for the wind you will encounter after the next turn and allow you to set up ahead of time by moving up or to the protected side.

Plan ahead by bringing extra clothing for cold days and extra water for hot days. Will you need long-fingered gloves and booties for an early-season race? Why take the chance—bring them along. Check for wind strength before deciding whether to use a disk wheel. Are the time savings of a deep dish or disk wheel worth the swerving the wind might cause? Check the pavement type on the race course and consider how it might affect tire traction if rain is coming. You may have to rein in your need for speed on descents and corners. If you have the option, bring sunglasses appropriate for the light conditions—dark for sunny days, clear for rainy or nighttime racing, or amber for cloudy, dark days.

Losing to another competitor’s strength or wits is honorable. Losing to the weather is inexcusable. You don’t have to be a victim of wind and weather. Use the conditions to your advantage!

Confidence is taking everything you know about yourself and tying it to the strategic fundamentals we’ve discussed. It is understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and gaining experience in group rides so that you know whether you are basically a climber, sprinter, time trialist, or all-around rider. Confidence is having the patience to wait for the right moment to show your strength, rather than wasting energy trying to be a different kind of rider.

Confidence is having an awareness of your current fitness level and knowing whether you are on track with your training program and goals. It is also the ability to conduct yourself in accordance with your goals. For instance, if you are using races early in the season simply for training without worrying about the outcome, make constant attempts to get away for training purposes and don’t worry that you may potentially break away with other riders who can possibly outsprint you at the end. You might make a gamble, such as a long solo breakaway, just for the training—an action you might not try in a more important race if you are a good sprinter.

Confidence is knowing you are strong on the flats, for instance, and the 98-pound climber who hopes to leave you behind in the hills will struggle in the flat crosswind if you go to the front of the pack and hammer. It’s knowing you thrive in the heat or suffer inordinately in the cold. It’s knowing that the course where you were behind the leader by 10 minutes last year won’t have you suffering nearly as much this year due to your improvement. Confidence is knowing that you mixed a weaker energy drink for this weekend’s race because last weekend the stronger concoction gave you a stomachache.

While these concepts might seem vague when you consider them in general, when you apply them in a race they make sense. After you finish a race, apply the four Cs again, checking to see whether you were true to your goals and determining where you could make improvements. You will see in the following chapters how valuable this simple approach can be.”