Thursday, November 26, 2015


Tour de Robbie 2009

This week's article covers: (a) thoughts on how to run a camps business; (b) my trip report from our Fall Canyons and Deserts Camp; and (c) tips that I picked up from a master of people skills.

A few months back Robbie Ventura (RV) asked me what we were going to do together this year. I suggested hosting a training camp together - RV was going to be in Vegas for Interbike so we built a route that started/finished from there.

Tip - Be willing to travel to your teachers.

Other than having fun (which is important), I like seeing Robbie each year for two reasons:

  • He is world-class in my weakest area (people skills); and
  • There is large option value in staying within his circle.

Being an extreme read/write learner and communicator, I am at a disadvantage when it comes to improving my people skills. To make improvement I need to get out there and interact! The coaching business has helped because I have a lot more telephone interaction than the past.

RV on the other hand is the opposite - I suspect that he spends most of his time dealing with the person that is right in front of him. So if your success depends on his help then you'll need to figure out how to get face-to-face with him. That leaves you with two choices... travel to Chicago or attend a training camp with him.

Upcoming Webinars

March 16th -- Noon Denver -- Long Course First Timers -- we'll chat about approaching your first long course event. Hopefully, I'll save you from some of the mistakes I've made over the years!

Contact Me for a slot and/or send in your questions in advance.

Free to all and available for download after the fact.

Real World Bike Speed

This week, I'm going to talk a bit about the evolution of my approach to the bike leg in triathlon. I have gone DEEP into the archives for your reading enjoyment!


But first, two multimedia links for you.

Laura Bennett Olympic Video -- great if you have kids that are wondering what it might take to get themselves into the Olympics! The video is about 24 minutes long -- so let it buffer.

Chris McDonald Podcast -- The Big Unit updates on his year since winning IM Louisville last August. Great info on racing Challenge Roth as well as life at the sharp end. More Chris can be found at his blog.


You can waste a ton of energy thinking about your bike position -- each year, I try a few changes in January/February then tinker through the year based on optimizing COMFORT, not power.

Short course athletes might think that comfort doesn't matter. However, if it takes you a few miles to loosen up then your race is OVER before you get into your run groove.

For Ironman, if your back locks up on the bike then you give away tons of "aero". 112 miles of riding is a heck of a long way to endure a tight position.

So, remember what really matters to triathlon performance:

  1. Consistency -- consistent training over many years
  2. Nutrition -- high quality fuel for optimal recovery, body composition and performance
  3. Aerobic Stamina -- maximizing aerobic economy and endurance at your optimal race effort
  4. Pacing -- back-end loaded race effort to optimize speed across each leg and increase the probability of outstanding run performance

Bike position has NOTHING to do with how your bike looks racked in transition. Your bike position is about how you perform on your bike as well as how you run off your bike.

Your true bike position is what you are holding when tired, not fresh.


Let's get into a few photos to kick off.

You might recognize the guy above. Craig Walton is one of the most respected, and fastest, non-drafting athletes in the World. I throw this up to remind myself that my nose doesn't need to touch my stem.

OK, now for a bit of raw reality with some of the positions that I've used over the years. Below is a shot from my first bike fit with John Cobb, April 2002.

The position looks great on the trainer. Trouble is... how the heck do I see where I am going? Look at my vision. Straight down. So I would have to crane my neck upwards even to see a few meters up the road. Not great for long distance triathlon.

As an interesting aside... I look fit in that photo but I am totally smoked and only a few weeks away from my first bout of serious overtraining. If I knew then what I know now...

Below are my next two bikes -- the position I rode in 2004 as well as what I changed to in 2005. The reason I changed in 2005 was I wanted to get my saddle more forward. I will come to the "why" in a little bit.

As you can see above, different frame but, in reality, same position. Two important aspects to note about the picture on the left:

1 - look at the angle of my arms, they are pointing down. You see this a lot at the races. My front end is too low for my flexibility. As a result, my low back is constantly firing and my back will tighten as my ride progresses. Eventually, I'll have my wrists on my aerobar pads and form a big wind scoop with my body. My bike, however, looked excellent racked in transition!

2 -- I corrected this point in the picture on the right. I'm able to relax my back in the position. An important point... a higher front end can result in a lower, more relaxed, back. This is very important to remember for all distances.

The positions above worked out well for me -- they weren't all that aero but they were, on balance, comfortable enough for me to run very well (3 hours flat on the day photographed below).

In 2003/2004/2005, I had three podium finishes at Ironman events and managed one of the fastest times ever at Ironman Canada 2004 (8:29). However, those races were done with a 7 meter draft zone.

Bump the draft zone out to 10 meters and my position becomes more relevant. Why? Try sitting fourth wheel at 40 km.h with 5 meter gaps between bikes. You will very quickly see that 7 meters Ironman (front to front) is quasi-draft legal once you can hold 40 km.h. To race well in the agegroup ranks you must learn how to use your competition both effectively and ethically.

Recognizing this fact, I have been working on getting more slippery. With four months until my 40th birthday, there is limited upside with my horsepower. My current position is photographed below.

Things that I want you to notice:

Wheels -- 1080 front, sub-9 disc rear -- this is an insanely fast wheel combo. If you are going to run the 1080 then you must practice in training. If I had to choose my single greatest source of speed then the wheel set wins. I used to be highly skeptical about the impact of wheels until I put these on my bike.

Vision -- I can see up the road without straining my neck. I can't see far... but I can see far enough.

Helmet -- Giro Advantage Two -- if you are a heavy sweater, racing in hot weather, or suffer from dehydration on the run... then GO VENTS. If you are racing in the cold then an aerohelmet is the most efficient way to keep your core temperature up. Keep the tail down against your back (my IMNZ race photo shows a big gap, that is a no-no).

Seat Height -- at the high end of acceptable, seems to work for me.

Cleanliness -- no bottles catching the air coming down my back. My spares are in a bike bottle in my seat tube bottle cage. Fluids are via aerobar mount and down tube bottles -- can be accessed with minimal body movement. I wear a skinsuit, so there is no flapping clothing.

Arm position -- Going narrow as sped me up (see differences in photos below). The ONLY way that I can hold a narrow position is to pull my elbows backwards towards my hips. I run a very shot stem.

One more photo so you can see nose of saddle relative to BB (below). When TTing at high power (>FTP), I slide forward to the nose of the saddle. This saddle position is a compromise, I have found that I lose too much climbing power/comfort if the saddle goes any more forward. With the PX frame geometry, I am at the limit of how far forward I can go.

While it might be tempting to slam even more forward... remember that you need a place to put your head and you don't want to create chronic neck pain. Your TT position needs to be comfortable, otherwise you'll never train in it!

A couple of final points to consider:

Wind Tunnels -- I spent several thousand dollars with wind tunnel testing a few years ago. Frankly, it gave me the wrong answer. I recommend field testing, ideally race performance data.

Ride Strategy -- How you use your position is as important as the position itself. I am looking for a position that enables me to relax in the fast parts of the course and be comfortably powerful in the slow parts of the course.

I have power variability in my rides because I rest at high speed. I avoid power spikes as they impair my run for very little time gain. I will, however, lift my power in the slow part of the course. I am constantly considering effort versus air speed when TTing.

The bike is the only part of a triathlon where you can coast with very little time penalty. The run provides ample opportunity to lay it down, as well as, the greatest time penalty for cracking.


What to Optimize?
Triathlon cycling has little to do with elite road TTing or the 4K pursuit. While we can learn from elite cyclists, we need to remember that our event has different physiological requirements.

Here is my ride logic:

#1 -- what is my best case scenario for power output and average speed across the race distance, ignoring the run?

#2 -- what is the fastest position that I can hold at 95% of best case power?

#3 -- open with (at least) the first fifth of the ride at 90% of best case power. Lower heart rate into my target zone and establish hydration, nutrition and comfort.

#4 -- if I am feeling good then gradually shift upwards to 95% of best case power and hold as RPE increases across the ride duration.

#5 -- invest my greatest effort into the slowest parts of the course. Remember that (nearly) every meter of the run will be slower than the bike.

#6 -- until I run well, keep lowering my target bike effort.


What is it Worth?
The changes that I outline above have removed 30 watts (~11%) from the power required for me to average 40 km.h here in Boulder. I suspect the key three changes are: improved wheels; smaller wind scoop; and smarter application of power. I have field tested with aerobic TTs from 20 minutes to 2 hours.

The two things left for me to consider are my fork/front wheel combo as well as my wrist height (guys like Levi seem to lift arm angle to close off the wind scoop entrance, Fabian less so).

With a bit of luck, I may be able to pull a couple more watts out.