Saturday after my functional threshold power test, I sent the data to my coach, Jim Cunningham. He was traveling in California and was unable to give me his analysis that day. However, on Sunday afternoon just before I sat down for a meal with family, the phone rang. It was Jim.
After the normal exchange of pleasantries — it was raining in Greenville and sunny in California — Jim got down to business, “I looked at your data and thought it would be best to give you a call to get your thought process during the test.” Somehow I figured that would be the case. My approach was probably a little unorthodox.
“I noticed that you had a higher cadence in the beginning with an average wattage around 260 watts,” he continued, “but then your cadence drops significantly three different times and at those points your wattage is over 300 watts.” Yep, the graphs don’t lie. That is exactly what happened.
I explained to him that I was fearful of starting out too strong and that I took it easy in the beginning but measured my effort to keep myself close to my known FTP average. The bursts were times when I stood and dropped the cadence in order to increase the wattage to bring the average up. The times between the bursts were me attempting not to red zone too early from the harder efforts.
“I understand,” he replied. “However, typically in a TT effort you try to maintain a steady effort.” Somehow I knew he was going to say that. “I think at some point in the future we need to have you do another TT effort, but this time keep you in the 80s for your cadence. It could be that for TT efforts you will do better with a lower cadence.”
I explained to him that when I ride at a higher cadence it gives me a very good cardio workout, but I cannot sustain high wattage for very long doing so. I get much more fatigued when I am spinning at 95 to 100 rpm in order to hold a 270+ power level. Bigger gear in the 80s and I can hold that power level much longer.
On Sunday night my workout was supposed to be an hour ride with a large portion of that in a 190 to 220 watts zone. I determined I wasn’t going to look at the cadence readout on my Garmin Edge 500. I was just going to find a gear that allowed me to hold that wattage and felt comfortable to me.
At the end of the workout, I felt great! I then looked at my power file. Every interval was nearly dead on between 82 and 84 rpm. I was also better able to sustain a steady rhythm. Even when I felt as though I was spinning faster during the warm-up and cool-down, I was still only at around 86 rpm.
I realize that I need to learn to ride at a higher cadence. However, I also think cadence is somewhat of a personal thing. There is an amount of finding what works best for you. I can see myself settling in somewhere between 85 and 90 rpm. Time will tell.
And, yes, I realize now that when it comes to a TT effort FTP test, I need to measure my effort out across the entire period instead of dipping and spiking. As Jim said near the end of the conversation, “You shouldn’t have had that much left in the tank at the end.”
The bad news? I didn’t really do my FTP test correctly. The good news? Most likely had I done it correctly, I would have had better results. On top of that, I still increased my FTP by 10 watts. I’ll go with the good news!