The title of my Strava activity for Tuesday’s World Championships was, “I don’t want to talk about it.” I’m not getting ready to go back on that by discussing it here. However, its time to use the blog as a catharsis to get rid of some bad mojo. So, bear with me!
Here is the deal. I’m riding pretty well for early in this year. I’m seeing my functional threshold power increase and I’m sure I’m ready to take it to some long charity rides. However, I have an Achilles heel.
When it comes to racing (whether on the real road TNWC or Zwift’s virtual one), my FTP isn’t helping me much. Why? Well, you see, in racing no one just gets in a rhythm and rides that way to the end. Racing really is all about surges.
So, here I am trying to stay protected from the wind, but still stay up front in a race. The field begins to thin into a long line as the pace picks up. A break of three goes off the front. I wait. One by one the riders ahead of me move off like we are on a rotating pace line. Now I am on the front.
Suddenly, there is an attack of one rider, then two, and a third joins in an attempt to bridge over to the three already up the road. I have a choice to make. Do I rotate off the front and let the field pull me up to the forming break, or do I take matters into my own hands and follow?
For the sake of illustration, lets say I decide to jump on the wheel of the third rider and allow those attackers to help bring me up to the riders ahead. Well, two things are going to happen… 1) we are going to make it up to the break and then another scenario presents itself, or 2) as I grab the wheel going past me the field recognizes the threat and accelerates to neutralize the attack.
Either way, none of this takes place at a constant power output. Now, suppose I make it up to the break, but it becomes disorganized. After being away for a few minutes, the field behind gets organized to bring us back, or a new batch of riders attacks from the field to bridge up to us.
I’ve put out an effort to get up in the break. Just as I’m starting to get my heart rate under control, I’m faced with a new threat and a new need to ratchet up the power. This happens multiple times within the race.
Even if you make the decision to sit in the field (which I find it very hard to do), you can’t totally escape these surges. Often the field is like a rubber band. A movement starts at the front and everyone surges to release the tension being created as the front stretches away from the back. Then the front slows as the threat is neutralized or allowed to break away. The rear then collapses into the center. Only to have this happen again and again until a result is determined.
So, how do you prepare for this? Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen by just going out and riding your bike for hours and hours on end. It doesn’t happen by going out and doing 20 minute time trials at your functional threshold power.How do you prepare? Intervals. You go out and do short bursts of power for one to five minutes. You rest for a minute or two and then engage in the next burst of pain. You do this until you are sick of them.
That is my problem. I’m loving riding my bicycle right now. I’m feeling strong. I could go out and do a time trial and possibly get a personal best. However, put me in a criterium, or even a road race, and I am toast.
However, I have not done a single interval training session. The result is that early in a race I can ride like I’m going to rule the field, but when the surges begin and I have to react to one or two attacks… I get ruled by the field!
Yes, a little bit of patience and correct reading of the tactics around me would definitely allow me to last longer, but I would only end up being field fodder when it really mattered. Yes, I need those things, but ultimately I’m going to have to face the training demons — intervals.
But here is the question… Do I care? Do I care enough about finishing well in what amounts to be a glorified shop ride that I am willing to put myself through that discomfort? Why can’t I just gain that ability by participating? Why can’t I just ride laps on Watopia going for jersey’s every now and again?
Oh, you’re still reading? I told you that this was a catharsis for me. This blog is more me talking to myself than to you. However, if you are new to cycling — especially competitive amateur cycling — I hope you will understand the truth of my words.
Intervals aren’t sexy. They are only fun for the cross fit riders of bicycles. However, if you want to be competitive and not just be field fodder, you are going to have to do intervals.
The question remains, “Are you willing to do what it takes?”