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A tale to 2 prologues

How does pacing affect performance and what should we do to manage our efforts over short distance efforts?

We have looked at pacing before in time trials over more traditional distances with the use of TT gear. The prologue is still a timed effort, but, usually carried out over much shorter distances. In this short piece we are going to look at the prologue from the recent Tour de Alsace in France. Alsace is a UCI 2.2 race that attracts the future stars of cycling and its honour roll is a who’s, who of current top professional riders. Our very own Jack Haig has in the past finished 2nd and 5th on GC. These results are often gained in part on the mountainous stages of the tour, but, it is very important to limit time loses to other GC riders in the prologue as small losses or gains can be very important when the road heads upwards later in the tour.

When pacing longer time trials, a more measured approach can be developed with specific power targets developed for each section of the course. This can be achieved quite easily by the rider as they can dose their efforts easily using the power meter. On the shorter more technical courses, however, this can be a lot harder to get right, but, also vitally important.

Here we can see the technicality of the Alsace prologue in 2016, it looks more like a criterium course and was carried out on road bikes with no time trial gear.

Add to the technically tight circuit the strong early wind blowing straight down the long penultimate straight and getting the pacing right was of vital importance.In this first Today’s Plan ride graph we are going to look at the first of 2 riders I have selected to look at from the Avanti IsoWhey Racing team.

Rider 1 gave the prologue a red hot crack and came blasting out of the blocks. We had discussed pacing and holding back at the start, but, very often the red mist descends and with the added adrenaline and excitement of the event the sensations in the legs and the perceived feelings of effort are reduced. With the technical nature of the course there was no time to focus on the power meter, so, during this whole effort it was vitally important to gauge the feelings and sensations and dose the effort perfectly. As can be seen in the Ride Graph the first 3 minutes of effort were well above threshold, this is to be expected in a shorter TT effort like this where if it were to be run over a classic out and back type course could be completed at between 108 – 115% of the rider’s current threshold, basically a long extended VO2 effort.

In Rider 2’s Ride Graph a very different story is told of the race, on the initial view it may look quite similar, however, the nature of the way the effort was dosed is very, very different. Rider 2 came out of the blocks quite hard and got up to speed quickly, he then settled into a more measured approach for the duration of the prologue. You can see that the efforts out of each corner are more controlled and the spikes in power much lower. This can be attributed to both very smooth and confident cornering and also the ability to get the gearing correct coming into the corners to be able to spin up to speed quickly without having to get out of the saddle and use extra energy. You can see that both the power and cadence traces are very similar throughout the prologue for Rider 2. There is no noticeable drop off in either and he actually was able to dig really deep into the headwind to sustain over 115% of current threshold power with a cadence of 114rpm. Instead of getting bogged down in a big gear, he spun the gear up. He was also able to then finish strongly in the last kilometre to be one of the fastest riders in the team.

In this last Ride Graph we can look at the two riders power data together and see the comparative data side by side.

What does all this then tell us about how to ride a short time trial or prologue? Without the ability to constantly monitor the power meter head unit a degree of natural pacing must be used. Understanding how to monitor effort and get a feeling for the sensations and feelings in the body and mind are vitally important. Rider 1 was all guts and glory, he went out and as he felt good he smashed the first 0 – 4km, he punched out of corners and really went for it. This type of approach will always leave the athlete digging too deep early and faltering towards the end of any paced effort. This would be the same for a shorter effort over 2 minutes as well as depending upon the anaerobic energy system has its limitations as the anaerobic work capacity of each athlete is different.

Rider 2 was able to measure the ride better, not depend upon the added contribution of the anaerobic system too early and blow towards the end of the time trial. This was achieved by having a greater understanding of how the body feels at the start of such an event. I have long told my riders a simple mantra to use to try and establish this and it goes as follows.

“If you think you are starting too hard, you are definitely starting too hard” = back off

“If you think you are starting just right, you are still starting too hard” = back off

“If you think you are starting too easy, you are starting just right” = perfect

Practice start efforts in training and practice completing efforts around threshold and vo2 without seeing the power meter. Guess what you were doing and see if you have got it right after the effort. These simple measured efforts will enable you to develop a far better understanding of how you feel, how you are breathing to nail these starting efforts when you are unable to focus solely on the power meter head unit.

Catch you on the trail,

Fenz

Mark Fenner (Fenz)

Head Coach

I’ve been involved with cycling since I was 10 years old. My passion for cycling has led me to race both road and mountain bikes in England and Europe, which led me into learning more around the science behind the sport. I love helping others achieve their absolute best – I’ve lectured Sports and Exercise Science, Anatomy and Physiology in England, been an outdoor educator and motivator at The Scots College and have received several qualifications from degrees to certificates.

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