When I headed to Austria in July of 2008, I left America with thoughts of European racing grandeur and fun times with Ashley. It didn’t take long before the bike racing had taken a backseat to our year-long vacation in Europe. The bike increasingly became a tool for travel and touristing and my vehicle for taking pictures. The times of lonesome suffering in training and mass suffering in racing were behind me…at least for awhile.
First Step To USPRO: Sign Contract
I signed a contract with the small American pro team, DLP Pro Cycling, back in November, but it never really worked out for me to go home to America to race. I mean, honestly, how could I possibly leave Europe? But still, the idea of racing in my dream race, USPRO, danced about in my head. For me, a race like USPRO is as far as I could ever dare to dream of. Every once in awhile, I’d think about how cool it would be to take the start line in Greenville at the end of August…then I’d take another 10 day vacation sans bike. I wanted to race it, but I was also enjoying the life of a carefree non-racer.
Sure, I was biking, but I was a writer and picture taker first and second, bike rider third.
The little itch in my brain continued to spread unabated though, and by the end of June I had finally made my commitment to getting back to real bike practice…albeit many months late, but hey, they have sayings for just that moment. Better late than never, right? I can’t pinpoint the moment when I decided that I wanted another go at bike racing, but I’m pretty sure I was lying in bed. That might not be the best place to make such decisions.
A Return Of Sorts
So I got back to bike riding. I hadn’t taken the year off by any means, but I had taken a solid three months completely off, and the rest of the time, I had spent riding easy around Europe with my eyes either firmly cocked skywards at the amazing mountain views or peering precariously through my camera’s viewfinder trying to take cool pictures of Ashley whilst riding.
Over the course of many months, it is easy to allow thoughts of grandeur to leak in, nonsense thoughts like: I was once fast, or could have been fast had I not goofed around so much. I was never all that fast. I could suffer a lot when I was going well and mentally all there, but I was never one of those great talents. When I raced well, I was scrappy and every once in awhile I put together some cool rides, like the Most Aggressive Rider jersey for a day at Nature Valley. Overall though, I was at best a middling pro/elite amateur. So when someone like me takes a very, very extended vacation, the fitness goes with it.
Yahoo! That was a happy day…but not exactly an earth-shattering performance either.
My return to organized training was brutally unpleasant. I just figured I’d do a lot of climbing in and around Innsbruck and let the climbs do their magic. I thought I would do 4 or 5 a day. Ha. I barely managed one climb the first time, then needed a couple of days off. I ‘raced’ that weekend up a frightfully steep climb – 6k at close to 15% average with a section of 32%! I thought I’d be ok with it, I had a 34×27 after all, I couldn’t see why everyone was on mountain bikes. I found out soon enough. I turned around with about 500m to go in the race, absolutely spent, completely demoralized. What had happened to me? That’s a rhetorical question. Please don’t answer.
I was somewhat comfortable at this point, but if Ashley had been about 1k further up the road…
I had my downer moment, took a deep breath, and realized that I needed to do this right if I was going to do it. I read an article by PEZ Toolbox contributor, and USAC Elite Coach, Matt McNamara, about changing up one’s training on PEZ. I was intrigued. Perhaps I could convince Matt to help me out, give me some guidance, help ‘prepare’ me as best as possible, for USPRO Championships – only seven weeks away.
No, seriously, I’m not kidding about steep.
Matt Says: Quite The Undertaking
Whoa! USPRO is one of the most prestigous events on the calendar for domestic and European pros alike. Everyone wants to wear the stars and stripes! I was thrilled to have the chance to work with Jered and we immediately set about creating a program that would have him ready for the August 30th Race, only a few short weeks away.
And therein lay the challenge. Jered had been a bit lax (Jered: to say the least) in his riding for the better part of the year. Sure, he’d done some miles and had a bit of consistency, but he wanted to tackle USPRO, all 110 miles and 100+ top professionals in a mere 7 weeks time!
The plan was fairly straight forward пїЅ We didnпїЅt have time to establish a пїЅtrueпїЅ base of fitness with extended endurance rides, instead weпїЅd have to do lots of threshold and tempo work immediately, and then add higher intensity efforts later in the training block. In the last weeks before the event weпїЅd build in the endurance component and ultimately finish off with some motorpacing, focused climbing and recovery. We sort of turned the traditional periodization model a little sideways.
Second Step To USPRO: Get Coach
I’ve been racing my bike for a while now. I still like to think that I’m a newcomer, but I’ve been racing since 2002. I’ve been racing full-time since 2005. I’m not new to the sport anymore. I know what needs to be done to get faster. I know what my body needs.
I, however, refuse to do certain things of my own accord. I’ll ride tempo and threshold all day long, everyday, but you will never, ever, ever catch me dead doing VO2Max or Anaerobic Capacity work because I feel like it. Ever. I just won’t subject myself, willingly, to such awful pain. I think that’s a fairly natural thing. Tempo and threshold can be fun, enjoyable. Above that – it’s never fun, but it’s always hugely beneficial.
One of my weekly workouts: the Hour Of Power. Oh dear lord I intensely disliked this one. 1 hour at the low end of threshold with a ‘sprint’ every three minutes at 150%ish of threshold. It was tough, agonizingly slow, but hugely beneficial (you’ll notice a missed sprint or two in the middle there – that section was 17%, there was no sprinting to be done).
Matt was able to point me in the right direction at all times. He provided support that was crucial when I was and still am working hard.
I feel a higher purpose, in a way, when I’m given direction, a mandate if you will. If I don’t feel like riding, I have to answer to Matt. I have to come up with some awful excuse, and I feel bad about it. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Really, for someone like me, (maybe other people have this problem, maybe they don’t) – I need that mentor to oversee my progress, to steer me in the right direction. It sure didn’t hurt that Matt is one of the best coaches around.
Matt provided me with a reasonable, but challenging program. I began to see results almost immediately. Focused work is like that. There’s no better way to work, for me, than to have someone overseeing your work. It’s just hard to do it on your own, it really is. I can train myself over the winter to perfection, but as soon as the work becomes specific and intense, I desperately need that outside help – both to temper the hard stuff with moderate work, and also to keep me moving in the right direction as efficiently as possible.
Let’s face it, a lot of us do have a decent idea about how to get fit and fast, but just because you know what needs to be done doesn’t translate directly to doing it and getting it done. For me (I know I’m saying that a lot, but I really can only speak for myself), if I’m serious, the best thing I can do, besides attaching a powermeter to my bike, is get a coach. It means I’m 100% committed to the goal, it means I’m leaving nothing to chance, it means I’m serious. It wasn’t hard to put my hoped for fitness in Matt’s hands, and I was right to do it. Matt shares a similar philosophy to me when it comes to bike practice: no wasted time, focused work, intelligent training via powermeter, but also a good dose of real world application.
At this point, I had no fitness, no endurance, my threshold was in the basement somewhere hiding behind the water heater, and I was fat. My first rides were devoted to simply getting back to a consistent schedule, riding unbelievable amounts of tempo, and working hard.
An early ride – 4×15 minutes at the low end of Zone 4. I rode up the climb outside my back door, Hungerburg, rode back down, then up, then down… I actually really enjoyed climbing repeats. I have always been adamantly opposed to repeats on one climb, but sometimes they’re nice. Cool graph view from iBike.
It was a major shock to my system to be back training again. The familiar feelings of intense exhaustion leading to early come aparts and 12 hour sleep fests came back, along with feeling like I needed a trip to the buffet every evening. The difference between my training now and in my previous years, however, was that Matt had me working on a much shorter, efficient training load. Most of my rides were in the 2-3 hour range. Over the past year, like it or not, I had really shifted from full-time bike riding to full-time bike journalisting. For the first time, I had other obligations, other priorities. I wanted to get fit, but I didn’t want to ride six hours a day as I used to. Bike riding is fun, but I like to do other stuff too.
I did the following workout a few times as well: 30 second lead-in at 500ish watts, then settled down to 375-400. We hoped to simulate the early surge on a climb like Paris Mountain. You can be sure that I won’t start that climb fresh or with my heart rate in the low 100′s. It’ll be closer to 200 when I start the climb.
Matt Says: The First Weeks
From a coaching perspective the first weeks of the training block were mostly geared towards a steady diet of consistency and focused sub threshold work. We did bump his weekly volume quite dramatically, from an 8 пїЅ 10 hour/week average to just over 17 the first week of the program, but we kept it manageable. His highest Intensity Factor (IF) for the week was .79 on a two hour ride, and his peak Training Stress Score (TSS) was 259 over a five hour ride. Not terribly brutal, but a good foundation.
A picture of me doing one of the 30 second ‘sprints’ followed by 4 minutes of low end VO2Max. I miss views like that.
Subsequent weeks have seen Jered range between 600 and 950 TSS points per week, with most in the 800 range, although there were a couple of пїЅlightпїЅ weeks (260-400 TSS/wk) due to some travel commitments. The crux of those weeks was spent doing efforts around the expected race profile: Lots of пїЅSweet SpotпїЅ efforts in the 350W range for an hour, and focused simulations of the Paris Mountain climb. Jered figures heпїЅll need to have a VAM of about 1500m/hr to stay with the field on the climbпїЅ.which translates, roughly, to about 400-420W for a sustained 10ish minute effort on each of the four trips up the 2 mile climb. I canпїЅt wait to see the power file from that race!
Gotta Have Friends
I’m not one of those lone wolf type bike riders. I love the companionship of riding with a friend or two. I ride harder for longer, and I have a helluva lot more fun doing it. There’s no getting around it for me. I just have more fun riding with friends, and really, it’s about having fun.
Christoph and Mile.
I was fortunate enough to have a few people accompany me along this little eight week voyage: Christoph Kluge and my Bosnian pal, Mile Kovac (Mee-lay).
Christoph and Mile helped push me so, so much further. I owe a lot to their company and patience on a lot of rides. It’s fact: finding a peer to ride with is a one-way ticket to getting stronger, tougher, and just plain having a lot of fun whilst doing it. If your riding partner is really nice, he’ll even do intervals with you. I managed to convince Mile to do 2 minute, 6 minute, and Hour of Power intervals with me. Talk about a nice guy.
Mile Kovac: My neck is thicker than his thighs.
Christoph was a fantastic barometer for me throughout – when I first started riding with him, he slaughtered me everywhere. When we rode together, I’d pant: how are you? Just riding easy! I would subsequently cry silently. As the weeks wore on, I gradually began to improve, until finally we were going toe to toe, full bore on the climbs. He was still able to beat me, but I was right there snapping at his heels.
The Mountains Don’t Hurt
They’re the best place ever to train! Not feeling too good, feeling a little lackadaisical? Turn those bars uphill, settle in, make sure you have the right gearing, let tempo and threshold be your friend. There’s something about going uphill that encourages harder riding, I guess it’s just gravity. No matter how crappy I feel, if I ride uphill, I can always ride at least in my tempo range. That’s a lot more than I can say for flat to rolling terrain. If I’m a bit tired, Zone 2 (Endurance) is often the best I can do.
Climbs, however, necessitate that extra bit of work, and thus, yield that extra bit of gain. It also didn’t hurt that Innsbruck’s climbs were just so, so difficult. 10% average? Everything. There were only a couple of climbs that averaged under double digits – and I didn’t like them.
How can you go wrong on a climb like this? I couldn’t help but get stronger.
I love the small farm road climbs that head up the steep sides of the Inn Valley. I hope everyone gets to enjoy these climbs at some point: the climbs where the road is only a lane and a half wide, the views magnificent, and well, it’s just my favorite thing ever. Of course, don’t leave home without your compact. Woe to you if you go there without a compact. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Europe Is My Playground
Training in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia kept things new and fun. Really lucky. I remember reading an article by Tom Danielson once where he professed the great benefits of training in different places, how much more mentally stimulating it was. I remember laughing at the article and thinking, yeah, that would be great.
Sure, Tre Cime was one of the harder climbs I’ve done, but the views on top were more than worth it.
Well, while we were in Austria – it was fantastic! I had the chance to drive down to the Dolomites for a day in the mountains with Christoph, I spent a few days riding in Croatia here and there, I did some training whilst following the Tour de Suisse. It was an incredible opportunity, and though it was sometimes a wee bit stressful not having a solid homebase, it was by far the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike.
I spent a lot of time training in Istria, Croatia with Michael and Mile. If you ever get the chance: go there!
I won’t be able to do that as much at home, but it is a lesson I learned and learned well: sometimes it’s worth taking that extra bit of time to ride somewhere new. It did wonders for my head, wonders even for my legs, and hell, it was just fun to ride new roads.
I am not a lover of intervals. I really don’t like them. I’m happiest doing free form rides where I let the terrain dictate my effort. One of my favorite rides is a four climb loop in Istria. The four climbs are all in the 15-20 minute range. Look at that, four built in ‘intervals.’ Matt understood that and had me do a lot of rides like this.
I Love Powermeters
Don’t leave home without it. I’ve been a disciple of the powermeter since 2004, and this training block was no different. There’s no better way to maximize training time, keep track of training, get an accurate, precise idea of what you’re doing at any given time. It was also very crucial to train with power for Matt – Matt could see exactly what I was doing everyday.
I wasn’t able to train with my traditional SRM, but I did have the opportunity to ride with the iBike Pro. I’ve read criticisms of the iBike, no question, but I found it to be a trusty companion.
It was accurate for my climbing as well. It required some basic groundwork to get it working accurately, but that soon became automatic. I loved its altimeter functions, its percent grade view, its smallness. It was a fantastic training tool for my rides in the mountains. I’m back in America now using an SRM again, but also plan on pairing the ANT+ capable iBike with the new wireless PowerTap. I love the functions of the iBike and would love to continue using it.
Trying To Keep Things Consistent
I have been spoiled for a long time concerning my bike riding priorities. I was a full-time bike racer for a few years, and there was nothing higher on my to do list than biking. Everything revolved around bike riding.
The times have changed a bit, and I’ve had to realize that there’s more to life than bike riding. It seems like a basic lesson in life, but it was also a bit frustrating…until I took a deep breath and realized it was just that: bike riding.
I tried my best to keep things consistent in the lead up to USPRO, but of course, the real world crept in on a few occasions. Sometimes the travel took too long, sometimes there was something to take care of at home with Ashley, sometimes work ran too late. I missed a few days here and there, but that’s ok, it wasn’t a big deal. We all know that it’s not the end of the world if we miss that ONE workout, but every once in awhile it helps to have someone there to remind you: it’s ok, calm down. Thanks, Matt.
Ashley was also a huge help in keeping me calm, making sure I remembered why I was riding my bike: not only to get stronger, but to have fun. I’d often go do a 2-3 hours on my own, take care of a hard workout, then go out and ride a little more with her and just enjoy being out on my bike. I hadn’t done that too often in my previous years. The bike really is an amazing gift: it’s just fun to be outside, hanging out with friends, chatting and laughing. Sure, getting stronger, fitter, faster is important, but I’ve realized that I can do that AND enjoy it at the same time. Maybe I’m speaking the utterly obvious, but for me, it was a move in a more rounded direction when it came to training, and for me, that made me double motivated.
Unfortunately, our 13 months in Austria did in fact have to come to an end. It was a decidedly downer experience to leave our home and return to America, but it did bring me back to bike racing. I was disappointed to leave Paradise, but I was excited to get back to racing. I missed it. I hadn’t done a real bike race in a year! I was literally frothing at the mouth to get back to bike racing.
Do we really have to leave this behind? Unfortunately, yes.
Coming home also provided a couple of other things that were sorely lacking in Innsbruck: heat and group rides. The summer in Innsbruck is akin to late Fall here in Georgia. It’s not exactly steamy. USPRO will be steamy. Racing in the Southeast is steamy. I left temperatures in the cool 70′s and did my first ride in America in the mid 90′s. Ouch. Acclimating to the heat has taken some time, but it’s getting better everyday.
My favorite thing to return to though: group rides. I love them. I’m a social creature. I love riding with people, I love suffering on a hard group ride. It’s how I came up. I did lots of group rides. Group rides are also hugely beneficial in showing improvement – in a week’s time, I made an almost 10% improvement in my top end (VO2Max and above). I had done tons of intervals, but there’s nothing that can simulate the swirling, dynamic nature of a fast-paced group ride or race. Racing and fast group rides are a must have in my get faster diet. It’s a lot easier to collect time and miles on your bike in a group – have you ever noticed that? The time might not be as efficient, but sometimes it’s nice to get a couple hours of easy on the head riding when you’re out pummeling yourself for most of the day.
It was fun to race again – not so much fun flatting out.
Speaking of racing…I did my first race last weekend. I haven’t been so nervous about a bike race since my time in Germany – I got dropped 75% of the time. Talk about a major shock to the system. I was off the back before the first turn. I forgot about the whole sprint for the first turn phenomenon. It tickled. I gradually got more comfortable in the race, moved up a bit, ended up at the front, followed some moves, then finally, I was off the front. I was racing my bike! Unfortunately, my time in the break was short lived – I flatted out of the break. I didn’t have wheels in the pit either. Oops. I forgot, there are some other pre-requisites to racing besides training, getting fit, showing up at the race, and getting a number.
Up Next: USPRO And Beyond
The time has come. I’m sitting outside of a local coffee shop in Athens. It’s Friday. USPRO is on Sunday. I’m headed up to Greenville this afternoon. Whatever work there was to be done is done. All that’s left is to try not to fall off my bike or get sick over the next two days.
My chances this weekend? Oh, they’re not too great. For all of the work and hullabaloo, I still started my training many months too late. I’ve put myself in the best possible position given the time frame, but it’s still not a very good position. I feel fit and strong, but fit and strong against the likes of George Hincapie, Garmin, BMC, and the rest of the pro population in America? That’s a tough furrow to plow.
I’m going to race hard, give it my best shot, and I’m going to suffer like hell. That’s all I can do, right? Either way, I’ll be happy to take the start line, happy for the opportunity to race my bike with some amazing professionals, happy to feel the storm of support on the slopes of Paris Mountain. I can’t wait. When I look back at my racing, I will always look back to this period, and I think I will definitely look back to Sunday’s race. As a guy who has done a lot with a little, what more can I ask for?
A Few Statistics
Starting threshold: 330
Starting weight: 76kg
Starting climbing rate (10min): 1300m/h
Heading into USPRO threshold: 375
Heading into USPRO weight: 72kg
Heading into USPRO climbing rate (10min): 1550m/h
I would be an absolute ass if I didn’t dish out a few thank you’s before concluding this saga of an article.
First off, Matt McNamara – without Matt’s help, I wouldn’t be close to this far along. I really appreciate the help.
I would be remiss not to say thank you to the folks at Seigler Sports. After I was booted from my Austrian team in the fall of 2008, I was bike-less. Seigler got me up and running. They make some great bikes – check em out.
Lest I forget, the guys at iBike were more than helpful in getting me an iBike Pro to test. I really enjoyed using the product. I look forward to maximizing its capabilities in the coming months when paired with my new wireless PowerTap. More on that soon!
I’ve been a walking train wreck of a bike problem since I got home to Athens, Georgia. The good folks at The Hub have been more than patient and helpful keeping my technical difficulties at a minimum. Really, if you ever see me with a tool in my hand, jump on me, take it away. I can do real damage.
I wouldn’t be able to start without my team of course. The boys on DLP Racing have been going hard all year. I’m happy to be a part of the team.
Of course, TrainingPeaks is the be all end all when it comes to keeping track of your training. For a data geek like me, there’s nothing better than WKO+.
Questions? Comments? Happy? Sad? Send me an email. I hope none of this came off as too brazenly me me me. I’m excited for the opportunity to race this weekend, excited for the chance, excited to ride bikes. If you got any other idea than that, it wasn’t my intention. Ok?
If you ever want to check out some pictures, THIS is a good place to go…in my opinion.
There’s always the trusty JeredGruber.com if you ever get really bored.