How I Spent My Summer Holidays
I have just returned to Halifax from two months (May and June) spent in the cycling nirvana of Slovenia (check our upcoming Top Rides article later this week), tucked into a mountainous landscape east of Italy and south of Austria. As was the case with my earlier two month sabbatical visit to New Zealand, the PowerCranks and my Klein were the sole bike and cranks that I used during my stay.
So what did I get up to bike-wise while I was in Slovenia? First, check out my first Baseline article on the PCs to see my baseline fitness and a report on initial adaptations after 3 weeks, along with my experiences after two months of riding in New Zealand:
• My training during my stint in Slovenia was not systematic in terms of periodization and leading up to a particular goal or goals. Being a kid in a candy store of endless cycling possibilities, I preferred to log as much bike time as possible to fully explore the country. In addition, Nova Scotia has the annoying habit of scheduling almost all of its races in May and June (the two months I was away). Therefore, my primary events involved a few “gran fondo” rides in Slovenia and also after a conference in Holland.
• 2200 km, 80 h of cycling. The bulk of my riding were long (for me) endurance effort rides of 3 h with scattered Maximal Aerobic Power workouts twice a week. Average volume of 12-15 h of riding per week, although there were a few weeks shot completely due to extended conference travel or 12+ h days in the lab. This amount of riding is about 15 h higher than my typical mid-season over the past couple of years.
• 25,000 m of climbing total. Thanks to the mountainous terrain, I did lots of 6-10% climbs of 4-10 km length too, with stretches up to 15-18%, so there was certainly a steady diet of lactate threshold efforts amidst the endurance rides. I completed all rides with a 53/39 and 12/23 combo.
I believe that, after two months in NZ, my time of major adaptation to the PCs are over with. Indeed, I jumped right into 3 h rides in hilly terrain immediately upon my first week in Slovenia. And living in mountain-challenged Nova Scotia, I have done more climbing during my time in NZ and Slovenia than I have the past five years combined. Yet, never did I feel limited in any rides or tours by the PCs or any muscular strain associated with their use.
On a subjective level, there is no doubt that I was riding stronger than I have for many years during my time in Slovenia. My two gran fondo rides in Slovenia in mid-June, 100 and 115 km through hilly terrain, were peak experiences for me physically and mentally, finishing in the small lead group in both events (~300 and 800 riders, respectively) after doing lots of high-speed/cadence hammering in the “break.” This was in contrast to the race I did in Christchurch in NZ, where I couldn’t sustain the high power and cadence to stay in the flying pack.
The subjective sensations were backed up by the numbers from my Polar power monitor. On the flats at a wattage of about 200 W, my Power Index (PI) value increased from ~17% pre-PowerCranks, to 24-26% post-NZ (i.e., after 2 months), to 28-30% near the end of my time in Slovenia (i.e., after 5 months). Given what Dr. Ed Coyle recently published about the importance of muscular efficiency in Lance Armstrong’s success, this is a huge testament to the potential benefits to be derived from dedicated work on pedaling efficiency and the role of PowerCranks.
A week before my departure from Slovenia, I did a 13 h hike/climb up the highest peak in the country. Therefore, I was off the bike and reduced to hobbling around from Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness my whole last week. That, plus hanging out with my long-suffering family upon my return to Halifax, meant it was a 2 week layoff from the bike before I made my way to the lab to jump onto the CompuTrainer to repeat a Maximal Aerobic Power Test.
One change from my initial testing was that I used the PowerCranks this time, as I was confident of my abilities with them. My MAP has jumped up from 275 pre-PC to 285 W, while my weight has dropped from 67.2 to 63.1, such that my actual MAP/weight ratio increased from 4.09 W/kg to 4.51 W/kg!
While a lot of this was due to the differences between off-season and extended riding, my sustained 30 min average wattage (using the CompuTrainer) also increased from 223 W in August 2004 (after I chased Le Tour through the Pyrenees and Alps), to 235 W using the PCs this month. My weight was about the same with both tests, so this still translates to a distinct improvement in my overall capacity for sustained effort.
Other notes to follow up from my previous articles on PowerCranks:
• My climbing with the boys in the trailer has improved yet again, with me notching the hill with the boys in tow in one gear higher at the same effort than I did in April (which was 2 gears higher already than the previous summer)!
• My cadence is now easily sustained at 92-95 rpm for extended endurance rides on the flats, and I could spin at 80-85 rpm or so on extended 6% climbs.
• My heart rates throughout my time in Slovenia were completely “normal” given my effort, without the initial elevation upon first using PCs.
There is little doubt in my mind that the PowerCranks have made me a stronger cyclist. My pedaling efficiency has improved, and I believe that is the underlying mechanism behind the improvements I’ve seen, as the force I’m generating is more evenly spread across the muscles of my legs. We’re planning a scientific study on exactly this question in the fall, so I’ll likely be reporting the data to you this time next year!
In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to continuing my development with the PowerCranks. I believe that I am over the large initial curve of adaptation, and that the coming months and off-season of dedicated use will really exponentially increase the benefits I have seen to date, as my body focuses on getting stronger as opposed to getting used to the PCs.
PowerCranks Win at Piuma
PezCranking: Two Months Down Under
PezCranking: Readers Respond
PowerCranks Training Diary: One Year Later
PowerCranks Training Diary #3
PowerCranks Training Diary #2
PowerCranks Training Diary #1
PowerCranks Tech Review
Stephen Cheung has crash-landed back to reality after a year of globe-trotting during his sabbatical leave from Dalhousie University, where he’s an Associate Professor in Kinesiology. Stephen’s company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.