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The following tip is a reprint of an January 2010 question submitted by Voler E-Mail List member Laurie Stojanovic.
Staying With The Pack
From what I can see my power has increased from my sprints on up, however, my power gains don’t seem to manifest themselves in my criterium racing and have trouble staying with the pack. Any thoughts?
There are a number of directions I could go here but my thoughts focus in on speed and gearing when you mention criteriums. This type of racing is all about quick legs and the ability to accelerate or turn over a gear very fast. The speed is constantly changing and it starts right from the gun. It is relentless.
From the information you have shared with me, it is obvious that you are much fitter this year. This can be seen, in part, by increases in your power threshold and your ability to recover between sub-maximal efforts. It is curious to me why you would have had difficulty within the opening laps of the crits since no other red flags come from our conversations.
Upon further dissecting the stats from your workouts and races, it has become clear to me that, although you are pegging the power zones in your designated workouts, your cadence consistently falls below an optimum level, especially for a crit rider. Many times your cadence falls below 80 rpm and when fatigue sets in, this becomes pronounced.
Big gear riders will have great difficulty in a race where acceleration is demanded from the start line. You have essentially been doing a "force workout" trying to get that big gear around and thus have repeatedly “tied up” your legs with every speed change.
Here are a few things to think about:
Speed is what counts in racing and I would recommend you focus on using "lighter" gears/higher cadence that will help you attain it. It may not feel right at first because the legs aren't used to moving faster than a very slow rpm of high 70s low 80s. Don't let your sore legs or perception/"feeling" of the workout color the success of it and where you need to go in the future. Be patient with the natural progression of the training adaptation. You’re heading in the right direction, you just need to “adjust your sails” a little bit.
Get used to seeing race speeds on your speedometer. I’m a firm believer in mimicking racing in training. You won’t feel intimidated by 20+ mph race speeds if you have seen them regularly in your training.
When doing your speed work, whether it be leg speed skill drills or sprint training, I would recommend you look for feedback from your speedometer and cadence meter. Your power meter is best suited for your sub-maximal work such as your tempo or threshold intervals, which need specific training zone adherence.
Will you lose your power gains if we start turning the legs quicker? Absolutely not. Power is only one part of the speed equation. Next time you do your power threshold intervals, try a different gearing for each interval. You’ll see that you can attain the watts needed for your PT training zone even though cadence varies. Finding your optimal cadence during your winter trainer sessions is time well spent in preparation for your racing season.
Racing is all about speed. Remember...you can be in the correct power range yet be going slower than your potential simply because the gear is too big. There is a tendency to overgear in a race especially if doubt is involved. Use the gear that’s tried and proven. Think smooth and let the legs be fluid rather than grinding out a gear.