Conserving Energy in Bicycle Road Racing
One of the road cyclists I coach used to ride a bit too aggressively for someone who was contending for a spot on the podium. He was too apt to go to the front and pull everyone even when there were no teammates to rely on. Coming from a triathlon and running background he saw bike races as mano a mano contests of who could work the hardest and be the last one standing. It’s seldom that way, however, for those who covet a high placement. When riding without team support one must be very conservative in the expenditure of energy.
Success in bike road racing is to a great extent being ready for brief episodes lasting just a handful seconds or a couple of minutes at most that ultimately determine the race outcome – breaks, hills, cross winds and sprints. One must be ready for these by having plenty of matches left to burn. If all of the matches are used up just pulling everyone around the course then the rider is toast by the time a key episode occurs and can’t respond.
He and I have talked about this a lot and I’ve used his power files to reinforce my suggestions to better take advantage of race situations. A race this past weekend confirms that he has it down pat now. The first chart here (“Cadence Distribution”) shows his cadence in 10-rpm bars. Note that the 0-10 rpm bar indicates that he wasn’t pedaling (or only soft pedaling) about 12% of the race. That’s pretty good but not conclusive evidence that he is conserving energy.
You also can’t tell what he was doing as far as conserving energy when you look at his “Heart Rate Distribution” chart. Heart rate tends to stay high even when pedaling easily for short periods in races.
The third chart (“Power Distribution”), however, shows that for nearly 45% of the race he was in his power zone 1 – less than 55% of his FTP (functional threshold power – the rough equivalent of lactate/anaerobic threshold). He was obviously staying out of the wind. This is exactly what he needs to do to produce race results.
I know that some will call this “wheel sucking” and imply that it is some how unethical. But bike racing is basically chess on wheels. The key to success is outwitting the competition. Especially when racing alone one must be very cagey to have a chance against those with team support. Conserving energy is the first thing to master when racing – all the more so when unsupported.