I recently read a line in USA Triathlon magazine that I felt needed some correcting. The article, titled Ask the Coach: Bike Training by Greg Mueller, was featured in the April edition of the magazine. Mueller made a pretty serious mistake on the subject of cycling pacing on hills. Mueller stated “if you watch a power meter, athletes tend to increase their effort on hills then decrease their effort descending. This learned behavior carries over to racing, where it is not optimal.” What I intend to point out is that this statement is extremely misguided and give the correct advice.
“Imagine aliens came down to our planet,” I said, proposing a scenario to one of the researchers who is working on a project that I am assisting in this summer. “And they look at this. They see all this, all these racks. They see us with our gowns and bonnets and face masks, every inch of skin covered. Then they look into the cages and see all these animals locked in there, squirming around in these tiny spaces, trying to make some semblance of a home out of pieces of bedding shoved up against the plastic sides of the cages. They looked back and see us holding one of the mice, poking it and prodding it, shoving into tubes. Then they look to see another researcher sticking a needle into the heart of one of the animals to drain it of all its blood. What do you think these aliens would think?”
I don’t give a damn how many watts you can put out. In an indoor triathlon, you race in a pool, head upstairs to power out on the cycle ergometer and then hit up the treadmill. Your power matters in there. But in real triathlon, outside, with elements and variables, speed matters, not power. I’ll never forget a question asked to me last year by a fellow triathlete. “How did you go so fast?,” he asked. I laughed for a second before I realized he was serious. I don’t remember how I answered the question but I am sure I said something about training. But, in reality, training alone cannot get you a fast time in triathlon, and definitely is not the only factor in cycling. There are cyclists who are faster than me who are no better trained and many who are slower than me who are stronger. But what is it? How do the pros do it? They train their butts off for sure but alongside that, they take into account four sources of resistance that not many triathletes completely account for or are aware of. While some cyclists only know of one or two of these, weight, aerodynamics, drive train resistance, and rolling resistance all act to slow you down.