Final Stage for the Santos Tour Down Under 2013.

An all Lotto team guiding Andre Greipel (GER) to the finish line; ominous as Robbie McEwen remarked. Much like Mark Cavendish (GBR), Greipel is just as compact in his skilled movement. There may be an indication of a hike motion, but it’s not clear what the overall sequence really is. In fact, it wasn’t until the approach to the finish, a few years ago at the Tour de France, that I was able to identify the roll motion of the trunk in Cavendish. In contrast Mark Renshaw (AUS) who displayed a well outlined skill. I hope there are opportunities later on in the year where the Cavendish and Greipel trains go head to head. Two years ago I would have given the nod to Cavendish, I’ll call it even odds for the time being, either way it will be a great battle for supremacy.

As an aside, Phil Liggett is quoted with “absorb pressure like blotting paper”, now I know I’m getting old, especially when I have some such items dating to the 1950’s or so. Long story.

Stages 4 and 5, Santos Tour Down Under

At the Modbury to Tanuda stage, Phillipe Gilbert (BEL) and Damien Hawson (AUS) were involved in a breakaway, Gilbert with a marked combination of the Roll and SBHH skills, on the other hand Hawson displayed a roll motion, though apparently he did not have the clarity of movement that Gilbert displayed. Will this develop in time?

Old Willunga. For the most part commentary on the climbing towards the end of the race. Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) headed up a climb with the hands on the drops and a TPR. Later on Tiago Machado (POR) with a combination TPR/SBHH while Peter Velits (SVK) had a very sharp SBHH. Finally, Tom Jelte Slagter (NED) and Simon Gerrans (AUS) both going “mano a mano” to the finish line with excellent TPR skills. Great win on Australia Day. By the way what was Andy Schleck (LUX) doing over 12 min behind?

Santos Tour Down Under, Stage 3 Unley to Stirling.

Brief TV footage of the race, but quite nice to note some great skills on display. On a climb Jack Bobridge, taking advantage of a great TPR, which illustrates that for some this may work better than the SBHH. Later on Simon Clarke (AUS) and Maarten Tjallingii (NED) both drawing from a combination of the sidebend motion and the roll. Tiago Machado (POR) with a good looking SBHH to climb, and finally David Tanner (AUS) with what looked to be a very good TPR on the uphill to win the stage. The Australian riders were certainly animating the race, on reading the results Adam Hansen appeared in the lead group, he would more than likely have performed the TPR to climb, but won’t know until I see it. He has been noted for that skill on the flats and on leadouts.

Tour down Under Jan 22 ’13

The 2013 race season is underway with the Santos Tour Down Under. Managed to see some fantastic displays of skill, in particular Simon Gerrans (TPR) in disputing one of the intermediate sprints. Notably, he is applying a violent effort on the downstroke and the TPR as a whole keeps the body actively stable.

And out of the pack comes an unmistakable figure, Jens Voigt, attempting to gather a few time bonuses. he does have an unmistakeable style of performance.  The photography, from the helicopter and the motocamera was terrific, great sun and clarity.

Just earlier there was Jordan Kerby, and Under 23 in the waning moments of his breakaway. A very good TPR on the climb, accompanied by tipping of the upper body. In the flat section it seemed that the Sidebend Hip Hike was predominant, however, keep in mind that the camera perspective reveals different features.

Phillipe Gilbert displayed a great roll movement coupled with a sidebend motion which is very common among the elite.

Improving Pedaling Technique

Improving Pedaling Technique on the Indoor Trainer.

It’s that time of the year to mount the bike on the indoor trainer for the winter months; perhaps some of you are well ahead on that count. As you embark on your pedaling effort, you may want to ask yourself “Just how well am I pedaling the bike”, “Does it matter?” or “I have a smooth pedal stroke anyways”.

Please read the remainder of the article at Ride-fit.com

and more articles to come!

Riding by Feel

Riding by Feel.

What exactly is “feel” for elite athletes in general? In interviews, Michael Phelps could describe with great clarity areas in which he could have done better. His coach not doubt records the split times but also notes the quality of the performance in terms of the sequence of the details of the swim. How many cycling coaches are able to analyze the features of cycling at that level of detail? Answer: None.

This discussion has centered on the physiological approach to coaching, and when the research focuses on physiology and restricted focus of the biomechanics, it gives the feeling that the training approaches have been validated. In fact, it seems the science and the coaching are intertwined in a self-reinforcing loop.

In a Medlines search, all research is fully focused on the physiology and leg function. I could not find a single reference on movement patterns that involve the torso and the pelvis (with one exception), not surprising when you look closely at all other sports it is those patterns which, to a significant extent, distinguish elite from amateur. That difference is plain to see, and this is what Contador, Kristin Armstrong, Wiggins (to mention a few) rely on for superior performance. Much is said about the science to back this or that. If the question is not asked, there will be no answer.

Understandably, people cling to their perceptions and experiences. Especially if you coach elite athletes, the physiological approach seems to somehow validate the process, then you may be able to ignore those movement patterns and not know if refinements are available.

Pure physiological approaches will benefit all athletes, reinforcing the existing movement pattern. If the athlete is elite level, they will by definition have a superior movement pattern, then a physiological approach may be appropriate. If the movement pattern is absent or has “swiss cheese” characteristics, then there is only one solution, you need to teach it. Early in the training, the focus may require a good dose of torso and pelvis movement pattern instruction, ie. motor skill learning and attention. As the athlete progresses then heavier doses of physiology may be in order. Keep in mind that regardless of the training plan, you are always reinforcing the physiological as well as the movement pattern and motor learning. Nothing special here, exactly the same principles that other sports apply. These are in my opinion actionable features of coaching. Select the right combination of coaching approaches for the moment in time of the athlete’s development.

Cycling: “Skilled Interplay of the torso and pelvis with the lower extremities to propel the bike effectively”, the sport is therefore a Highly Skilled – Endurance Sport. Relevant features of this definition include the “Performance Movement Patterns”, Physiology and Endurance, Cycling Specific Strength and Motor planning.

Bouncing

Bouncing on the Saddle.

No doubt it can be agreed upon that lower extremity neuromuscular coordination contributes towards driving the crankarm in a circle. But there are limitations.

If you take a closer look, you might find a low grade bounce. If you returned to that same event 5 years from now, the same folks would be bouncing on the saddle under similar circumstances, 5 years of racing under their belt. This is not from lack of training or effort by any means. I recall, some years ago now, observing an athlete who was engaged in an acceleration (at the track), shift off the saddle, applied effort on the downstroke propelling the body up, in no small manner, up and down, and unable to accelerate at all.

So we are faced with the problem of instability.

Big Picture

Big Picture.

The key to athlete development comes down to how well you understand the totality of the athlete, advantage of the available tools to shape the individual. Take a look at a Teo Bos or Anna Meares and you will see significant movement of the torso and pelvis. Bos in line with the Sidebend hip hike and Meares aligned with the Trunk pelvic roll. In their own way, athletes with elite aspirations may already be in line with these movement patterns, and depending on the developmental age and overall quality may need to have things “gel” for them.

The biomechanics are focused on the limbs and don’t address the “skilled integration of the torso with the pelvis” in research, and certainly not at the level of the “governing bodies”. They appear to be quite similar in structure. Skills, as they are taught at present, work on the dynamics of group riding and multiple features of the sport which everybody is aware of. But again, they miss the essence of the cycling performance, which is the grace and excellence of movement (not the legs). The question is: “what exactly do I do now? At each kinetic link and how do I integrate the whole darn thing?” Sounds simple, but far from it. The impact of all of this is athlete development, talent ID and a better appreciation of the sport.

The Pedal Stroke and the Track Sprint

The Pedal Stroke and the track sprint.

I look at the movement patterns as an important feature of the “engine” that drives the track sprint for example. It drives the acceleration and is integral at sustaining velocity. There is no “free” acceleration or free ride such that the fixed gear carries the athlete through the event. As a coach once remarked “you are either on top of the gear or you are not”. As much as some focus on the “downstroke”, the same focus should be given to the “upstroke” and other quadrants of the pedal stroke to the extent that one is able to unload. Important features of the movement patterns reside in enabling those transitions and drawing as much out of each quadrant as possible (net positive moments are unlikely), giving the appearance or feel of smoothness. Otherwise, as I see it the crankarm/pedal slaps or presses on the foot, creating resistance and slowing/limiting acceleration. The fixed gear is unforgiving compared with the freewheel. Back to the acceleration; off saddle, driven by the Sidebend Hip Hike (SBHH) or Trunk Pelvic Roll (TPR) or combination thereof, the same technique applies. Meet the downstroke with an effective off loading, and so on. Plus the physiological considerations. Take a look at the key features of elite sprinters, observe, practice, repeat, correct, strive, improve. To rephrase: “your movement pattern is either the master of the gear or it is not”. Regardless of the cycling discipline, the quality of the movement patterns is the “essence” of the athletic performance.

Positioning

Positioning.

On the surface it does make perfect sense that efficiency requires minimizing unnecessary internal work. If that were true, everybody could return to their normally scheduled programming. That is the Number One sticking point, which keeps coaches and athletes from looking further into my program/concept. Take a look at any biomechanics publication, in some cases it is explicitly stated that the pelvis is assumed to be still, in others assumed; either way the legs are perceived to do all the work. With the exception of a publication in ’95 or so, in which they tracked the path of the acetabulum (only one volunteer for the intracortical pin). This assumption has become embedded in the belief system primarily because the relevant questions are not asked, and if they are elite athletes are not available even for a kinematic study, and you don’t know what you are going to get with an amateur (regardless of category).

The legs need the assist from the movement pattern to position and reposition the foot over the full pedal stroke. There is greater stability imparted to manage pedal reaction forces. There is a greater advantage from “moments” exerted on the crankarm, at each quadrant of the pedal stroke. The current assumptions discount the impact of “priming” the movement sequence with quick stretch responses as well as passive energy return mechanisms (all in the right time frame for the cycling performance).

The video evidence, without exception each and every elite athlete engages in the movement patterns, not for show but for the sake of performance. It’s fully evident.

For some reason cycling is the only sport in which the athleticism of the human body and expert performance on the bike is frowned upon for the sake of “efficiency”, aero-this and the other. Fortunately, we have elite athletes which sit patiently through the instruction, ignore most of it, and do things their way in the end, expertly. It comes down to expanding the definition of efficiency, breaking from the purely physiological model and including effectiveness in the mix.