reno2This is an opinion piece by Reno Toffoli. Reno's opinions don't necessary represent the opinions of Your Group Ride or its advertisers but I always enjoy his rants. If you'd like to write an article for YGR, please email me at info@yourgroupride.com


Be sure to check out Reno's 10 Tracks place list here: https://goo.gl/f82hoK

I’m not really sure how to start this out so I’ll just jump in. You may have previously seen articles by me scattered across these (web) pages lamenting the various degrees of how the cycling industry and especially the mountain bike side of the industry seemed to be releasing a never ending amount of ‘improvements’ that, in my mind, had questionable merit. On top of this, other seemingly proven items or aspects of bike design were disappearing…fast.

Now this wasn’t the only thing I wrote articles about but it seems that it’s what’s been remembered, at least by El Presidente of YGR who recently asked me to write this follow up. Why a follow up? Well, it happened to come up that I had pretty much adopted all of the things I had previously rallied against or at least was skeptical of. Why would I do this? How could I sell out my retro-grouchiness and quasi-luddite online persona and become just another mindless sheep who bought everything the evil industry produced? The answer is pretty simple: I found a solution to a problem or a need that these new products fulfilled. And let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I haven’t bought in to everything, just most of it, at least most of it that I have tried.

Catching up with the industry has been part legitimate need, part curiosity, and part domino effect. The progression started when I was coaxed over to 29” wheels which allowed me to ride faster over rougher terrain without hanging up. As I rode faster with big wheels, my riding improved and my riding style started to change. One of the things I noticed was that as I adapted to the new wheel size, my cornering technique changed and my descending style changed. This brought up weaknesses in my technique which I worked to correct but it also became apparent that in some situations I was reaching the limits of my equipment.

The problem with reaching the limits of your gear is that to extend those limits, you need new gear and need to experiment to find the new gear that suits you. That’s a potentially expensive proposition because the only real way to find out if it works for you is to buy it and try it. Of course, reading online reviews can help but there’s only so many times I can handle the adjectives ‘playful’ and ‘stiff’ without wanting to puke. The other thing is that online reviews tend to all be of the 5 star ‘best-thing-I-ever-used’ variety and it’s hard to find real objective, fact based reporting.

For me, function is always greater than fashion and everything has advantages and disadvantages. When I am searching out solutions to the shortcomings of my gear, I’m always looking for that balance that ticks the right boxes of function, price, longevity, weight, etc. What inevitably happens is that I notice that the thing I had previously been skeptical of may really fill a need that I just recently discovered I had.

The thing that sometimes holds me back is a previously bad (and expensive) experience with a certain something new. Good examples of this for me were my initial forays into tubeless tire setups and slack head tube angles. Both were disasters. The tubeless thing was an unreliable pain in the ass that constantly let me down on the trail and my slack head tube bike handled like a school bus. That put a bad taste in my mouth for both of those things and it wasn’t until several years later when both had been better sorted by the industry that they actually worked as intended. I think the most important lesson I learned was that it’s better or at least cheaper and less frustrating to have a semi skeptical ‘wait and see’ attitude toward these kind of advancements. I learned that being an early adopter in the cycling industry means that you’re sometimes as much a guinea pig as a customer.

Another thing that tends to turn me off of new trends is the extremes they inevitably get taken to. It seems that if wider bars and shorter stems are good, then suddenly every stem is 30mm and every bar is 810mm. Folks seem to buy the most extreme versions of new products regardless of whether it will benefit them perhaps because some bro-brah somewhere said it was cool. Never mind that the bro-brah in question was 6’4” and actually needed that 810mm wide bar. In my mind, Moderation is the key to everything. Of course the extremes need to be probed a little bit so that we know where the limits are or where the advantages end. When it comes down to it, though, the best returns are usually not found at the extremes.


Anyway, my progression of catching up/ giving in/ selling out went like this: The 29” wheel gave way to appropriately wide bars and a short stem for my size and bike. As I went faster and faster and was really carving corners up, I noticed my saddle was constantly in the way and limiting my descending and cornering ability. Next up was a dropper and holy cow what a game changer it was. It initially felt a little awkward mainly because my legs weren’t used to supporting my full weight for long descents but once my strength increased, all bets were off. I can’t even imagine riding without a dropper now. If I go down any kind of incline without my saddle lowered at least slightly, I feel like I’m about to go over the bars.

With the dropper freeing up even more speed and handling ability, I decided I wanted more travel so I got it. What came with more travel was a frame that was more slack in the head tube but with a steeper seat angle and a shorter rear triangle. This was another game changing moment. The school bus feel of my previous slack frame was gone. The high speed stability was awesome but the short chainstays helped the bike feel agile and the steep seat tube angle helped it climb and put my weight more in the center of the bike; cornering ability also took a big jump forward.
This bike also came with wide rims which really helped my tires reach the volume I wanted. Improvements in tire and rim design meant that tubeless actually worked now and after a lot of research and pouring over gear ratios and weighing all the pluses and minuses I made the switch to a 1x drivetrain.

The domino effect of all of these changes means that the bikes I own today are completely different in appearance and performance than the ones I had just a few years ago. For me, they handle better, descend faster and smoother, corner better, and make my rides more fun. My riding style has changed drastically due to the changes and improvements in my gear. Because my strengths lie in descending and technical riding, these product improvements have played to my strengths as a rider and improved my experience. I could definitely see where for a different style of rider, things could be different.

My most recent epiphany of sorts was ditching my old steep, XC oriented hardtail for a fully up to date long(ish), low(ish), and slack all mountain hardtail. My new hardtail now rides and feels the same way my 160mm travel bike does and that suits me and my style. At least now I don’t have to slow down or risk going OTB when things get burly like I did with the old XC hardtail.
At this point, I’m making fewer giant steps forward in adopting new gear and looking at more subtle changes to setup. Slamming my cleats as far back as possible in my shoes (and having shoes with extended cleat slots) has changed things for the better. I’m now experimenting with more rebound damping than I used to run and also have really been studying fork offset and trail on my bikes to see how they’re different from each other and how that relates to how they handle.

I haven’t bought in to everything. I’m still pretty skeptical about the whole boost thing. My new hardtail frame is boost and I can’t tell any difference in anything other than I needed to buy a new rear wheel and chainring to build the bike. I’ve been running carbon rims but can’t tell if they’re stiff or not. With 160mm of squishy travel on one end and 2.4” of squishy tire on the other, don’t ask me what’s stiff, all I feel is squish. The bike goes where I point it so I guess it’s stiff enough. I like carbon rims because they don’t dent.

I think the lesson in all of this is be skeptical but still be open to change once the benefits of change are evident. Beware that change can be difficult and expensive and requires experimentation. Your experiment may fail which means you’ll have to sell off your failure on Craigslist for pennies on the dollar. Whatever improves the ride for you is worthwhile and that’s what you should do. It’s good to give it all a try if you can and see where it takes you.

zack3Photo by Peter Discoe

YGR is partnering up with Zack Allison of Source Endurance and Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies for a new weekly (or monthly, frequency TBD) training article.  The first couple articles are on topics I requested, if you have a specific question for Zack fire it at us via our various social media channels.  YGR links up high, Zack's links are down low. 
First up, 
Top 5 mistakes of the Self Coached Athlete. 


Many towns in the world have some form of a group ride. Having raced professionally, travelled, and done hundreds of regularly occurring group rides, there’s some great aspects of these rides and some negative ones as far as how to use them in training. Shout out to the Oval ride in Fort Collins, The Gateway Ride in Boulder, Swami’s ride in SoCal, The Shootout in Tucson, and Haine’s Point in DC, for being some of the fastest rides around. Each ride as their own format that we can use in training, The Oval ride in Fort Collins is 85 miles of pure drop ride where you will be over 3000 kilojoules by the time you make it to the finish. The Hain’s point ride in DC is an all out criterium style sprint, every 3 kilometer lap, on a non closed course and is about an hour long ride. Both are historic rides that have completely different types of training stimulus, so how do we use these rides properly to train our bodies the best we can? Here’s some do’s and don’ts

Do- go on group rides. These rides offer up a ton of skills and fitness to be gained. Drafting skills, pack skills, and tactical experience can all be gained on group rides of almost any kind. Especially if you’re getting into racing, having done group rides will give you a level of comfort in a group you would need a few races to get if you didn’t go on any group rides.

Do- go hard at times. We know that our best power and speed comes from racing or group rides where we are motivated by those around us. You can’t get that extra 10% of effort just by yourself on a ride. When you have a hard day, go hard on the group ride and you will produce a larger overload stimulus. If you’re advanced in ability or power analysis and you need to do some kind of field test to flesh out your power curve, a group ride may be a good opportunity for that hard effort.

Do - sprint, use tactics, have fun. I hear some people, after they make a tactically poor decision on the ride, say “its just for a workout” yes, we are getting a workout on the ride but the implications are deeper. You can use these rides to learn things about yourself and about racing. If you let yourself get worked over on every group ride and rationalize it as getting in a better workout you are teaching yourself how to get worked over in races. It’s a better workout mentally and physically if you figure out how to win the group ride. If you never sprint in practice or in a group ride, how can you expect yourself to understand that sprint dynamic in a race. You cannot expect to win a race without having to sprint at some point for the finish line.

Do - Put these rides in your training plan. Plan out a fatigue score, plan out when you’ll do the ride. Go hard and have fun on the ride knowing you’re there creating the proper overload stimulus for your training goals.

Don’t - be “that guy”. The group ride can be fast and heated but its still not a race, show compassion for your fellow group rider and don’t be overzealous. Even in a full drop ride there’s time to ride hard for the line and there’s times to be safe and aware of your surroundings. Attack or sprint to the line with panache and respect, after the ride, fist bump your competitor and remember how fun the ride is, you won’t always get to do these things in a real race.

Don’t - go on the ride and think its a rest day. I don’t care how nice the weather is, if you can use this ride to create fatigue, you can’t go on the ride and expect to ride easy and call it a rest day.

Don’t - do the group ride, every week, for the rest of time. If the group ride has been going on for 10 years straight, you will see that guy that has done the ride almost every day for all 10 years. Many times that super consistent rider has been the same speed for 10 years, not faster, not slower. You need to build fatigue to build fitness. If you do the same group ride for months at a time, you’ll see a rise in fitness as you adapt to the hard ride, then you will plateau. You need to change the overload stimulus to get new fatigue and new gains. Once you adapt to the ride, change it up, ride longer before and after, do intervals before or after, ride longer during the week, in some way you have to increase the fatigue to increase the fitness or you will stay that same speed forever.

If you see me out there on the group ride and you’re feeling frisky, I’ll happily lead you out, just tap me on the butt and say “sprint on.”


Zack earned his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science at Colorado State University. As part of his education, he participated in many hands on exercise science practicum and internships, coaching many types of athletes, specifically cyclists.

Zack’s affinity for cycling started at the early age of 14 racing on the east coast. He quickly moved up the amateur ranks to race on the elite national circuit. This level of competition sparked his interest in exercise science, taking him to Colorado State University. While racing for his alma-mater and on various amateur teams he saw many podiums at the Collegiate Championships and Pro/Am events. Zack is currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado and has raced for Elevate Pro Cycling and currently races for Clif Bar.

Growing up with great mentors and coaches, Zack has a goal of paying it forward. He hopes to use his education and racing experience to bring success to Source Endurance and his clients.

Zack also owns and operated the Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies, a training and bike fit studio in Fort Collins, CO.  

Follow Zack on online: 

https://www.facebook.com/zack.allison.za

https://www.instagram.com/zacharylallison/

https://twitter.com/ZacharyAllison?lang=en

Follow Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies online: 
https://www.facebook.com/setcrockies?fref=ts

https://www.instagram.com/sourceecenter/

https://twitter.com/sourceecenter

 

zack3Photo by Peter Discoe

YGR is partnering up with Zack Allison of Source Endurance and Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies for a new weekly (or monthly, frequency TBD) training article.  The first couple articles are on topics I requested, if you have a specific question for Zack fire it at us via our various social media channels.  YGR links up high, Zack's links are down low. 
First up, 
Top 5 mistakes of the Self Coached Athlete. 


Every so often at Source Endurance we get individualized consults done for the self coached athletes or we get athletes signed on that have been self coached and we get to see what they were up to before they signed on for coaching. There’s a few patterns that we see with self coached athletes along with patterns that us as coaches see when we coach ourselves vs others we would like to share.

 

Self coaching is a great place to start for better fitness. There are a ton of highly educated self coached athletes out there, this article is not meant to discredit hard work and good plans put together by self coached athletes. Self coaching from my perspective is like working on your car or painting your house. Maybe you want to do it yourself and you may do a great job, and it is your car or house, so you take extra time and care, but that service, when done by a professional, ensures quality and sustainability of services. Our clients have a much easier time gaining that fitness and reaching those goals without having to deal with the nitty gritty of coaching outlined below. Here’s some examples of how the profession of coaching can differ from the self coached athlete.

 

Accountability - Even before we look at any sort of quality of training, we can see that athletes with higher workout completion have greater fitness gains and are more likely to meet their goals. If you are accountable to a coach, you have a higher workout completion rate. We all know people that are hard workers and self starters and we know people that can follow directions really well but aren’t so good at getting it done when no one is looking. Having a coach means you’re accountable to two people. Yourself and your coach. A good coach can motivate athletes but training for cycling is a solo task a majority of the time. Being accountable to someone else can have a huge impact on motivation and workout completion.


Tools at hand - Ok you coach yourself, you’re saving that coaching fee per month. You will want to do it right for yourself. Get a training peaks account, $19 per month. Time away from work or other tasks to write workouts, what do you bill at? $30 an hour? Thats cheap. Do you want WKO metrics? $199. Assuming your on a computer system that can handle that. Research articles, books, “training bibles” there’s a few ways to obtain research but its not cheap. Exercise Physiology degree? You get the idea. Your coaching fee can seem like a high monthly cost but if you look deeper at how much that coach is giving you per hour and all the expertise, relevant degrees, and coaching tools that professional coach has at hand to provide a coaching service to you, that fee becomes reasonable and hopefully your daily workouts, feedback, and trainingpeaks metrics show you the value for your fee.


Objectivity - This is a fun and painful lesson to learn for the self coached athlete. Its rare that you will under prescribe fatigue to yourself. When writing your own training plan you’re thinking about getting that result and what it will take to out train your opponent so you can out ride them when the time comes. Your objectivity in what you can do as an athlete is not there. Setting realistic goals and reviewing all metrics takes experience and in most cases an objective viewpoint of your training and ability. For the self coached athlete I’d recommend looking at your Trainingpeaks or WKO account, look at the PD curve for all workouts and start there. Don’t let yourself look at your historical 20 minute power and just assume that it's lower than what you can do. Go out and self test, attempt to be objective and set objective goals.


Manic Training - Along the lines of Objectivity, it's easy to be bipolar or manic in your training. You scroll instagram and some frenemy is in warmer weather getting in big miles, next thing you know you’ve abandoned your objectively written training plan and you blow up 20 hours into an attempted 40 hour week. Then you get sick and have a week of down time. The cycle worsens and there’s no one to call you and ask the hard questions “why did you do that?” Clients frequently call me in February when they are in the largest single gain of training load of the season and they get dropped from a local ride when they think they should be killing it. As a coach I have to reassure them that the work is paying off and that they will be on form, just not right now. I can provide metrics to them to explain this fatigue process and periodization. It's hard to talk yourself off a ledge as a self coached athlete.


Volume vs. Intensity - As there’s more research studies coming out giving more weight intensity in training than pure volume, workout completion, prescribed intensity, and specify become more important in training plans. All the 4 points before this point lead into being able to correctly prescribe intensity vs. volume in a training plan. Self coached athletes tend to over prescribe volume and doubly bad they over prescribe total workout time to what they have physical time in the day for. In general our view of ourselves in many ways is better than our abilities. Its best to have a coach look at your files for objectivity. A coach can prescribe testing, and look at the numbers and say things like “no you’ve never done an effort close to 340 watts for 20 minutes so how why is your threshold set at 350 watts” Most people’s eyes are bigger than their legs and everyone on Instagram is doing 50 hour training weeks so it's easy to overtrain and over do the volume.


Those of you that know me and my coaching situation specifically will now say to your computer screen “Zack I know you coach yourself” and to that I say, I also change my own oil and paint my own house. Honestly, I think I could benefit from personalized coaching, and I have sought out help on a few occasions. I also over trained myself for years to learn these hard lessons. It is still hard to get someone to provide you a service you provide professionally to others.

We at Source Endurance are open to one time consults or personalized coaching so please don’t hesitate to ask for help even if it's just a second set of eyes on your training plan.


 Zack earned his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science at Colorado State University. As part of his education, he participated in many hands on exercise science practicum and internships, coaching many types of athletes, specifically cyclists.

Zack’s affinity for cycling started at the early age of 14 racing on the east coast. He quickly moved up the amateur ranks to race on the elite national circuit. This level of competition sparked his interest in exercise science, taking him to Colorado State University. While racing for his alma-mater and on various amateur teams he saw many podiums at the Collegiate Championships and Pro/Am events. Zack is currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado and has raced for Elevate Pro Cycling and currently races for Clif Bar.

Growing up with great mentors and coaches, Zack has a goal of paying it forward. He hopes to use his education and racing experience to bring success to Source Endurance and his clients.

Zack also owns and operated the Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies, a training and bike fit studio in Fort Collins, CO.  

Follow Zack on online: 

https://www.facebook.com/zack.allison.za

https://www.instagram.com/zacharylallison/

https://twitter.com/ZacharyAllison?lang=en

Follow Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies online: 
https://www.facebook.com/setcrockies?fref=ts

https://www.instagram.com/sourceecenter/

https://twitter.com/sourceecenter

miller jz2

If you have any physiology, performance, or nutrition related questions, email Ben at: ben@yourgroupride.com.


Many of you have performed a VO2max test at some point to test your maximal aerobic capacity. Many also understand that this is a test of aerobic potential and has a large genetic determination. Through intense training (starting from no training) one can realistically expect to increase VO2max by 9-17%. What VO2max measures is the maximal ability of your skeletal muscle to use oxygen in the mitochondria to create ATP, and consequently work. There are many steps in that process from breathing oxygen into the lungs to exchanging oxygen from the air into red blood cells, distributing that oxygenated blood to the rest of the body by the heart and blood vessels, dumping the oxygen off at the tissues (in this case skeletal muscle), and finally, oxygen making its way into the tissue and then into the mitochondria where it can accept an electron to drive the making of ATP (our form of usable potential energy). A question that has intrigued some scientists for years is what step in that process is limiting? It has largely been determined that the ability to breath in oxygen is not the problem (which always makes me look at someone funny when their lungs were the problem during a hard effort), but there has been much debate over whether it is the ability of the heart to deliver oxygen to the tissues or the ability of muscle to use it. What is the weak link in the system?
Many studies have attempted to answer this question with some interesting approaches. For example, if you are doing leg exercise and reach a max, and then add arm exercise to the legs and your VO2max goes up, that would indicate that the heart had the ability to deliver more oxygen, but the legs were maxed out in their ability to use it since adding different muscle increased oxygen use. Recently, a very competent research group from Spain took a slightly different approach and asked what causes failure during an incremental exercise test? Anyone that has ever done a VO2max test knows that it ends in failure, so what causes that failure? The study was done with an interesting combination of incremental exercise tests that included normal air or hypoxia (low oxygen), with or without blood occlusion at exhaustion to “capture” anything that might be in the blood at that point, a quick muscle biopsy to look in the muscle, and then another all out sprint to see if there was a decrement in peak power generation.
From this unique study, here is what information was learned. First, at the end of an incremental exercise to exhaustion, the muscles still have the ability to generate power, even at a level far above the power at which failure occurred. What this means then is that your muscles have not actually failed. Second, the point of exhaustion is not due to lactate accumulation or the associated muscle acidification, and muscle lactate accumulation may actually facilitate early recovery after the exercise bout. This evidence is just another nail in coffin of the outdated concept that lactate causes fatigue. Please, don’t be that person that talks about lactic acid and fatigue – it just makes you look uninformed. Finally, the ability to make ATP in the muscle at a high enough rate to match the work still exists at fatigue. This last piece of information indicates that failure during an incremental test to exhaustion depends more on central than peripheral mechanisms. Therefore, it is the cardiovascular system (the ability to deliver blood) that is the culprit when you fail during a VO2max test.
There is a subtle distinction that I want to point out here so these data are not misinterpreted. This study does not indicate that improving heart function is the key to improving performance. During submaximal efforts (what we do 90% of the time) the ability of the mitochondria to use oxygen efficiently is the key to performance. This study only shows that during a maximal exercise test, like you do during a VO2max test, the ability of the heart to deliver oxygen is the limiting factor to a higher VO2max. Again, this is strongly indicative of genetic links to VO2max because just like hand size is a function of genetics, so is heart size. To read the full article, I have provided the web link.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=26250346

 

 

miller jz2If you have any physiology, performance, or nutrition related questions, email Ben at: ben@yourgroupride.com.


Aging is my primary area of research and in our lab we study what causes aging and how to slow it down. Our goal is not to make anyone live to 130, but rather to increase the period of time one spends healthy and compress the period of time spent in an age-related decline. There are many theories about how and why aging occurs. These various theories have different viewpoints from cellular function to evolutionary rationalizations. All these theories have merits and set a vantage point for the particular line of hypothesis testing. This column will explain a very simple theory and then explain why physical activity, such as cycling, helps slow the aging process.

One very simplistic way to think about aging is that it is the accumulation of damage over time. This accumulation of damage reduces the function of cells and tissues, thus resulting in even more damage. For the sake of analogy, think of something you own that gets repeated use – bike, car, refrigerator, carpeting – and it is easy to imagine how prolonged time leads to accumulated damage. However, the difference with these examples compared to your body, is that these inanimate objects don’t have integrated processes that are supposed to prevent damage from occurring in the first place or repair them when they happen. Why is it that the human body has processes in place to prevent damage but even this fails over time?

Our bodies have to constantly adjust to the environment around them whether that be heat, cold, solar radiation, invaders (viruses and others) and energetic stresses. When the body adjusts correctly, it makes the body stronger and more resistant to these environmental changes. When the stresses are extreme, there is maladjustment in the body and these stresses can be damaging. I’ve mentioned this concept before (called hormesis), which refers to the idea that a little stress is good and strengthens the system whereas too big of a stress is maladaptive and damaging. If you consider that aging is a very slow decline over time, you might view the accumulation of damage the cumulative maladaptation over time. However a damaging event does not always have to remain in the physiological record of an individual if it can be efficiently repaired.

Now let’s consider how physical activity benefits cellular structures. Recall that I said that the adaptation to a low dose stress in the body strengthens the cell to subsequent challenges. Think of endurance exercise as a low dose energetic stress. This stress forces the cell to adapt in order to supply and use energy better to avoid future stresses. This adaptation process requires the making of new proteins, since the proteins are what provide resistance to future stresses. In that sense then, exercise is always adding new proteins to the system. However, equally important to the making of new proteins is the breaking down of old ones. Your cells do not like to keep extra proteins around that are not needed because it is costs a lot of energetic currency to keep them running well. Therefore, the making of new proteins is usually accomplished by the breaking down of old proteins, or what is referred to as turnover or remodeling.

How does physical activity, such as cycling, slow aging? There are two primary ways physical activity is beneficial – preventing damage in the first place, and repairingdamage after it occurs. The making of new proteins and breaking down of old proteins is key to both preventing and repairing damage. First, physical activity synthesizes proteins that make the cell stronger, thus being less susceptible to damage. Second, if damage does accumulate, physical activity accelerates the making of new proteins and breaking down of old ones in order to rid the cell of damaged structures and replaces them with new ones. Therefore, exercise is both a preventative maintenance to the aging process and a repair process for some of the effects of aging that have already occurred. 

Although in concept this all sounds super easy to understand, the genetic, molecular, and cellular processes that control this making and breaking down of proteins is decidedly complex. There are multiple points of regulation and multiple pieces of information, which are often at odds with each other, that are constantly integrated to make decisions about the making of proteins and cellular fate. For example, think about the age-related disease of cancer, the cell is getting signals to continue to replicate and grow (tumorigenic), while other signals are trying to prevent that from happening (anti-tumorigenic). How the cell makes that choice is what we strive to understand.

We know that exercise is a very potent stimulator of protein turnover and thus cellular maintenance and repair. At this point, physical activity is probably the most effective slowed aging treatment there is because no drug has been able to recapitulate the protein quality control mechanisms that exercise activates. When I am asked if the research in our lab has produced any breakthroughs to slow the aging process, I am forced to admit that we already know what works (exercise), we just don’t know enough about how it works. We continue research into learning how it works so we can understand better how to take advantage of those processes for human health. Because, as we are all too familiar with, exercise is not as popular as we think it should be.

If you have any physiology, performance, or nutrition related questions, email Ben at: ben@yourgroupride.com.


In 1992, the prestigious scientific journal Science named nitric oxide (NO) the “Molecule of the year.” The reason it got this distinction was the new understanding of nitric oxide as an incredibly important signal, especially for causing the dilation of blood vessels. Because of the enormous clinical implications of this mechanism (think hypertension, other cardiovascular disease and even erectile dysfunction), three US scientists received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1998. Part of the importance of NO stemmed from its ease of being targeted pharmacologically. In fact, it was later found that many popular drugs that were already being used (nitroglycerine for example) were actually targeting the NO pathway. Because of the importance of blood flow, and hence oxygen delivery, to endurance exercise performance it was only a matter of time before NO manipulation emerged as a potential site of performance enhancement.

It was recognized relatively early that NO was formed when an enzyme named nitric oxide synthase (NOS) oxidized L-arginine (an amino acid) to NO. The NO derivatives nitrite (NO2-) and nitrate (NO3-) were byproducts of this reaction. Only more recently was it understood that in addition to the reaction catalyzed by NOS, there were reactions in which nitrate could be reduced to nitrite and then further reduced to NO (a scientific aside - these are redox reactions in which there are oxidations and reductions based on electron transfer). Since some food sources, particularly leafy vegetables, are high in dietary nitrate, providing dietary nitrate through the diet became a potential way to increase NO availability and hence blood and oxygen delivery.
The first evidence of potential exercise benefits was provided by a study conducted in Sweden in which dietary nitrate in the form of sodium nitrate was able to reduce the oxygen cost of a submaximal exercise bout. In other words, the subjects were able to do the same amount of work when cycling albeit at a lower oxygen cost (increased efficiency). These results were expanded further to dietary sources of nitrate, such as beetroot juice, with similar findings. One important study used beetroot juice with nitrate removed as a placebo control and found that the performance benefits were dependent on nitrate being present. Even though it was thought that dietary nitrate could improve exercise performance by increasing oxygen delivery, these study showed that exercise performance increased by an alternative mechanism of increased muscular efficiency.
What followed was a series of investigations in a variety of exercise modes, at different exercise intensities, and with different populations from untrained to highly trained individuals. Under a variety of conditions, these studies have consistently shown an increase in exercise performance, as measured by time to exhaustion or time trial performance. Although the exact mechanisms are yet to be fully understood, it is thought that the improvement in exercise efficiency could be because of a reduced energy cost of muscle contraction and/or enhanced mitochondrial function. The laboratory of Andrew Jones at Exeter University in the UK has been particularly influential in this area of study.
Besides the mechanism of action, there is still one great unknown with dietary nitrate supplementation – do truly elite athletes benefit from its use. It is known that a great many elite athletes use beetroot juice to enhance performance. However, studies in elite athletes are few (elite athletes are by definition rare), and inconclusive. It is clear that those at the sub-elite level (the vast majority of us) can gain a performance benefit from dietary nitrate, but at what performance ability that might stop is yet unknown. It is thought that the truly elite are operating at such a high limit that the margin of potential benefit is small. However, even in the studies of elite athletes that have inconclusive results, there are some individuals that show a clear benefit, while others do not. Therefore, it is a classic case of “responders” and “non-responders” that may be determined by ones normal nitrate/nitrite levels.
Although this column is usually not one to support supplementation, at this point there is pretty clear evidence that dietary nitrate, like that found in beetroot juice, can improve exercise performance. There is additional evidence (not gone into here) that this could be even more beneficial at high altitude, which a consideration in Colorado (although maybe not Fort Collins, which is considered moderate altitude). The research on the topic is still emerging and new products will continue to hit the market since many are on the beetroot bandwagon. To help you make informed decisions, I have included a link to practical recommendations from Dr. Jones: Beetroot recommendations.

 

miller jz2If you have any physiology, performance, or nutrition related questions, email Ben at: ben@yourgroupride.com.


In this column, I wanted to highlight two recent publications that I thought would be of interest given the hot days of summer. Both of these are completely out of my area of expertise, so I present a brief synopsis without interpretation. I will also provide the reference for interested readers.

Article 1

“The effect of dehydration on muscle metabolism and time trial performance during prolonged cycling in males”

Rationale: There are a number of studies that have examined the physiological consequences of dehydration during exercise (and cycling specific) performance. However, maintaining hydration during a prolonged event is often difficult. Although it is known that fluid loss can contribute to a decrease in exercise performance, it is not known how much changes in energy metabolism contribute to the decrease in performance. Since it is known that glycogen depletion correlates with fatigue, it is possible that changes in substrate use (carbohydrate versus fat) could contribute to the onset of fatigue with dehydration. This study examined the effects of progressive dehydration on time trial performance and several physiological parameters by studying subjects after an overnight fluid restriction followed by further dehydration during the exercise bout.

Methods: Nine trained (but not elite) males completed the protocol. During the dehydrated trial, subjects did not drink fluids after 6 pm on the night prior to testing and abstained from fluids throughout the exercise trial. For the control trial, subjects remained hydrated. During the exercise bout, subjects cycled at ~65% VO2peak for 90 min followed by a time trial to complete a given amount of work in as fast of time as possible. Blood and muscle were sampled for analysis.

Results: With a 2-3% body weight dehydration, subjects had increased carbohydrate use, greater muscle glycogen use, a 13% decrement in performance (time to complete the time trial), increased heart rate, increased core temperature, and increased perceived exertion.

Conclusions: According to the authors, the results may indicate that athletes training in a dehydrated state induce a greater cellular and whole body stress, which may enhance adaptations when training, but will hinder performance during competition.

The effect of dehydration on muscle metabolism and time trial performance during prolonged cycling in males. Logan-Sprenger HM, Heigenhauser GJ, Jones GL, Spriet LL. Physiol Rep. 2015 Aug;3(8). PMID: 26296770.


Article 2

“Does wearing clothing made of a synthetic “cooling” fabric improve indoor cycle exercise endurance in trained athletes?”

Rationale: In humans, the evaporation of sweat from the skin surface accounts for ~80% of heat loss during physical activity. Failure to adequately thermoregulate during exercise can inhibit exercise performance. Since clothing presents a barrier to evaporative heat loss, clothing that minimizes resistance to evaporation could enhance exercise performance compared to restrictive clothing. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that wearing clothing made of a synthetic fabric promoted by the manufacturer as having superior cooling properties would improve exercise performance of endurance trained athletes under ambient laboratory conditions.

Methods: Twenty competitive male and female amateur athletes completed the study. The study was a controlled, randomized, double blind, crossover study with cycling exercise performed with synthetic clothing control or synthetic clothing advertised as “cooling”. Exercise testing was performed as an incremental cycling test followed by exercise to fatigue at a given workload. A variety of physiological parameters were monitored during the exercise bout.

Results: There was no difference in exercise time to exhaustion between the fabrics. Further, there were no differences in cardiorespiratory parameters, or core or surface body temperature. Finally, there was no difference between perceived comfort, cooling, or performance between the two garments.

Conclusions: According to the authors, wearing a garment composed of a synthetic “cooling” fabric does not improve exercise performance of trained athletes, nor does it enhance thermoregulatory, cardiometabolic, ventilatory, and perceptual responses to exercise.

Does wearing clothing made of a synthetic "cooling" fabric improve indoor cycle exercise endurance in trained athletes? Abdallah SJ, Krug R, Jensen D. Physiol Rep. 2015 Aug;3(8). PMID: 26290527

Worlds May2014Pressing onward despite the hail. Worlds, May 2014.Many cyclists consider their greatest moment on the bike to come from winning a certain race or hitting a top speed on an epic Rocky Mountain descent. In Fort Collins, Colorado, however,many riders consider their most memorable moments to come from the local Wednesday night ride dubbed “Wednesday Night World Championships,” or simply, “Worlds.” For local pro Rich Davis, his proudest moment on the bike came after driving the group ride break with the U.S. National Champion Eddy Gragus, Olympic Trials winner and Redlands Bicycle Classic winner Randy Whicker, and fellow local Chris Stockburger. When the break turned West with the finish line approaching, Davis read the north wind and attacked in the gutter of the opposite lane. Gragus and Stockburger were dropped during the first gutter and Whicker held on with his infamous smirk. Whicker had played this same tactic on Davis countless times, but that night Davis was determined to drop him. During the second gutter attempt, Whicker still held on with the same smirk for one minute. Finally, on the third gutter attempt Davis shook Whicker and rode up the Cement Plant hill to the finish solo for the victory.

 

For roughly 40 years, Worlds has put Northern Colorado cyclists through the ringer. From weekend warriors to Olympic Champions, cyclists of all levels have been shaped by one of the most notorious group rides in the country. Welcome to the Northern Colorado School of Bike Racing.  

 

Spring Creek Velo Club started the ride in 1975 during what were known as the “pot luck” days of racing in town when everyone knew one another. Originally, it was not Worlds, rather an extra midweek training opportunity to give a team member company on his commute home to Windsor with a sprint point at the city limit sign. Over time the ride grew, as World’s became a regular training ride for many who had just enough time after work to throw on their ride shorts and make it to the Bike Broker located near Riverside Avenue and Prospect Road.

 

When the Bike Broker moved to Old Town Fort Collins, the route shifted to the north. The group would head east out of town on Vine Drive to the Interstate-25 Frontage Road. When the group hit the Frontage Road and turned north, it was game on as soon as the first attack went. The frontage road is where many cyclists have properly learned to echelon as it is mostly pancake flat and a headwind is always present for the 17 miles before the turn west on Buckeye Road. Buckeye Road is where many cyclists have gone into the red in order to hold on to the infamous Randy Whicker’s wheel following his gutters in the opposite lane.

For local rider Scott Queen, one of his proudest moments as a cyclist came when he was the only rider to hold Whicker’s wheel in the gutter as the two made it up the Rawhide Energy Plant Hill and established that evening’s break. The six mile stretch of Buckeye Road is where the ride gained its notoriety to develop riders physically and mentally. During a typical week of the ride’sheyday, Buckeye Road is where a three to four man break was established with the peloton itching for the turn South onto Terry Lake Road. For a long time, the group would finish going all the way south for 16 miles to highway One (See map below). Long time local pro Dwight Hall recalls the finishing 5 miles to never have dropped below 30 miles per hour before the finish line change.

 

As development began to shift north of Old Townwith the growing Fort Collins Country Club, the route again underwent a change. The 16 mile south-bound section shortened to six miles with another west turn onto Owl Canyon Road. For a short two miles, gutters and attacks would again ensue if the break had been caught or if a chase group needed to be established. For seven miles, the route again enjoyed a tailwind after turning south onto County Road 19 before the finishing mile and a half up the Cement Plant Hill to the west where gutters and attacks would again take place all the way to the finish line. Between the sheer difficulty of the wind on this route and the tactics played out by the strongest riders in attendance, the ride rarely saw the win go to a sprinter, rather the strongest or craziest rider left would take the prize of local bragging rights for the week.

 

When a sprinter sitson in the break, it’s local law to respect those who have done all the work and not sprint for the win. In 2006, local rider Will Hickey learned this the hard way after sitting on for the final 15 miles then coming around at the end to take the sprint win. As Hickey turned around after winning that evening expecting a congratulations from the fellow breakaway riders, he was met with disappointment from fellow local Evan Ruznaski, who simply put his head down and said, “That’s not okay, not okay.” At Worlds, you work for the win.

 

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the ride saw its peak in numbers, eventually with the AC Pinarello Continental Team leading the charge. On any given Wednesday, at least 20 pro or elite riders were in attendance with another 40 strong local riders showing up to earn the respect of the pros during every rotation. At some point during this 20 year run of Fort Collins being the Colorado cycling hub, the old local saying “If you can win Worlds, you can win any Pro/1/2 race around” came to life. The difficulty of Worlds continued into the 2000’s with the Domestic Elite team Legacy, which eventually became Ciclismo, leading the way in numbers. Additionally, continental riders from Jamis and Jelly Belly often joined the paceline. The most well known rider of today’s pro peloton to frequent the echelon was Tejay Van Garderen, who went to high school in Fort Collins and raced for local domestic elite team, Team Rio Grande Racing.

 

In 2006, Brad Cole moved to Fort Collins on a Monday from Kansas City to further pursue cycling. Cole had long heard rumors of Worlds. Before unpacking his bags, Brad showed up that Wednesday evening to see why this ride had the reputation it did. That night, local riders Forest Newman and Dan Workman crashed at the Buckeye Road turn. Newman injured his head and Workman had to have surgery on his knuckles. This is when the “oh s***” moment hit Cole. Cole spent five seasons racing on the National Race Calendar for Legacy, Ciclismo and the Rio Grande, and he can hardly remember a race that was more intense than this local Wednesday group ride.

 

Eventually, the numbers at Worlds began to decline and the ride nearly became just a memory for many. One could argue that residential and economic development has drastically shifted further south in town the last ten years thus making the traditional 5:30 start time not as attainable. More likely, the difficulty of the ride is what led to the shift in rider choice of what local Wednesday ride to attend as the “Wednesday Open Ride” or “WOR” began from the south end of town and quickly grew. In addition to the other option of a Wednesday evening group ride, grassroots racing in Fort Collins has grown beyond comparison to anywhere else in Colorado. With the rotation of local circuit races and criteriums on Tuesdays during the summer and a rotation of time trials on Thursdays throughout the Spring and Summer, riders can choose from multiple rides to fit their desired intensity efforts.

 

In the last five years, there have been consecutive weeks where five or less cyclists have gone out to battle in the Northern Colorado plains. Most recently in May, local pro and two time National Champion Zack Allison went out to the ride on a rainy evening and discovered he was the only rider in attendance. Despite not having anyone to compete against, Allison still rode against the north wind that Wednesday as if there were 20 other pros attacking from every direction.

This draught of riders showing up is a big reason why Dan Porter, a well known local cycling enthusiast, pushed for a route change that would alternate every week, an attempt to put new life back into the dying ride. One week to remain the long route that finishes up the Cement Plant and the following week to cut across west at Owl Canyon Road, rather than continuing North. On the evenings that the route headswest early on Owl Canyon Road, the Cement Plant acts as the midway sprint point before the route continues further west through a gravel road that eventually puts the group northbound onto Highway 287 for half a mile before turning west again to go past the Noosa Yoghurt headquarters, more commonly referred to as the Dairy Loop. In Colorado, race organizers have a fascination with including dirt roads into circuit races;Fort Collins riders usually feel they are more prepared for these races after they have learned the proper ways of riding gravel during Worlds. After the Dairy Loop, the ride heads up the dams of Horsetooth Reservoir where climbers finally have an advantage, if they manage to hang in, as the finish is located on the top of Centennial Hill.

 

When this alternating route schedule still didn’t bring out the numbers of days past, Porter proposed an A group and a B group in which the B’s started five minutes prior to the A’s. Although a new format was presented, the ride’s personality remained as the B’s became the breakaway and the A’s became the chasing peloton. This change was not met with applause from everyone in the community. Many locals were more concerned with the style of the ride over the numbers in attendance. Despite the difference of today versus ten years ago, riders still show up with the tenacity to go battle in the wind regardless of the group they choose to ride in. Ultimately, if the community wants to return to the days of old, riders will begin to abandon the 5:30 B start time and everyone will wait for the 5:35 start time. Likely a B group will naturally form as it did for thirty years.

 

So what gave a few years ago and what still gives on some Wednesday nights? After conducting research with long time local riders through phone calls, emails, and Facebook forums, one subject stands out: Coaching styles. Before the ride began to die there were no coaches holding a rider back from going out and riding strong and trying new tactics or from getting dropped and potentially morally defeated. Today, there are a lot of young riders in town who have never been to Worlds yet race every weekend, some on the National Race Calendar. With the risk of moral defeat during a “mere” group ride, burnout can become a real issue. From a coach’s standpoint, it makes sense financially to not include Worlds in the weekly training plan. That coach could potentially lose out on money every month if said burnout is to occur. But what about the other end of that argument? If a rider routinely goes to Worlds and further develops the ability to read a race, these lessons will be applied to an actual race on a weekend. Results will get better with every passing Wednesday just as they did for many riders for thirty years. Could it actually be safe financially for a coach to send a rider out to Worlds?

 

Coaching styles aside, this Wednesday ritual will continue to regain prominence in the community and again be known as the hardest group ride in the U.S. There are enough riders in town that were in attendance every week for ten to thirty years that still show up on occasion and encourage those that might be newer to the ride to bring the tenacity that was guaranteed for so long. Local rider Don Spence, a frequent attender during the 1990’s, put it best: “I rarely took anything personal at Wednesday Worlds… I simply enjoyed spinning and playing bike chess with the strength that showed up. What I remember is the great respect for your effort, strength, and tenacity.” Worlds StartWorlds numbers are again on the rise.

 

Worlds will continue to be the driving force behind road cyclists that call Fort Collins home. No matter the numbers that show up on any given week, the lessons learned in this painful echelon will continue to groom cyclists of all abilities for years to come. Most recently, on the Wednesday of July 22nd, the echelon saw a current stars and stripes winner and former rainbow jersey winner. Currently, it’s not an every week occurrence for riders of this pristine to show up, but the hard work of many involved in the grassroots cycling scene to rebuild Worlds is without doubt taking notice.

 

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miller jz2If you have any physiology, performance, or nutrition related questions, email Ben at: ben@yourgroupride.com.

 


On various social media dedicated to the local Fort Collins cycling scene, there has been much discussion on the importance of certain local training rides and how to increase rider participation. In general, those that care about the rides have been very responsive and sensitive to suggestions to improve the rides. There is one discussion that has popped up repeatedly over the years that I would like to address. The discussion usually goes something like this: “These hard rides are the best way to get stronger. At first you get dropped, but you keep trying and you keep getting stronger and eventually you hang in there.” There is usually this addition too: “Just look at Joe Blow, he used to get dropped all the time but he kept coming out and now he is kicking our butts.” At the risk of really dating myself, I like to refer to this last part as the George Burns argument. George Burns lived to 100 years old and smoked cigars every day of his life, so that must mean that smoking will not kill you. There are of course people that defy the odds, but those people should not be considered the norm (because they defy the odds). In the same manner, there are those that get their butt kicked and keep coming back and get better, but there are many others who no matter how hard they try - and of no fault of their own - will not be able to hang. Below I will explain further.


It is generally agreed that a high VO2max is requisite for elite endurance exercise performance. This statement does not mean that a high VO2max guarantees elite performance, and it does not mean that elite performance is tightly correlated with VO2max (or else we would just do VO2 max tests and call it good), it simply means that it is a minimal requirement. The ability to have a high VO2max is largely genetically determined. Through intense training (starting from no training) one can realistically expect to increase VO2max by 9-17%. However, there are some studies that have reported improvements of around 20-25%. If you had a VO2max of 40 ml/kg/min, that training could get you to 48-50 ml/kg/min, which is still not enough to be an elite endurance athlete. If you are genetically gifted, and already have a fairly high VO2max, those improvements mean a great deal and could push you to the elite level. A recently published paper (referenced at the end of this column) profiled Olympic medalists and also-rans (from the Olympics) in XC skiing and cycling. The VO2max in male competitors (non-medalists and medalists) spanned the very narrow range of 77-83 ml/kg/min. Therefore, there is clearly a requisite VO2max that not everyone can obtain.


You may ask then, what limits the ability to improve VO2max? VO2 max is largely determined by the ability to deliver oxygen (heart and blood) and the ability to use oxygen (mitochondria in muscle). The ability of the heart to get the blood (and hence oxygen) to the system is the cardiac output. Cardiac output is then determined by heart rate and volume pumped per beat (stroke volume). Maximal heart rate is not really trainable, thus training-induced benefits must be through stroke volume enhancement. Although this can improve, it cannot improve infinitely. The oxygen is carried through the blood bound to hemoglobin. It has been shown that elite endurance athletes have very high hemoglobin mass (concentration x blood volume). Therefore, they have a great ability to deliver oxygen. This factor has limited trainability, but is the target of other means to improve performance (altitude training, EPO, etc). Finally, the muscle has mitochondrial that can use the oxygen, but the improvements from increased mitochondrial mass is a little different and discussed below.


If we have a limited ability to improve our VO2max, how else could we improve performance? The one with the most potential is mechanical efficiency. What mechanical efficiency refers to is the ability to do more work with a given amount of oxygen. Therefore, you can do more work before reaching your maximal ability to use oxygen. Although it is pretty clear that years of training can improve running economy (not strictly the same thing, but close enough for our discussion) it is doubtful that mechanical efficiency improves with cycling training. What can improve with cycling are the benefits from mitochondrial adaptations. With training you can increase mitochondrial mass and therefore the ability to sustain a higher percentage of your VO2max. Your max ability to perform work may not improve, but your ability to sustain a higher percentage of max does. This adaptation is a primary benefit of training.


To circle back a little now, a high VO2max is required for elite endurance exercise performance; however, the ability to improve VO2max is limited. Exercise training improves mitochondrial function and may (big maybe here) improve mechanical efficiency allowing one to get the most out of their VO2max. Through training, we all have the ability to improve within our maximal VO2max. What that means is that through training, we can all be the best our physiology will allow us to be. However, there are some out there, unfortunately, that will never be able to improve to the point of being able to compete at a high level. These are not people who are not trying hard enough, or are not motivated, they are genetically limited and are doing the best with what they have. There are those out there who by attending a hard group ride will be able to improve to the level to be able to compete. These individuals are trying hard, but also have the genetic predisposition to get to a high performance level. But, there are those that no matter how hard they try, will not be able to get to that level. It is not for a lack of trying, it is from the lack of genetic predisposition. I therefore take exception when it is implied that the hardest group ride in town is “the only way they will get better.” There are other rides that will allow them to get better without simultaneously discouraging their participation (or ways to design a ride to accommodate all abilities). Participation in cycling in general is what is important, not on a specific ride. We should do what we can to be encouraging to all abilities so they can compete within their comfort range and ability.

 

Reference of interest: Performance Enhancement: What Are the Physiological Limits? Lundby C, Robach P. Physiology (Bethesda). 2015 Jul;30(4):282-92. PMID: 26136542.

HPIM1871This is an opinion piece by Reno Toffoli. Reno's opinions don't necessary represent the opinions of Your Group Ride or its advertisers but I always enjoy his rants. If you'd like to write an article for YGR, please email me at info@yourgroupride.com

 

Commander Crash McLarson, that’s probably what my name should be at this point. Crashing sucks and it’s been a bad year for crashes. In all the years I’ve been a mountain biker I can remember at least 6 big, helmet cracking crashes. So far this year I’ve had 4, although only one was a helmet cracker.


As I sit writing this now, I’ve just had what are among two of my most severe crashes ever within 6 days of each other. In the first, I was going north on Blue Sky in the rain and wanting to get back to the car. I was approaching the tunnel under the county road at mach 6 (like I have literally hundreds of other times) and the instant my wet, sandy tires hit the concrete the bike disappeared out from under me. This caused me to slide about 30 feet down the tunnel on my side at mach 6. The only thing I really remember was yelling F___K!!! at the top of my lungs as I felt layer after layer of skin being peeled off my right arm and leg. As I came to a stop, still tangled in my miraculously unscathed bike, the last reverberations of my exclamation still echoed through the tunnel.


Crash number two that happened six days later was pure stupidity on my part but it involved an alternate line, a blind jump/drop, and landing front wheel first on a perfect wedge shaped rock which sent me head first in to another perfectly shaped helmet cracking rock. Apart from a bruised and cut up knee and sore neck, I wasn’t as injured as the last crash, my bike one the other hand had a tacoed rear wheel and bent rail on the saddle. Along with the cost of replacing the BRAND NEW helmet that was on its second ride (ditto for the saddle…ditto for the bike, actually) that ended up being an expensive bit of misjudgment.


Crashing sucks not only because of injury and expense but the fact that it’s so damn demoralizing has got to be the worst part of it. After big crashes, I don’t have any confidence in anything; I ride slow and squirrely and target fixate on everything that I’m sure is going to kill me on the trail. I feel like I have crash PTSD and can’t relax, concentrate, flow, or enjoy myself.


After a big crash, or a series of them as has been the case recently, I always try to analyze where I went wrong because that’s just how I work. I feel pretty fortunate because my childhood of BMX and long history of mountain biking means that I rarely go ass over teakettle but I have come to the realization that my experience may be part of the problem.


One of the most common causes of crashing in my case is overconfidence. I’m not talking overconfidence like ‘Yeah, I can clear that 30 foot gap no problem’ I’m talking overconfidence like ‘I’ve ridden this line/ trail a zillion times before without an incident so I’m not even thinking about it’. I guess another way to look at it would be to call it complacency; one gets confident in their skills and speed on a particular stretch of dirt and gets a little sloppy, or tired, or distracted, and wham, it’s over.


The opposite can also bite you. I think that big, technical, fast, or burly lines are as much mental as physical and when you start questioning your skills, line choices, or ability in the middle of it all, that’s a perfect recipe for crash-disaster.


Another problem in my case is forgetting what bike I’m on and the limitations of the bike that I’m on. I do most of my high speed and technical descending on a long travel, full suspension bike. The beauty of a bike like this is that it lets you go really, really fast through really gnarly terrain. Because long travel bikes tend to be rather forgiving of poor line choices, unseen obstacles, or general ‘oh s**t’ moments, you start to feel pretty invincible after a while. 3 out of 4 of my crashes this year have been on a hardtail and it’s totally my fault because I was expecting the hardtail to work the way a 6” travel bike works when you make a bad decision. As full suspension bikes have gotten better and better, my descending times have gotten faster and faster. I forget how much I have to slow down on a hardtail in those situations. I now have to consciously remind myself that the descending speed that I’m used to and that feels ‘right’ applies to long travel only. For the hardtail ‘right’ is about 25-30% slower and the bike won’t automatically soak up mistakes; that’s my job.


I’ve talked to several people who don’t want to ride mountain bikes because of the crash potential. The truth is, crashing a mountain bike is all on the rider. The terrain is what it is and the rocks aren’t moving. If you crash, it’s your fault. If you don’t want to crash, walk your bike through the area you’re not sure about. Dealing with the variables of cars or group rides on the road is not something I’m up for. If I crash I want it to be my fault, not someone else’s mistake that takes me down.


A couple things I’m actually in awe over are the ability of a modern bicycle helmet to absorb kinetic energy and protect one’s brain and the ability of a middle aged human body to absorb kinetic energy without any real serious or permanent injury.


I think I’ve cracked 7 helmets in the past 25 years (4 in the last 3 years) and survived without a scratch, concussion, broken skull, paralysis, or death. In 5 out of those 7 head impacts I can’t even imagine what would have happened If I hadn’t been wearing a helmet. There’s a possibility I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this, that’s for sure. One wouldn’t think that a cheesy Styrofoam bowl sitting on top of your head could do all that, but brother, it does it and does it well. I think I’ve retired more helmets to the rocks than I have due to age and I’m always blown away by their ability to do their job. Thank you, helmets!


I’m fortunate that I’ve never been seriously or permanently injured (knocking on wood) while mountain biking ( I do have one permanent BMX injury). All of my injuries have boiled down to road rash, cuts, or bruises, and I’m pretty sure I broke a pinky once but that’s the only thing I’ve broken. Out of all of these, road rash is the worst; in many ways road rash it the worst injury period. It hurts like hell 24/7, takes a long time to heal, and depending on where it is you may not be able sleep, wear clothes, or shower. You inevitably bang it or scrape it against something at some point and want to scream at the top of your lungs. It itches like crazy as it heals and everyone is constantly asking what happened. Crashing sucks for sure but road rash sucks 10,000% more.


I’m definitely not proud of my crashes but I can learn something from them. The immediate effect of crashing is that it slows me down and causes me to re-evaluate things like technique and mortality. Once the confidence returns and the crash PTSD disappears, I’m likely to be a little more humble and a better rider who is more concerned with self-preservation. As much as I love speed and have a hard time resisting the urge to go really fast, there are numerous places in the area where an ill-timed rock ricochet could send one off trail in to a life threatening situation in the blink of an eye. I never thought about this much before but I have been lately and it’s slowing me down quite a bit.


I have seen the frustration of beginning riders dealing with the steep learning curve that comes with learning to ride off-road and my heart goes out to them. I couldn’t imagine learning mountain biking skills as an adult. The only advice I can give you if you’re in this boat is to keep riding, keep learning, practice those skills, and don’t quit. If it makes you feel any better, we all crash, every one of us, so you’re definitely not alone.


I was so pissed off and fed up after my last crash that I stopped and bought a new helmet and saddle on the way home, replaced the tacoed wheelset on my bike, got up at 5:30 the next morning and rode 29 miles through both of my previous crash sites just to prove that I could complete a ride without crashing. The good thing is that I didn’t crash, had a good time, and feel 100% better about things.


In the world of aviation, they say that a good landing is any landing you walk away from. I think we can probably steal that one for our purposes here as well. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a ‘good crash’ but as long as you walk (or limp) away, things are going to be all right.

 

 

There are two recent articles that I would like to share.  Quite often a new approach will permeate the cycling scene and others just accept that it works because some athletes that are really good are using the approach.  A lot of times the athletes that are good will be good no matter what they do, so it is really hard to make a judgment purely on that basis alone.  Until a controlled study is done, we never really know how well a new approach works.  Below I will highlight two studies using rationale and results directly from the published paper.  I will include the reference in case anyone wants to read the publication.  

 

Paper 1 – Gluten free diets:  Lis, D., Stellingwerff, T., Kitic, C. M., Ahuja, K. D., & Fell, J. (2015). No Effects of a Short-Term Gluten-free Diet on Performance in Nonceliac Athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

 

Background: Previously the authors of the current paper performed a survey of 942 non-celiac diseased athletes and found that 40% used a gluten free diet at least 50% of the time.  The reason for the gluten free diet was often a self-diagnosis of gluten intolerance.  The athletes surveyed believed that a gluten free diet would provide a healthier diet, increase exercise performance and decrease GI distress and inflammation.  The problem with a gluten free diet is that it could result in dietary deficiency if not accompanied by other changes.  To date, no study has actually examined if adoption of a gluten free diet enhances exercise performance as commonly believed.  

 

Study design: Thirteen competitive cyclists (male and female) free of celiac disease enrolled in a double-blind, placebo controlled, cross-over design.  The subjects consumed a control or gluten free diet for 7 days prior to performance testing with a 10-day washout period between diets.  A dietitian controlled and monitored all aspects of the study.

 

Results:  There was no difference in parameter associated with performance in a 15 km TT.  There was no difference in GI symptoms during the 7-day periods or during the exercise performance test itself.  There was no difference in overall well being during the study period.  Finally, there was no difference in markers of gut inflammation or systemic inflammation.

 

Take home:  Although only 5-10% of the general population has a diagnosis of celiac disease, a survey indicated that over 40% of athletes have adopted a gluten free diet.  Results from this study indicated that adoption of short-term gluten free diet did not improve exercise performance, gut inflammation, systemic inflammation, or overall well being.  Of note, although the diet in this study was only employed for 7 days, clinical studies indicate that true gluten intolerance is apparent hours to days after consumption of gluten.  Therefore, this study does not support a positive benefit of a gluten free diet in athletes that do not have celiac disease.  

 

Paper 2 - Vercruyssen, F., Easthope, C., Bernard, T., Hausswirth, C., Bieuzen, F., Gruet, M., & Brisswalter, J. (2014). The influence of wearing compression stockings on performance indicators and physiological responses following a prolonged trail running exercise. European Journal of Sport Science, 14(2), 144–150.

 

Background:  Although less prominent in the cycling scene, compression socks are heavily used in running and triathlon.  Studies to date have consistently failed to demonstrate a performance benefit for the exercise bout or the subsequent recovery from that bout of exercise, despite athletes’ reporting that the socks make them feel better.  The current study added to the current literature by examining a trail-running bout of exercise of high intensity and long duration to simulate competition.  In addition, the course had uphill and downhill sections that are not possible to capture in a laboratory setting.

 

Study design:  Eleven trained experienced male trail-runners were recruited for study.  The subjects took part in both laboratory (for characterization) and field-testing.  The subjects performed familiarization trials of the course prior to the experimental trials.  The subjects completed 3 laps of a course with uphill and downhill segments for a total of a 15.6 km run for each trial.  Data was collected in less than 40 sec between laps to get performance during the exercise bout and at the completion of the test.

 

Results:  There was no performance benefit (run time) when using compression stockings.  In addition, there was no benefit of the compression stockings on heart rate response, rating of perceived exertion, muscle oxygenation, or maximum voluntary contraction.  

 

Take home: As with other studies, the current study failed to demonstrate a positive effect of compression stockings when worn during a race-paced running effort over a 15.6 km course.  Interestingly, the study failed to decrease the ratings of perceived exertion as well, which is counter to the subjective “they make me feel better” reports.  This experiment does not support the use of compression stockings during competition.