Welcome to 2017 and a new edition of the Castelli SkillZ and DrillZ Ride. We had a good-sized group of about 75 riders, and today was different for a whole lot of reasons. First, I am still in Santiago, Chile, visiting family, so I do not have my bicycle, Wahoo Kickr, or normal computer setup. That was challenge number one. Second, we introduced a different form of the ride today, one that did not necessarily have us riding together as a group after our warm-up period. In the end, we pushed through the obstacles and got a good ride in to start the new year.
As I stated earlier, I have been out of town, so this SDR was an exercise in improvisation. I put my Stryd power meter on my shoe and connected it to my iPad as a power meter, which worked well enough to get me out of the pen with the group. Typing while jogging back and forth on my mother-in-law’s patio was a bit difficult, so I had to drop from the group to make sure the instructions got out. All in all, it seemed to have worked out just fine, and it served as a good test for a SDR later in the month when I have to travel for work.
Ok, enough discussion about my connection isssues and work-arounds. On to the class! Like normal, we got out of the gate at a 1.5 w/kg pace. Due to some last minute changes, I did not have a beacon over my avatar, and that made for some difficulty in keeping the group together and not hammering. Some of our newer riders did not understand that SDR is not a race, but with the help of a few regulars, we were able to keep the group more or less intact. After a few minutes of warm-up and working in the draft, we got down to business.
Today was all about pacing and efficiency. Now, I don’t mean pacing from a standpoint of holding the same effort for a long time, as is commonly thought for triathletes. In this case, I wanted riders to take a look at how well they were able to pick a target effort and stay within 10-15 Watts of that effort over a two-minute period. Often times, I see riders take off, whether it be for a bridge, an attack, or merely a hard interval, only to see a quick spike in power followed by a continuous reduction in power over time. Sure, the initial surge may open or close a gap to some degree, but the resulting decline in power means that the gap never fully closes, or the escape never comes to fruition. We approached the problem by picking efforts well below threshold effort and attempting to keep a very small range of deviation. Let me tell you, it is not easy to do! At threshold, every small change is noticed because the change in effort is perceived as exponentially harder or easier.
To help focus the efforts, we added a small change as we moved up in power output. At first, I directed riders to chose one of their legs and put special emphasis on that leg to ensure that it moved through the pedal stroke smoothly with consistent power applied to the pedal. After that two-minute interval, we changed legs and repeated the drill. Continuing the focus on a smooth stroke, we did a third iteration at the same power before moving up in intensity. During the third iteration, I asked riders to drop the cadence into the high 70s to remove bouncing and jerkiness from the stroke.
As we continued, the intensity moved up and the interval time increased. All the while I continued to push the riders to focus on being smooth. Many of the riders commented that putting the emphasis on the pedal stroke made the effort seem more difficult but actually made it easier to maintain a constant power output. I tried to explain that the task of keeping the stroke smooth can be a mentally arduous one, but the efficiency meant less wasted energy, which led to the ability to hold harder efforts for longer periods of time. The smoother pedal stroke helps with maintaining a consistent power output, which, in turn, means fewer surges in power. Fewer surges in power mean more matches remaining for late attacks or that finish line sprint.
During our longest interval of five minutes at threshhold power, the vast majority of the group was able to hold the effort in the designated range. I am not going to say that it was easy, and I am not advocating that anyone focus on pedal stroke during a race. However, like any other technique-focused drill, regular practice will help with pedal efficiency. Think of it as a little bit of pedaling meditation during your warm-up. Just keep in mind that every time you surge past threshhold power, you are burning a match. Smoothing out that power profile is one way to save that little extra bit of energy for when you need it most.
That’s it from the Castelli SkillZ and DrillZ Ride for the week. I want to thank Castelli for sponsoring the ride and providing some swag to one lucky rider who completed the event. I will be back on the bike for the next session, so the beloved beacon will be back over my head. Ride on!