Another Summer Series has ended, which means we have months of darkness ahead. Alleviated only by the Winter Series and the dubious pleasure of the Taranaki Tour. So I thought it appropriate to note down some observations related to the TT and Road courses.
(not many pictures in this article – check the facebook gallery to see those)
Starting with the TT:
While the latest (March) TT was a lot windier than the December one the effect on times was theoretically not a lot different. March was warmer with lower air pressure – these factors lower the air density – thus lowering the air resistance and compensating a bit for the wind. I’ve modelled the course which showed that for the same power (=effort) times would be no more than 10s slower for riders from 17 to 22mins.
Looking at the times of riders who did both March and December the average difference was only 3s (slower in March) with nearly 50% of the repeat riders improving their times.
So we’ve got pretty good agreement between theory and reality (it’s nice when this happens). It’s worth reiterating the point that other factors in the weather conditions can make as much of a difference as the wind – so don’t fixate on the wind as an obstacle to good performances. The main reason that TT times are slower in Winter is not the wind – it’s the cold, low humidity and high air pressure leading to ‘thicker’ air.
For the recent TT the wind did mean that most riders would be seeing around 2mins difference between first and 2nd half and it’s easy to lose focus battling back in to the wind. In terms of pacing a TT – there is no value in soft pedalling the tailwind and working harder into the wind (I won’t explain the maths right now) but there can be benefit in going a little easier on the flat in order to ride harder up the hills. So for next time it might be worth holding back until the return leg which is overall uphill.
In road racing conditions make less of a difference than the motivation of the group (although sleet and hail can certainly affect motivation) so I won’t delve into that.
What I will discuss is the ways that you can get faster on the course.
The biggest factor on the rough roads that we all enjoy so much is tyre choice. Using a baseline of a 75kg rider doing 42mins on a windy day (like the last race) going from a training tyre (I used Continental Ultrasport for the calculation) to a semi-fast tyre like the Michelin Pro Race is worth 59 seconds. That’s as much of a difference as going from standard training wheels to 60mm deep carbon race wheels.
For anyone considering a new bike – going from a standard round tubed carbon bike to the new Trek Madone would save ~23 seconds (which again shows the good value from choosing the right tyres).
Having a dirty chain can easily cost you 30s (mildly dirty) to 60s (really dirty) as it is robbing you of power on every pedal stroke.
I could (and often do) go on interminably about equipment but I’ll stop here today – with the conclusion that making a smart choice next time you buy tyres and keeping your chain clean are cheap and easy ways of aiding your performance.
Of course, the bike doesn’t pedal itself so we should discuss:
For our 75kg rider losing 5kg would be worth 20s (which means that changing a part on your bike to one that is 100g lighter is worth 0.4s – ie don’t worry about the weight of your bike too much).
Every 1% stronger (improvement in threshold power) is worth ~10s. I’ve coached athletes that have improved by 1% – 1.5% per week which very quickly adds up to a meaningful difference.
Training to get lighter and stronger combines those two benefits…
Bunch skills and tactics can make a huge difference to race success but that’s not something I can model. Suffice to say that it’s worth watching the people who usually finish well in your grade – look at where and when they position themselves in the group and when they put in their efforts. Some riders have an innate sense (or a lot of experience) in this, others have to work at it.
Particularly when we consider that all the time gains I’ve referenced don’t translate to going faster in the race – you will still go the same speed as the bunch. If you improve your equipment and fitness you will get to the end fresher (or maybe make a break stick). But getting to the end fresher will make no difference if you don’t develop the tactics to put yourself in a good position. Where TTs have the simplicity of ‘get stronger, get good kit = go faster” – Road racing requires getting lots of small details right.
As an illustration that all the gear makes less of a difference than the engine – to the right I present Exhibit A (me). Suffering the effects of Ironman (that was a miserable day – don’t ask) my power was down 10% on where it would normally be – which is worth 40s on that TT.
For those of you not foolish enough to hamper your cycling by doing Triathlons – hopefully the advice above helps you plan your assault on the next Summer Series.