Friday, November 9, 2012

Coach's Corner tip published in today's Cycle U Newsletter

The art of riding in a straight line 
Coach Tom Meloy provides a few key pointers on how to ride in a straight line. 

When you ride solo, wavering puts you at risk in traffic. With a companion, you can't ride side-by-side if you aren't steady and comfortable. And the fastest way to draw unwanted attention from experienced roadies is to wobble in the middle of a group. 

You can quickly improve your ability to ride a steady line. These tips will put you on the straight and narrow. Relax. You need a loose, supple upper body. Be aware of tension in your neck, jaw and shoulders. If you're rigid, the bike will move in jerks and twitches. 

Flex your elbows. By keeping your elbows slightly bent and loose, upper-body movements won't automatically be transferred to the handlebar. The road's bumps and jolts will be absorbed, helping the bike float over irregularities rather than flinch and dart. 

Of course, staying relaxed is easy to say and hard to do -- like when you're riding between traffic and a ragged road edge. Concentrate on steady breathing to reduce the upper-body tension that pins your shoulders to your ears. By staying aware, you can make relaxation a habit. 

Look up the road. Staring at the pavement ahead of your front wheel guarantees you'll ride like a kid on his first solo voyage. The farther up the road you look, the steadier your bike will be. 

You'll soon learn the technique of "split vision." This allows your lower peripheral vision to monitor things like potholes and cracks as you pass them, while you focus on a swath 30 to 100 feet ahead. 

Watch the line you want your bike to take and your wheels will go there almost magically. Look directly at bad things and you're likely to hit them. 

Practice. Try these techniques by riding along the white line that separates the traffic lane from the shoulder. Relax, keep your eyes up, and see how long you can stay on that thin stripe. It'll feel smooth under your tires to let you know how you're doing. 

To prove a point, also try to ride the line while looking down in front of your wheel. Wobble city!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong: Best of the Best...Regardless

I wrote the article below on December 18th, 2008. Lance Armstrong had just announced his comeback attempt to win the 2009 Tour de France. It now appears that he should have stayed retired and kept his mouth shut. But hey, he has a big ego and he must have missed the limelight. Well, he's certainly back in the news.

Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France races in a row. No matter how you cut it, no matter how you view it, he is the best of the best of all time, regardless of how he accomplished it.

From a competitive standpoint, it simply doesn’t matter whether he used performance enhancing drugs or not.

It has been pretty well established, without naming names here, that virtually all of his main challengers in his seven tour victories were either directly or indirectly associated with some type of devious and clandestine plot to artificially increase their own chances of winning the tour.

Lance Armstrong beat them all convincingly.

This is not intended for anything other than pure speculation, but the way I see it, there are three possible scenarios that explain his dominance in the Tour de France:

1) Armstrong is an extremely talented athlete, even at the rarified elite level, and he raced clean. His incredibly focused and specific approach to the TDF, his mental fortitude, his bike handling skills, his drive and dedication to be the best, enabled him to overcome the illicitly gained “advantages” that many of his competitors had. He also consistently benefited from not only the strongest team, but a team that was extremely well coached and dedicated entirely to his cause. Depending on the drug, how it is administered, and the doctor interviewed, one is led to believe that drugs in sports can give an elite endurance athlete anywhere from a 5-15% performance edge. Armstrong closed, and then exceeded that gap, entirely through natural methods.

2) Every top level professional cyclist of the era was taking performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong had more talent than anyone else, still had the best team, still had the mental toughness, and therefore was able to dominate the 180+ person professional peloton and win seven Tours in a row. The “playing field” had effectively been leveled, and he still was the best.

3) Every top professional was taking drugs, Armstrong still had the other advantages, and in addition to that, he had the best medical team.

Regardless of which, if any, scenario makes any sense at all, one fact remains. Lance Armstrong is the best cyclist ever to compete in the TDF, and then there are the others, all five time winners. Seven of a kind trumps five, and Armstrong’s tour victories came in the modern era. As in most sports, today’s cyclist athletes are more highly trained and talented, and consequently participate in a more competitive sports environment.

Jack Nicklaus dominated professional golf in an era during which it has been acknowledged that there were a few top level golfers who were quite a bit more talented than the rest. In fact, they were called the “Big Four”, and there was Palmer, Player (this has to be the all time greatest name for a pro athlete!), Trevino, and Nicklaus. Most of the major tournaments of the day were won by these four, with Nicklaus being the most dominant. In today’s world, the Big Four could be equated with the “Big 100”, as the skill level is so elevated just to gain entry to the professional golf tours around the world, let alone win a tournament of any kind, that a type of parity has occurred.

Despite this perceived parity, Tiger Woods has managed to dominate the game like no one since Nicklaus, and he is well on his way to being the greatest golfer of all time. He is the Lance Armstrong of golf.

Most physiologists seem to agree that in terms of raw physical capacities at the highest levels of elite cyclists, differences of a few percent exist amongst the athletes. Greg Lemond reportedly had a Vo2 max of 90, and that number has been associated with Floyd Landis. Armstrong’s team has largely been silent on this subject. After Armstrong retired, Dr. Ed Coyle published the results of a long term study of Armstrong’s physiology tests. These tests dated back to the early 90’s when he was first a member of the international peloton, and long before his cancer. Even with Armstrong’s well documented weight loss, Coyle’s tests revealed a Vo2 max of between 82 and 84 when Armstrong was at his peak.

While this level certainly places him among the most physically gifted endurance athletes in the world, his aerobic capacity as measured by Vo2 max alone does not alone explain his dominance. Of course, there are many other physiological metrics critical for success, but Vo2 max has long been one of the gold standards, along with power at LT, that has been used to gauge an athletes’ odds for success.

As I stated above, I don’t really believe it is important exactly how Lance Armstrong was able to win seven Tours in a row. He was the best of the best amongst a very deep, talented field, many of whom have been linked to drugs.

I think he is still the best, and I think he has come back to prove it. At age 37, out of the game for almost four years, he has reentered the sport. He’s done so at a time when even the harshest critics of cycling feel that significant progress has been made in the fight against doping, and that the 2009 Tour should be one of the cleanest tours in the last two decades. The playing field should be as level as it has been in a very, very long time.

Why would he come back if he didn’t intend to race clean? Why would he risk his legacy when he has nothing to gain, and everything to lose?

Just imagine if he wins the Giro, and/or the Tour de France. That will shut everybody up, once and for all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Article on Nutrition and Hydration in today's Cycle U Newsletter

Nutrition and hydration for long-distance cycling
by Coach Tom Meloy

Before I address hydration and nutrition, note that a taper should be incorporated before a big event. While you can't do anything to boost fitness in the last 7-10 days before a ride, you can definitely boost fatigue. Rest two days before the event, drink a lot of water, and do a short ride the day before to keep the legs loose, perhaps using a carbo loading strategy.

Hydration and electrolytes: For the vast majority of athletes, the easiest way to improve training and racing performance is to consume more fluids. When you're well hydrated on the bike, your muscles function better and you are able to regulate core temperature better, which mean you can produce more power.

The electrolyte repletion rate is generally adequate if 300-600 milligrams of sodium are consumed each hour in a divided dose format in the presence of other electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, chloride, and manganese. Using Nunn or Endurolytes is one way to get additional electrolytes. Eating salty foods is another, as what the body needs most is sodium. People who sweat heavily need more sodium. Cramping during or after a ride is typically an indication that you didn't have enough sodium.

Your body likes balance. Consuming too much water and no electrolytes during extended exercise is not good and can cause hyponatremia. Some still recommend drinking at least 20oz of fluid per hour, but this doesn't work for everybody.

The best hydration strategy: "Drink to thirst, salt to taste." For less stomach distress, drink in big gulps. Drink whenever you eat solid food on bike. Try a sodium enhanced sports drink like Gatorade Endurance or simply add a pinch of salt to regular Gatorade. I've found that if I don't taste the extra salt, my body needs it. If I taste the salt, I've been getting enough.

As long as you are carrying the weight of two full bottles, I recommend both be filled with a sports drink, but this may be too much sweetness for some people.

On the ride nutrition: Aim to replenish about 30% or a little more of the calories you burn each hour. Over-consumption leads to gastric distress because your body can't absorb and process the fuel fast enough. For an athlete who is burning 800 kcal per hour (very high intensity pace), this would amount to about 240 kcal/45g of carbs (one Powerbar or Clif Bar). The body can process roughly 60 grams of carbs per hour. Endurance riding typically burns 500-600 kcal per hour.
Overloading the system slows it down; starving it brings it to a halt. A simple rule of thumb is to eat one bar an hour and have a sports drink in at least one of your bottles.

A common mistake is to wait until two hours into a long ride to start eating. I like to see athletes start munching 20 minutes into a ride. Rather than eat a bar every hour, nibble on it every 15-20 minutes. You are striving for a constant flow of fuel.

I'm a big believer in eating real food on long rides, but each athlete needs to find what works best for them. People have done the entire RAAM across the country on nothing but Hammer Perpetuem and gel, but not many people are as focused as those riders are! If using a "liquid food" such as Perpetuem, I've found chilling it in the freezer and using an insulated bottle makes it more palatable, as does adding a little gel for flavor.

A little protein during a ride is fine but studies have not confirmed any real benefit. Be aware that too much protein tends to make one feel bloated during exercise. Eating four grams of carbs per gram of protein is a good rule (as found in a Powerbar or Clif bar).

After a hard ride, be sure to take in some carbs during the 30 minute window when your body is very receptive to restoring the glycogen in your cells. Chocolate milk, smoothies, recovery drinks, or regular sports drink all work well immediately after a ride. If you plan on another long ride the following day, eat more carbs than normal the rest of the day. If you are taking the day off, have a beer and reward yourself!

Test everything out in training. If you decide you're going to need 50g of carbohydrate per hour, try it in training and see if it works, and make sure you are matching the training duration and intensity as closely as possible. Keep the nutrition plan simple.

During ultra long events, variety is important because it keeps an athlete from getting complacent about eating. Overly complicated plans often cause more problems than they solve. Anyone who has completed a very long endurance event can tell you a story about a plan that had to be changed. When your nutrition strategy is simple it can be adapted relatively easily and remain effective.

Suffering through a "nutrition malfunction" during a 100-mile training ride can be a great learning experience. It's a good idea to do a minimum of 2 "nutrition training sessions" per month and eat and drink as you would in your goal event, mimicking the intensity and volume as much as is reasonable. It is often during these sessions that athletes realize their nutrition selections are too sweet, too syrupy, difficult to open/eat at higher speeds, too dry to eat at high intensities, etc. If reaching into your pockets is difficult, consider using a "Bento Box" on your toptube.

Recommended training foods:
Fig bars

Boiled potatoes (in plastic bag with salt)
Dry fruit
Sandwiches (PB & J, meats only on cold days)
Energy bars (but not protein, zone or balance bars)
Energy gels
Fresh fruit (tends to be low-calorie so combine with other foods)
General nutrition guidelines:
Consume high glycemic carbs during exercise and for 30-60 minutes afterwards (pretzels, baked potato, cereal and banana, white bagel, white spaghetti, pancakes).
Eat moderate glycemic foods before exercise (muesli, whole grain spaghetti, sweet potato, banana, orange juice).

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012 Cycle U Skills and Hills Chelan Camp Rocked!

From May 17th-21st, we held our third annual Cycle U Chelan Skills and Hills Camp. For the first time, we had a sellout of 35 riders. Two late minute injury cancellations left us with 33 riders at camp. Combined with Craig, Kristi, Mary, Chad, Scott, Tim, Christina and myself, we had a big group rolling down the road! Here is how things went, strictly from my perspective.

My objectives were to do what I could to make the camp run smoothly, do coaching clinics, ride with everybody, and do some on the road coaching. Sounds pretty simple!

With such a large group in 2012, I decided that we should offer two different routes, each tailored for a specific type of rider. None of the riding around Chelan is “easy,” so offering a Challenge Route as well as an Expert Route wasn’t hard to do. Each day we offered the two routes, and as I hoped, the group self selected with about 50% of the riders on each route, with a few more than half doing the Expert Route on certain days.

The Challenge Route group was comprised of great people with widely varying skill, experience, and fitness levels. Every day a super nice group showed up excited about cycling. It’s always a pleasure to be around people who are eager to learn and enjoy themselves while doing so.

I knew many of the people in the Expert Group, because I had recruited heavily from both Team HPC and with cycling friends I have ridden with for a long time on the Hills of the West Coast and other rides. This cast of characters was pretty familiar to me, and many people had ridden with each other before.

We had a pre-camp meeting on Thursday evening at Vin du Lac Winery, and I can’t thank owner Larry Lembecker enough for the tremendous hospitality he showed us. We now have a long term camp sponsor that we are all very happy with. Kudos also go to Jessica from Clif Bar. We were up to our eyeballs in fine nutrition products that supplemented all of the great “regular” food we enjoyed. At the meeting, we went over the daily routes, and discussed the protocols we would be using for the SAG vehicles, meals, etc.

On Friday, I rode 52 miles with the Challenge Group on the Navarre Coulee route. Those of you familiar with the Chelan Century Challenge know it as the third loop:

The Expert Group did 70 miles on one of my favorite routes through Pateros, Brewster, and down McNeil Canyon:

While I hated to miss this route, I really enjoyed riding with the group on the Challenge Route. I worked my way forward through the riders, pausing to ride with each individual rider or group. Along the way, I got to know our new people at camp, as well as catch up with some returning riders from past camps.

On Saturday we did the Manson Loops. I truly like riding up in the hills to the north of Lake Chelan. It’s easy to imagine that you are in Tuscany or the Lake Como region of Italy, but always looking down at Lake Chelan and beyond to the high peaks. It doesn’t hurt that there are just about zero cars anywhere. We did part of loop one from the Chelan Century, but added a few climbs for good measure:

I might as well have been in Italy, because I still don’t know where I am going up in those hills, despite the fact that I have been up there a bunch of times. Without superb guiding from local knowledge guru’s Scott and Tim, many of us might still be up there!

Today I would see how I would fare with the Expert Route group, and I knew most of these riders were focused more on serious riding, and less on chit-chat. Despite that, there was tremendous camaraderie amongst the bunch. Coincidentally, it was my turn on the front just as we swung off and started the first climb up Boyd Road for 7 miles to Echo Lake Ski Area. There were about 17-20 people in the group. I focused on putting out a steady and solid effort, not sure of how many folks would "attack” at the bottom of the climb. In my little mirror, I saw people falling back, and after a short time it was just Jon and me. After 5 minutes or so of leading Jon up the hill, I asked him if he felt like taking a turn on the front. While Jon was

up there, Adam and Derek joined us. I then went back to the front, and ultimately it was just Adam and me, each of us quite content to be off the front and not testing each other.

After a fabulous descent, we started the next climb on Upper Joe Creek. This time it was Adam on the front, with me on his wheel. Once again, the two of us found ourselves riding along off the front. Adam tested me with a few little accelerations, and I dug in and held onto his wheel. After a few of these, I swung out and rode alongside Adam. Eventually, and about the same time, both of us seemed to realize that neither one of us wanted to kill ourselves trying to drop the other. As we chatted the rest of the way up the climb, other riders may have closed the gap a hair, but no one was near us at the top. Having ridden with Adam a fair amount on the HOWC, it was nice to get to know him a little better.

On the way back to Manson, we split into smaller groups and did some nice pacelining. I’m not sure how many people tested themselves on the very tough Union Valley optional climb. Coming as it did almost within eyesight of the motel, I thought it prudent to skip it, as the next climb would be McNeil Canyon in the morning. I have been up McNeil quite a few times so I knew what to expect, but many of our riders knew only of McNeil’s reputation as a fearsome climb.

We had a massage therapist with us in camp this year for the first time. I think Christina was probably more tired than any of the riders, as she was booked solid.

Sunday was the Queen Stage of camp, the crux section of riding being the roughly 6 mile climb to the Waterville Plateau via McNeil Canyon. All 33 riders were to tackle this one, and there were quite a few nervous riders, and not all of them were in the Challenge group:

The Expert Route would total about 70 miles with stops in Waterville for lunch, down Waterville Canyon back to the Columbia River, and the back from Orondo up the east side:

The Challenge Route took the riders for a rectangular tour of the Waterville Plateau after summiting McNeil. This would give these riders a chance to descend McNeil, something the Expert Group had done on Friday’s ride.

After riding out to McNeil with the front of the group, I waited at the start of the climb for people who had been riding in the Challenge Route group. Because McNeil Canyon is so hard, finishing with 2 miles at an average grade of over 10%, many riders were visibly apprehensive (for good reason!) as they started up the climb. My plan was to play cheerleader and coach on the climb. I had been rehearsing my lines, “Doing great! Looking good! Keep turning the pedals over!” I don’t know if my encouragement did any good, because after all everyone still had to push their own pedals. I did see a lot of smiles, which should be on the McNeil Endangered List for so few riders do this on the climb. I was mostly riding with individuals, as almost no one was trying to stay in a group on the climb. I’d ride a bit and then wait for the next person to come along.

After a while, I realized that the gaps between riders were much larger than I figured they would be, and I wound up waiting around for too long. I decided to do an about face with my tactic. I headed uphill and put my head down, riding pretty hard. I began catching people I had ridden with lower on the climb. Instead of pausing and riding along, I kept on going, giving encouragement as I went by. I must have pretty good fitness, because for the first time, McNeil felt like only a hard climb, and not like a really hard climb. I felt great on those two final very hard miles.

At the SAG stop on top, I joined up with the Expert Group, many of whom had started out together. A pretty brisk paceline soon took form and I settled in for the ride south to Waterville. Our initial group of 10-12 soon became 5-7, and once again, frequently it was just Adam and me riding by ourselves at the front. Just as the day before, I had great energy on the bike, something unusual for me, as I normally don’t recover well. Instead of the usual one DOB (Day off Bike) after a period of hard riding, this year I have been taking more blocks of 2-4 days of rest (much of the time weather imposed, I must admit). Perhaps this style of days of hard riding with a lot of rest is enabling me to recover better. If so, I look forward to my next long alpine tour!

At times, the pace would ease, and the group of us would find ourselves socializing in the MON (Middle of Nowhere) on the plateau without a car in sight (literally) for miles and miles. Whether we were riding hard or cooling our jets, it was fantastic riding and I was glad to be a part of a great group. At the Waterville lunch stop, we encountered Reg, who had started early and ridden 20 miles before McNeil. He would add a few more after we got back to Chelan to get his 100 in for the day. I wound up riding down Waterville Canyon with Reg, and then along the east side of the Columbia River back to Chelan from Orondo. That’s what is great about a cycling camp; one can find just about every combination of riding company out on the road. I’d done my “coaching” for the day, and seen enough paceline wheels. It was time to take it easy and ride side by side most of the way back to Chelan with a good friend.

Later on Sunday, we had our big group dinner at Vin du Lac. Larry raffled off bottles of wine, and Cycle U raffled off prizes, making sure that everybody got something. Nice!

On Monday, I offered to drive SAG so that both Craig and Mary could ride. Mary had worked tirelessly all weekend at camp, without getting a chance to ride with the group. I could tell that Mary really enjoyed herself on the ride. Driving SAG was fun, and I enjoyed it almost as much as riding.

The Expert Route was the Navarre loop, the same route I had

done with the Challenge Group on Friday. The Challenge Route was a very scenic out and back rolling route along the south lakeshore of Lake Chelan, all the way to where the road ends at Twenty-Five Mile State Park.

So far in 2012, I’ve done most of my hard riding on the mountain bike, and a fair amount of endurance riding on the road bike. It’s a combination that appears to be working well for me fitness-wise, and it’s a lot of fun to swap back and forth between road and mountain bike riding.

Now I just need to spend some of that hard riding mileage riding up some of my favorite timed climbs on Squak Mountain roads to see if I am actually going better than normal at this time of the year. I’m looking out my window at Squak right now, and later in the year we will be living on Squak Mountain in the house we are remodeling and building an addition onto. Maybe that will motivate me to get on up there, seeing as I won't have a choice!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Woo-Woo Chelan Camp is at 26 riders!

It's official. We are at 26 riders, so everybody gets the price break of $700. What a screaming deal this is! We're going to cap the camp at 35 riders, so if you want to make it to Chelan, sign up soon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2012 Cycle U Chelan Skills and Hills Camp

We are going to have a blast at Cycle U Chelan Camp from May 17th through May 21st:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Team High Performance Cycling Kick-off Meeting and Meet the Team Ride

This Saturday from 3-5 PM we have the annual Team HPC kick-off party at Cycle U in West Seattle:

The following day we have our first 2012 Meet the Team Ride:

Forget about Super Bowl weekend. It even looks like the weather will cooperate with our Team HPC weekend extravaganza!

I am the team's Cycle U Head Coach. I'm also a team co-manager, along with David Longdon. Check out David's blog post for more info and a photo of some of us in our team kit:

I hope to see you at the Kick-off and/or the Meet the Team Ride.