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Cycling Thu Jun 19 2008

Faster, Higher, Stronger (or Just Faster)

Today's New York Times Style section has on its front page, an article on competitive cycling, featuring Christian Vande Velde, a Chicagoland professional cyclist with Team Garmin-Chipotle Presented by H30, who I mentioned in a post several weeks ago. It's interesting to see cycling mentioned in a paper such as the Times, beyond the small sporadically-appearing box score on the last page of the sports section. I'm not sure if coverage such as this will serve to help professional cycling earn a spot on the front pages again in the Post-Lance era, but it certainly can't hurt.

Today's article titled "Faster, Higher, Stronger: An Olympic Cyclist’s Levelheaded Advice" is just that: pointers and tips on training to be faster on the bike, whether you're a Lakefront Path hero or a competitive racer. Cyclists so often fall victim to the technological arms race – we see on TV and in race coverage professional cyclists on $10,000, 14.9-lb. superbikes, and we believe that we need the same setup in order to ride well at speed.

Truth is, so long as the bike you're on was made within the past 10-15 years and is in good working order, it's likely your legs and lungs holding you back. However, new innovations such as on-the-bike powermeters do a bang-up job of getting your body in shape so that you can propel your bike along to the finish line first. Of course, if you're an elite athlete or you do time-trials or track events that require aero equipment, then your needs are different, but despite what you feel is necessary, a set of $3,000 Zipp wheels won't help you win a Cat. 5 crit.

That's why this article is such a breath of fresh air: the emphasis is on training and technique, not equipment (which most mainstream articles on cycling are so wont to do). The advice I liked best of all applies directly to us here in the flats of Chicagoland:

But if you live in a flat area, listen to local weather reports and note the direction of the wind. A strong head wind can simulate hill climbing, Mr. Vaughters said. “You need to push hard into the wind,” using “a big gear, for at least six minutes and no longer than 45 minutes” once or twice a week “to get the aerobic benefits of climbing big hills,” he said. (In recompense, you get a tail wind all the way home.)

I'll admit – before I arrived here in Chicago, I lived in southeastern Ohio, and rode and trained on steep and rolling terrain. However, whenever I go back to Ohio and ride with old teammates and friends, I climb better now than I ever had before. The effort of grinding into a Chicago wind takes an immense toll on your immediate sanity, but it pays off dividends in fitness. Any time the wind is blowing especially hard, get out and ride, go longer, go harder, and you'll notice the difference next time you're slogging up a hill or throwing your bike in the final yards of a field sprint.

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