The Tour de France has always been about teamwork: André Leducq (2nd left), Charles Pélissier (Left), d’Antonin Magne (Centre). 1930. (AFP PHOTO)
Tour De France 2017 has come and gone with my personal favourite Chris Froome as a winner. I watched as much of the TV coverage of this tour as I could. It was nice to hear Ned Boulting’s voice commentating on ITV4 having climbed Mont Ventoux with him last year.
Anyway, as part of the commentary they were inviting former TDF cyclists who raced in the tour way back with the likes of Eddie Merckx and Tom Simpson.
I was sneakily listening to the race live at work (oh yes, I did) and they were answering questions that the audience was tweeting to them. Someone sent this one: Should they ban power meters and access to all data (available from the support team via the radio)? Wouldn’t it be better to go back to just pure racing, the more “romantic” notion of just racing by the feel?
What would your answer be as an outdoor cyclist? And if you were to answer from the perspective of an indoor cycling instructor – what would be your opinion?
I will tell you what the former pro said (don’t remember who that was). He said no. Even though he raced years ago before all this data was available, simply because having a power meter and data available does NOT make the race any easier.
I think whoever suggested the ban has never ever worked with power, experienced it or ever wanted place in a race.
Even if we only discussed indoor cycling, having a power meter (or even, low and behold, as my friend Caesar Russell calls them “power estimator”) has been a game changer for our riders whether they ride outside and train for an event or not.
Having data from an accurate power meter gives you a notion of where your fitness is. Working with your power zones, working on skills like speed, strength and endurance allows you to find your strengths and weaknesses giving your training direction. It can make it race specific. These values are measurable so on completion of a training program you retest and see if/how much you have progressed.
It does not make your classes or training programme easier to ride. It simply takes the guesswork out of the equation. Paired up with the heart rate monitor readings you can embark on a successful journey towards reaching your fitness goals. With data you are not riding blind. If you are underperforming or doing particularly well you look back at your data and you see the reason(s) why. You learn from it. You adapt.
Some may say that people have been cycling indoors for years with no data and still got results or that Tour de France riders rode for years without power meters and support team feeding them information via headphones.
That is true but technology advances in every area. Would you say people should still do the Tour on fixed gear bikes? That would definitely make the race harder…
If so much attention is put to creating lighter bikes, streamline the helmets & all the gear, why would you ban the data? These days even an average Joe Gym likes tracking his progress & recording their results. Outdoors we have Strava. Indoors we have various apps for different bike types.
On the last day of my recent holidays I decided to hire a bike. I told the hire place guy where I wanted to go, I showed him the route I found on the internet.
He proceeded to give me the heaviest bike in the shop.
I knew I was not going to be off road but I thought he had his reasons. I got on the road and got ready to put the Strava on when I realised it was a new phone and I had not downloaded it so I was going to do it old school just looking at the road signs. According to the one I was looking at, the place I was heading to was 44km away. Off I went.
Ok, it was Sardinia at 10:30am so around 26 degrees Celsius. About 15km in I started struggling. It was getting hotter and my bike felt like a motorcycle with pedals but all I had was the “romantic” notion of how my body felt. I had no RPM, no power or idea of the gradient. I stopped a couple of times to drink and refill my bottles thinking: why am I struggling so much? I know it’s hot but what is going on? I was aware I was climbing but I climbed much worse a gradient in the past when I had to stand or use a granny gear. Still it was a struggle and it was frustrating. It took me 2hours 45min.
When I got to my destination I found a lovely bar, had some Campari, loads of water and a sandwich.
I also had a chat with the guy at the bar telling him where I came from. He said: oh, you’re gonna love it on your way back! It’s all downhill! I was a bit sceptical as I distinctly remembered descending a few times and thinking it was going to be a challenge on my way back.
After 1.5 hours I got back on the bike. About 30 sec later I thought my thighs were on fire! Why?! Until I left the town and headed back. I was descending for 35km!!! I mean seriously?! What felt like descends on the way up, were just flats. The gradient may not have been high but it was constant.
Did the lack of data take anything away from my ride, you ask? No. But as I found it challenging, I wanted to know why. If it was nice and relaxing ride in the sun I probably wouldn’t care that much.
I think this very much applies to indoor cycling classes. You don’t enter a cycling studio for a nice and relaxing 45min. You go in to get a result and you want to know if and possibly how you got it.
If you like me teach indoor cycling on bikes with data like IC7 or Stages, you would not want to go back to the old Spinners or Technogym bikes with super heavy flywheel and no monitors. Data allows you to take your teaching and your riders to another level. It’s a natural progression. This is why I made a conscious choice and gave up all classes on the old skool bikes.
Then the other day I agreed to cover a class on a Sunday which is my rest day. I had asked what bikes the studio had as I decided if these were bikes with data, I would take the job. The answer was IC7 so off I went.
On arrival I was greeted by a studio full of Technogym bikes with 50% of monitors with their batteries dead. Still hoping I was at a wrong gym I messaged the instructor. “All bikes are the same” she wrote.
I beg to differ. Different bikes require different teaching styles, cues and often even playlists. I have been so spoiled by the new technology and I am so used to being able to say: “give me a flat road between 85-100RPM” without having to have a song to match the RPM, that most of my new playlists are not suitable for the no-data-feedback bikes.
Riding “blind” requires a different prep from the instructor and a lot of focus from the rider on just getting the speed or intensity we want them to be on as everything is guesswork. Does it mean that having a computer in front of their eyes makes those classes easier? Definitely not. It takes the pressure of thinking: “Am I 6 out of 10 or already 7 out of 10?” and allows them to fully focus on hitting a power zone target, or holding it or holding a specific RPM. It opens so many more possibilities like teaching cadence drills or power drills. Yes, I used to do them on old bikes, too, but they were not precise and you could never replicate them.
I would like to put this question out here: if you only ride indoors or teach indoors but never outside, would you prefer that power meters or any data monitors never entered the studio? Do you think they are only relevant to people who train for events? Have you experienced working with data as a rider or instructor? If you have, having a choice would you rather go back? If yes, why? Or maybe you have data available but decide not to use it in class? Why not? What would your answer be as an outdoor cyclist?