Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Most riders have something they feel is their strong point. Even if they don't, riding partners will still attribute something to them as their strength. We all have things we suck at too. The differences in strengths among guys I ride with have become quite apparent in the last couple weeks.

Today, Steve Gauthier, Dave Penney and I went out for a lunch ride. We didn't really have any plan for this ride, not even a route. Steve had his fixed gear and wanted a little intensity. Dave did some intensity yesterday. I was still reeling from 9hrs of racing and riding my MTB over the holiday. See where this is going yet?

The last time the three of us got together for a mid week lunch ride, we averaged 24mph. That included hills and a lot of stop lights. These rides can best be described as fartlek. Attacks from stop lights, sprints over small hills, killer pulls and bits of recovery here and there. One of my lunch ride trademarks is to string Steve and Dave out up a modest hill at very high intensity, then not let up on the power over the top. Even though my power doesn't change, the other two are not expecting a dramatic acceleration over the top. Then I relinquish the pull. I get paid back for it though.

Steve is the sprint specialist. I wouldn't be surprised if he could peak upwards of 2000W on his track bike. He is all Type-II (fast twitch) muscle fiber. On an equal basis (fresh legs), he'll gap me in humiliating fashion in anything under a minute. Anything over a couple minutes, well, he tries at least. What is most impressive is how quickly Steve's ATP battery recharges. It only takes a minute or two, and he can unleash another explosive rip-your-legs off 10 second burst. Perfect for crits, as long as he doesn't stay up front too long. His specialty is the track, where most events are very short. The only way I have the remotest chance at taking Steve in a short effort like this is to work him over good on a few big hills first, like 600ft Chestnut Hill.

Dave is the endurance specialist. Dave doesn't have the explosive power of a sprinter. Rather, he is more like a diesel. If an event goes more than several hours, few riders I know can hang with him. Dave has proven this time and again on our 6-Gaps rides. More recently, Dave unleashed his slow fury on me at the D2R2 ride. Results show he was second fastest rider completing the 112 mile route in 8:07 total elapsed time. Interestingly, he started at 6:15am, 15 minutes behind main group, yet caught us in about 75 minutes. He must have hammered. Our pack was not poking along. Towards the end of the ride, I could tell Dave was bored with my pathetic pace. He was just getting warmed up. I was a cooked krispy kritter. Dave must have both very high cycling economy (efficient calories to kilojoules conversion) and well adapted ability to burn fat during endurance events. He should really get into 24hr racing.

So then there's me. I have neither sprint legs nor all-day endurance. I have something in between. My sweet spot falls somewhere in the 5 to 60 minute range. I surmise I have developed good ability to both process and tolerate very high levels of lactic acid. Having a very high tested VOmax helps. My mother, who does not regularly exercise but cross country skis in the winter, readily outskis others that are younger and try to stay more fit. The genetic code for mitochondria are encoded on the X chromosome we inherit from our mother. Perhaps my mother is genetically blessed with copious mitochondria in her muscle tissues, and I inherited this from her. Mitochondria combusts glycogen and oxygen to make ATP, which in turn fuels muscle fiber contraction. Because my aerobic power production is quite high and my weight moderate, I'm a decent climber. In fact, climbing is really the only thing I don't suck at. I may have to give time-trialing a try though. I might find I don't suck at that too.

So now for the quiz. Can you match the riders to power vs. duration profiles in the graph? Of course you can. Steve is the blue line, kicking everybody's butt in the short distance. Dave is the red line, starts low, but drops slowly, and after 8 hours he is not loosing any power. I didn't plot Steve out to 8hrs, as I'm pretty sure he's never ridden that long. I'm green in between Steve and Dave to start, then pop out on top in my sweet 5-60 minute zone, then fall back in between Dave and Steve again after 3hrs, except now Dave is on top.

It is amazing that we can ride together at lunch at all, given the disparities in our abilities. But somehow we know each others strengths and weaknesses to a tee and we play off them. Wicked fun.


Mookie said...
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Mookie said...

Thought provoking, Doug. I've always found the different physiological mechanisms that drive each of us quite interesting. If biopsies were done on each of your legs, I would guess that Steve's fiber makeup is predominantly Type IIb, yours Type IIa, and Dave's Type I. I've read that Type IIa fibers can be influenced to a degree through training as they can function via aerobic AND anaerobic pathways. It seems to make sense seeing that you say you perform best between 5 minutes and an hour. Endurance training affects the proliferation of mitochondria and capillaries within these fibers. There have been biopsies done on seasoned endurance athletes that show a very low percentage of IIb fibers compared to IIa to support this theory. Type I fibers seem (at least from what I've come across) entirely genetic. Dave, more than likely predominant Type I, has a tremendous ability to regenerate ATP via Fatty Acid Oxidation and can seemingly ride forever (witnessed firsthand at D2R2) because of this.

There is also a neuronal component to consider. If while riding, one can recruit motor units that innervate more efficient muscle fibers for the particular activity (i.e. sprinting or long distance riding), the greater the efficacy, no? What if with specific training you could recruit a greater degree of motor units in a particular muscle group, resulting in a higher peak power? Or on the flip side, what if on a long endurance ride you were able to tap into the more aerobic Type I fibers?

I understand the genetic component, but I guess the question is how often are we training a particular energy system (i.e. Dave doing 20-30 sec. sprints or Steve doing 6 hour endurance rides) that lies outside the realm of our strengths? Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

It would have been nice if you had integrated the power to come up with a cumulative kWh versus time.

Hill Junkie said...

Alex - lots for me to read up on. Thanks.

Anonymous - you mean like this? You can't really just integrate the curves, as these powers are usually given as Critical Powers. That is, it is the steady state power you can hold for that duration, not like a Wingate test where you start as hard as you can go and measure how it drops over time. Thus each power is a separate TT of that duration. Of course, I swagged the plots based on bits and pieces of info I have on each of us from doing climbs or training on a trainer. As expected, Dave comes out well on top. Steve would come out better if he did a 6 or 7 hour ride with us sometime.