02 Jun 2017

Managing pacing/intensity using power during long flat rides.

Or How to Pace the Tour of Cambridgeshire.

***UPDATED FOR 2018***

By long, I mean 70 miles or more.

Information from Joe Friel at Training peaks, who analysed the data, tells us that elite athletes are able to hold 82% of their ftp for the duration of an ironman bike leg(the winner of  Kona, the Ironman World Champs, but 2 others, who shared their data, in the top 10 also held around 80% ftp) . To use this data, we must assume the following. 1) that their ftp was accurate and up to date 2) that they were fully fit and on their game and 3) that they were holding a little back for the marathon after the bike leg.

Simon Ward (thetriathloncoach.com) has calculated that well trained ordinary mortals can work on holding average power of around 75%ftp over 100miles (or 112miles)  This calculation works best on a flattish course, if the course is very hilly then looking at/ comparing normalised power (which takes into account the elevation) is going to be more helpful.

Some pointers that may be helpful.

  • this is only as accurate as your latest ftp test. If your most recent test was more than 4 weeks ago and you have been training consistently/ had some time out, then either scenario may have altered your ftp.
  • You need to be on your game to manage this- if you have been unwell, or injured, or have not trained consistently for any number of reasons over the preceding weeks you may need to choose a more conservative average power %ftp to aim for.
  • it may well be possible to hold higher average power, as in a sportive you do not need to save anything for the run! I have analysed a number of clients data from similar events (including TOC last year) and most people have managed to hold 85-90%ftp. ( one exceptional 93%… but that was exceptional, and perhaps more of an indication of a too low ftp than elite status) This is well above the levels in the studies above, and is probably indicative that people need to do a threshold test in the week before the event, so it is accurate. It could also demonstrate that my clients underperform in FTP tests !!
  • keeping the ride as smooth as possible, with as few spikes up into high power outputs, ie sprinting to get back on a group, powering up a hill or riding with a group that is going a little hard for you. These situations will use your matches, and mean that you wont be able to maintain as high an average power for as long.
  • if you go all out from the gun, at 120% ftp you will have a power curve that looks like a slide, and it will almost certainly mean that you are limping along by the end.
  • You will need to manage nutrition and hydration to maintain this intensity. Cramping is very real risk if you are prone.

How to manage this during the ride.

Keep an eye on 3 power readings.. Actual power ( smoothed to 3secs) %ftp and lap power.

All 3 will fluctuate- but be very wary if the 3rd one- lap power, is more than 20w above your 85%ftp number, particularly in the first half of the ride. It means that the second half is going to feel much harder to maintain that average. If you can hold back just a little bit in the first half, and feel great at the halfway point, then pushing on a bit harder, passing lots of people who went out far too hard, will net you a far better overall result.

If you are working in a group ( recommended) then you will have a higher power output when you are doing your turn on the front, and a lower output when you have shelter and recovery when you are in the group or behind. This is correct, and will allow you to pull harder for longer and more times when you are on the front., but again be wary of pulling along a group at 120%ftp- you may end up getting dropped by them once you have done a few good turns. ( keep an eye on that lap power to know how many matches you have used)

Most importantly, if you are riding a fast competitive long flat ride, keep the pace constant, your smile large and enjoy yourself! It is why we do this bike riding thing!