The State of Professional Cycling

There is plenty of commentary at the moment on the “state” of professional cycling. Folks don’t usually seem to refer to the current affairs as a “state” when it’s in a good way, so I guess it’s simple enough to say it’s in a bad way.

Just in the US teams have been folding, some of our best riders are struggling to find jobs, it takes a bit of the fun out of it. People are frustrated, angry, confused. I don’t know if it is necessarily confusing - I am not sure that sponsors of domestic cycling teams get much in terms of any return on investment. Sponsorship at least on the domestic level probably does not really make sense regarding return on investment, it comes down to enthusiasm and philanthropy. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but a thing that in my opinion needs to be realized and embraced. I don’t want to get too far down that road though as there is plenty of opinion and commentary out there, and in no way do I feel I’m an authority to speak on it.

More to me, the message is - do people want to be involved in professional cycling, despite the “state”. Yesterday I was catching up with an athlete over coffee, reviewing this past season and getting ready to set off in pursuit of the 2019 season. This athlete is right in the eye of the storm, riding for a UCI continental team registered in the US. In many ways he is one of the lucky ones, to have a spot with a professional team in a year when a lot of guys with gorgeous resumes are struggling to find jobs. He is lucky in one sense, but he is also seeing his friends, his peers, folks that he respects and have invested massively in cycling - he’s seeing those folks get totally forced out of cycling. A lot of guys are not racing in 2019, and it’s not for lack of want, or desire - it’s for lack of opportunity. I suppose this is the “state” of professional cycling in the US, it is lacking opportunity. Now, perhaps that is a greedy perspective to have - to say that it is lacking opportunity when we have a U23 team that is taking U23 riders and giving the opportunity to do a World Tour race, and we have two “domestic” races where continental teams can go up against World Tour teams (UT and CO), well that does not really sound like lacking opportunity. So perhaps it is greedy (trying to avoid a “greed is good” reference here). Back to the point though - despite being one of the “lucky ones”, how does one get motivated to put so much time and energy into a sport, that he sees essentially “abandoning” his peers who he feels have invested as much or more. It feels unjust, and one does not necessarily want to feed that machine. It was interesting, and refreshing to hear this perspective - this perspective that people are not just blood hungry and out to push their peers down to grab the spots available, but they want to see all succeed. Unfortunately, the sentiment of “there’s plenty to go around” does not really exist at the moment.

We need more teams, we need more races. Maybe we need more races first, for more teams to happen. I certainly do not have an answer, and if I did have an answer I don’t have the power to put it into play. However, it is interesting (and certainly an easy conversation to find at the moment) to speculate on it. The point I’d bring up on the contrary is - we still do have some of the highest performing teams we have ever had. We have teams that are growing, and competing on higher platforms than they ever have before. We are seeing US riders that have been grinding away for 10 years starting to break out into huge results and in Europe. There are more US riders in the World Tour in the past few years than there have ever been. It may not always look shiny from the outside - but my cliche’d “call to arms” would be that if folks enjoy cycling, stay with it. Don’t get bitter, don’t get cynical - stay with the sport - find a way you can make it better. What cycling may need now more than anything, is simply people, engagement - if folks care about cycling, don’t walk away now!

Thanks for reading the rantings and ravings.

Adventure Time!

Just because the summer racing season is over, doesn’t mean all the fun is over.  In fact, this has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  Racing is over, fitness is high, and the Fall weather is keeping things cool and crisp. All of this adds up to be the perfect recipe for an adventure ride. 

The adventure ride is unique in that each person will have their own interpretation.  At its essence though, the adventure ride is about losing the training structure, pushing yourself, and having fun. 

For most of the year, we’ll tell you that structured training rides are the key to maximizing your fitness gains.  This is one of those times in which that’s not the case.  After a long season of racing, the mind (and body) need a break.  Before taking time off the bike though, it’s a great time to take a step back and just get back to what got you into cycling in the first place.  To keep the ride unstructured, ignore all of your usual data numbers – power, heart rate, and even time.  Instead of looking at numbers, look around you and take it all in

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A good adventure ride should also push your limits.  Plan a ride that’s longer than what you normally do.  Plan a ride which involves more climbing than you normally do.  Maybe plan a ride with both more miles and climbing than usual.  The goal here isn’t training.  Instead, it’s about finishing a ride you weren’t quite sure was feasible.  A good adventure has to test your limits…

The most important part of a good adventure ride is to have fun.  This is where you get to make the ride unique to you.  You can stick to the paved roads.  You can explore some dirt roads.  You can make it a point-to-point destination ride.  You can make it a loop out to your favorite donut shop in the next city.  The possibilities are endless!

Recruiting friends for the adventure adds to the fun.  As you’re pushing your limits, it’s great to have friends around to help you get through it (we at Catalyst have had our fair share of rides with severe bonking and reliance of friends to pull us all the way home).  Friends can also liven up the miles.  If it gets too lively and the conversation won’t move on from a dumb mistake you made during the season, drop them on the next climb.  It’s all in the name of fun!

Last but not least, you must end an adventure ride by treating yourself.  Following up the ride with a treat is just another way to give yourself a good mental break.  If you’ve done it right, you should’ve worked up an appetite and can treat yourself to a big meal.  You’ll likely spend a significant amount of time riding and thinking about what you’ll eat after the ride, but if you need inspiration, a good burrito has always been one of our favorites.    Thanks for reading!

Blake's Big Day Out - The Kokopelli 140

I recently lined up and raced on the Kokopelli Trail. The race started at midnight in Fruita Colorado and ended in Moab Utah. The race covers around 142 miles and around 14000 feet of elevation gain. Terrain wise the trail covers most of the different types of topography mountain biking has to offer. This, coupled with being forced to ride through the night guarantees AT LEAST 12 to 13 hours in the saddle. It is a unique challenge and took an extensive amount of preparation and mental fortitude. Nate kindly asked me to share my thoughts on the experience, and below is a basic run down of how I prepared and how the race itself went. 

BASIC PREPARATION

This was all about getting miles in the saddle! During the whole season I was training for more explosive efforts as well as coming back from 5 months on the trainer due to injury, so a lot of time was spent trying to get old numbers back. I am sure everyone reading this has done interval sets and races etc, so I’m assuming you can imagine what this type of training looks like. However, due to the longevity of this event, once a week or so we would be looking at getting in a 6 plus hour day in on the mountain bike. We really wanted to focus on getting in a consistent effort and finding my race rhythm. But more importantly we wanted to train my gut to handle the effort while digesting enough food to keep the wheels spinning. I knew that the race was going to be somewhere between 12 hours (this would have been a new record, so probably a lot longer for me) and 19 hours (if you are over 19 hours in finishing time you are picked up from the course and kindly asked to stop pedaling). The only way you can keep up an effort this long is to feed the body! So what you are looking at here is about 1 gel or some sort of food every 45 minutes, and about 26 ounces of fluid every hour. At first sticking to this regime made me feel bloated and like I wanted to vomit all over the trails I was on. Eventually though, your body gets used to it and you can start to tell you are finishing off big days feeling fresh. More importantly though I really enjoyed the big rides! As mentioned earlier I was chasing fitness all season, and it was nice to always have a goal that wasn’t as top end based. It was a great mental break to be able to go out and feel like you had more control of your effort and weren’t coming up short all the time. It was really good for me mentally and to feel like I was progressing. The importance of feeling progress cannot be overstated.

DESCENDING TIRED

There are a lot of runs on this course that are actually quite technical. At the best of times I am quite the squirrelly descender. My lines are all over the place and I probably didn’t set up that huck correctly. Once you are tired enough, you can always expect to descend more poorly than you usually do. A lot of people in the Rockies can brap brap endur-bro down the gnarliest of sections, but I am willing to bet they start to make mistakes when they are so redlined they can taste blood in their mouth and can’t feel their arms. Descending completely blown is a unique skill.  We knew I had a lot of work to do on this and still do. Racing is the best training for these efforts, however I didn’t have enough time off work to get to a lot of them. Nate designed a workout for me (or I’m pretty sure he has multiple athletes doing this) where I rode up some of a climb at tempo for the first 5 minutes or so, ratcheted it up to LT the last several minutes, and then threw myself down a technical descent. We would loop this 3-4 times. This effort was a lifesaver and really helped me with my handling skills. It was the only reason I could find flow 100 miles plus into the race.

EQUIPMENT

First and foremost the Kokopelli Trail is around 144 miles of jeep road, double track, single track, forest road, slick rock, and sand. It’s constantly changing and a bit tiring to tell where the trail actually is. The trail is fairly well marked if you are taking your time, however if you are trying to make good time and or racing at night, it’s extremely difficult to stay on course. Because of this riding with the course map downloaded to your head unit was a huge tool. Having turn-by-turn directions the whole way is pretty much the only way to go, and in fact you weren’t allowed to start the race without it. Because the necessity of having navigation requires a lot of battery, I electrical taped a shock proof and water resistant external battery to my stem. At about 12 hours into the race I was able to plug my head unit into it and keep using it. I also brought a spare pack in my hydration pack as well. That way I had two ready to go if needed. As mentioned above, the race started at midnight. I ended up running a light on my handlebars and a light on my helmet, both set at 250 lumens. Both lights were rated for much higher settings, however I needed them to last around 6 hours. Setting them at 250 lumens was my best chance at having light the whole night. They both still ran out and my original plan was to plug my handle bar light into an external battery at around 6 AM. I did do this, however I found out that you couldn’t charge and use this particular light at the same time, so I was stuck floundering and descending gingerly at dawn. This is something I need to figure out if I race again next year. Other than that I rode with a 1.5-liter hydration pack stuffed with a few things other than water. Most important of which were pliers and a quick link for my chain. Believe me, the last thing you want to do in this race is walk 20 miles to the next aid station alone and in the desert. I also prepared a drop bag that I would get handed to me around the 110-mile mark. This was filled with extra food, lube for my chain (Moab is dusty folks!), and sun block to reapply.

KOKOPELLI 140

Race start was 12 AM in downtown Fruita Colorado. There were around 20 or more of us lined up to race the entire race solo, and around twenty or more people there to race the trail as a relay. The start was supposed to be neutral but as most races go, it got heated pretty quickly. A local really wanted to throw down and a hand full of others really wanted to clear the first section of trails as quickly and easily as possible. The best way to do this is to follow someone who knows the lines, especially when it is pitch black outside. The first two sections of the trail are Mary’s Loop and Troy Built. These trails are fairly rocky and a bit technical here and there, again, especially at night. You basically meander around the cliffs of a valley and do a bit of climbing. The trail is dangerously close to cliffs that would be fatal if you fell off of them. It was a unique experience riding at night knowing the pitch black to your left or right was expansive nothingness with a river down below you. It was definitely a trip. After a few pedal strikes and boggles I settled into the second group. This group sort of splintered in a more technical section and then reformed and splintered again over and over again. Complete with stops along the way to check our GPS devices to make sure we were going the right way. Myself and two other guys eventually lost contact with some better bike handlers, and then eventually dropped a few others to ride into the 40-mile marker at 9th, 10th, and 11th. During this section I was hyper diligent to get a gel every 45 minutes and chug water and NUUN like it was going out of style. I also ate an entire pro bar each aid station, so roughly every twenty miles. I also refilled the two bottles I was carrying and the hydration pack at each station. This trend would continue. After the 40-mile section my group of three was riding through the easiest part of the course. Mostly paved or dirt roads and very little climbing. I decided that we were going too slow and kept telling myself that this was free speed. We were wasting time if we didn’t pick up the pace. I decided to pick up the pace and drop them. I never really saw either again except for briefly on the next single track section when I was struggling with my lights. One of them yelled at me and asked how it was going, I said “well” and that was the last I heard of him. Miles 50 – 100 were pretty un-eventful. I got lost a few times and chugged fluids. I was clearing everything competently but not necessarily crazy fast.  Just riding around mostly. At around mile 100 there is an aid station right before a 20-minute climb and some tech. It is at the Dewey Bridge section if you are familiar. You more or less start making your way up the La Sal Mountains and descend a bunch of super chunky jeep road. So chunky that you are forced to walk in a few sections. At this point in the race I got a bit greedy. I spent very little time at the aid station and threw in a bit of digger on the first climb. I rode from around 9th to 5th on the climb, cleared two descents and some hike a bike, and on the next technical climb all hell broke loose in the legs. I hadn’t left enough gas in the tank to clear the technical climbing of the next section. These climbs weren’t crazy difficult, its just that I had no matches to pull up on ledges anymore. I started cramping everywhere and I had to take several walking breaks to keep the quads and calves from quivering. I ended up going so slow I lost all the spots I had made up. My lesson was learned though. Slow your roll when you already have a hundred miles in your legs. It was also in the mid 90’s at this point in time, so there wasn’t any coming back from dehydration if you already messed it up. My goal for the next 30 miles or so was to just keep moving, manage the cramping, and stay hydrated. I eventually hit a point when I was gagging on dry foods. So it was fluid based energy the last several hours. I also kept up the mantra of “Free Speed”. Every time I hit some down hill or a power section, I would remind myself that these were the easy sections and I needed to relax and keep the pressure on. It was a huge mental chore to stay that positive, but at this point I think it was the only thing that was going to work. My body wasn’t going to magically feel good anytime soon. I eventually finished the race in 7th place at 16 hours and 56 minutes. The winner came in at 14 hours and 29 minutes, and the last finisher was 15th at 19 hours and 31 minutes. These times really put the effort in perspective I feel.

AFTER THE RACE

The race was definitely the most mentally and physically taxing thing I have ever done. I had a few mistakes and a few mechanicals and it was extremely difficult to stay positive the whole time, but I think forcing yourself to keep going in an event like this really helps you manage stress and take things as they come. If the race is 140 miles long things are guaranteed to go wrong. It’s a lot like life in general really. If you are alive for 90 years I’m sure not all of it will go swimmingly. I also think this race presents a unique challenge from a racers perspective, you are forced to make decisions on where it is logical to ride harder to clear sections and where you might want to slow up a bit to make the next actual mountain bike section palatable. It begins to be a lot more tactful than some other endurance events that don’t have as challenging terrain. Other than that, the legs ended up being ok after a day of rest and some foam rolling. The only body problems I had afterwards were some almost jet lag like feelings from being awake for over 24 hours. But anyway, the race is a total blast and you should put it on the bucket list. If you have actually made it this far and through my rambling, thanks for reading!

Best of Rides,

Blake Romine

A Couple of Solid Days on the Trails

At the end of July, Sam Dolzani strung together some big rides split by two weeks. First up was the Laramie Enduro on July 28th, where he took the win. Second was the Steamboat Stinger on August 11th, where he took fourth. What we’ve got here is two days, in relatively close proximity (in the scope of the whole season), of similar effort and both strong performances. We thought it might be interesting to line up the data next to each other, see the similarities and differences, and talk a bit about how we bridged the gap between the two races to keep the engine running hot.

Let’s jump into the data dump!

Laramie Enduro – July 28th – 1st

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  • On race day, CTL of 89, ATL of 117, TSB of 0.

  • Average elevation of 2562m, maximum elevation of 2700m – so there were never any moments of being significantly high and significantly low, within the day.

  • 4:55 race time, 233w average, 277w normalized power, 4113 kJ, 1.19VI.

  • Peak 20min was 298NP, peak 2hour was 296NP.

  • 32 min was spent at 370-450 watts, 17min  was spent over 450 watts.

First thing that jumps out from this is how close the peak 20min and peak 2hour normalized powers were. The peak 20min is relative low, considering Sam’s 20min PR for the year is 370w. However you can see he hardly backs off the pace at all, as the peak 2hour was nearly the same NP. It just shows how much this race came down to not necessarily being super strong at one given moment, but being really constant through the day. Let’s keep that on the back burner for now.

Overall the data is pretty reflective of what we see a lot of times from these endurance MTB races - +/- 1.2 VI, fairly constant effort, and still a large volume of high intensity moments. 17 min total through the day at 450+ watts, shows that these aren’t strictly low intensity affairs. The file might show a pretty sub-max effort on the average, but a closer look shows that the nature of riding trail dictates frequent moments of high intensity – they might be short, but they amount to a significant toll and need to be prepared for.

Steamboat Stinger – August 11th – 4th

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  • On race day CTL of 90, ATL 108, TSB of +8.

  • Average elevation of 2189m, maximum of 2381m (similar, tight band to Laramie).

  • 4:14 race time, 232w average, 279w normalized power, 3524 kJ, 1.2 VI.

  • Peak 20min 344NP, peak 2h 298NP.

  • 30min spent at 370-450w, 13min spent at 450+ watts.

So in a lot of ways these races are really similar, near identical average and normalized power – which then translates to a pretty similar rate of work. That said, this race had a bit more polarization in terms of the moments of hard work – that really shows up in the gap between the peak 20min at peak 2h powers. At Laramie there was hardly any gap, so the effort was pretty constant, one 20min chunk may have looked pretty similar to another 20min chunk. However here, we have a peak 20min of 344 NP and a peak 2h of 298NP, so a much more significant gap. What’s the cause there? Simply terrain. Both are quite hilly courses, but Laramie was pretty constantly oscillating up and down, so the moments of sustained effort were short, and didn’t amount to a significant difference among 20min segments. However, the Stinger course is really broken down into 2x 30min climbs, each lap – times two laps. So rather than pretty constant effort throughout, Sam had 20-30 min chunks of high power, followed by 20-30 min chunks of relatively low power. An interesting note is that while power was pretty polarized, HR would have stayed relatively constant. Descending on the MTB ain’t necessarily recovery! HR can be a much better measure of the internal metabolic stress through the day because of this, compared to just looking at the mechanical (power) output kilojoules.

Bridging the Gap

Two races, two weeks apart, two pretty similar performances by the numbers, simple right? Well, not necessarily, consistency is something we’re often chasing as athletes and coaches – and it can prove pretty damn elusive. So it actually feels pretty good to catch it, even if just for a short period.

What did we do between the two races, to keep the form, and also the mental capacity to go to the well? CTL was near identical, which shows that we didn’t have any huge drop in the workload of training – Sam was still putting in some real effort.

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Here’s the two weeks between Laramie and Stinger. Sam had four days of proper effort in the period (not counting Stinger), and the rest was simply time on the bike with two purposes – general endurance without thinking about it, and true recovery. It may seem like between two big races, racing more is the last thing we’d want Sam to do. However, this period was all about keeping the intensity familiar, keeping the fitness up, but without going to the well too much mentally. Sam really enjoys racing, so by jumping into a couple races that he doesn’t have much pressure on he keep the fitness up, without dragging himself through a set of intervals on his own. So we had him race the weeknight short track, and the local XC race – these totally served the purpose. That said, this is where it does really come down to athlete individuality in our opinion. If the goal is to be fit, but also fresh mentally – one athlete may feel a lot more drag and strain doing a workout, so racing is a good choice for them, while another athlete may feel that a race just really wears them out with the competition, the travel, and the maximum effort – doing a workout that hits the same physical goal is probably a better choice for that athlete.

Now is the time for the clever rhetoric and the bow out. Mic drop. Thanks for reading!

A Few Minutes with Kegga G

This week we're diving into a Q and A with one of our athletes, Keegan Swirbul. Keegan is hot off a 7th on GC at the Tour of Utah. A result we're proud of and worked for, but also maybe the tip of the iceberg. Read on for more...

Q: You were just 7th on GC at Utah, highlighted by a 5th place on the final day. Can you walk us through that ride a bit? How did you feel? 

A: Yes!! a big result for me i was hyped! So for me the week for me was about battling the heat. It has been something that I have been hurt by in the past so it was about trying to manage it with cold water and various other tricks I learned that helped me not crumble as much. Other than that, I tried to just take the race day by day and really just hope and pray that I didn't have a melt down or a bad day on one of the important GC days. Sadly, I believe my worst day of the the race was the queen stage but I managed to come back strong on the last day where we raced up Empire pass and I ended up feeling strong that day riding to 5th and moving up a few spots on GC. 

Q: Nutritionally, what did that day look like for you? Start at dinner the night prior and walk us through a bit. I feel nutrition is something I always hammer my athletes about, where do you feel you fit into that?

A: Deffo my strategy was to, if anything, over eat a bit during the race. I believe now, (after years of doing otherwise) that its better to be a pound or two heavier from eating more than it is to be super light but weaker and perhaps not recovering adequately. But that said, I really didn't make any extreme changes. Eat healthy, and just pound carbs for max wattz. 

Q: So in many ways UT was a bit of a breakthrough ride, but in all honesty what did it mean for you, and how did it compare to what you feel you may be capable of down the road? As a U23 you came onto the scene and everyone pretty much flipped about how you'd be the next golden boy - and in some ways it sort of turned into a comedy of errors or mishaps or what have you that didn't quite evolve that way. What are your thoughts on your development over the past few years, and what may still be to come in the future? How did you stay motivated through some of the hard patches - like knee surgery in 2016?

A: Yesss Utah was deff a breakthrough for me! Its a bit crazy looking back at it now as I write this. Im pretty proud of my ride there especially with the depth of climbing talent there and the course this year being a pure test of strength without much of a tactical aspect. But yea for sure it means an unexplainable amount to me to finally put something together and to do it on the biggest stage that I have ever raced on makes it even more special. I totally realize that this is only just one silly result and in the grand scheme of things, it means little but I really don't think many people besides my family, and you (COACH NATE) know some of the things I have been through to get there. No doubt I have always believed that I have the capacity to do such a result. There have been times in training and whatnot where I feel really good and I think to myself 'damn if only I were in a race right now I'd turn some heads'. Its just been about trying to suffer through all the set backs and problems and basically just not quit when yet another thing went wrong. I don't mean to make it sound like some sob story because my life is gravy compared to many others, but I am deff proud that I stuck it out. There were certainly heaps of moments where I genuinely believed that there was some force out there that was just not going to allow me to be a pro cyclist even though I want it more than anything. Hopefully this result is just the start. I am very ambitious and I really believe that I have a lot of room to grow. I don't mean to brag, but I was climbing in Utah with some guys who are making a lot of money and have done heaps more hard racing than I have. I like to think that doing these tough AF WT stage races makes you a hell of a lot stronger. Its hard to say. But I pray that someday I find myself on a top team that does those races and maybe I will get stronger from it. who knows! 

Q: Back to UT a bit, in your perspective what did we focus on in training that paid off? A lot of guys get really focused on the details of training. Would you say in some ways that for yourself we've seen that training is important, but important in the sense that maybe the strict efforts each day don't matter as much as building to the point where you're healthy and have the resiliency to handle consistent load - and the composition is in some ways less critical?

A: Yea you nailed it. We have found out these past few months that if I am a) healthy and b) have a few weeks of consistent bike riding in my legs, I can ride at a high level. Leading up to Utah we finally had a solid run of 4-5 weeks where everything went smoothly and it was visible in my riding at Utah. Earlier this year I had a few strange bouts of illnesses and vitamin deficiencies that really never allowed me to train properly for more than a week or two so I was awful and inconsistent.

Q: You're a pretty Colorado boy through and through - what are your three favorite rides in Colorado?

A: Deffo CO to the end!! Favorite ride is no doubt riding up old fall river road in RMNP. Second, Id say its riding anywhere in Evergreen area. INSANE roads around that area!! 3rd im gonna say riding in the Colorado national monument in Grand Junction.

Q: So you've just finished a big day of training, you're going out to eat to satisfy the cravings - where are you going? It can't be Chipotle.

A: No doubt a straight shot right to Little Cesaers Pizza. Cheap AF and heaps of cheese!

Q: Top three songs at the moment?

A: Hmmmm yikes I honestly have no idea really what songs I listen to. I just find them and they are on my ipod.

Q: What is your favorite race you've done? What about your favorite teammate?

A: Fav race is Giro Valle d Aosta. still gives me chills thinking about racing up climbs in the Alps! Fav teammate is deff my good buddy Cormac Mcgeough. He is no doubt one of my favorite people and just an incredible teammate. He Always goes the extra mile for me and I owe him a lot for his help in Utah this year especially. 

Q: Do you follow any sports other than cycling? What do you think about running? What about uphill running - do you think you could be good at it? 

A: I follow XC skiing as that use to be my sport. other than that, not really. But yes i do love me a good uphill running race! no technique, all just hammering!!! 

Q: Open forum shout out to the homies - go:

A: #JBSWAG