For several of my athletes, the Amgen Tour of California is a high-priority event on the 2016 race calendar.
Fortunately, based on their respective schedules, I was able to have Rohan Dennis and Michael Schär (BMC Racing) and Evelyn Stevens (Boels-Dohlman) all come to Boulder to do their final training and prep for the race with me, along with Boulder native and BMC teammate, Taylor Phinney.
As a coach of many elite athletes who live in difference places, it’s great to be able to get together in person with my athletes to help them prepare for a big event.
While it’s possible to write training plans and send workouts to motivated professional athletes who will do what is asked of them — and then analyze what they’ve done from a remote location — it’s always preferable to have your athletes there, in person, to check in with them every day during a block of training.
In 2008, after spending a couple of the months on the road helping Taylor Phinney prepare for the Beijing Olympics, I decided that that I needed to start having a training squad approach for the athletes I coached who live in Boulder.
I started out working with several of the triathletes that I coached by offering a weekly run workout on Tuesday mornings, and a bike session every Wednesday. Over the years, I’ve expanded the workout offerings and included swim sessions with coach Grant Holicky at RallySport and strength training sessions with Erin Carson of ECFit, as well as put in an indoor cycling studio and a supplemental oxygen system to provide sea-level intensity workouts for the APEX Coaching athletes that we work with.
In addition, I use a scooter for motor pacing — as well as for rolling support during longer training sessions.
I’ve had a lot of people ask what the value of motor pacing is, and why I would follow athletes on the scooter for hours on end. There are a few reasons for both.
I tend to use motorpacing sessions in the final week or two before an important race to help the rider get a feel for riding at speed, on the wheel, experiencing a variety of effort levels while maintaining a consistently faster pace than they would on their own.
What happens in training is that a rider will ride a relatively steady effort during their endurance training days that have very little variability in intensity. This is great for building general endurance, but there’s a much bigger swing in effort level required when riding a steady pace within a group of riders.
Motorpacing can be used to mimic this high variability in effort, while keeping a high pace.
I use a mix of one-on-one motor pacing, as well as small groups of riders rotating behind the motor, to improve rider skills and fitness. I’ll also play some games with the motor, letting riders in groups of one to three start in advance of the motor and then chase them down. Then, as I pass a group of riders, I’ll have them join on the back, rotating behind the motor.
In these motorchase efforts, the easiest effort is when you sit on the wheel of the scooter; as you rotate to the back the effort gets harder.
The screenshots below are from the same rider doing two different efforts both at an average of 40kph.
The first effort is a solo effort with relatively low variability (VI) and higher average power, with only a slight increase in normalized power (252 avg. watts, 260 NP, VI 1.03).
The second effort is from a motorpacing session sitting behind the motor. The average power is much lower, with a significantly higher normalized power, and the variability is much greater (221 avg. watts, 245 NP, VI 1.11).
I just used two sections of similarly paced efforts as an example; when motorpacing the average speed tends to be higher.
The other thing that I do is motor support during long rides. That enables me to carry extra jackets, food, and water, as well as spare wheels in case of flats, broken spokes, or some other catastrophic wheel problem out on the road.
I can say that it’s much more fun to be doing the leading in faster motorpacing sessions, but there’s value in the motor follow as well. First off, I get to see the kind of effort the rider is putting into the pedals.
In both cases, I also have a few head units mounted on the scooter to track the athletes power, heart rate, cadence, etc. But when I follow, I can also read their body language as they pedal, and evaluate their pedal stroke to see if they’re balanced, smooth, and symmetrical.
The worst part of the motor follow is when the weather turns wet and cold. Yes, I know that the riders are less comfortable when riding in cool and wet conditions, ut at least they’re pedaling and doing some work to produce heat!
On the motor, it’s just plain cold and wet. In early May, during a 140km session in the hills above Boulder, the clouds moved in and it started raining up at about 2500-3000 meters elevation. That day, I had on four layers of pants, and six layers of clothing on my torso. Even with heavy winter gloves, and full motorcycle helmet, I was fairly miserable for most of the ride.
But, most importantly I was there for Rohan, Evie, and Michael Schär for the ride, and helped them get the most of the training session. Time will tell whether the investments in time yield a benefit in California.
While in Boulder, Rohan did a TT-speific training session on the ergometer, which he often does even at home, or when there is nice weather. He repeated a workout he’d done in April, and we saw about a 5% increase in power across the series of intervals. That, to me, indicates a nice progression, with respect to bring the highest power he’s ever done on that interval set. So his TT is absolutely on target; he’s at capacity.
For Evie, she’s coming off a strong European race campaign, including her second-best result at Flèche Wallonne, where she was second. Her power and fitness are both at a high point coming into this. She’s had success at the Amgent Tourof California in the past, winning the invitational time trial last year. But she’s also had races that haven’t gone well, including the Folsom time trial, two years ago. She’s motiatvted for this race, and I think the TTT is going to be good; their Boels-Dolman team is strong. In Lake Tahoe, she will be at an advantage, having been at altitude in Boulder for two weeks. I think the Santa Rosa stage will be the big telltale.
Fortunately, I’ll be there to find out in person.
About the author
Neal Henderson wears several hats in cycling, all related to sports science. In addition to working with BMC Racing, and as a high-performance consultant for USA Cycling, he also runs his own coaching business, APEX Coaching & Consulting, in Boulder, Colorado. He’s coached athletes at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. Follow Neal on Twitter.