Power output and physiology, straight from le Tour de France
Over the last few days, we've been covering the "on-road" action from the first week of the Tour de France. Immediately below this post, you can find our report from the first big GC-type stage, the 29km individual time-trial in Cholet, won (somewhat surprisingly) by Stefan Schumacher, who now wears the leader's yellow jersey.
The other big winner of the day was Cadel Evans, who ended with a one-minute lead over the man everyone sees as his big challenger, Alejandro Valverde.
However, apart from the racing action, our objective is to provide you with "behind the scenes" insight and analysis of the race, and there's no better place to start than to ask the question: "What does it actually take, physiologically, to ride in the Tour de France peloton?"
Introducing Training Peaks: The information of cycling
And to answer that question for the next 2 and a half weeks, rather than take it on ourselves to theorize and speculate, the best thing to do is simply to refer you to the following website:
Training Peaks Tour de France coverage and data
This site will, for the duration of the Tour, be putting up data from Adam Hansen, a Tour rider with the Team Columbia. The data include all those juicy bits of information that cyclists love so much, like power output and heart rate. So, if you simply refer to this site daily (while not forgetting to visit here, of course!), you'll be able to read up what Hansen's efforts have involved, as well as some insights from Hunter Allen on the data files. It makes for some fascinating reading, and is well worth bookmarking.
If you want to really get stuck into the raw data, you'll have to download a trial version of the software that is used to produce the graphs you can see. This is not a bad thing, because it will allow to see what other features are offered.
Innovation in sport technology and information
I was fortunate enough to visit Training Peaks earlier this year, during my time in Boulder, Colorada, where their head office is based. Boulder, for those who do not know, is something of a mecca for endurance sports in the USA, and so perhaps not surprisingly, it has developed into a hotbed of ideas, innovation and leadership in the sports. I was blown away by the culture of Boulder - the sheer number of athletes, coaches and sporting "communities" is fantastic, and it's a beautiful place too, with a vibrant university (and a strong exercise physiology course!) and some great opportunities. I certainly would put it high on my "desirable places to live list".
But of those innovators, the Training Peaks system must be one of the more impressive. At the time of my visit (early January), I was passing through on vacation, but decided that a great series to do would be one looking at the influence of technology on sport and training, and that was inspired by what I saw at Training Peaks. Thanks to work pressure and a busy year of sports happenings, that has never really materialized, though it is still on the cards (along with about a dozen other juicy topics!)
Getting back to technology, it certainly come a long way from the old heart rate monitors that sounded alarms when you went above your pre-set target zone!
And cycling, perhaps more than other sport, lends itself to data and information, and cyclists are often hungry for this kind of information. But then so are scientists - data is power, and for a scientist, there is no such thing as too much information! The trick is filtering out the redundant, losing the irrelevant and understanding the important information. The WKO+ software you would download to view the Tour de France files is designed to help with that, and they have a number of different packages available, some for the coach, some for the athlete (though of course, anyone can play these roles).
Information, technology and sport: Revolutionary tool or curse?
Whether or not this impacts on information is another question. I guess one has to bear in mind that any software or technology is the tool, not the solution, and so just as one would not expect a computer to perform spontaneous calculations, no one should reasonably expect training with the latest SRM technology and analytical software to compensate for faulty training!
But the point is, this kind of data is easily translated into information and knowledge, and this can, if used wisely, be a powerful tool for training, especially for cycling. Running lags behind somewhat in this regard, for some obvious reasons (relative inaccuracy in quantifying exercise intensity using heart rate or power output, for example) and some subtle ones (financial power of runners vs. cyclists in many parts of the world, for example, though this is a huge generalization; the desire to limit the influence of equipment on running performance is another).
But, even in running, the continual advances of technology (and I'm not talking about super-effective carbon fibre limbs here...!) make an impact, and Garmin GPS watches are become more and more common, for example. Eventually, running will reach where cycling is now.
Different perceptions of technology
I'm sure that many of you reading this use a range of technology in your training - heart rate monitors, GPS, power meters (take your pick of which one!), and the full range of programmes to analyse your training and racing performance. Equally, I suspect that many do not, and could not be bothered with all this information - you take the adage that Kenyan runners, for example, train without watches, let alone heart rate monitors, and it's hardly affected them!
But the role of technology in your training is pervasive and interesting. Books have been written, and will continue to be written, about how to make the most of the technology. An entire industry has shot up around how to use heart rate monitors, the result often being the propogation of myths and false theories that defy physiological belief! That's a series of "myth-buster" posts if ever there was one!
The Training Peaks Tour de France data is one example of how to gather data, process it and generate potentially useful information. It's the most comprehensive I've seen, but there are many others, and they certainly warrant discussion. But that is for another day, after this busy period of sports news is over.
Until then, we'll keep analysing the Tour, and probably referring back to the Training Peaks information from Adam Hansen for some context, so join us over the coming weeks!
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Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Power output and physiology, straight from le Tour de France