First 3 months activity

Although it was the Tour De France in July and a holiday in France in August that got me back on my turbo and bike, it was really September when I started to take it a bit more seriously. I had been about 17 stone 5 at the beginning of July but down to nearer 17 stone at the end of August and this modest progress was an important part of my motivation to step things up a bit. By the end of this 3 months I am down to 15 stone 10 lbs. This is a bare summary of my cycling activity for the first 3 months of more serious intent.

4 x 10 minute turbo sessions, total 40 minutes
3 x social rides with the Leeds Cycle Action Group (LCAG), total 36 miles
3 x 6.5 local rides, total miles approx. 20 miles

9 x turbo sessions (4 x 15, 4 x 20, 1 x 25) total 165 minutes
3 x social rides with LCAG, total 36 miles
5 x local rides (1 x 6.5, 3 x 7.6, 1 x 10) total 39 miles
1 social ride with Chris Robbins, near Knaresborough, total 14 miles

14 x turbo sessions (2 x 25, 12 x 30) total minutes 410
1 x social ride with LCAG, total 12 miles
4 local rides (1 x 6.5, 3 x 10) total 65 miles

Monthly totals:
September turbo 40 minutes, road miles 56
October turbo 165 minutes, road miles 89
November turbo 410 minutes, road miles 77

The local circuit round Greengates has been lengthened into a 10 mile variant over the period and the turbo sessions have been lengthened to 30 minutes. I suspect these will stay the same now for the next 2 or 3 months with the shorter circuit being used if time or the weather are against me. I will continue to go on the LCAG social rides whenever possible throughout the winter.

Over the period of 3 months I have been on a modest calorie reduced diet aiming at the low end of 1500 – 2000 per day. My weight today is 15 stone 10 lbs. Assuming it was 17 stone at the end of August it represents a loss of 1 stone 4 lbs. If I keep this up for the next 3 months I will be about 14 stone 6 lb by the end of February. This is unlikely as weight loss will get harder I’m sure. Frankly, if I’m under 15 stone by then I will be delighted. Especially as this is my target for rewarding myself with a decent road bike!

Why I will never win the Tour De France

I’m currently reading Tyler Hamilton’s ‘The Secret Race’ that gives the low down on his time with the US Postal professional cycling team and Lance Armstrong. The focus of the book is the doping regime their top riders used to win the Tour De France, particularly the use of EPO. They employed the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari as their coach and doctor. What I found interesting is that the use of EPO was a part of the training and racing regime but the underlying science and other aspects of the training programme, innovative at the time, are now the orthodoxy. Minus the illegal drug use, the Ferrari training programme informs nearly all scientific training programmes today. It’s all about maximising certain numbers. Whether this is done within or without the rules, everyone is chasing the same numbers. One number that is a prerequisite to winning the Tour De France is that you must be able to sustain a certain power output, measured as wattage. The figure you need to achieve is 6.7 watts per kilogramme body weight. So for me to win the Tour De France at my present weight my threshold wattage would need to be 670 watts. Since Bradley Wiggins’s is something like 450 watts the problem is obvious. Assuming mine is about 200 watts, I would have to weigh about 30 kilos, 4 stone 10 oz. to achieve a figure of 6.7 watts per kilogramme.

michele ferrari

Michele Ferrari – doctor and coach to many of the world’s top athletes

This is why, according to Hamilton, Ferrari was obsessed about weight and diet. He may have been the overseer of their EPO, testosterone, steroids and other performance enhancement and  ‘recovery’ medication but to them he was more like a body weight fascist from the extreme wing of Weight Watchers. His argument was that for the vast majority of racing cyclists the easiest way to maximise their watt/kilogram ratio was to lose weight. It is interesting that central to Bradley Wiggin’s preparation for the Tour De France was a weight loss programme to shed 7 kilograms  – over a stone – without losing power. From the 77 kilos of his track days he was down to 69 for the Tour. In the process he reduced the percentage of his weight made up of fat from 7% to 4%. I’ve reduced my percentage body fat in the last 5 months by 7 percentage points. Easy. But I started from a high of 42%. This is another reason I will never win the Tour De France.

It is because of the science of cycling performance now – it’s all about the numbers – that  I still prefer road racing to track racing. Bradley himself admits that he is more relaxed and comfortable competing on the track. If you know the numbers, you know who will win the 4000 metre pursuit, for instance. In fact, why not get all the figures independently certified and decide the medals at a meeting of doctors? Of course events with an element of strategy, team tactics and chance, like the Madison or points race, cannot be reduced to just the numbers.

Wiggins crashes out of the 2011 Tour De France

Outside of purely technical track events perhaps, the numbers do not always win. As Tyler Hamilton says, there is no measurement for the amount a cyclist is able or prepared to suffer. In my own experience I have known racers who have succeeded because they can out-suffer their opponents on a particular day. And team strategy and tactics are often decisive in the outcome of races, not to mention the psychological aspects. And then you might fall off and break a collarbone, like Wiggins did on stage 7 of the 2011 Tour. But what was he doing languishing in the middle of the bunch on a sprinters’ stage (Mark Cavendish won it riding for HTC) over a flattish route where his sole responsibility as the team’s general classification man was to avoid crashes by riding near the front? Wiggins was in the form of his life, according to the numbers, but this counted for naught.

Sprints and tubs

I got my old turbo trainer out of the garage during this year’s Tour De France, inspired by Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky, to try and get fit again and take to the roads once more. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I used to race in the 60s and early 70s in the South and continued to do so for a while after moving to Leeds in 1974 but finally gave up racing some time in the mid 80s. Over the years I accumulated a lot of cycling bits and pieces which I either threw away or gave away if they were any good. I passed on a pair of Mafac centre pull brakes and some Campagnolo components as well as a pair of sprints and tubs and some new unused tubs as well. In a conversation a few weeks ago with a relative newcomer to cycling I realised that, in this day of light high pressure wired-on tyres, what the Americans call ‘clinchers’, not every one knows about tubular tyres for bikes. What brought this to mind was noticing the near destruction of the tubular tyre on the rear wheel of my turbo after nearly 5 months of fairly constant use – illustrated above. I bought the turbo from Ellis Briggs in Shipley about 1977 so it’s about 35 year old now. At that time I put an old Holdsworth bike on it where it has been ever since so the sprint and tub on the back survived the clear out. I cannot now remember what make the tub is and in any case it and the wheel it is on was acquired when I bought a second hand Woodrup round about 1975. If the wheel and tub were original they date back to the mid 1960s when the frame was made so they might now be over 45 years old. They are at least 37! I don’t suppose there are many tubs this old still in some sort of service, but clearly this one’s days are numbered.

For readers not familiar with tubular tyres, or tubs, they are similar to conventional wired-on tyres in that they have an outer casing with a tread attached to the circumference that contacts the road, and an inner tube that can be inflated to high pressures within. The main difference is that the outer casing is also a tube with the edges meeting at the inner circumference where they are stitched or otherwise fixed together.

A tape runs round the inner circumference to cover the stitches or join. The inner tube is made of much lighter and thinner material than a conventional inner tube (it never has to come into contact with tyre levers). The construction method enables much lighter weights compared with wired-ons and can be inflated to much higher pressures – typical clincher 100 to 130 psi, tubs up to 200 psi. This makes them much faster and livelier for racing, less rolling resistance and less inertia to spin them up. The other advantage is they are generally quicker to replace when one punctures as it is just a matter of ripping the punctured one off and pulling a new one on. In a club road race it was normal to carry a spare tub folded behind your saddle for a quick swap and chase, assuming you had remembered to carry a pump too.

The wheel is also different in that the rim is designed to fit the inner circumference of the tub. The tub is fixed into the rim by using a wider adhesive rim tape or, as we used to do, apply tub cement or glue to the rim well. Once inflated to a high pressure the tub grips the wheel very tightly and, if properly fixed, they rarely come off. Even so, on hot days and with a lot of front wheel braking, the glue can soften and the tub roll off the rim. And on the track where very light tubs are used at very high pressures it is not unknown for a tub to explode. However, compared with the other risks of racing, these risks are relatively minor and unusual. Wheels fitted with these rims were referred to as ‘sprints’ – hence sprints and tubs. We used to cycle out to events with an old set of sprints and tubs on the bike, or winter wired-ons, but carry our best wheels either side of the front wheel on sprint carriers to use in the race. 

Fixing a puncture is quite a skilled job and although in my day most of us did it ourselves you could take a tub to a professional repairer and get the job done for about 10 shillings if I remember correctly (50 pence). When you were earning £4 a week this was a lot of money but a high spec new tub could cost more than a week’s wages. Today the top tubs used by professional track racers can cost over £200 each, as does the one below. I doubt if these are normally repaired. At the pressures they run they would probably explode when they puncture – 15 bar is 217psi.

The best velodrome racers in the world rely on the best indoor tyres in the world: Many victories were achieved with the Continental Olympic tub in World Cup and Olympic Games. Its highly firm casing allows a pressure of up to 15bar

Training with heart monitor – update

Since starting to use a heart rate monitor, as outlined in a previous post, I have had some confusing results. All the various formulae for calculating my maximum heart rate based on my age (66) give a figure of round about 160 yet on my bike I have seen a figure of 177 on a couple of hills. So, using this figure, I have revised the values for the various training zones that are now as follows:

Zone 1 (60-65% of maximum heart rate): For long, easy rides, to improve the combustion and storage of fats. (106-115)

Zone 2 (65-75% of MHR): The basic base training zone. Longish rides of medium stress. (115-133)

Zone 3 (75-82% of MHR): For development of aerobic capacity and endurance with moderate volume at very controlled intensity. (133-145)

Zone 4 (82-89% of MHR): For simulating pace when tapering for a race. (145-158)

Zone 5 (89-94% of MHR): For raising anaerobic threshold. Good sessions for 10- and 25-mile time-trials. (158-166)

Zone 6 (94-100% of MHR): For high-intensity interval training to increase maximum power and speed (166-177)

My typical maximum and average heart rates for sessions on the turbo are maximum HR = 145-155, average HR = 120-130. This puts most of my turbo training in the “for simulating pace when tapering for a race”. I should emphasis that I am pedalling briskly, 80 to 90 rpm, and feeling quite comfortable. This is not hard training.

On my last 10 mile ride involving 589 feet of climbing and averaging 10.8 mph my maximum heart rate was 175 and the average 155. In other words I was in ranges 4, 5 and 6 (tapering for racing, anaerobic threshold and high intensity) for most of the ride. It seems that to stay anywhere near my theoretical fat burning zone (106-115) I would have to take it very easy. I suspect that even getting off and walking up the hills would put me above this! I have no idea what this means for my general state of fitness. I am now down to 15 stone 11 lbs, a weight loss of 1 stone 8 lb in about 3 months so the fat is going somewhere. 
Anyway, I’m not dead yet so I’ll keep going with the same programme.

Training using a heart monitor

Early last July I bought a Polar FT7 heart monitor. I’d never used one of these before but apparently they have revolutionised training since my racing days. I decided to buy one because, being very unfit and over weight, I thought it might help me not over do things and do any damage. But I only unpacked it and started to experiment with it last week.  I have discovered that the monitor calculates and records maximum and minimum heart rate (HR) for each training session, the calories burnt, session length and how many minutes in the fitness (cardio) range and in the fat burning range. Since losing weight is my priority at the moment I have decided to try and do most of my training in the fat burning range. Obviously I want to get stronger and fitter and exercising to lose weight will still contribute to this but concentrating on losing weight would be of more immediate benefit. Even at my current fitness level and strength I would get up the hills I’m struggling on a lot easier and faster if I had a stone or two less to lug up them. All the  formulae for calculating the various exercise zones require a maximum heart rate figure. Some also require a resting heart rate figure as well. Using my HRM my pulse at rest is about 50 and in one strenuous effort on the turbo I saw a 167 maximum. However most of the formulae for maximum heart rate give a figure between 155 and 164 for my age so 160 looks like about right. Using the formulae from Heart rate monitor training for cyclists (a very entertaining article as well as informative) my training zones are as follows:

  • Zone 1 (60-65% of maximum heart rate): For long, easy rides, to improve the combustion and storage of fats. (102-110)
  • Zone 2 (65-75% of MHR): The basic base training zone. Longish rides of medium stress. (110-128)
  • Zone 3 (75-82% of MHR): For development of aerobic capacity and endurance with moderate volume at very controlled intensity. (128-140)
  • Zone 4 (82-89% of MHR): For simulating pace when tapering for a race. (140-151)
  • Zone 5 (89-94% of MHR): For raising anaerobic threshold. Good sessions for 10- and 25-mile time-trials. (151-160)
  • Zone 6 (94-100% of MHR): For high-intensity interval training to increase maximum power and speed (160-170)

A good article from suggests a variety of turbo sessions for different objectives including one on fat burning: Turbo trainer workouts for all seasons

Alternative sites give slightly different figures e.g. Heart Rate Training Zones or Javascript Heart Rate Training Zone Calculator. According to this last one my fat burning zone is 96-104 which the results below show might be more accurate than 102-110 which, according to my HRM give me no fat burning time. Results so far:

Tuesday 30th October: turbo 20 mins using HRM [242 calories, fitness 19.26, fat burn 4.58, max 162, av. 120] But the first 5 minutes where with the HR monitor running before I got on the bike so, in the light of the next 2 results, I suspect the 4.58 fat burn minutes were before I got on the turbo!

Wednesday 31st October: 25 min turbo [tried to stay in fat burning HR zone 102-110 with a burst at the end after 20 mins, but: 210 calories, fitness 21.50, fat burn 3.06, max 154, av. 112 which compares unfavourably with yesterday].

Thursday 1st November: 25 mins turbo [first 20 mins 110-128, 100 revs sprint at end and recovery, 270 cals, fitness 24.25, fat burn 0.34, max HR 164, av HR 127, clearly my fat burn HR range is well under 100!] According to this chart my fat burning bps range is 93 to 109

Update: Friday 2nd November. Today I wore the HRM to work and kept it running for about 4 hours. My HR varied between 58 and 108 (with 123 going up stairs) and it seems I spent at least half the time in my fat burning zone. If this is so it looks like I don’t need to train on the turbo for fat burning as my current state of fitness means I just need move about a bit!