Trends are funny things. We saw a dramatic transition from heart rate to power-based training methods in the last 3 or 4 years. As power skyrocketed in popularity, we saw the coaching industry blossom. And as coaching became more widespread, wintertime training camps became ever more popular for seemingly good reasons — the warm weather, the big miles, the chance to spend quality time with a coach you’ll otherwise only know through e-mail and the telephone for the remainder of the year.
While we try not to be overly critical here at Competitive Cyclist, we’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that most of these camps serve one primary purpose — as a means for the coach to finance his week in the sun to ride big miles for the sake of his own training. The occasional nighttime meeting with his pupils to dispense a lesson in how to read a Cyclingpeaks training file gives the camp a small dose of academic rigor. But let’s face it: Sunshine, esprit d’corps, a mutual love of riding — this provides 99% of the value of these camps to the campers themselves.
We’re a sponsor of the Floyd Landis Power Camp for one central reason: It’s centered around the camper with an agenda as serious as what you see in an early-season pro training camp. Its purpose is greater than merely providing a framework for monster miles and good memories. Rather, it’s grounded in the same sort of serious science you’d ordinarily see reserved for the pros. This focus on science and data analysis should probably come as no surprise since the driving force behind the camp is the Saris Cycling Group — parent company of the CycleOps Power Tap, the best-selling powermeter in the world.
The Power Camp took place from January 21st thru the 27th in lovely Temecula, California. Temecula is a nice bit northeast of San Diego on the border of San Diego County and Riverside County. Based on its smog level (none) and freeway width (less than 12 lanes) it felt just beyond the gravitational pull of the madness that defines southern California. As the week of riding would prove, Temecula and the surrounding area is more of an agricultural paradise than it is a San Diego bedroom community. The roads were beautiful, relentlessly mountainous, and largely devoid of traffic. The ride leader for the week was Floyd Landis. He lives and trains here when he’s not in Europe, and if he wins le Tour in 2006 he’ll need to give at least a bit of credit to the super-tough terrain around Temecula..
The campers started arriving Saturday afternoon and a welcome reception was held in the evening where all of the supporting staff was introduced, rules of the road were established, schedules discussed, and we met all of the campers. The vibe was great from the outset — it was a super group of folks that included a surprising number of returning campers from the previous year, an indicator of the quality of the camp. Floyd spent the previous week in Mallorca at his Phonak training camp and team presentation. He was due to fly into the US from Europe that night and ride with the campers the next morning. Much to the surprise and delight of everyone, Floyd and his wife Amber popped in mid-dinner to join us and meet the group. He was jet lagged but charmed everyone with his wit and his easygoing nature. From the outset it was clear that he’s a real, regular guy. A real, regular guy, of course, who finished 9th at the Tour de France last year. Given the calculating, imposing persona of The Almighty Lance, Floyd’s genuine nature was perhaps unexpected. We all appreciated his extra effort to come and greet us on the opening day of camp.
After dinner the mechanics assembled everyone’s bikes and we got our first glimpse of the future: We saw a prototype Power Tap SL Wireless. The difference in the wireless system was unbelievable: No sensor cables anywhere. All data is transmitted from the electronics within the hub shell directly to the handlebar-mounted computer unit. Even cadence is measured at the hub — no, it’s not virtual cadence like what you get with a Shimano Flight Deck. It measures actual cadence, but it does so at the hub instead of the crankarms. Combine the ultra-clean look of the wireless system with the added power accuracy a Power Tap offers since its measurements are based off of torque tubes instead of strain gauges, you end up with an intensely mouthwatering powermeter. The only bad news, in fact, was how few wireless systems are in existence, all of which are reserved for now for Team Phonak and for the Power Tap laboratory. We won’t see them for retail sale until July at the earliest.
The first ride of the camp is a route known as ‘De Luz’, and is estimated to take about 3 hours. Full support is provided with follow cars carrying mechanics, spare wheels and tires, plenty of drinks, food, and encouragement. We only had one flat on the day. Not bad considering all of the glass we saw on the roads. The route was rolling to hilly and delightfully technical, making for some hair-raising descents. The ride meandered through groves of lemon, grapefruit, and oranges. We traveled through Fallbrook where a large sign informed us that it is the undisputed Avocado capitol of the world. As we climbed the smell of Eucalyptus scented the air. Traffic wasn’t bad and the locals didn’t seem to mind our pack of riders using their roads. The inevitable thought came to mind: Why would anyone want to live anywhere else? Perhaps it’s not a total paradise, but we’ve never seen more beautiful riding in America.
Thanks to the occasional stop for refuel, undressing, and regrouping ensured that everyone finished together at right about the 3 hour mark. After lunch and massage (yes, that too is included). Floyd’s personal doctor and training partner, Dr. Brent Kay of Ouch Sports Medical Center, took blood samples of the campers for lab analysis.
In the afternoon the campers mounted their bikes to CycleOps trainers for physiology testing performed by Allen Lim Ph.D. Allen is the director of education for Power Tap, as well as an advisor to Floyd and the TIAA-CREF cycling team. He’s the leading mind in America — if not the world — when it comes to effectively collecting and analyzing training data, and he’s played a central role in the continual development and improvement of the Power Tap.
That evening Allen reviewed each campers’ test, discussed the interesting ways in which perceived exertion correlates to power output, and outlined his methodology for determining personalized training zones. Tour de France veteran Jonathan Vaughters arrived mid-discussion. JV was one of the first pros to embrace power to analyze training and racing — back in 1994 we went with him to a wind tunnel session and he raved about his new cyclocomputer contraption that measured ‘power’ — a concept at that point that no one recognized. We couldn’t shut him up about it. He says using power measurement optimized his career. As many of you likely know he now manages the professional TIAA-CREF team, and an elemental part of each rider’s training program is the constant use of a Power Tap.
The next day’s ride started a short drive away at Lake Elsinore. The ride took in the Cleveland National Forest. That’s day’s group was a big one thanks to the added media presence and the likes of JV. After all of the requisite last minute bike adjustments, fluid and food requests, and second guessing of clothing choices the group departed and started things off with a 10 mile climb. It was a shock to the system, one made worse by the fact that we had our one-and-only problem with a car for the week. The Big Red Pickup Truck Guy expressed his displeasure with a creative string of expletives as he passed each rider and support car. We took notes: Pros (and ex-pros) smile and wave. Vaughters and Landis rode at the front chatting and made the climb look terribly easy. There wasn’t much talk behind them. We regrouped at the top except for 4 lost lambs that missed the turn into the forest and descended 8 miles only to be found at that point by our search party. The lost group didn’t climb in the support car to catch back up but opted to climb the extra 8 miles up. Rumor is our lone female camper shamed them into that decision.
The descent had to be the roughest toughest paved road we’ve ever seen. More twists than a Quentin Tarantino movie. The non-lost group stayed together exiting the forest onto smooth roads that seemed to indicate we weren’t too far from civilization. The smoother road lifted everyone’s spirits, and naturally the pace lifted. A few folks get dropped and JV drops back to the van to ‘get a bottle’ on the final climb and he hangs on the door to ensure he finishes with the guys who really train. Other than Floyd a couple of super-skinny campers, the remainder of the group contains the bulk of Team Media. Do they work? It doesn’t look like it to us. The ride takes about 4 hours. In the end analysis we count 2 flats, one broken chain, and one redneck for the day. Not bad. We rinse and repeat for tomorrow.
Day #3 brings us to the Cousar Canyon ride. The route twists and turns through more amazing scenery. The avocado groves are interspersed with sunflowers, oranges, and cactus. We come from a place where 3 Haas avocados cost $3.00. Here they’re strewn along the road like litter. The campers rode relatively easy and regularly regrouped. The main challenge of the day was the wind. While the roads are relentlessly hilly, after three days of it we’d all but forgotten about the existence of flat roads. But it was the wind — the brutal, unforgiving wind. It all but took the fun out of the descents.
The highlight of the day — perhaps the highlight of the camp — was what transpired after a staffer took orders for cheeseburgers during a re-grouping. Remember that scene in ‘Road to Paris’ when Lance is weighing his dinner that night on a gram scale? Well, that wasn’t a scene we discussed. Instead, our group of 30 cruised in for a burger break at Nessy’s (as in Lochness Monster) roadside stand — with over an hour of climbing left in the ride. The messy Nessy is damn good, and we limp home slowly, buffeted by an angry wind but fueled by Nessy.
Thanks to the combination of accumulated fatigue and the anticipation of tomorrow’s ascent of Mt. Palomar, the next-to-last day of riding is earmarked as an easy day. The group splits into two, with the first group taking a roundtrip of 2 hours, and the second group biting off a 3 hour ride. No stop at Nessy’s for either group. Given the relative brevity of the rides, it was an opportune time for Allen to spend some one-on-one time with the campers analyzing their training data while Dr. Brent consulted with them regarding their blood analysis. For most of the campers, it was their first-ever opportunity to understand the extent to which the pros analyze their ride data. It was perhaps appropriate, then, that during dinner that evening Allen shared information on Floyd’s training and racing data prior to the 2005 Tour, and his power output during the Tour. The information was mesmerizing. To see in cold, hard numbers the exact sort of power outputs and caloric input needed to complete and compete the Tour was astounding. It was darn humbling, too. How about this: Floyd’s daily calorie requirements to maintain his starting weight in the Tour range from 7,000 to 10,000 per day.
No wonder these guys look gaunt in the third week of the race. The critical point made by Allen was that with the racing data from the 2005 Tour, he can tailor Floyd’s current and future training to better prepare for its demands. Without this sort of data at his fingertips, an athlete is just guessing at the amount of time he needs to spend within certain training zones. By training and racing with a powermeter, you can collect and analyze vital information recorded in order to fine tune a training program.
The best was saved for last, which is why the final day’s ride took in a climb up the south side of Palomar Mountain, a 4200 foot (1280 meters) elevation gain over 11 miles (17.7km). The road averages about 7% in grade. A 1% percent grade simply means that the road gains 1 meter in elevation for every 100 meters traveled. In this case 7 meters gained per 100 meters in distance covered. This would generally rate as a category 1 climb or an Hors Categorie if it is encountered late in the race.
Mountain stages include climbs categorized by number, ranging from 4 (easiest) to 1 (hardest). The most difficult climbs are so steep, they’re beyond categorizing, or Hors Categorie. In general terms, Category 4 climbs are short and easy. Category 3 climbs last approximately 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), have an average grade of 5 percent, and ascend 150 meters (492 feet). Category 2 climbs are the same length or longer at an 8 percent grade and ascend 500 meters (1,640 feet). Category 1 climbs last 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) with an average 6 percent grade and ascend 1,500 meters (4920 feet). Beyond category climbs include an altitude difference of at least 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) from start to finish and have an average grade of at least 7 percent.
Over the years many folks have tried to figure out the exact math used by the ASO in assigning climb categorization. Allen Lim outlined to us his Difficulty Index Formula: Distance of a climb in kilometers multiplied by average climbing % multiplied by distance into the stage divided by 100. The sum is the difficulty index rating. As you can see in the chart of the 2005 Tour de France climbs there’s a bit of overlap in rating the climbs. This at least gives you a way to categorize your climbs and see how they compare to climbs in major tours. For a reference, keep in mind that in the 2005 Tour the average rated climb was 6.8km long at 5.5% average and gained 1230 feet in elevation. There were 61 rated climbs. Allen pointed out that there were a lot of smaller elevation gains that didn’t get rated that added to the total climbing in the Tour.
The climb up Palomar’s South Grade never gets outrageously steep. Rather, it’s the ceaseless grind that eats up your legs. You start climbing at Jilberto’s Taco Shop and finish at Mother’s Restaurant atop the mountain. Signs signified every 1,000 feet of altitude gain. It’s a long and agonizing road. Legend has it that Greg Lemond once covered the distance in 49 minutes. Tony Rominger 51. Floyd does low 50s doing repeats on the same ride. Campers’ times range from 75 to about 115 minutes. It was much cooler at the 5,500 foot summit. Those who didn’t get enough climbing donned additional clothing and descended the East Grade in order to climb back up for more training. The East Grade isn’t as steep. At the end of the ride the group gathered at Mothers for hot chocolate and fish tales before descending the 12 miles to Jilberto’s. And just so you know, Allen swears Jilberto’s Burrritos are the best.
The Power Camp was a huge success by any standard: The riding was epic, the company was superb, and the education about pro-level training and analysis was fascinating. It spurred each camper to begin taking a more data-driven approach to their own training, and it also cleared the air on who they’ll be rooting for at the ’06 Tour! Our friends at Power Tap assured us, too, that the camp would take place again in 2006. Just like this year, it’ll be in mid-January. And just like this year it’ll take place in Temecula. The only change planned for 2006 will be in the cost structure. At this point it’s apparent that most of the likely candidates to attend a camp of such rigorous nature — both physically and educationally rigorous, that is — will already own a powermeter. That being the case, the cost of the camp will reportedly drop to $2,500, and a Power Tap (while available for sale during the camp) will not be included within the price. We wholeheartedly encourage you to attend. We’ll see you there, burgers and all!