Category: training

Kaizen & The Anchor: staying focused through a season

this article originally appeared on the GENCO Mongolia Bike Challenge website.


We all know that feeling, I’m sure, of beating ourselves up a little because of lost days of riding due to a loss of motivation, of life getting in the way of our first true love, or just a general disinterest in the goings on of the universe because every once in a while the entropy that defines this world seeps in to your soul and just makes you go ‘blah’.

Thing is, we really shouldn’t be berating ourselves when we experience these kind of dips, as they are perfectly natural and, if harnessed correctly, can prove to be great sources of motivation in themselves. There are few better feelings on the bike than getting over one of these ‘humps’ and coming back raging and ready to crush it on the trails, after all.

There are though a couple of ‘philosophies’ that can help a cyclist to minimize these dips, to stay focused and to crank on.

One is from Japan, known as ‘Kaizen’, which very simply means ‘good change’, the other is the idea of The Anchor, an idea that came to me that I personally use to keep on the straight and narrow.


It might sound a little daft, saying that cyclists need an ‘anchor,’ as surely this would slow you down. But I’m not talking about a literal lump of metal that is designed to keep you held fast in one place, but a mental ‘trick’ that can help you stay focused, motivated and keep your training on track.

In essence, the idea is to ask yourself, whenever you are doing anything, either off-bike or on, this question:

‘Is what I’m doing now going to help me in the race?’

If the answer is an honest ‘yes’ then great, carry on and be glorious. If not, then perhaps an adjustment has to be made to turn that answer around.

Of course, this question may pop into your head when you’re sat eating a Double Whopper and large fries with a chocolate milkshake in hand, and that may not be the greatest thing to happen!

We all need to cheat from time to time though, to feel like the rest of the human population (ie not like a bike obsessed geek whose idea of fun is 7 hours riding over frozen tundra), but ‘The Anchor’ can serve to pull us back into the place we actually want to be when behavior like this, or skipping training, or riding too easily and not challenging ourselves might be occurring too often.

The GENCO Mongolia Bike Challenge was thus named because a) it is in Mongolia, b) there are bicycles involved and c) it is one heck of a bloody challenge, make no mistake about that.

When creating the race a few years ago, Willy Mulonia wanted to create an event where the participants emerged from it having gained something tangible. Not just harder legs and a few kilograms lighter, but a feeling that they were more resolute, more focused and feeling proud of themselves that they’d got through it all.

Something, indeed, that they could carry into other areas of their life. And isn’t that a beautiful thing?

It’s not just the challenge of the event itself but also the challenge to prepare well for it that makes it all so rewarding. So, if you find your attention wandering, try The Anchor.

Or, try Kaizen. I first heard about Kaizen when the English rugby player, Johnny Wilkinson, said that he walks around imagining that a video camera is watching his every move.

Johnny Wilkinson

Johnny Wilkinson

Sounds kinda… creepy right? I agree, but on further investigation I learnt that the basic tenet of Kaizen is of striving to make continuous improvements, whether it be in business, government or, as in Wlikinson’s case, an individual’s personal life.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all ‘How To’ on you, and I personally run a mile from self-improvement books and gurus and the like, but there is nothing wrong in adapting ideas if they can make you faster and stronger on the bike.

Kaizen may just be the name for the process but besides that, the idea of stepping back and analyzing your riding, training, diet and rest, looking back to the previous week’s training to discover why you were flying on a certain day or flagging on another and generally seeking to make continuous improvements, is no bad thing.

I always encourage my clients to analyse themselves why we are doing a certain kind of training and to see the reasons behind the suffering! Then, perhaps the next time they ride at 95% of their capacity for 30 minutes up a 10km hill, they may curse me a little less than usual…

There’s another flipside of this process of analysis and anchoring: it actually makes the riding and training more enjoyable as you are constantly learning and discovering new things, and that, when the winds are a-blowing and the sky is the color of concrete, can kick your backside to get off the sofa and out into the wilds.

As ever folks, crank on…!

Wilkinson wins the 2003 Rugby World Cup

a quick word or 50 on descending

by crankpunk

if Henk can do it, you can too...

if Henk can do it, you can too…

this may seem a bit patronising to many but judging by how many riders i see wobbling through corners, braking on the apex, changing their lines on the way in and not pedaling when at the front with others behind when on the straights thus forcing others to brake unnecessarily,  it might be worth going on a little about this crucial aspect of riding a bike.

why is it crucial? simple: going downhill at speed is where you are most likely, if you do crash, to be seriously injured or even killed.

if you do find yourself at the front with riders behind you on a descent, always pedal on the straighter sections, unless you are in a tucked position and going so fast that pedaling is redundant. there is a case to be made even here though that you should still be pedaling even if you’re not actually putting any force into the pedals, as it lets others behind know that you are not braking unnecessarily.

if you find yourself at the front and the road is too narrow for others to pass but you feel unsafe at going at that speed, pull to one side, then brake to slow, and let others pass you safely.

brake on the way into the corner, before you reach it, then release the brake and coast through the apex, pedaling once the road allows. braking on the apex is sometimes necessary but only if you have misjudged the approach to the corner. how to stop doing that? practise, practise, and then practise some more. or get to the back.

this will also stop you wobbling and changing line on the corner itself.

finally – and this is one of the best bits of advice i was ever given by that salty old bike dog Roger, who took me under his slightly stinky wing when i was 15 – put your weight on the outside pedal with a straight leg, and do the same with the hand on the inside drop, keeping the upper body straight as you can. this means that with the hand you can make micro adjustments and have greater control, as it is the bike that changes angle to the road and not the rider’s upper body – where most of your weight is.

if you need to practise this, i recommend over-exaggerating the movement til you gain confidence.

where to see a brilliant example of this?

whenever Spartacus goes downhill, as here in his TT bike, you’ll see just that. see how he  shifts his weight and the angle of the bike with his outer leg and inner hand, only puts his weight into the corner once the apex has passed and he knows he won’t come off, and chooses a line and commits to it.

perfect descending.

then go watch Wiggins, the Schlecks or Pinot to see how not to go downhill.

here’s a decent ‘how to’ on descending.




training: Philippe Gilbert & the Luddite Way

by crankpunk. this is a re-post.

Lud·dite  (ldt)


1. Any of a group of British workers who between 1811 and 1816 rioted and destroyed labor saving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment.
2. One who opposes technical or technological change.
anyone familiar with crankpunk will know that amongst the things i dearly love, such as Yorkshire Tea, pygmy horses, peeing in the sink and the sensation of a new sponge against my teeth is included the art of blatant name dropping. one of my favorites is ‘i remember when i was shucking oysters with Nelson Mandela and Whitney Houston…’ – whether true or not is besides the point. if you build it, they will come, one of America’s greatest all-time exports once said.
and then she said, 'you wanna do some crack?'
and then she said, ‘Nelson! you wanna do some crack?’
shifting sands, as we all know, are the solid foundation upon which all empires are built – just ask LA about that one.
where am i going with this? well, i remember a few years ago hearing from a guy who knew a guy who knew our current World Champ, Mr. Philippe Gilbert, who rode with him from time to time. this guy told that guy who told the other guy who then told me that Gilbert never trained with a powermeter, nor, usually, even with a computer, and that he had no coach  – which is the same way i train. but i still couldn’t quite believe it. i mean, look at his results, and he’s riding against guys who have thousand if not millions of dollars of research and analyses behind them.

i might be doing OK at Conti level but for someone to adhere to the Luddite Way at ProTour level? i just wondered if it wasn’t part of the building of a mystique. and then, a year or so later, i saw this in Velo Magazine:

Velo Magazine: Do you have the feeling of being and old style rider?

Philippe Gilbert: No, then I would not get any result. But it is true that I train mostly by feeling. In the team (Lotto), we have Powertap but I do not use it. I do not even have a heart rate monitor, but I always know where I am. I never analyze my training with the computer or graphics. I have not got a clue about how many watts I produce in a climb. That is totally unimportant. What you have to check is how fast you are moving, and the difference you do in relation to other.

i rode with Gilbert in the Tour of Qatar 2012 (*name dropping alert*) and found him to be a very decent chap. one day we were sat mid-pack chatting about traveling as we drew closer to a parked up, open-back truck. taking out his empty bidon, he tossed it high in the air over the peloton and straight into the truck. ‘SLAM DUNK! WHOOOO!’ he yelled. ‘hey, did you guys see that?!’ he asked, turning to the other riders with a big goofy grin on his face. we agreed that it would be a good idea if the organisers of less-exciting races could have large hoops along the course, where riders could try to throw their bidons into – a successful toss would be rewarded by a time bonus. good idea eh? the Vuelta could be transformed…

anyway, i never got round to asking him about his training method, something i regret. recently though Gilbert once again reiterated his belief in training by ‘feel’, even going so far as to blame his poor early season form this year on allowing his BMC coaches having him adhere to ‘numbers’:

after that first team training in December 2011 I was dead. I respect the process of my bosses, but I’ve learned to talk. I’m an old rider. I’m too old to change now. I’m not interested in numbers and values. A cyclist is not a Formula 1 driver who gives all numbers of the machine to engineers after testing and then there is a solution.”

i’m not about to chastise riders who use heart rate monitors and SRMs and the like. i’m sure Gilbert is in the minority amongst World Tour guys in eschewing modern technology, and that for every Gilbert there are 8 or 9 Wiggos and Froomes. i also make a living, directly and indirectly, by cyclist-consumers buying stuff and being eager to improve by reading training articles and the like.

but there’s a truth to what i’m about to say which is news to no one: the manufacturers of all this stuff want you to believe that in buying their product you will go faster. they want you to buy it, period. how many actually use the product in the correct way, analysing and logging the data, pouring over the numbers, well that’s another thing. i’m sure we all know people who have bought the power meter cos they think it means they’re pro but who never actually use the data in any scientific way.(i actually was sponsored by SRM for the 2010 season. the consol;e had a gremlin or two in the first month, and i never got it fixed. i’d had one session before that, trying to hit a designated number for 30 minutes, and it just wasn’t for me. it wasn’t cycling, it was more like a school project…)


the reality is that you don’t need all these gadgets to go fast. what you need is good, solid training, timing your rides over specific routes and distances, an understanding of your own body, and a back pocket full of realistic expectations, not daft impossibilities. most cyclists, like myself, are secret shoppers – we’d never stroll for hours round a mall but get us in a bike shop or an online store and we could spend thousands.

i could be better, faster, a winner even! if i just buy this… and this… and this!

just about every coach i know swears by power meters. but, whilst a powermeter can be great in telling you where you are after a training block and is perfect if you’re a data-loving number cruncher, there are drawbacks. the first is that not everyone is built to follow numbers and the strict methods that they demand. it can kill the passion. the second is that, buy relying on watts and heart beats, the rider begins to lose contact with his or her connection to their body. the numbers don’t lie, the old saying the case of watts this is true. but some riders adhere to the numbers too much. i remember a guy on my team who would drop off the back of races, day after day on the tours, in the last 4 km.

‘what happened? you dropped again?’

‘i felt ok but my hear rate was way high…’

this is an extreme example of how you can lose the sense of the feel. relying so heavily on the numbers had this fit, healthy 23 year old thinking he was about to have a heart attack. lordy, i’m 40. if i believed the numbers like he does i’d be in bed with a cocoa and a hot water bottle rather than racing in international stage races…

one team coach told me that with a power meter he could get an extra 5% out of me.

‘but you’re gonna kill me with the numbers.’

‘whaddya mean?’

‘if i have to ride all day looking at my computer, and indoors too, my soul’s gonna die.’

‘you’re being silly.’

but i wasn’t. the point is that these things work for some, but not for others – and, i’d say, they don’t work for most. having a power meter makes you coachable, but as with Gilbert, it might just not be what you need.

as ever, forever, let us all crank on…

get angry to get them safe

this article originally appeared in SPIN Magazine, out of Singapore – catch my new column there every month, entitled ‘Rubber Side Down’

from the January 2014 edition of SPIN

from the January 2014 edition of SPIN

I’ll never forget my first ever group ride…

There I was, 15 years old and stick-insect thin in my brand new 7-11 uniform, which despite being an XS size still left me looking like Chris Froome wearing Fabian Cancellara’s kit. The slightest breeze and I almost fell off my Harry Hall newbie special, all 17 kilos of it, as the sleeves of my jersey became de facto parachutes.

I huffed and puffed my way that cold winter evening to the roads around the aerodrome where the Wednesday night chaingang ride was held, seeing a throng of about twenty grizzled older guys gathered. I got a nod from one of them whilst the rest eyed me up for a brief second, then carried on with their conversation about the local barmaid.

I looked around at the bikes, far superior to mine with their late ‘80s Campagnolo and Shimano groupsets gleaming in the evening light, and stared in awe at the bulging calf muscles, intimidated right from the off.

‘Crikey’, I thought, ‘I’m gonna get battered here.’

And then with a signal from the leader of the pack we were off, barreling down the flat road in no time, with cars and trucks whizzing close by. The front pair did a couple of minutes then peeled off, as I watched on from the back, eventually finding myself up at the front with an old timer next to me.

He started half wheeling me, then pulled away by a bike length. I changed down  a gear, dug in a little, then pulled alongside. In a moment of youthful exuberance I pulled ahead the same way he had and forged on. This was how I’d been riding for the past three months, since I started cycling, banging along the roads of North Lancashire alone as fast as my legs would permit.

I knew nothing else really, and the old guy’s half wheeling had got me thinking I was in a race. Suddenly I heard a shout from behind and turned to see a guy break out of the group, chasing up to me, pulling alongside.

“Oi!” he shouted again. “What the &*%# do you think you’re doing! It’s steady pace tonight! Go on, *&%# off to the back!”

Thoroughly browbeaten, I peeled off and did as I was told. As I reached the back, the guy next to me then had a go at me for wobbling and told me to get behind him. Luckily the effort I was putting in hid my burning cheeks, now a deep red more from actual embarrassment than from the effort.

After another half a loop, another guy dropped back to me.

“Listen,” he said, “this is a group ride, it’s fast, but we’re not trying to drop anyone. You don’t attack on rides like this.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know,” I replied sheepishly.

“First time?” he asked.

“Yes, can’t you tell?” I answered.

He laughed.

“Well, now you know. And try to keep your wheel steady or no one is going to want to ride next to you. Watch and learn lad, and there’ll be no need for anyone to shout at you.”

And in that moment I went from being a newbie to being a learner. I watched, I studied the other, older guys, copying their style, holding my upper body and the wheel steady. It was something of a baptism of fire but it was a massively valuable lesson I’d just learnt.

I might have been younger than them, and maybe even stronger than a good few, but there was a hierarchy of experience amongst the group and I had to put my time in. I had to serve my apprenticeship.

And then, as I got older, it was my turn to bollock the new kids! That, has to be said, was a sweet moment!

Ok, I’m joking there. Maybe…! However, that experience when I was younger and living in England is one that is mirrored in many countries in the world, where young riders are taken under the wing of older riders who use their experience to guide and teach new riders how to behave on the road.

They teach you how to train intelligently, how to corner, to descend, and, most importantly, how to ride safely in groups and how to respect other riders.

I’ve lived out in Asia now for 15 years, and I’ve been in group rides in Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, and I’ve raced all over Asia, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed in that time, it’s that older and more experienced riders seem to be less and less common, as more and more new riders of all ages are coming into the sport.

As a result, there’s less of the ‘old hands’ in comparison, and less of the knowledge of the road and of the bike being handed down to these new riders. And the result of that is often group riding that is not only erratic and more akin to all-out racing, but at times very dangerous indeed. Now, I haven’t ridden in a group training ride in the UK for some time, but I would presume that this situation is replicating there and in Europe and the US too, as more and more middle class and middle aged riders are joining the fray.

It’s gotten to the point now, here in Taiwan especially, where I hardly ever ride in groups of more than five or six riders. The last time I went on a group ride of more, there were thirty riders who clearly had never been shouted at in the way I was way back when I was 15!

The result? Utter chaos. Older guys who should have known better, even if they weren’t that experienced on the bike, were sprinting off from traffic lights or even cutting right through red lights, dodging between slowing cars and just generally riding like it was Paris-Roubaix and the approach to the Arenberg Forest, not a Sunday ride through a congested town.

I couldn’t help but think that the example they were setting was irresponsible at best and potentially deadly at worst. There was no cohesion in the group, and little respect for differing levels of ability.  At every other convenience store the front guys would slow to a halt to wait for the stragglers, and then, once they reattached, they’d bolt off again!

I ‘d had enough. After thirty kilometers of that madness I turned off and rode alone. I would have had a good old rant at them but my Chinese unfortunately isn’t good enough…

Riding in groups is where young and other new riders learn their race craft. It is, in fact, where they learn how to ride their bikes for the rest of their cycling career, learning habits, be they good or bad, that are hard to shake. So, beter they be good ones.

And so, for those older guys out there who do know what they are doing, I encourage you to get angry!

We have a duty and a responsibility to shout at people who ride like idiots. Sometimes they know no better, simply because no one has ever told them – though sometimes, it’s true, they are just idiots! Either way though, a quick, verbal cuff round the ear can do a great deal of good.

That, or a quiet arm round the shoulder at a rest stop and an encouraging word in their ear would do. If enough of us do that then maybe we won’t be complaining about all the crashes that racing seems, inevitably, to bring these days.

Clubs and teams also should create beginner rides where new riders learn the craft of handling their bikes with others around. It can, ultimately, save lives.

Right, I’m off to learn some more Chinese. I’ve got some bollocking to do!

‘your fat has a brain… and it’s trying to kill you’


excellent and enlightening article in Outside Magazine from last March, explaining just how fat works and affects the body.

it’s kinda scary – but luckily there is a way to combat it. and yup, you guessed it, cranking it is the way…

here’s an excerpt:

‘Just as fat was long thought to be neutral, muscle was considered a passive organ that did what the brain told it to do. But muscle is now known to be one of the most dynamic systems in the body; when it contracts, it undergoes huge changes at the cellular level. And its mortal enemy is fat.In any sedentary, inactive person—including people who aren’t actually obese—fat invades the muscles, slipping in between muscle fibers like the marbling in Wagyu beef. Worse, fat infiltrates individual muscle cells in the form of lipid droplets that make the cells sluggish.’

read Bill Gifford’s article here.

how to: sit on a saddle

by crankpunk



‘who’s this patronising ****, telling me how to sit on a saddle?’


it’s me.

sit on it

sit on it

here’s the gist. i see many riders putting far too much weight on their handlebars, especially those with locked out arms. watch the top riders and you’ll invariably see bent arms and a loose grip on the bars. the ‘loose grip’ element is the crucial part here…


because this releases unnecessary tension in the shoulder and neck area, and places the majority of the rider’s weight on to the saddle, allowing more power to be generated from the core area and the arse, resulting in a more fluid pedaling motion, more economical use of the thigh muscles and better use of the abductors, and less motion in the upper body.

all that stiffness around the neck means wasted energy and a less comfortable ride. an upper body that bobs up and down, even slightly, means more wind resistance and a loss of power that could be put into the pedals rather than being used to propel and stabilise the upper body movements.

when you sit on the saddle, you really want to be sitting into the saddle, kind of as if you’re forcing the arse into the seat rather than bobbing about on it.

next time you go out, try, on a well-surfaced road, to ride at a threshold pace first with a tight grip on the bars, and then after a few minutes release the fingers so that the palms are only resting on the bars. they say a rider with a really good core can grab the drops for a bit and then take their hands off and still stay low down – give that a go too.

you’ll find, with hands resting instead of gripping, all white-knuckled, that the legs have to do more work pulling as well as pushing, to keep you in one place on the saddle. this is especially true when climbing on moderate slopes. you’ll most likely find that at first your times on regular climbs are slightly slower than usual, but climbing in this way provides a little ‘re-education camp’ for the leg muscles, improves muscularity (as you’re utilising more of the muscle), improves the pedaling motion (because you have to pull as well as push), and, once you get the hang of it and it becomes second nature, you’ll find yourself going faster because you’ll be stronger and making more economical use of your body by keeping the upper part still and improving your core, glute and abductor muscles.

you should also find that, when you stand up, you can get ‘deeper’ into the pedal stroke because you won’t be swinging the upper body as much as previously, thanks to that improved core and leg muscularity.

one other way to work on this, if you have no hills, is to drop to one gear harder in off-season training, and to go quickly as possible from standing starts (after traffic lights, for example) to seated, forcing the legs alone to get you moving rather than also using the arms.

give it a whirl. you might just be surprised with the results.



nutrition: jam & water vs. brand energy drink

by James Machin

I’ve been experimenting with different fuels on my ride and after looking at gels, powders and mixes I thought ‘hang on a bloody minute! Most of these drink supplements are boasting 2:1 fructose mixes or other “Fruit” sugar mixes, what would happen if I just mixed jam with 750ml of water?’

If you follow me on Facebook you’ll know I love home cooking and recently I made a massive batch of home grown blackberry jam and decided to see what it was like mixed with water. The Blackberries were passed through my juicer 5-6 times to remove every last seed and liquid from the pulp that made a very thick concentrated blackberry juice which was then added to organic demerara sugar and lemon juice, very simple, very healthy and bloody delicious!


Once mixed with water you don’t lose the flavour of the berries and it has a nice sharp after taste that leaves you refreshed when out on the road, especially in this heat.

So how does it nutritionally stand against the big names?

Homemade Blackberry Isotonic Energy Drink

  • 47g of homemade organic blackberry jam (no seeds or pulp)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Water

Estimated nutritional value

  • Calories: 114kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 30.5g
  • Sugars: 28.2g


HIGH5 Energy Source

  • 47g
  • Water

Listed Nutritional Value

  • Calories: 180 kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 45g
  • Sugars: 16.0g


Nectar Sports Fuel Isotonic Concentrate (blackcurrant)

  •  50g
  • Water

Listed Nutritional Value

  • Calories: 120 kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 30g
  • Sugars: 20.0g

As you can see there is very little difference between them, the HIGH5 powder is actually a carb drink and thus naturally has a higher carb %age. My jam on the other hand has a higher sugar content although I would argue that it’s all organic, homemade and doesn’t have any preservatives or other chemical enhancers, but like I said they are all pretty close.

On today’s ride and even at 6am the temperature hit 34°c. I used the homemade mix, it was easy to drink and had a nice sweet but sharp taste that didn’t leave a gritty or dry after taste in the mouth. More importantly it was easily digested and didn’t unsettle my stomach or digestive system.

The only down side I can see with using jam is basically it’s a premix that you leave the house with as there really isn’t a viable solution for taking it out on the road and then mixing.

Although this is homemade I looked at other jams and they are very close to mine regarding nutritional values. So I don’t see why others can’t experiment with this!

Get jamming!



CrankPunk Coaching Systems client claims first ever win!

yes! i was more nervous before Ian Hilt’s race then i’ve ever been for one of mine, and was waiting feverishly to hear the result.

i’ve been coaching Ian for 5 weeks or so, and after a bit of a blow-out in his first event just 2 weeks into the CPCS training program his spirits were low, but we got to work and honed him close to absolute perfection – well, kinda!

Ian, a 4th Cat rider from Iowa, not only had never won a race before but had never even been on the podium, if you can believe that.

so congrats to you Ian, great stuff.

Ian, far tight, starting his sprint

Ian, far tight, starting his sprint

all i can say is - YEEHA!

all i can say is – YEEHA!









How To: Write a Training Plan

Here we are, in The Lull. Someone really needs to plan an event that comes between the razmattazz of the Tour de France and the altogether more cotton candyesque Vuelta a Espana (you know what I mean, it’s a hard race but it’s the flyweight amongst the three Grand Tours) to capture the cycling public’s imagination.

There’s no disrespect intended (well maybe a little) but the Tour of Utah and the Eneco Tour just don’t quite cut the mustard, and the Worlds, Paris-Tours and the Giro di Lombardia come way down the line.

Gravel racing is taking off in big style in the USA (races along old fire tracks and gravel-strewn mountain paths) – wouldn’t it be great to see Boonen and Cancellara, Voigt and Voeckler and the rest of the best taking on one of those?

Or maybe a roller-derby type event but on fixies, with studded armpads and no holds-barred? Last to lose a pint of blood wins? Something, anything, to fill the yawning chasm that is our post-Tour existence! (I’d bet on Cavendish every time).

Not wanting to get pulled back into the debate on doping yet again, I thought it might be time to look at training plans. There are myriad options out there and it can be confusing as to how to work out what is most suitable for the individual cyclist, but with a bit of level-headed reasoning it’s not too difficult to work one out for yourself.

The crucial thing though, before even drawing up a calendar, is to ask yourself three questions:


  1. What are my strengths?


  1. What are my weaknesses?


  1. What are my goals?


Most cyclists make the mistake of neglecting their weak points and focusing on their strengths, simply because it’s more fun to do what you’re actually good at, and it’s easier.

And therein lies the first big mistake. Often you’ll hear sprinters say they don’t train in the mountains because they fear that incline work will cut back their flat-line speed. Strong flat riders say the same, and climbers will happily spend hours in the hills but never work on their time trial.

The fact though is that, if you are a road racer, the courses you’ll face will rarely be completely perfect for your talents. Working on weak points will turn the specialist into a more complete rider.

To return to Mark Cavendish, we see a case in point. The Manxman desperately wanted a classic win and so looked to Milan-San Remo in 2009, a course with a finish that suited him but with that featured some pretty impressive hills near the finale.

He looked at his physique and his training plan and made the necessary changes, losing weight and working on the kind of hills he’d face in the race.

He bluffed his way through the races just before, huffing and puffing on the climbs to lull his adversaries into a false sense of security.

Then in Milan-San Remo he bided his time, shocked the rest when he hung in on the climbs, and readied himself for the sprint.

The result? Victory in a race that just about the entire cycling fraternity said was beyond him.

Alberto Contador made a similar adjustment, working tirelessly on his time trialing abilities, which he then married to his awesome climbing prowess to become, for a time, the best Grand Tour GC contender against the clock.

Thor Hushovd and Tom Boonen are also examples of riders who have re-examined their strengths and weaknesses and then adjusted their training to bring renewed success.

And then we have Andy and Frank Schleck, both talented climbers but riders missing speed on the flat. Andy’s own coach bemoaned the fact that he ignored ITT training for too long, relying instead on his climbing ability to get him high up the GC.

So yes, if you are a flat man then the hills hurt, but you always have to remember this: it might hurt in training but you are doing it for the race, or the club run, or the sportif.

Cherish the hurt, because it means you are becoming a more well-rounded cyclist. Include your strengths in the training plan, but work them just once a week instead of constantly. You’ll soon discover that training smart means that there are benefits to be found on all terrain.

If you are involved or aspire to be involved in competition, you should be constantly asking youself: “Is what I am going to do today going to help me in the race?”

About those goals: I always advise people who ask for advice to write them down. Have a clear idea of what races or events are priorities and what are best suited to be used more as training rides.

If you have honestly answered the first two questions then you will be better able to prioritise your racing calendar. And be realistic: getting fitter takes time, and there are nothing but pitfalls in trying to run before you can walk.

A word on racing smart too, before we look at an example plan. For some reason, most cyclists (myself included) get into a race-type situation and suddenly think they have the power of ten men! 60km still to go and BOOM! They attack.

But if we’ve never done 60km solo TT-style ahead of a rampant, concentrated pack in training, why do we suddenly think we can do it in a race?

I’m not a fan of Mr. Alejandro Valverde but he had one great bit of advice: what you feel bad, take a chance, enjoy it. But, when you feel very good, do nothing.

By which he meant that, when the legs are golden, be patient, abide, and go when you know it is the perfect time. You still may not win, but you have to ride to your strengths, and not hand the advantage back to the rest of the pack.

In any effective training plan, you have to build up the intensity, but the timing as to when to do that is crucial.

If you have say 2 months before an event and are just at an average fitness, the first three weeks or so should include fairly longish rides that increase in intensity and come down in duration with each passing week.

Many riders make the mistake of riding for say 3 hours at a constant effort, but this does little to prepare for a race or to increase strength and power. Assuming that the rider already possesses a decent level of stamina, we can do away with these kind of rides unless they are for recovery days.

Another mistake many make is to look at race duration in kilometers instead of time. If you have a 150km race then yes, sure, go ride 150km to be mentally confident that you can do that, but not every week.

Instead, work out how long that 150km at race pace will be roughly in minutes, then go ride the same duration, hard, say once or preferably twice a week.

In the race you will ride most of it in the pack so will be using less energy than when alone, and so the actual distance of the event is not such a useful rule of thumb in training.

Personally, even when I have a 160km or above race I will usually only train for 4 hours max. At a race pace of 40km/hr, 4 hours in training, ridden hard, is effective enough.

Training smart is all about intensity, or to use another phrase, quality over quantity. Some select riders need to ride massive kilometers a week but most overtrain, thinking that kilometers equals fitness.

But what you need in a race is power, speed, and the ability to recover within the race from sustained attacks.

It’s important then, to work out what the race will require you to do, then to go do that in training. It’s impossible to completely replicate a race situation in training but it is possible to replicate sections of a race.

Train with others certainly, but be aware that when you do this you are at the mercy of the collective whim. Spending too much time with others means that you tend to ride more on ego than on brains.

One effective method of getting an advantage from training with other riders is to set up ‘cat and mouse’ situations. Get to a hill or a decent stretch of road and have one guy set off thirty seconds or more ahead of the next, then chase. This is great way to replicate racing, and lots of fun too.

Again, look at the race coming and ask yourself what skills you will need to perform well, or to use a golfing analogy, what clubs you need in the bag.

Is it a criterium? If so, count how many corners are on the course and work out how many times you will be  sprinting – sometimes this can be daunting!

Then get sprint training, quick.

A road race with three hill repeats of a 4 km climb? Then you should be doing three or even four time hill repeats in training, trying to make each effort faster than the last, as often happens in racing.

As you cut down the hours of training in the build up to the race, increase the suffering. Get the intervals going, anything from thirty minutes to five, coming down to three and one in the week before the race.

Many riders think intervals are only really intervals if they are thirty seconds long, but again, think about the race situation. You will probably not need to sprint for 30 seconds ten times in any race but a crit, so why concentrate on these too much in training?

Work on attacking yourself instead within hard efforts. So, do say ten minutes fairly hard, attacking yourself every second minute for 20 seconds, then return to the previous effort and keep it steady, then go again.

If you don’t have a power meter, and I don’t, use the Perceived Rate of Exertion (PRE) scale. On this 1 is barely pedaling and 10 is a nuts out, on the rivet effort.

Within training ride, alternate the PRE scales, increase, decrease, work on riding steady and becoming more attuned not only to your body but to what you are actually capable of – you will probably surprise yourself.

Also, choose a local hill or a local 20km stretch of road where there are few stops and ride them every ten days or so, timing yourself to see the gains you are making.

And in the weeks before the race, be sure to plan small ‘race preparation’ sections, where you can start to work out just what kind of pre-race training works best for you. Some people need complete rest for two days, others are better at keeping on going hard til just before race day.

The only way you can work this out is by either racing – a lot – or replicating it in training.

Finally, build rest and recuperation into the plan. If your form dips, don’t train harder! Instead take a break, out the bike away and come back motivated and fresh.

Training smart means training hard in bursts, and you can only do that if you hit those rides at 100%.

Hope some of this helps you to build an effective training plan!

eating disorders & disordered eating, by James Machin

guest writer James Machin* gives some nutritional advise and talks about the potential pitfalls of getting it all wrong.

Eating disorders have received a lot of press in recent years and we are well aware of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, the deadly trio of nutritional mental disorders.

Many regard this as a problem that only women are afflicted with, however that is a common misconception held by most. Men are just as susceptible to the pressures that modern media and society put on our personal image and looks, and that combined with the increase in people taking up sport and being bombarded with advertisements regarding nutrition products means that more and more people and making unhealthy changes in their lifestyles that they believe, incorrectly, are healthy.

Harvard University undertook the first ever national study of eating disorders which revealed that in a population of nearly 3,000 adults, 25% of those with anorexia or bulimia and 40% of binge eaters were men. However many believe that the figures are higher still with many men reluctant to admit they have a problem, in main part due to the stigma attached to the issue.

This article is about the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating, which is an issue that is rapidly increasing within the circles of amateur athletes and even pro’s that do not have the support of a nutritionist or councilor that can address the issue.

What is the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating?

We all know what the 3 major eating disorders are but disordered eating is not well known and in comparison to the seriousness of anorexia and bulimia is swept under the carpet. However I personally believe that disordered eating is the first steppingstone to the more serious disorders.

So what exactly is disordered eating? Basically disordered eating describes irregular eating habits, such as self-starvation, bingeing, purging and exercising obsessively without constructive rest or nutrition to maintain the body’s natural equilibrium. Although there maybe some similarities between these and the clinically defined “Eating Disorders”, they are not diagnosed as such, and are instead considered atypical, or sub clinical.

A classic example of this is binge eating, followed by the mad dash to the gym during and after the festive season, or the crash diets 1 week before going on holiday, all examples of disordered eating habits that many of us are guilty of. Not life threatening per se but still these processes put your body under enormous pressure that can cause depression or stress and, possibly later or through repetition, may result in more serious disorders.

As a cyclist and cycling coach I hear all types of fad diets or disordered eating habits that individuals are involved in, from crash dieting for a certain hill climb race to completing cutting out carbohydrates from their diet or chicken and broccoli diets in the effort to lose unwanted body weight. Another form of disordered eating and one that I was guilty of until studying the subject of nutrition and mental health, is using food and beverages as a form of reward.

As endurance athletes, cyclists need to pay particular attention to the importance of refueling and maintaining a balanced and healthy diet, including hydration. Those of us that have cycle computers that can give you an estimated calorific expenditure will know it’s almost impossible to replace in a ride what we have burnt, and will often use this as an excuse to binge out the following day with the inner monologue chanting “You did burn 4000kcal yesterday!”

Unfortunately our bodies don’t work like that and this is another classic case of disordered eating.

The facts remain that to lose body fat, the best method for getting it off and keeping it off while maintaining healthy energy levels and a stable mental disposition is a steady effort that can last months, if not years depending on the target weight, by adapting to a balanced, healthy diet, combined with a structured and consistent exercise plan. (Notice I don’t use the word training).

The difference between training and exercise?

Some of you reading this may have been on the receiving end of what you might think was me trolling you: a classic example of this would be a Facebook post such as: “Great training ride today with the guys, 120km with 1500m of climbing, Epic ride!!!” with me asking “What are you training for?”

Yes, training sounds more “Pro” than exercising but there is a danger in this mentality, and we’ll get to this in a minute.

As a coach and nutritionist I sit my athletes down and explain to them the difference between training plans and exercise plans and what they actually need.

Training is when you have a specific objective or goal and a time frame you wish to achieve that goal in. It is incredibly structured with several different phases in training that slowly bring you to the point where the objective is achievable. There will often be primary and secondary goals, with performance markers on route to give a clear indication as to if and where gains are being made or lost.

Exercise and nutrition are constantly fine tuned to meet the needs and requirements of the athlete and (a) clear, concise and easy to understand explanations as to why performance is not improving, or, if it is, how and why. The athlete is fully aware of what is happening.

Exercise plans are exactly that, planning when you can fit exercise in to your daily routine that more commonly than not is sedentary: it’s about changing daily routines to fit it in.

Remember, walking to the train station, taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator is exercise and these can be fitted into your exercise plans.

So what is the danger of treating exercise as training?

Most cyclists will plan their riding around a single day on the weekend, trying to squeeze out as much as possible in the short amount of hours they are able to dedicate, while also participating in some healthy rivalry within their peers (groups).

Many will have done very little aerobic or anaerobic exercise during the week, and this puts an incredible strain on our bodies. Coupled with poor nutrition and hydration choices, this one or two-day training ‘binge’ can have a disastrous effect on our health, and unlike for instance at a gym, there are very few riding groups that can offer professional coaching, fitting and nutrition to their riders.

This brings me back to nutrition. On many a group ride I see riders pulling a plethora or gels, bars and powders from their jersey pockets or emerging from the convenience store with sports drinks boasting of amino acids or electrolytes. These all have a time and a place but in reality your weekend ride is not really the place or the best option.

Some Facts;

Power Bar

Fat: 2g

Carbs: 45g

Protein: 10g

Calories from fat: 20

Total calories: 230kcal

Medium Banana (118g)

Fat: 0.4g

Carbs: 27g

Protein: 1.4g

Calories from fat: 0.4g

Total calories: 105kcal


Or how about the famous Pocari Sweat?

Water, sugar, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium lactate, magnesium carbonate and flavor.

You really think this is good for you?

It’s a fact that during times of intense physical exertion our digestive system is slowed, with the body’s primary focus on hydration and then energy.

So if you are solely hydrating with sugary drinks over the course of a 5 hour ride, consuming gels and bars and with the body’s limit on how much it can digest per hour, what do you think is happening to this excessive sugar intake?

Well, our liver can only process a certain amount; once it’s full it then turns the glycogen into triglyceride which is commonly referred to as fat and most likely than not is then stored as visceral fat.

You get home from a great ride totally spent and craving something sweet, so after knocking back a beer to hydrate you raid the fridge or pick up the phone for takeout.

Sound familiar?

Let’s reconsider the opening paragraphs of this article again

“disordered eating describes irregular eating habits, such as self-starvation, bingeing, purging and exercising obsessively without constructive rest or nutrition to maintain the body’s natural equilibrium. Although there maybe some similarities between these and the clinically defined “Eating Disorders”, they are not diagnosed as such, and are instead considered atypical, or sub clinical.”

Now ask yourself: do I have disordered eating habits?

So what’s the answer?

Well it all depends on what you are doing. Many of us whom should know better are falling victim to the marketing of bars, gels, powders and supplements. We believe the pseudoscience given by self proclaimed guru’s, that their methods and techniques will work when in actual fact with a small bit of research and common sense these can be easily debunked.

Now don’t get me wrong, legitimate sports supplements have a time and a place in a serious athlete’s nutritional inventory (notice I don’t use the word diet).

If you are training for a 100km road race then chances are you want to eat on the fly, trying to replicate exactly the conditions you will be racing to. So you would be eating a balanced nutrition plan to sustain this kind of effort and would have built up to this kind of ride.

In this case the answer is simple, you’ll want the convenience of pre packed gels and bars and a bottle of carb drink and 1 of pure water with maybe a pinch of salt to get you through it. But you’d also be carrying real food, bananas, rice balls or other nutritional alternative and more likely than not you would have a meal prepared for your return normally high carb to be eaten within 20 minutes to actually take advantage of how the body works and thus carb loading intelligently and effectively.

(That’s right, stuffing a high carb meal the night before a ride is not carb loading and all you are doing is again saturating your liver glycogen levels)

But if you are out for the weekend ride with your friend’s then this has been touched on several times: you should be eating healthy real food. Here in Japan we are very spoilt with the proliferation of convenience store chains in even the remotest of places, not to mention the amazing amount of vending machines scattered along the road sides and hiking trails.

The choices on offer are also incredible, however unless you have a fat ratio of under 10% these products designed to replace the lost electrolytes or give you that boost to perform better than before just aren’t needed, and your own stored body fat will pretty much do exactly the same.

Now as I pointed out, the amount of calories we burn on a ride can be enormous and we are never truly going to be able to consume 3000+ kcal over the course of a ride, not unless you have a support car or prepared to stop every 45 minutes and eat something. What we can do is aid the body in breaking down fat into energy, and plain old water is excellent for this.

If You feel the need for something sugary then a mix of 20/80 (100%) pineapple, apple or grape juice and water is everything your body needs and will help you recover from any hunger knock or bonk better than any other product on the market.

You want a long burn fuel? Bananas are the ultimate food for endurance athletes and have been used for decades. Another is the simple Japanese Onigiri (Japanese white rice ball with filling and wrapped in seaweed) which have been the go-to energy food since the 17th century, when warring Samurai would eat them on the battlefield. The portion size is perfect and gives you pretty much everything you need. A Tuna-Mayo Onigiri will give you 232 kcal, while the Salmon a healthier 192kcal. Buy two, one for now and one for an hour and a half later.

You’ll be surprised how much energy they give you when you are waging your own personal battle on some remote mountain pass.

Where do I go from here?

Many of us look forward to our weekend rides, we plan the routes, organise the meeting place and more likely than not plan where you will put in the killer attack that will blow away your peers on a certain Strava segment or signpost, but for most the planning and preparation stops there.

This is actually the time when you should be preparing your nutrition and hydration for the ride: again stuffing your face with pasta is not going to help here. But increasing the amount of food with low glycemic indices such as fruit and vegetables or, if you can get it, whole grain pasta or bread which have a minimal effect on serum glucose levels is highly recommended to people with sedentary life styles during the week.

Watching your hydration practices midweek is also beneficial as not only will it help with your digestion but will slowly increase your retained water, ready for the weekend ride. Again throwing back a liter of water in one go every hour on the hour will in actual fact have a negative impact on performance as it stretches the stomach and can lead to over eating.

Probably the most essential meal before a ride is your breakfast. They say eating a balanced meal 3 hours before a ride offers the optimal performance, however if you have a 6am start I doubt anyone has an appetite at 3am, and in this case rest is probably more important than getting up to eat.

Easy to digest foods such as fruits, yogurt and oatmeal (notice that again these are low glycemic indices) are excellent for pre-ride fueling. Coffee is also a welcome addition as the caffeine helps the oxidation of fat over a period of 4 hours. (8mg of caffeine is recommended, which is equal to about 2 mugs of coffee).

And finally something to eat like a banana while you go through the obligatory 30 minutes of “Faffing” at the meeting place.

At the end of the day it’s all common sense, the majority of people really don’t need the processed, prepacked energy fuels which in actual fact in most cases offer very little benefit compared to readily available food at your local convenience store. Stop and think too before you hit the fridge when you get home – optimal time to eat is within 20 minutes of getting off the bike, and protein and carbs are what you should be hitting.


*James’ Bio: Elite/Pro CX Cat1 Roadie, Professional coach, nutritionist and qualified chef (something very rare in nutritionists apparently) 2010 – 2012 winner of the Japan Road Series (JCRC) Winner of the 2012 Nikkan Sports; Tour Du Japon and 3rd over in 2010. If you wish to contact James please contact crankpunk