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…

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

8 thoughts

  1. Indeed, there are those who ride their bikes and those who collect data. Some of us do more of one than the other. Thanks for giving us our due.

  2. First, thank you for the kick in the arse. Getting my bike out to ride, even if it’s only to the local post office.

    Second, I like the computers mainly for the cadence feature, as I have a hard time with that, but usually have to listen to my muscles as I have a couple years on you, good sir. Glad to see you’re still at it & I think you’re doing it right. Best wishes on your new year & may it be blessed with podium finishes.

    1. haha i needed it too, just had a 6 week winter ‘break (more like breakdown 😉 ) in which i piled on enough lard to make Jan Ulrich blush. all the best to you too and thank you very much for the comment!

  3. Great article!
    Howeverm, I am exactly the oposite. But, Im a nerd, a computer programmer and I love math. The power meter has transformed how I think about training and how I look at it. Sure, it has its downsides, like the loss of “feel”, no doubt. But for me, it is the most motivating thing ever, and I can “relive” it all when I analyze the graphs and the history they provide given the collection over time. It is also extremely helpfull for me, since Im not a pro, I have a day job that requires alot of me. With a power meter (and hr monitor ofc) I can more easily do quality workouts, since I do not have 10 years experience nor 5-6 hrs a day experimenting with “feel”.

    But, I had to read and study to really understand and learn how to use the power meter. One cant really do power meter training halfway, you have to be committed to really get the full benefit. I totally agree with you on that.

    Stuff like the power meter, the GPS tracking and so on is what gives me that little extra motivation and extreme passion.

    1. hi denatus, yes i do see the point in power meters for certain people, and they are very cool – SRM actually sponsored me for a year but, true to form, mine broke after 3 weeks and i never bothered to send it for repair. i did though leave it on just to scare the opposition. seemed to do the trick. so yes, i can the benefits!

  4. People like me, who don’t measure watts, are not ‘Luddites’ by the definitions you yourself quoted. We neither destroy machinery nor oppose technological change; we just don’t embrace all of it, and we are not slaves to that which we do embrace. Would you call yourself a Luddite for rarely using the ‘Caps’ key? x

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