Each winter, Daylight Savings Time forces working cyclists everywhere to answer this question as the daylight hours shift conveniently in place with the traditional 8-5 workday. There’s no way around it for the next three months – you’re going to have to make sacrifices somewhere.
Do you ride the trainer, get out for a lunch ride, leave work early for a short ride before sunset, mount some lights and brave the night, or just say “fuck it, I’ll see you in March”?
In many ways the winter months are the hardest for a competitive cyclist. The road season is still a long way away, the cold and the wind seep through even the warmest outfit.
But it’s the winter where the differences are made. Your FTP, ability to suffer, and most importantly your fitness base are directly related to what work you put in in the long winter months.
Today, I’m excited to announce the launch of a new cycling website, LetsRide.co. The goal of this site is to make it easy for cyclists to find group rides and events in their area. If you’re interested, check out the site and let us know what you think!
Hopefully this explains why Eran, Andrew, and I haven’t been blogging this past year!
Of all the major1 sports, cycling “performance” is the most easily quantifiable. There are power meters fixed to the majority of the bikes in the professional peloton and wind tunnel testing has become a staple of the offseason regime for folks with pro contracts and those with cash left over from their latest Audi purchase. Yet (and I promise I’ll get off my high horse after this), people forget that “performance” is not about the Watts, the deep rims, or the obnoxious helmets; it’s about the results. (which is fortunate, because power data for many pros is simply a matter of speculation2).
This brings me to my first assumption: a rider’s performance is directly related to their position on the results sheet. A cyclist needs to have the power, the handling skills, and the tactical awareness to get high up in the results (not to mention a little luck). The limitation this assumption introduces is the fact that the work of the lead out men3 and the domestiques go unaccounted. I’m okay with this assumption because domestiques and lead out men are typically not nearly as good as the person they’re leading out, so would generally fall to less significant places if riding for themselves.
Let’s start with the 2013 World Tour. Up until the end of October, 228 riders have scored at least one World Tour point. Their ages4 fill the distribution in Figure 1.
We observe a roughly Gaussian distribution, peaking at 28 years old. However, this doesn’t account for the relative performances of each age group (i.e. a rider with 1 WorldTour point and one with 100 points count the same, but shouldn’t). To give a better representation of the performances, I took the sum of the points scored by each age group. The results are shown in Figure 2.
I think this distribution gives a much better approximation of how performance is related to age because it accounts for the magnitude of results, not just the count (though a count is indicative of the trend by itself). That being said, I think Figure 1 is essential for a qualitative interpretation of Figure 2, as the total number of World Tour points scored and the number of riders scoring those points are obviously correlated.
Because these data are quite noisy (we would expect nothing less from a sample of just one year), I repeated this process for 2012 and 2011, the first year the current system we implemented. These results are shown in Figures 3 and 4.
In both figures, we observe that a Gaussian distribution better fits the data, though for the latter figure, there is significant deviation at age 32. This spike has a lot to do with the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Tom Boonen, Alejandro Valverde, and Simon Gerrans having banner years in 2012, taking 4 of the top 6 positions, not to mention Joaquim Rodriguez and Michele Scarponi’s great 2011 seasons putting them 3rd and 4th, respectively, in the WorldTour for that year.
However, a lot of the noise in the distribution may be a result of the way the World Tour ranking system is designed. The “worst” cyclists on this list (and there are quite a few), have only one point. Compare this to Philippe Gilbert in 2011 where he accumulated 718 points and enough wins to keep even the most ambitious amateur sandbagger content for their whole “career.” Does this make him 718 times better than those with only one point? I think not.
I turned to Pro Cycling Stats for a ranking system that put the performances of different professional cyclists in better context.5 They have their own points per age distribution that I encourage you to check out,6 but I feel that once we start getting past cyclist #300, the ranking starts to get a bit muddied as it’s so terribly hard to properly weight races and account for riders across country lines. Therefore, I stuck with a similar sample size as the World Tour – 250 riders. In Figures 5 and 6, I add the data from Pro Cycling Stats to Figures 3 and 4, normalizing both point values in the latter figure.
In Figure 5, we see that the Pro Cycling Stats and World Tour populations exhibit a nearly-identical trend. However, in Figure 6, we observe that the Pro Cycling Stats model has significantly less noise, due in large part to the nature of their points-allocation style.
If we imagine a Gaussian curve over the data, we might conclude from the data that peak cycling performance is achieved between the ages of 26 and 28. That being said, I think it’s quite likely 2011-2013 were just bad years on the whole for riders aged 29-31, and that as the years progress and more data is presented, we might see performances of the middle-aged (relatively speaking) cyclists approach or even match those of their younger competitors.
Pro Cycling Stats has ranking data as far back as 2005, but as far as I’m concerned, every performance in those years should be subject to significant skepticism. It’s like comparing football quarterbacks from different eras – there’s just a completely altered climate that inserts so much murkiness (e.g. older riders might have been better at doping and getting away with it).
As expected, there is a clear correlation between cyclist age and their performance as measured by results-based ranking systems. From the last three years, the data indicates that the average rider will reach their peak around age 27, though it will be interesting to see how the distribution fills out as the seasons progress.
As I was compiling the age information for many of the cyclists, I noticed that the birthdays tended to be earlier on in the year. If so, perhaps this is a byproduct of the ‘racing age’ organization that cycling has adopted. If you’ve read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you will be familiar with this phenomenon. Athletes born earlier in the year are more developed than their slightly younger counterparts, and therefore get more attention and support from coaches, amplifying this difference all the way to the professional level. Perhaps a subject for another analysis.
Thanks for reading.
1 I know, I know, cycling hardly qualifies as ‘major’ in the States, but from an international perspective, I have no qualms calling it ‘major.’
2 If I never heard or saw the term ‘VAM’ again in my life, I think I would die a very happy man.
3 And women. This analysis focuses on the male professional peloton as there are more (and better recorded) data.
4 ‘Age,’ used throughout this post, means racing age, the oldest age one will be in the current year.
With a plethora of likes and comments, I now truly know how it feels to be on top of comedy. I’ll go down in history alongside the likes of Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., and, somewhat confusingly, Joseph Smith.
The first thing I did when this post got popular was head to the nearest branch of PNC Bank to cash out my internet points. When the teller gave me a quizzical look, I pulled out my super duper smart phone and showed her all the likes I got, exclaiming “I’m rich!”
“Sir, do you realize that your internet vanity doesn’t have any monetary significance?” queried the teller. “W-w-w-what?!?!?!” I stammered.
My world had turned upside down. Even doing the “L” trick with my hands, I still couldn’t tell left from right. Further, I couldn’t even tell right from wrong. Perhaps Star Magazine was right when they said “KIM GOT PREGNANT FOR $22 MILLION!” Wouldn’t that be a travesty?
In any event, I knew I needed to get out – and fast. Fast, like a atheist at a theological conference. Fast, like that woman in the “Want to Get Away?” airline commercial. Fast, like a tourist lost in west Baltimore.
I pointed at the window and shouted, “Look, snow!” The entire bank staff fell for the ruse and by the time they could say “you asshole,” I was out the door and retrieving my escape vehicle, the Cannondale CAAD9-5. I set a blistering pace out of the parking lot, traveling at speeds upwards of 25 mph.
By the time I got back to my apartment I was terribly parched. I was so thirsty that I drank from the tap instead of taking the time to replace the filter on my Brita. What a poor decision that was. Immediately I was filled with a burning feeling – and not the good kind, you know, like when you find love with your childhood friend, get married and then have it annulled 55 hours later because you didn’t realize she was actually crazy.[Source] I mean, come on, did you guys even talk about this? We’re talking about the sanctity of marriage here, people. It’s that thing that everyone complains about at work. Speaking of work, if it takes work to fuel a marriage, doesn’t that mean you’re working all the time? I hate working. Sometimes, when I’m really bored, I’ll print out pages upon pages that simply have “WORK” written on them. Then I’ll go to the firepit and burn them, dancing around the fire and chanting “man, man, I’m sticking it to you, man.”
. . . a world without Freds? If it weren’t for people who go out for training rides on tt bikes and disc wheels, I don’t know who I would make fun of.
. . . a group ride without Strava? The tactics would be so much different if it was a race to the state line rather than a race to the top of the hill.
. . . a cycling industry without carbon fiber? Aluminum, titanium, and steel can only be engineered in certain configurations; would it be possible for the industry to create a “need” for metal bikes with huge price tags?
. . . a bike race without torpedo helmets? Pretty soon you won’t be able to as the torpedo helmet is quickly surpassing the Air Attack in reference to both cutting edge design and extreme dork-itude (so expect to see them in full blossom next spring).
Two years ago we saw the infamous dogfight between Team Sky and Juan Jose Cobo. On a day shrouded in mist (literally and figuratively), we saw Cobo take the race by the horns with a daring attack up the Angliru, distancing race leader Wiggins and teammate Froome to take the red jersey.
The next year we saw a courageous attack by Alberto Contador on Stage 17 to take over the race lead, which he barely held on after a vicious move by Joaquim Rodriguez on the penultimate stage.
And this year, with the return to the Angliru on the last GC-relevant stage on Saturday, we saw a spectacular race that will go down as one of the finest of the season.
In many ways, this stage was such a representation of the beauty of the sport for reasons not having to do with the actions of the cyclists. The thick fog and huge crowds, pressed into the center of the road, created an atmosphere rarely matched in any race.
Vincenzo Nibali showed his class with repeated attacks in the face of a stronger opponent, Chris Horner. With the gap between them small enough to be flipped using time bonuses, Nibali’s aggressive riding made this race a true nail-biter. While he wasn’t able to unseat Chris Horner, let’s not forget his master class in the Giro back in May.
Kenny Elissonde taking the stage solo, yet another win from the ranks of the French youth, perfectly encapsulated the paradigm that successful bike racing stems from courageous riding. No team was able to control the race and stage after stage we saw the favorites duking it out with very mixed results.
While the Tour de France has a more polished air about it with developed team tactics and meticulously-calculated efforts, the Vuelta has consistently produced a story that reflects what the sport of cycling is all about. A fitting concluding chapter in the 2013 Grand Tour book.
Today the Vuelta a España comes out of its second rest day and into its final 5 stages. While Vincenzo Nibali cracked hard on Stage 16, Chris Horner and/or Alejandro Valverde are going to have to do something special to keep Nibali from the Giro-Vuelta double.
But instead of looking forward, let’s look backwards; off the back, that is.
I’m in a bit of a quandary. I don’t know how to classify Horner’s (and Rodriguez’s) words in and around the Stage 11 time trial. Before the time trial they pulled the old:
“I’ll try to limit my losses.”
In other words, “I suck at this particular facet of stage racing.” Sure enough, they both shed a minute and a half to Nibali. After the race, Horner asserted that he wasn’t much of time trialist. So my quandary:
Is it an “excuse” if a rider says they are going to suck, goes on to suck, and then verifies after the race that they do indeed suck?
If not an excuse, then what? See, it’s sort of like Mark Cavendish coming to the Alpe d’Huez stage in the Tour de France and saying “you know what guys, I’m probably going to finish off the back today.” But on the other hand, all these Grand Tour contenders are exactly that: Grand Tour contenders. This typically entails time trialling. So a Grand Tour racer saying that they lost because they can’t time trial is just a deeply ingrained excuse, is it not?
What happens when you take a guy built for classics and try to make him a pure sprinter?
That being said, Farrar had a good run at things a few years ago taking a stage in the Tour de France, but I feel like he’s following the same path as Thor Hushovd (i.e. quickly losing all sense of relevancy). As Cyclingnews reported on Stage 12:
“Frustrating? Oh, of course. I am enjoying the Vuelta, but I am frustrated that the results have not been better. The team was perfect. It was too hard for me. I was on Gilbert’s wheel, he seemed boxed in, but he found a way out. Alex [Rasmussen] put me in perfect position with 2km to go.”
“This happened, then that happened, then something else happened and that’s why I’m off the back.” Like in basketball, the triple threat is a big difference maker executing excellent cycling excuses. Except that in cycling you can do all three threats at once by piling your excuses on top of each other.
As another year of college begins for many of you, I’d like to share a few observations from my three years of cycling in college, especially in regards to the benefits and challenges on training.
The biggest benefit of being in college for an experienced cyclist is the flexibility to train when you want. Your expectations as a student are to A) show up to class and B) meet deadlines. Generally speaking, as long as you meet your academic obligations, you’re free to train whenever you please. This means that if you are done class early, you can go out and do a 3 hour Zone 3 ride in daylight no matter the season! The typical 9-5 job doesn’t afford this luxury, so you’re getting much more freedom to arrange your training schedule.
Con: Heavy Workload
If you are in an intensive major or are an extremely devoted to your studies, having a regular heavy workload can be a considerable burden not only to availability of time to train, but also to the amount of sleep you’re getting. Not having a full night’s rest after a hard workout is one of the easiest way to disrupt your training plan – especially if you’re regularly getting less than 5 hours a night. While the working (wo)man can reliably train, work, and get a full night’s rest, the student is left to the mercy of week to week academic obligations.
Pro: People to Ride With
If you’re at a moderate to large-sized school, chances are there are a lot of people you can ride with. This is especially beneficial for beginners as they tend to need that bit more motivation, but this is also great for experienced riders to keep you from going insane by yourself on those 3+ hour long rides.
People tend to drink in excess in college. Big shocker I know. This can result in:
Attempted feats of strength resulting in injuries
All four are pretty detrimental to a training plan. I’ve only ridden hungover once or twice but it’s an absolute drag. If you have the mental fortitude to put out the watts even in a rough mental state, good for you, but for the rest of us, drinking can be a serious inhibitor to training.
There are a number of positives and negatives that college has on your cycling training. All in all, however, I’ve found that sticking to a training plan is easier in college and (at least for me) has a positive influence on grades as you’re forced to work more effectively on your homework so you can ride (amongst other benefits). So, if you’re in college, take advantage of the time to train and get better than all the graduated losers!
Are you frustrated with racing? Well I am. Over the course of the season, I’ve noticed a steady decline in name-calling, crashes, and general irritation in the peloton.
AND THIS ISN’T WHAT CYCLING IS ABOUT. Competitive cycling is about those two guys getting in a fight over some shenanigans that went down in their sprint for 18th place. Competitive cycling is about that burly Navy racer sitting up and removing his gloves 2 miles from the finish, almost taking down half the peloton in the process, all in the name of improving his chances to *maybe* finish in the top 10.
Let’s restore competitive cycling to its roots by implementing these seven annoying techniques:
Snack on awkwardly messy stuff – Crunching on a big bag of Chex Mix before a race is sure to piss off your fieldmates. Taking your hands off your bars during the last leg of an ascent to wipe some Cheesy Gordito Crunch off your face will make them go bananas.
Sarcastically comment on other racers’ equipment – Ask the guy with the Air Attack how his spacewalk went.
Do zero work on the flats – I’ve heard sitting in is very pro.
Attack in the feed zone – Because you are a self-sufficient cyclist and/or nobody loves you, crush the field when their guard is lowest… in the feed zone. They deserve to feel your pain.
Don’t point out hazards or turns – Hey, its a race, isn’t it? You snooze, you lose. . . And crash and break your collarbone.
Sing the songs you like to sing – Whistle, hum and sing along to your favorite song. Double points for “Call Me Maybe” or “I Love It.”
Now that the road season is coming to a close, I feel that it is apropos for this week’s workout to be anything but a workout.
With Facebook, Strava, Twitter and all the social media networks out there, we get a constant barrage of “epic” ride updates from our friends, nemeses, and ‘friendemies.’ It’s easy to forget about the lesser publicized form of training: the recovery.
For every quality workout, there needs to be quality recovery in order to create a quality athlete.
If you’ve been training and racing for a while, putting in a recovery day here and there is a no-brainer. But let’s expand further; what about consecutive recovery days? Recovery weeks? A couple of years ago in mid-Fall, I was riding with a Junior racer interested in the University of Delaware. On the ride, he mentioned that his coach makes him take off 6 weeks from training at the end of every season. Sixweeks! He said that his coach felt like this was an adequate amount of time to avoid overuse injuries that can be so damaging to young athletes.
If I spent that much time not on the bike I would definitely go (more) insane, but I think taking a few weeks off at the end of the season is a smart move, especially based on what my body is telling me. A little knee discomfort here, a twinge of pain there, these are signs that my body is tired of the strain and needs a full recovery. So the doctor’s orders are two weeks off the bike.
Maybe some people can just keep it going year round, but taking significant time off at the end of the season or even during can work wonders for achieving a complete recovery and even getting your mind back on track.
How much time do you normally take off at the end of a season? Or do you just jump into the next sport (i.e. cyclocross)?