I rarely, I mean never, write about actual sciencey trainingy sporty stuff as it relates to bicycling. I don’t know anything about it, I don’t care anything about it, and I always fear that facts will delude people even further into thinking that their avid hobby makes them special, different, better, or worst of all, athletic.
However, the weekly Flog Ride that goes off every Thursday does have some sciencey type benefits, and every week after the ride I send out a little email recap to everyone who participates in which I berate, cajole, praise, offend, encourage and suggest better ways to do a ride that is voluntary, unorganized, unowned, and like all such rides a random happening of riders who have all assumed the risk of riding on public roads with other bicyclists and cars.
This past week Kristie Fox penned a particularly excellent description of the Flog Ride’s “lead-out” section, so excellent in fact that it hardly belonged in the weekly email, and as it smacked of science, reason, training effects, and applicability to the sport of cycling [OXYMORON ALERT], I thought it appropriate to re-post it here, especially as it contains a brief history of time and the Flog Ride.
THE FLOG LEAD-OUT AND WHY IT MATTERS
When the ride first began in October of 2014, it was six continuous laps, essentially a race, with no regroup at the top of the golf course. In order to make the ride safer, a regroup was added in the parking lot at the country club, with a neutral descent down to Malaga Cove Plaza, keeping all riders together for the start of the next lap. The effect was that, instead of a steady-state and uninterrupted solo chase effort by each rider for the duration of the six laps, the ride became an interval session, a near-VO2 or threshold interval for 5-7 minutes, repeated six times.
This change increased the intensity of the efforts but shortened the duration and added a rest period. Essentially, it changed the structure but conserved the overall energy expended on the ride. This is shorthand for, “It was still a brutal beatdown.”
Of course, it also made the ride more “social,” as in the original iteration if you got dropped, which everyone did except for Stathis the Wily Greek, you were by yourself for six laps.
The lead-out that now exists at the start of each lap is intended to provide the same intensity. Prior to the introduction of the lead-out, the effort began at or before the right turn onto PV Drive North leaving Malaga Cove Plaza, and the fast descent out of the turn propelled the group at a very high rate of speed to the bottom of the climb up PVDN. If you were not at or near the front on the turn, catching up to the leader took a high power output because the interval began at the turn.
Of course due to traffic there was also separation as one or two riders could squeeze through and the others were left to chase. Hard.
Seth loved to attack out of the turn here and force the others to chase. After some screaming between Seth and G3 last year, the group decided that a neutral turn onto PVDN was a better option for the ride due to traffic safety, but the slow start was compensated for with the addition of a lead-out.
The lead-out was intended to conserve the energy of the ride: Its function was to get the group back up to the pace they would have been at had everyone been shooting the turn balls out, sprinting to the bottom and then clawing their way up the climb. Again, the goal was conserving the overall energy of the ride and maintaining the difficulty of the effort. The first climb had always been an all-out or threshold effort. In the new formulation, the lead-out goat sacrificed herself to the other riders by setting a pace comparable to what it would have been in previous years with the fast descent and attack up PVDN.
Without this element of an initial hard effort up PVDN, the ride would have lost one of the most challenging parts of the course.
For those who are trying to win the lap point atop the golf course, this crazy hard lead-out also made each lap more strategic. You had to decide whether to go full gas with the lead-out and take advantage of the gap it created, as may riders would certainly get shelled, or sit back in the chase and see if you could make up ground by holding a steady effort a-la Cobley and not going into the red, then smacking down whoever remained on the wall. The lead-out also gave riders a chance to get on the leaderboard by awarding them a half-point in an environment where the same coterie of riders generally tended to scoop up all the lap points. It was, in other words, a trade-off: You give it your all and you’ll get a half-point and the ride’s intensity will be preserved. You, unfortunately, will be fucked atop PVDN when your lead-out ends.
The PVDN climb is a:50 to 1:30 effort, depending on who’s leading. Intervals of this duration and intensity are some of the hardest from an energy standpoint. They straddle the line between glycolytic and aerobic thresholds. Performing an all-out, supramaximal VO2 effort of this duration requires a minimal amount of passive rest before an athlete can perform another effort of a similar level, and even more active rest, which is what we do on the Flog. If you can do the lead out and still latch onto the group at the top, win the lap, or outsprint any of the leaders at the golf course bumps, you have not done an all-out, supramaximal effort, in other words, you have not done the lead-out.
As a result of this effort, if done correctly, you will be in a state of oxygen debt, rapidly trying to replace oxygen stores in the muscle. This means deep heavy breathing that would not allow for acceleration. Gasping for breath. In addition, the first 45 seconds rapidly use stores of phosphocreatine and glycogen, with a smaller contribution from aerobic pathways. Return of these stores to levels that would allow another high effort to begin requires more than 3 minutes of passive rest and up to 9 minutes of active rest. It would be impossible to recover from a true lead out and still have a good performance on the same lap, because as the amount of time of passive rest required to recover would put you at the wall on Campesina. If done properly, you may not even be recovered by the next lap. Even with the proper amount of passive or active rest, both mean and peak power decline after the first interval if subsequent intervals are performed immediately following the prescribed rest periods. That means that if you have done an all-out effort, your peak and mean power will be lowered somewhat for the rest of the ride.
So why would someone want to volunteer to do the lead-out if peak and mean power will be compromised? Because this is a training ride, and we all have aspects of fitness we are trying to improve. Although you will experience some decreases in power, there are some adaptive reasons doing even more than one lead out can be a good fitness tool. Plus, you’ll earn, yes, EARN, a ½ point.
The anaerobic power reserve (APR) is an overlooked component of fitness that contributes to performance. The APR is measured by the difference between maximal sprinting speed and speed at or just below VO2 max. The greater the reserve, the more rapidly the athlete will fatigue. We want to develop power and be capable of sustaining it over time. We want to increase our maximal power, and then close the gap between that power and our speed at VO2 max. That is how we get faster and less fatigued over time.
Let’s say your weakness in this equation is maximal power. Using the lead out as a way to increase your maximal speed/ sprint ( by doing more than one per lap) will develop maximal power and also cause increase your ability to perform at or above VO2 max. If you are using the lead-out for this purpose, you need to take advantage of the rest of the lap and the proceeding lap as a rest phase in order to fully develop this system.
If your weakness is V02 max, you will want to use the lead out in the opposite way: As a catalyst to increasing your time at VO2 max over the course of the ride. This will extend your endurance and speed at VO2, and the bottom end of the APR equation. You would do this by performing the lead out at maximal effort that approaches or reaches VO2, then attempting another effort after a short active recovery period of one to three minutes, depending on your fitness level. Yes, your effort will have less power and add to your overall level of fatigue, but you are developing your resistance to fatigue at VO2, which is a different fitness component than power. The more minutes you spend at VO2, the more this system will develop.
If you do both of these types of training methods, over time your pace and endurance at VO2 will increase, in addition to your maximal sprint pace. This translates into better race and group ride results, more points, and a lot more pain.