Monday, September 17, 2012

Evolution/Maturation of the Cycling Brain

This weekend I rode with Marcos Mazzola Lazzarotto, a cat 2 racer from the Integrated Sports Medicine Cycling Team who recently moved to the area with his wife. I came across him through the Virginia Tech Cycling Team listserve as I was looking for a cyclist whose brain I could "pick". I wanted to know how a competitive cyclist approached training and racing and what they think about when they are putting down those miles. (In human factors research, it's the "think aloud" method of data collection!) I was ready to have a few new things to mentally chew on and I got those today.

When I first got my bike in June 2009, I thought only about two things:
  1. Pedal.
  2. Get through stoplights and stop signs without falling over.
By the 2010 race season, I was ready for the next phase of the "evolution of my cycling brain" and with Coach Jim's help, I added a few more things to think about:
  1. Shoot for a 90'ish cadence.
  2. Get aero as much as possible, especially down hills.
  3. Pedal full circles.
 Last year I took it up another notch and into my little cycling play book went things like:
  1. Power through turns more aggressively.
  2. Cut tangents.
  3. Attack the tops of the hills.
Then I started noticing that there was a "sweet spot" in my cadence that got me the most speed for a given heart rate. I began to get braver through turns and down hills. I felt stronger out of the saddle. I got a bit more tactical in my passing. There was a marked improvement in my cycling which left me wanting to know find new ways to tighten things up and gain efficiencies. Today was a data collection day!

I'm still digesting what I learned from Marcos but much of it boils down to minimizing deviations from race pace - conserving slightly down hills and in tail winds to have a bit extra for things like climbing and headwinds where that marginal effort can get you more. Better to work a little harder over the crest of a hill than to have to work a lot harder down the hill to make up the ground that was lost. Boldness must be tempered with safety - power carefully through a turn and accelerate more quickly out of it, rather than risk crashing and wasting a lot more time. He also reminded me that this was intended to be a "conversational pace" recovery ride!!

And of course, you can't have a conversation with a competitive cyclist without wishing for a power meter ;-)  Oh, SANTA!!!!!

(One funny aside...I have to confess to being thoroughly tired this weekend. So when the weather looked rainy, I emailed Marcos with an "out" for the weather, which he did not take. I sucked it up and met him, and of course was glad I did. At the end of our ride he said he read my blog and almost threw my "#38 Double-check the forecast, but train regardless of the weather" quote back at me. Hahaha! I'd say he has a bright future as a coach!)


  1. Ahhh, now this is a topic that we can spend hours talking about, unlike running!! The tips you learned this past year puts you way ahead of most the field in a race, I learned those from being on a cycling team, never would learned those on my own or training with just triathletes.

    Another trick, maybe you already know it, but when passing someone, use their slipstream to suck you in and allow it to whip you past them, makes your pass that more commanding and with greater authority

  2. HAHAHA! Great post!

    I have a power meter and I love it. It has really smoothed out my efforts. When I first got it, I was going by heart rate and mine is slow to respond. It also doesn't elevate if I am overly fatigued. Consequently, I was going too hard at the beginning of every workout and tapering off as HR drift took effect and when I was truly fatigued, my efforts were much too intense over all. Now, since the efforts are so much more level. I am working at the proper intensity all of the time and I can sustain a higher effort for much longer. Plus, it smoothed out my pedal stroke. I found an SRM used for 1/3 of the cost of buying new! Besides, everyone should experience the trepidation that is associated with making one's coach THAT happy!

  3. In order to achieve Cycling Brain, one must first own a bike. And that right there is my downfall. Gonna start thinking about this for next spring. Maybe it's time for me to try cycling?