Ironman 70.3 US Championship

Weiss Battles for Fastest Bike Split on BMC

SRM sponsored triathlete, Michael Weiss, posted his third consecutive fastest bike split following IM Cozumel and IM Melbourne, at the Ironman 70.3 St.George US Pro Championships on Saturday 3rd May 2014.This was Michi’s first 70.3 distance race since the 2011 Worlds in Las Vegas where he finished 4th and in spite of that lack of specific race intensity he has lost none of his power and speed! Michael delivered a stellar performance on a challenging and technical bike loop last Saturday in a field knee deep with uber bikers like Sebastian Kienle, Marino Vanhoenacker, Jordan Rapp and Andrew Yoder to name a few. Additionally, Weiss moved to a new bike sponsor, BMC, a few weeks before St. George and is adapting to the subtle differences in frame geometry and components. Even so, in the time available Michi adapted just fine! Let’s take a look at his SRM file:

SRM Hammer Time

Michael's bike split was 02:07:32 for the 90km route giving him an average speed of 41.90 km/h. This speed required an average power output of 344W (371W Normalised Power). However, because the loop contained almost 1000m of vertical ascent cumulative featuring multiple short climbs and the longer Snow Canyon climb, it was never going to be a steady paced effort. This is very important to know because unlike, say a steady paced flat Ironman bike leg as Michi experienced in Cozumel and Melbourne, where an athlete can effectively ‘dial-in’ known target race watts and leave it there, a course like St. George does not allow that and this has real metabolic consequences in terms of fat metabolism (reduced) and glycogen metabolism (increased). Even though Michi’s kilojoules input/output ratio on the bike was the usual 1:4 or 25% (We know how many carbohydrates he took on and we know from the SRM that he expended 2650KJ in mechanical energy, the rest is simple maths) it is certainly the case that his precious glycogen stores were being depleted at a greater rate than during a steadier state Ironman effort due to the higher race power and necessarily uneven power delivery. This challenge needs to be understood and trained for.

Furthermore, because Weiss rode much of the bike leg with an elite group containing Kienle, Rapp, Wurtele, Twelsiek and Tollakson, we can see from the stochastic ‘jumpy’ power trace below (Note how the ‘unsmoothed’ 1-second sampled view of the data really highlights the variability in power output) that staying in this uber biker’s group required constant pace change and reactions so as to efficiently accommodate frequent changes in gradient, technical sections and group dynamics all the while maintaining the minimum legal drafting distance. Real skill sets and not stuff you learn on the turbo trainer!

Jumpin' Jack Flash

The dark highlighted section above is interesting as it shows the last 5km of the Snow Canyon climb, which while not ‘Alpinesque’ in its magnitude, did constitute a real proving ground for a selection to take place. Indeed, it was at this point that both Rapp and Twelsiek distanced Michi by about 45 seconds. This is not because they had more power but because Michi weighing in at around 81kg gives away in the region of 5-10kg to these athletes which on a climb of some length and even only modest gradient compared to what we love see at the Tour de France, considerably affects watts per kilogramme and thus climbing speed. If Michi was climbing for over 15 minutes at 4.7 W/Kg at 21.2 km/h (see below) then Rapp could match that with only 300W if he weighed (as published) around 70kg, while Michi had to put out 370W+ for the same climbing speed! 

Long Steady Climb

Living on the Edge

If we look at the frequency chart of the whole ride in the SRM software (above) we can get an immediate feel for Michael's race day threshold power and preferred self –selected cadence. This is especially informative to coaches because it highlights the athlete’s natural ‘tipping point’ on race day or the power level at which he was comfortable to knock up against on a frequent basis but not happy spending much time past that point. The coach now has a very valuable insight into where to pitch future training stimuli for that particular athlete targeting similar race courses.

Based on Michael's recently tested critical power (similar to FTP) and the derived training zones overlaid on to the simple power trace for the overall ride (below) we can evaluate how the race effort ‘felt’ to the athlete and how ‘deep’ he was able to go when it mattered. This is especially informative when analysed in conjunction with a heart rate trace (Michi does not like wearing a belt) when ‘normal’ heart rate values are known for the individual athlete as the combination gives great insight to the level of fatigue he or she is carrying. Looking at the graph below we can see that Michi was happy to spend a lot of time criss-crossing zones 3 and 4 (tempo and threshold) but kept the effort range pretty tight even though he did not pace the effort from numbers but from feel as there was just too much going on in the race to focus in on the screen in front of him. This is an indication of a) A very experienced athlete who knows where his limits are (remember he let a couple of guys go up the road on Snow Canyon knowing full well he could reel them back when the road flattened, as he did successfully) and b) An athlete who is happy to spend many a minute deep in the pain cave pushing at his limits!

Training Day

So in summary, another hard race in the kit bag, another step up in performance with PB’s on swim and run splits and the best bike of the day. It should be pointed out that Michi had almost exactly the same race as Sebastian Kienle in terms of swim, bike and run splits and overall race time. Finishing just seconds behind a two-time 70.3 World Champion and top 5 Kona finisher is one very good day in the office! Welldone again Michael and thank you for the transparency in letting us all see your numbers and putting them up there for analysis.

See you at Ironman 70.3 St. Poelten!

Garth Fox - Scientific Performance Coaching

Garth Fox – The Sports Scientist’s Age Group Performance Tip:

Sometimes you should endeavour to train power ‘blind’ and let your perceived exertion dictate how hard you can push. This way you allow the watts to be the product of the session and not always the goal which can be very beneficial to developing pace judgement and allow you to respond to terrain and the ever changing dynamics of racing without always having to look down. In training and racing you should always record your watts and make liberal use of the ‘Set’ (interval) button the Powercontrol whenever you have to make a specific effort as this is really useful for you or you coach when you sit down after the ride and look how your body responded to different work loads at different times in the race or training session. Then ensure you test on a regular basis (I like Critical Power testing for athletes) in order to measure changes in fitness but also to provide an accurate framework and context for every session and race you do. SRM power gives you training precision. Use it!

Michael Weiss – The Athlete’s Age Group Performance Tip:

The most challenging section of the bike course was the climb up Snow Canyon. It starts with a moderate grade, including some flat-ish parts, but gets fairly steep in the second half. As I was leading a group of strong cyclists into the climb, I felt strong and just kept up my regular 70.3 goal Watts. It was a mix between riding still in aero position and grabbing the base bar for more power transfer. Starting from the far steeper section, Jordan Rapp passed me, followed by Maik Twelsiek. I was a bit shocked, as I realized that I was not able to follow, or better to say looking at my SRM PowerControl7 I opted not to attempt. Don't get me wrong- I was really hurting and truly in the pain cave- but having the long downhill back in my mind, plus the reigning 70.3 World Champion Sebastian Kienle still riding behind me, I remained calm and confident. Pushing into the very red zone would have been too much risk for blowing up. I had faith in my Watts and a realistic knowledge of my individual power output. My coated Atomic High Performance 42 chainring and a 28 cog on the rear cassette kept me spinning up controlled as much as possible. I knew, that both Rapp and Twelsiek were lighter athletes than me, and perhaps they were just pushing harder. Using my SRM system totally paid off, since Kienle and I were able to close the gap again on the high speed downhill, where absolute Watts and aero dynamics count the most. We even could slightly break away in a more technical section leading into T2.

Bottom line: Don't go too hard into climbs, and stay calm and confident when lighter/smaller athletes outride you. Chances are big that you will catch them again on the downhill or on flatter sections.

Technical advice: On courses with higher elevation gains, always be prepared with a cassette and/or small chainring which match your climbing abilities.

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