Q&A with trainer Josu Larrazabal: How TFR utilizes its SRM PowerMeters during a Grand Tour like the Vuelta
Look closely at any of the Trek Factory Racing sleek red Trek bikes and you will see centered on each handlebar a red, square SRM headunit – a mini-computer dashboard so to speak – and eying each crankset you will notice each one fitted with an SRM Shimano 11-Speed PowerMeter.
Power meters are not new to the world of cycling, training and racing with this technology has been around for roughly 20 years already, all thanks to its creator, SRM.
The German engineered SRM (Schoberer Rad Messtechnik) was the first crank-based power meter and pioneers of the science behind power-based cycling. SRM first established in 1986, but due to its initial high cost did not make its way to the general cycling communality until mid-1990, and since then power-based training has exploded.
Where once training and racing with power meters was seen only in the pro ranks, today it is the normal standard for most competitive cyclists, from amateurs to pros.
Trek Factory Racing is continuing its partnership with SRM through 2016, and we wanted to know more about how Trek Factory Racing utilizes this cutting-edge technology, specifically in a grueling race like a three-week Grand Tour.
A few days after the Vuelta finished we cornered director and trainer Josu Larrazabal to drill him with a few questions about the Vuelta, the SRM, and just what the heck the team does with all the data it collects.
First of all explain your protocol at a race and what parameters you are looking at with the SRM?
JL: At the race we have an SRM unit on each rider’s bike, which we then synchronize with the SRM server. In this server we have files from the riders from the last three years, so we have already a big database. When the riders are at home they need to synchronize their files themselves, but at the race I am taking care of that.
With the SRM we are looking at speed, cadence, temperature, altitude, heart rate and, of course, power [wattage]. With all this data we can define the profiles of the riders, and then knowing their profile we can determine their best value for every kind of effort (ie. 30 sec, 1 min, 5min, 10min, 20 min, 60min etc).
Did you analyze the data for each rider every day during the Vuelta?
JL: Because I am also a sport director, it was impossible for me at the Vuelta to download and analyze the files every day for every rider. But there are times when we do use it for specific riders in the race so we can know how they are performing.
We can see if a rider is close to his best, or even if he’s improving some of his best values, or if he’s in a normal range, or if he’s under his normal range. This way we can make certain decisions during the race, like, for example, in applying the daily strategy in the team’s plan.
So if a rider is not performing well the first step is to find out why and then try to fix it. Many times it’s just due to a little bit of fatigue, so then that rider will go through the days and try to recover a little it and look for another day where he can perform at his best.
Do you have an example from the Vuelta where you analyzed the SRM data of a particular rider during the race to judge his performance?
JL: A good example would be our sprinter Danny Van Poppel. Before Danny won stage 12 we noticed that he was performing especially well in the mountain stages, and he was always recovering really well. To track recovery we check the heart rate in morning, and again at night, and also monitor the power day by day. We saw that his levels were not going down.
In the big climbing stage in Andorra Danny was never in trouble and climbing really well. I remember he was the last to roll down from the bus to the hotel because we were in discussion with him, analyzing his numbers for that day, and we told him, ‘you are ready to win tomorrow!’
For us, it was so clear that he was ready after seeing him go so well on a mountain stage like this, and of course the next day he did win and he easily could have been second or third, but what we saw after Andorra was that he was ready to do his maximum and that he could fight for the win. So these kinds of things you can see with the data.
Of course, with a guy who wins a lot of races he has enough feedback from the results, but for the others, young riders like Danny, they don’t have complete feedback and sometimes there are not confident enough. So you can show them the numbers and tell them, ‘Look you are doing the same numbers you were doing while winning these other races, you are feeling good and you are ready for the best result’. Many, many times we use the numbers to give them extra motivation.
Aside from using the SRM data during the race for immediate feedback, what else do you do with all the data you collect at the races like the Vuelta?
JL: A three-week race is a really special context. You cannot control the load, the race dictates this, and so the data we collect during the race is used primarily to track how the body is responding during a three-week race and we use that to figure out how this rider can perform further in a 3-week race. We don’t take the data from a race like the Vuelta and expect the riders to mimic this in training, because you can never train a period like this at home.
So what we have is the profile of the riders for the specific races. So we know for example which kind of numbers, which kind of efforts, a rider needs to do for a Cobblestone Classic, or what kind of effort it will take to be ready for the Ardennes [Classics], and we have defined already what kind of effort it takes for a one week race, and of course for the three-week Grand Tours. So with this in mind, and also with the goals of each particular rider, a training plan is devised.
During the Vuelta the team had to change its tactics from racing for a high GC to racing to get in breakaways and focusing on stage wins. How did that affect the team? Did you see big differences when analyzing the SRM data?
JL: Haimar [Zubeldia] and Fränk [Schleck] were never training to go into the breakaways where a rider does a huge effort in the beginning of the race to try and get in the break. Normally our GC guys save their energy during the race until they have to go big in the last part of the race. Of course, once the race changed for us and we needed to adapt our goals and change the way we race, it’s true that when you are ready to do a big effort at the end of a race you are also able to do a big effort at the beginning, so we could easily adapt.
It is a different effort going into the breakaways, jumping onto the wheels over and over again, but when you are prepared for racing the GC you are ready for other efforts, too. But when you see the power profile of the guys going into the breaks it is very different from the profiles of those going for the GC.
But the GC guys train to go deep 2, 3 even 4 days in a row for the mountain stages, so when Haimar went three times in breakaways in one week he was able to do this because of this type of training for the GC. They are able to recover well and go deep again the next day. Even if you see the numbers are different they are able to handle it.
Josu, you have a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and Sport High Performance and have worked as a trainer first with ProTeam Euskatel, then with Radioshack and now Trek Factory Racing. What is your opinion about power-based cycling, which in the last years has become the norm within competitive cycling?
JL: I have now worked for eight years working with power meters. SRM is the pioneer in power meters, and they have shaken up the science behind cycling. Before SRM came in the mid-90s we tried to understand the science of cycling using indirect methods in the labs with V02 max, lactate and heart rate.
Cycling is unique; for example if you compare with a sport like marathon running you can define quite well what is going on in a race because the force is regular; it is quite easy to simulate it in the lab. But cycling is completely different; it is a stochastic effort - now full gas, now easy in the downhill - and with the SRM in the 90’s we began to gain data to define cycling finally in a direct way. This changed completely the science behind cycling, now there are no more limitations. We have all this data from training and racing for all specific races and we can now train to be ready to be in the best shape needed.
For Trek Factory Racing training with SRM has become the core of our training system. It is the entire communication between coaches and the rider.
I coach 13 guys on the team, but we monitor the whole team, we have control over everyone, and with the SRM we are able to communicate with everyone’s training even if they work with their own coach.