by Dean Fletcher
In the blog of 22nd October, we touched on the use of power meters. I stated that I do not use one, and that I would investigate them. A couple of days later, nobody less than Michel Prud’homme was lamenting their use. He called for the UCI to ban them at the tour. Fighting talk. So, after some research, I am going to say what I think. And also,Strava. So, let´s discuss these two big subjects, and ask. Strava and watts, are they spoiling the fun.
When I discuss this with friends, it becomes a bit like Brexit, or religion. Everybody has a very firm view. You love Watts and Strava or you don’t. Polarised is too strong a word, but it isn´t far off. So, who is in favour of these two additions to modern cycling? It seems to me to be those who compete at the highest levels. Not exclusively, but in my small census, there is a leaning towards top end cyclists. For training purposes, there is a huge advantage using Watt meters. I have seen this first hand. The ability to control your effort, in short intensive training is clear. Also, what you thought was your absolute threshold, is indeed a lot higher. The watts don’t lie, so you keep pushing to new levels.
Can it become like a Drug?
This is what worries me about the use of these meters. We have all seen Chris Froome staring for hours at his display. Riding like a computerised human. Agreed, it hasn’t done him too badly, but there is only one Chris Froome. Yes, we can learn from him, but we ride our bikes for the enjoyment. And this is the paradox of power meters. Once you start using them, you become addicted to Strava and watts. Speed, distance travelled, the scenery. It all becomes irrelevant. Those three numbers before the W are all that matters. And that isn’t why we ride a bike. Certainly, for me it isn’t. So, yes, they can improve your training. Yes, they can improve you as a rider. And, undoubtedly they are a great weapon in your armoury as a cyclist. Will you enjoy riding more with one? I didn’t.
Strava is a bit more difficult to argue against. However, I am going to try. And why? Simply because I enjoy riding a bike. I am not competing against anybody, just myself. When I ride in a group, of course I like to test myself. Equally I like to speak to my fellow riders, take in the scenery, and much more. I have found over the last few years that this is more difficult. And the reason is Strava. Go out now in a big group, and it is “eyeballs out” all day. Particularly if there is a strong wind in favour on a particular “”. Everybody wants to get up the league. It has become an obsession. I realise that many ride bikes for the competitive side. Comparing times with friends. Pushing to the limit. It is escapism, and that is why we love the sport so much. Strava helps those who like to ride, and like to boast a little.
Many will argue that there aren’t any at all. I am simply going to say that I do not have Strava. I have Garmin, and when I get home, I download my ride. It is good to see how many kms, how many metres climbed, cadence etc. That helps me know where I am physically. However, I do not have any interest in who is the KOM on my local mountain, nor their time. Cycling for me is a hobby, and for 99.9% of cyclists it should be that. Only the top 0.01% are pros. If cycling paid my wages, I would use every available tool to improve. I ride a bike because I love it. Cycling has turned into a business for me. We try to make our cycling holidays in Spain as interesting as possible. I love riding, and even more with people that I have never met before. However, if my obsession is just the numbers, then I won’t love it.
So Strava and watts, are they spoiling the fun? The answer to that is yes if you just ride for the enjoyment of it. The answer is no if you really want to improve and compete. For somebody in the middle like me? Those who can ride a bit, but don’t want to sacrifice enjoyment. For now, I will stick to the old ways. Perhaps I just need a bit more research. This means more rides, which is always good news.
by Dean Fletcher
A while back I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Oscar Pereiro. Oscar is Galicia’s most famous cycling son, winner of the 2006 Tour de France. During our chat, Oscar spoke about the importance of being an athlete, not just a cyclist. He told me about how much he enjoyed running, particularly in his off season. He emphasised the importance of running and riding, as part of his overall training. And above all, he made a lot of sense.
Early morning rollers
If, like me, life is always a battle with weight gain, then running and riding makes a lot of sense. I love my food and find strict diets quite demoralising. So, anything that can help with weight loss, or weight control is important. Particularly if it means that you can still enjoy your food. On the riding front, half an hour of steady work on a static roller first thing in the morning is perfect. OK, I agree that it can be hard to get up thirty minutes early. However, if you can do it, the benefits are huge. With no food in the stomach, the body burns fat as you ride. Just half an hour, at 125 bpm heart rate will suffice. And you will be ready for the day. This was something that Oscar did every morning, so it must be beneficial. Look where he ended up.
Benefits of running and riding
Many cyclists hate running. And rightly so. If we loved it, then we would be runners. Or perhaps the halfway house of triathletes. As somebody who completed a half-ironman, for a bet I must add, I have done a bit of running. Pounding out the kms on the road is no fun if your heart is a cyclist’s heart. However, running and riding can be fun. And the key is, where you run. If you can, look for off road running. The impact on joints is a lot less, and this is important, particularly amongst veterans. I must add that many cycling buddies are ex-runners, who came to cycling to recuperate from running injuries. Looking for trails, or paths through forests, or just a decent sized field is preferable to asphalt. Here in Galicia, we have a lot to choose from.
A problem with cycling can be the time available. Many with busy lives can only find a maximum of 45-60 minutes during the day. The rollers are always a good idea. As mentioned above, this is always more beneficial first thing in the morning. However, an hour, or less, is a lot of time when running. So you should try and incorporate it into the schedule, particularly during the winter months. Buy a decent pair of off-road trainers, and start finding those routes. You will see the benefits very quickly indeed. And if you are looking for cycling holidays in Spain, then bring the trainers with you. There are endless kms of trails here in Galicia after a good days riding to explore.Continue
by Dean Fletcher
Many who decide to look at cycling holidays in Spain, do not live in mountainous countries. Yes, most countries have hills, and plenty of tests for those who love climbing. Spain, and in particular Galicia, can be a very challenging place to ride your bike. So a lot of thought has to go into gearing set up for your cycling holidays in Galicia. What works in the rolling terrain of the UK, may not be ideal for the steeper stuff to be found on Spain’s north west coast. So what is the ideal set up?
Most riders who live in non mountainous regions, will ride with a standard gearing set up. Standard gearing implies a chain ring of 52 or 53 teeth, combined with an onner ring of 39. The inner ring can be a 36 tooth, if you are prepared to pay for a decent front derailleur. This type of set up, for a decent rider will be ideal for a cycling holiday in Galicia. It will enable them to enjoy the flatter roads next to the coast and rivers. At the same time, the climbs will be manageable for a regular rider. As long as the back wheel sprocket has 27 or 28 teeth in its largest ring, almost all climbs will be possible. For a decent rider the recommended set up would be So 52-36 front and 11-27/28 back.
Compact Gearing Set Up
For years I always used the 52-36 gearing set up. However, just recently I have switched to 50-34. The first thing to do when switiching to a compact set up is swallow your pride. Also, forget any pre-conceived ideas of a compact set up being slower. Of course, if you are a Cavendish or a Sagan, a compact group is not for you. However, most cyclists are not, so use what suits you best. On shorter punchier climbs, I can now stay in the big ring. With an 11-27 sprocket, a 6-7% climb of 2-3km is doable in the big ring. Steeper gradients are more manageable with the 34 up front. Real steep stuff, 20%+ will always hurt. With the 34 it does seem to hurt a bit less. The sacrifice is top end speed, particularly descending. However, this is a small price to pay for the improvements in climbing.
As with a lot in cycling, it comes down to personal choice. The machismo element will see a compact set up as impossible to use. It isn’t any admittance of lack of strength to use a compact gearing set up. Personally, I am in the best form of my life. My weight is good, my strength too, and I am setting personal bests on some climbs. I firmly believe that the compact set up has been the difference. And more important than anything, the enjoyment factor has increased. I can now tackle climbs such as Arga de Cima and also the ramps of Mougas knowing that I will get up. And that, especially if you are on a cycling holiday, is more important than anything.Continue
by Dean Fletcher
Power meters. I don´t have one. I love riding my bike. Primarily to keep fit. Also for the sheer pleasure it gives me. The pain that shoots through my legs when I am climbing. I relish the shortage of breath as the lactic kicks in. That is why I ride a bike. Its a psychological thing for me. I think personally that it keep me young. Mentally and physically. I know it is different for all of us. So let me recount a couple of recent experiences I had with two very differing views on cycling.
Power Meters. Watt is the story behind them?
On Saturday I rode up a beautiful climb, MonteCastrove with a decent group of riders. About twenty of us, and I was somewhere in the middle ability wise. When we reached the top, I “stumbled” upon a conversation regarding performance on the climb. The best guys were all comparing their Strava times on the climb, examining segments. Like me, not all had the Strava app on their phones. However, I was the only one of the ten not to have a power meter. They were all comparing their watts, and examining where they could make improvements. The “winner” was a pure climber. 55kg of sinew and muscle. His average watts were very low compared to the second. He was 72kg but a beast on a bike. The difference in their wattage output was about 33% in purely mathematical terms. I have to admit I was lost totally, so moved away from the conversation.
Where has the Fun Gone?
I will touch on the value of power meters in another blog, as now I am intrigued by their use. Thus, as somebody who has a science degree, albeit form another era in time, I am always fascinated by numbers. However, my initial thoughts on the conversation were these. Nobody spoke about how much they enjoyed the climb. No one seemed that fussed on the fact that we were 450m above the Ria de Pontevedra, with stunning views. It was only me who mentioned that there was a golf course at the summit. As an ex top level golfer, perhaps I only had an interest in that. Nobody spoke about anything, apart from watts. So, are power meters and Strava spoiling our sport, or are they fundamental.
An Alternative View from a Pro
Ten days ago, I had the pleasure to spend three hours riding with Luis Mendonça. Luis is one of Portugal’s top professional cyclists. I have known Luis for about six years. Without a doubt the nicest guy you could meet. We rode together, at a brisk pace , as I looked for new climbs near his home in northern Portugal. At the top of one rather agonising summit, I asked him about the climb. I was in pieces, he wasn´t even sweating. My question was how do his numbers compare to when he is racing to riding with me. His answer was simple. ” We averaged 14 km/h, in a race it would be 22km/h on that climb at least”. My reply was simple. “What about your watts and heart rate”. His reply was a surprise. ” I don´t have a power meter, and I don´t monitor my heart rate. I ride by sensastions, always have”.
I need to study all this more before I give an opinion. My initial thoughts as a scientist, in the loosest sense of the word? Numbers always help, how can they not? When I trained for a half ironman in 2015 I was numbers driven. However, this was because I hadn´t swam for 32 years, or ran more than 5km. I had to use some sort of yardstick. However, with cycling surely obsession with numbers takes away the pure enjoyment. Or does it? Those obsessed with Strava and power meters at the top of the mountain seemed as happy as I was. Perhaps they ride for different reasons to me. I need to do more research before reaching my own conclusions, which I will share on this blog. That will include more kms on my bike, and all of them in cycling in Galicia, so I will enjoy my studies. I will keep you posted.Continue
by Dean Fletcher
There are many regions to choose from when considering cycling holidays in Spain. So why Galicia? There are many considerations to be taken into account when planning your trip. Spain is a very varied country. Its regions, its climate, its accesibility and its cycling culture all vary substantially. So why does Galicia stand out?
Mallorca and Girona
The most popular destinantions for cycling holidays in Spain are without doubt Mallorca and Girona. These have been the staple diet for years of cyclotourists to the country. Mallorca is well set up for cycling. Plenty of holiday companies operate there, and generally the weather is good. So what are the downsides? One could say it has been the victim of its own success. Mallorca now can be full of cyclists, and cars. This issue fed the emergence of Girona as a new centre for cycling holidays in Spain. As the professional peloton became more international, overseas riders set up home in Girona. It has plenty to offer, but again could be going down the path of Mallorca as overcrowded. The “been there,seen it , done it go the T short ” mentality.
Spanish regions north and south
Other hotbeds of cycling in Spain have their own issues too. Andalucia and Alicante are popular, as many parts are just like being in the UK. So those looking for authentic Spain will be disappointed in Alicante in particular. It is “Britain on sea” . The Basque country is the domestic haven for cyclists. However its terrain can be too demanding for many. Asturias is the same story, and the weather there can be awful, even in the summer. Many have seen the Angliru in the Vuelta at 5 degrees and raining in late August.
Cycling Holidays in Spain.So why Galicia?
The question therefore is when booking something new for your cycling holidays in Spain.So why Galicia? Galicia has everything that you could possible need. Accesibility via Porto is very simple. The roads are excellent, and due to a lower populaltion density, relatively traffic free. The weather is very ambient. No overly cold temperatures in winter, nor sweltering heat in the summer. The terrain can be challenging, but only if you seek that out. There are endless kms of flat, mildly undulating terrain, and much of it coastal, or next to rivers. The price is very competitive. The quality of food in relation to its cost is second to none in Spain.
So, overall Galicia, despite it being realatively unknown, is perfect for cyclists of all levels. The next time you look into cycling holidays in Spain, put Galicia at the top of the list. Guaranteed enjoyment.