RGT Cycling …

Unboxing and first impressions.

Since Victoria is back in lock down for what must seem like a miniscule number of Covid cases to an international observer, now was a good time to explore indoor training apps. I had a one month free introduction to the Tacx app and didn’t think it worth paying up to continue it. This was mainly because I found the software rather clunky and that may be due to the adoption of Tacx into the Garmin family which may not be a natural fit. Specifically I didn’t find a way to share data with Strava without duplicating rides that were also recorded on my Garmin watch. That may be because of my weaknesses in dealing with the technology but Garmin sure haven’t made it easy to find the information you need.

Anyway after my permitted outdoor exercise yesterday morning I stopped thinking about RGT and got on to it. It doesn’t come in a box. You need to download two apps. One to your mobile device and one to whichever machine will show you the pictures. My mobile device is a Samsung phone. The screen is a Thunderbolt Display run from an Apple Laptop. The hardest part of getting the apps, pairing them with each other and then pairing up the heart rate monitor and the Tacx trainer was dealing with the Apple App Store which seems to reject my password every time I visit. The mobile app is the one you deal with, the screen app serves up a picture to watch as you ride. Behind the scene one of them controls the resistance offered by the trainer. The fact that one app was on an Apple the other on Samsung mattered not one bit.

Indoor cycling apps give you the opportunity to look at video (Tacx, Fulgaz, Rouvy) or simulate a ride in video game style (Zwift, RGT) or just show the numbers (Trainer Road, Sufferfest). All are subscription based although the Tacx and RGT package give you some service for nothing with RGT being a bit more generous.

RGT gives you the chance to join group rides and races. These happen in virtual reality but real time. You choose an event, book in and turn up at the appropriate time. You get an email reminder about one hour before the ride starts. Unless you pay for the premium version riding on your own or writing your own training session are not available. I found a suitable race and booked in for an 8pm start. By ten minutes to eight I was on the start line warming up – you can do this without riding into the guy in front (ain’t virtual reality wonderful). When the race starts your avatar starts to make progress and eventually you get to the finish line.

That’s me in the blue, I’d recognise me anywhere, surrounded by an international array of other avatars. That is standard issue kit, I think I can make some changes to the avatar but that jersey is pretty much the same colour as the Peaks Challenge jersey I’m hoping to win. I’ll have to change it if I don’t get one!

All the numbers are there. I’m ripping along at 7.3kph (up a 13.8% incline before you scoff) with 40km still to go. I’m putting out 245watts, my legs are going round and my heart is beating. My avatar is looking a good deal more composed than I was. At that stage I was in 129th position but I improved as time passed.

In the set up phase I asked the software to pass the data onto Strava which it did.

RGT incorporates some very smart features like drafting and slowing the avatar at sharp bends. It was easy to set up and enjoyable to use. I enjoyed the race format and responded in a competitive way (of course I did). I could take a two week free trial of the premium version but you have to sign up then opt out before it just starts taking your money. I’m always suspicious of such arrangements. In this part of Australia you can ride all year without too many interruptions from foul weather – I am an outdoor rider at heart – I doubt that the premium version would represent great value for me. If I were intending to do the bulk of my training inside it would certainly appeal.

Circling the Asylum …

Lock down again. That changes the plan.

In preparation for the Peaks Challenge at Falls Creek I’ve been knocking out a 100km ride about once a week. Aside from that I’ve concentrated on intensity rather than volume with hill repeats (outdoors and on the trainer), intervals and some racing. Rest days and the odd light week are vital to the mix and the first week of February was the light week. There are now 25 days to go. My intentions were to ramp up the climbing and get in at least one 200km ride. Now I find myself limited to two hours a day and within 5km of home.

The nearest asphalt to home is a kilometer away. I could ride back and forth on 4km of black top – hill repeats without any significant hill. The alternative is to take to the gravel on my mountain bike. And it’s not such a bad alternative, increased resistance from wider tyres and the gravel plus the less aerodynamic position and greater weight put the legs to the test. The distance limit means going around and round. It could wear thin but I enjoyed it this morning.

I also slipped in an extra weights session. Tomorrow I’ll do some indoor hill work and perhaps take the mountain bike out again. I can’t see myself doing more than a couple of hours at a time on the trainer.

Spice …

The local veterans cycling club for me is the Central Victorian Veterans Cycling Club. Racing resumed three weeks ago after being shut down by the pandemic last year.

Competition ups the intensity; more in some than in others. As a school kid my basketball coach used to talk about killer instinct. I think he intended it to be synonymous with white line fever. It does appear that I have it in spades. Knowing this to be the case I was keen to turn out for the races, not for their own sake of course but as part of my training program for the Peaks Challenge.

The first week was a graded scratch race. The handicappers conspired and put me in C grade. Away we went. I was keen to do my share of the work. I didn’t want to seem parasitic on the hard work of others. What was I thinking? All seemed to be going well, the pace was quick and yes I was breathing heavily but coping.

All too soon however a corner, that I didn’t take particularly elegantly, exposed me to a harsh cross headwind just at the base of an uphill straight. It was all over in an instant. The string broke. I was looking at the backs of a receding bunch. Initially I thought I might catch them. I managed to pile on some extra pace and the gap stayed constant for a while but working as a team they eventually left me to my personal time trial. An education.

Week two was a handicap race. The handicappers were kind to me, I went with the first bunch away. We had a 20 minute start on the scratch riders. The strategy is quite different in a handicap. A group has an advantage over an individual. Each rider in turn gets out front to break a hole in the wind while the remainder tuck in and benefit from the slip stream. There is an advantage in keeping together, a weaker rider can still be of value even if taking short or even infrequent turns at the front. The bunch is in no hurry to drop anyone but they will sacrifice them eventually if they don’t contribute.

I was getting plenty of good advice and encouragement and feeling good.

Eventually the stronger riders will catch up. Their strategy is to pass at a speed that makes it impossible for you to latch on. Your strategy is to latch on at all costs. You will be welcome if you can take your turns. You will be unwelcome if you spend too long hiding down the back. It was the scratch riders that caught us first and they passed at over 40 kph. I made it across but by digging deep into oxygen debt. I wasn’t with them for long.

Now you have to make a choice. The friends you wanted to make have rejected you. The friends you recently abandoned are behind you and may feel a little miffed that you left them. Slide back and rejoin or go it on your own? It would be ignominious to slide back but even more so to go it alone, blow up and be passed by them!

I put my head down and finished between the two bunches in eighth position. Not entirely shabby … it’s great what a 20 minute start can do.

This is not racing for a sheep station but it is for small stakes. $10 goes in the kitty prior to the race and eighth gets a small token of the club’s appreciation. As a newby I was excused from making a contribution so did not pick up my envelope.

It was waiting for me this week!

Under the circumstances I felt obliged to put into the kitty this time even though they were still willing for me to enjoy my free trial period. It was another handicap. 46 km this week so slightly longer. The handicappers did me slightly less of a favour. I was with the second group away (four groups in all). It was two laps of a simple flat circuit. There was a strong headwind out and by that miracle of nature no wind at all on the way back.

We were caught by the third group and virtually everyone made it across. Subsequently we caught the front markers and they mostly coalesced although only a couple of them had enough left to take turns. We had only about 3 or 4 km to go when the scratch riders screamed past. Two of us made it across, neither of us had the legs to stay there. We both finished between the bunches. I improved my position to seventh – just as well I contributed to the kitty.

This time I collected my winnings with a big smile on my face. The scratch puppies that beat me all looked way to young to be in the vets. I think I should call for the production of birth certificates next time.

Indoor Mountains …

The Peaks Challenge at Falls Creek entails more than 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) of climbing. Living in the flat land makes it hard to prepare the legs. One answer is an indoor trainer that can simulate the resistance that would be experienced climbing hills. I settled on the Tacx Neo 2T and with the help of Youtube got it up and running. I’m currently enjoying, if that’s the right word, a one month free trial of the Tacx software.

Here’s a shot of the pain cave …

I’ve repurposed a superseded lap top and thunderbolt screen and added an ANT+ dongle to the computer so that it can read my heart rate monitor. In this shot I’m setting off to climb the Jaufen Pass. The video advances to match the speed that you’re making whilst the software adjusts the resistance to reflect the gradient.

Here’s a screen grab nearing the top of the pass …

On the left of screen you can see speed, power, cadence, heart rate, time elapsed, the gradient and in the tiny letters the most important information is the distance to the top.

The real Jaufen Pass is in the Alps in the far north of Italy. On the Tacx the ride to the top is a little over 15 km and climbs 1,087 meters. Average gradient is 7.2% and it maxes out at 9.4%. You can continue down the other side but I can’t for the life of me see why you would, you reach impossible speeds with no effort and round corners in a fashion that would be lethal in real life and are too dizzying to look at on screen.

How does it compare with the real thing? It certainly feels pretty realistic and I think it will substitute well for the missing mountains.

As well as a library of videos there is a workout section where you can set up an interval session with control over gradient if that’s your thing and there’s a built in ramp test and FTP test.

The trainer will work with other apps such as Zwift and RGT. They have free introductory offers that I will probably make use of before choosing which way to go in the long term.

Meanwhile there are 54 days until the big event which equals four Jaufen Passes plus a whole load of connecting asphalt.

Four Days On …

and one day off.

The week was invented by astronomers not physiologists. It just divides the lunar month into neat quarters. From a fatigue management perspective shorter regular blocks suit me better than a seven day week. The biggest problem is that the calendar and the program don’t stay in sync. If Wednesday is the group ride and Saturday is race day the system runs off the rails.

Within the block I like to ride hard then easy, easy, hard then the fifth day is a day off. There is nothing sacred about that order so that’s where group rides and race days can be accommodated – just change the order when necessary. The day off though is well worth preserving even if it means ending a block early.

Occasionally it runs to plan and last week a block looked like this …


Distance kmClimb mTimeTSS
Wed1013293hr 52m289
Thur57692hr 38m111
Fri551682hr 6m174
Sat1098134hr 18m377

The Training Stress Score (TSS) is one of a number of tools designed for quantifying training load. It uses power, time and intensity. Riding flat out for an hour would give a TSS of 100 and leave you gasping on the side of the road. Riding at lesser intensities for longer periods will enable you to achieve higher scores and still be able to walk!

Strava has a similar tool called Relative Effort and my Garmin Watch comes up with Training Effect. Today’s ride for example had a TSS of 154 or Relative Effort of 147. Training Effect in the Garmin universe is expressed for Aerobic and Anaerobic scores separately 3.6 and 1.1 today.

A TSS of less than 150 is considered Low Intensity, recovery will take less than 24 hours. 150 to 300 is moderate, you should be fit to train the next day, over 300 is high and some residual fatigue may last 2 days. The Peaks Challenge will likely generate a TSS over 400.

A hard day may be a long ride, a big climb, intervals or hill repeats. I’m probably as guilty as anyone of making my easy days too hard and my hard days not hard enough.

My Garmin Fenix6 watch gives me access to a coaching program. It’s an odd situation being coached by your watch. It has no idea of my goals. Tends to suggest workouts that aim to improve functional threshold power and criticises me frequently for a lack of anaerobic effort. For someone preparing for an event that will have me in the saddle all day long rides are essential. The watch often dismisses these as unproductive. Given the money I paid for it I think it should show its owner considerably more respect.

I never was very coachable. At least the watch doesn’t shout at me when I ignore it.

The Training Plan …

An athlete should do the least amount of the most specific training that brings continual improvement.

Joe Friel.

In other words specificity and efficiency. What you can do this week depends in the main on what you did last week and the week before. If the objective is an endurance event and you aren’t confident on the basis of what you did last week then you need to do more this week. If it entails a great deal of hill climbing then you’d better climb some hills.

The other side of the coin is the more you do the more fatigue you accumulate. So I need to increase the training load but allow sufficient time for rest and recovery.

A training plan seems a good idea. Bicycle Network are the organisers of the Peaks Challenge and they offer three training programs devised by Dr Stephen Lane. It’s suggested you make your choice based on how much time you have available in your regular week. The least, perhaps the most efficient, calls for 10 hours a week, the biggest for 16.5 hours a week. I downloaded the intermediate one aiming for 12 hours a week.

They all give you a 16 week lead up to the event. Each starts with a measurement of your Functional Threshold power (FTP). Workloads are specified with reference to your FTP. They call for six days training followed by one day off. Hard days alternate with easy days and the fourth week of each block is an easier week. Long rides are prescribed for the weekends. Finally they wind up with a taper. Dr Lane has more advice and encouragement in video form all of which can be found <HERE>.

At the core of all three programs the quality work is much the same. Extra time in the more time consuming programs is largely more long slow distance. Up hill interval training figures prominently.

The programs have been designed to suit working people. They stay in sync with the calendar and don’t bite too deeply into weekdays.

The guru of my running days was Dr Ken Cooper. In his view exercising 5 times a week was the optimum. The additional benefit from a sixth session wasn’t great and came at the cost of possible injury and increased fatigue. In those dim distant Marathon running days there was never a time when I arrived at the starting line with as much training behind me as I would have liked but I never withdrew from a race (nor did I ever win one!)

Given the entrenched belief that six days in a row is too much and the fact that I’m not a slave to the calendar I have opted for working in 5 day blocks – Hard day/easy day/easy day/ hard day/day off. The second easy day includes a weights session.

The base that I’m coming off has been fairly consistent over the four months August through November with an average weekly volume of 365 km and 2,040 meters of climbing. Time invested has been 16 hours a week. In December I made a serious effort to increase the climbing, time stayed about the same but I climbed 3,120 meters a week, distance was slightly down.

I have no mountains on my doorstep so 15 minute intervals up hill pose a problem. The best hill in the neighbourhood offers about 5 minutes of climbing. I’ll cover the solution to that problem in a future post.

I also have a few treats lined up for myself to spice up the training.

Really … ?

I have seen the Peaks Challenge describes as the hardest one day mass bike ride in Australia. My mother would have suggested I was trying to run before I could walk. The prize for those that complete the 235 km and 4000 meters within the 13 hours allowed is a cycling jersey.

Preparing for any endurance event requires the outlay of emotion, time and money. There is a gulf between romantic notion and reality. To arrive at Falls Creek in the sag wagon would be to drop right into the gulf … public humiliation and no jersey. What makes me take the gamble?

It’s not entirely a leap in the dark.

Experiment number one. 200 km ride.

This on a fairly flat course.

Nutrition – 2 bananas 1 litre of water.

Results – Average speed 24 kph, sore bum, sun burn.

Lessons learned – sunscreen, more water.

Experiments 2, 3 & 4. Ride up and down Mt Hotham, Falls Creek and Tawonga Gap.

These are the three major hills on the route. Each is a worthy challenge in itself but I made it to the top of them. Falls Creek from WTF corner to Mt Cope is the toughest and that’s the one that comes last!

I’d ridden most of the course in segments before shelling out the entry fee and booking accommodation. Can I put all the segments together in the allotted time?

The hardest ride that I’ve done so far is Omeo – Falls – Omeo, 150 km, 2,400 meters of climb. Lets call that experiment 5. It took 7hrs 30min at about 20 kph. If I could hold that pace the ride would take 11hrs 45min. That doesn’t account for all of the 4,000 meters. Let’s assume that meters climbed are far more influential than kilometers on the flat and divide the time by 2,400 and multiply the result by 4,000 we have a prediction of 12hrs 30min.

It might be possible. The job in hand is to make it probable. Climbing is the key. There are 74 days.

Peaks Challenge …

Is this madness?

I just submitted my entry for the 2021 Peaks Challenge at Falls Creek. It’s run by Bicycle Network and this is how they describe it …

Peaks Challenge Falls Creek is a 235km ride with 4,000+ metres of climbing, set among the backdrop of the beautiful Victorian Alps.

You’ll tackle the ascents of Tawonga Gap, Mount Hotham and finally, ‘The Beast’ that is the back of Falls. The back of Falls will hit you like a tonne of bricks. With 200km in your legs, you’ll quickly learn why the first pinch is called WTF Corner. It’s a steep and relentless climb with little reprieve.

D Day is Sunday March 7th.

The challenge must be completed within 13 hours or they will cart you off the course in the sag wagon. It is further than I have ever ridden before and entails ascending up half an Everest. So you see I have set myself up for a very public humiliation.

Success depends on loading the legs and I’d better get cracking with that soon! I’ll share my preparation. If you are inclined to join up here’s the link BicycleNetwork.

Full Cycle

A year ago, this very day, I came home from Ballarat with a brand new ebike.

The next day, the first of December, I cycled for the first time in about 30 years. A good friend had encouraged me to take this bold step so I wrote to him …

Hi John

Went for a ride this morning on my new bike. I rode 37 km at an average speed of 16 kph. Top speed was 35 kph which I can assure you was down hill with a following wind. I was praying not pedalling. I ended up buying a Merida tourer/mountain bike with a Shimano motor. I hope to be able to walk tomorrow.

Cheers

Rob

I turned the engine off a few days later and soon after I bought a Mountain Bike. That kept me happy for a while. There are plenty of gravel roads and forest trails around home. Not too many mountains. I still use it occasionally. Variety is the spice of life.

But quite soon I was unable to resist a road bike. Or a head unit, a heart rate monitor, a power meter and lots of lycra.

In 12 months I have ridden 12,900 km and climbed 65,500 m, my longest ride so far is 200 km and the biggest single climb 1,358 m. I’m 14 kg lighter today than I was a year ago.

This is the highest point on the Great Alpine Road. I am a tortoise rather than a hare but reached more than 60 kph on the way down. It is testament to how far I’ve come that I didn’t start praying. I was too distracted by the smell of burning coming from my brakes.

And I could walk the next day.

So Much Cycling …

Because a certain pandemic has rearranged everyone’s schedule we had overlapping Grand Tours. The Giro d’Italia finished yesterday. The 7th stage of the Vuelta a Espana goes off tonight Australian time.

The last stage of the Giro was a 15.7km time trial with the leaders, Jai Hindley and Tao Geoghegan Hart separated by just hundredths of a second. It was hard to decide who I should barrack for. Jai Hindley is an Australian like me. Tao Geoghegan Hart is a pom, like me.

When it come to the cricket I go for Australia over the poms but Tao is a Hackney boy as am I. Apparently he played soccer on Hackney Marshes as did I … and my father and my grandfather. On the other hand Jai is from Perth, WA. Although I affirmed my allegiance to Australia the Covid virus has clearly demonstrated that I am a Victorian not an Australian. State borders are closed to Victorians, indeed the WA state border is closed to everyone.

Both lads have done remarkably well. Both started the race as domestiques not anointed GC riders. Rather than get out the voodoo doll I decided that I would be happy whoever won.

Congratulations to the Hackney boy! When are you migrating to Victoria?