March 26, 2010 by Irish Peloton
Discover your cycling potential
There is an enormous focus these days on the training values of a cyclist. A rider will base his season goals and training schedules around values like lactate threshold, maximum heart rate and VO2 max. Measured in mililitres per kilo per minute, Tour de France winners typically have a VO2 max upwards of 80. It’s a measure of the ability to transport oxygen around your body. Lance Armstrong’s magic number is reportedly 84, Greg LeMond’s was over 90. I on the other hand, have a VO2 max value of 54. I also have a maximum heart rate of 201, my lactate threshold is at a heart rate of 148 bpm and I am made up of 16% fat.
I know this because I was invited recently by Go Cycle Ireland down to the Sport Sciences department at the University of Limerick where my performance was tested. Previously this facility was only available to the likes of elite athletes and Olympians. Now, through Go Cycle Ireland anyone can book themselves in to be tested and have their results analysed by a trained expert.
To find out my limits I took part in a ramp test, the goal of which was to get me to cycle on a turbo trainer at incrementally increasing power levels until I physically couldn’t keep going. Whilst cycling I was hooked up to ventilation monitoring equipment and a tiny blood sample was taken from my ear lobe after each increase in effort. All I had to do was to stare at a digital screen which displayed my power output and make sure that I was producing the required watts. I started at a leisurely 90 watts, every three minutes thereafter I had to increase the power by 30 watts. Once I reached 210 watts my thighs were starting to burn and my breathing became much heavier. From then on it was increases of 15 watts every minute. I got to 285 and the pain in my legs was becoming unbearable. The physiologist was beside me, spurring me on, telling me I could get there, I could up it one more time to 300. She counted me down, three…two…one… I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth to try to produce an extra 15 watts. I could feel the lactate acid burning in my legs. With my eyes barely able to focus any longer on the digital readout in front of me I could still hear the voice next to me telling me I had it in me to get to 315… in three…two…one… I couldn’t get to 315. I was done, completely spent, I had reached my limit at 300 watts. To put this into perspective, the likes of Fabian Cancellara can produce over 500 watts for miles at a time.
After I had showered, changed and normal feeling had returned to my legs I sat down for a talk with cycling coach Vinny Gleeson to discuss my results. He went through all my values and suggested things I could do to improve my performance based on these values. He explained to me how over time, with the right training at the right intensities I could increase the power I produce without going over my lactate threshold. He gave me a training plan tailor made to my heart rate and power output which if I follow should see me sail through the Wicklow 200 in June.
The Wicklow 200 has been around for thirty years and has become a benchmark for many leisure cyclists. However there are plenty of other great sportives organised in Ireland. The An Post cycle series is becoming increasingly popular with organised rides in Sligo, Meath, Waterford, Cork and Clare. There will also be a brand new sportive this year called the Étape Hibernia which will take place on August 22nd this year. The route takes in most of the county of Clare and is most noteworthy because it will be taking place on closed roads, something which most leisure cyclists, myself included, have never before had the chance to experience.
Go Cycle Ireland, as well as providing performance testing in the University of Limerick, also provide organised cycling trips around the country. So as part of the experience, the morning after I was tested, I was taken out on the open roads of Clare to cycle a 145km route very similar to that of the Tour de Burren. I’m ashamed to say that until that morning I hadn’t been out for a spin longer than 70km within the last six months. With the route we were undertaking weighing in at just over twice that, I was in for a tough day in the saddle.
The route was quite undulating and very exposed. Had there been any wind it would have made the spin markedly more difficult. As it happened we were treated to one of the finest days of the year so far with not a cloud in the sky nor a breeze in the air. The karst landscape of the Burren provided a spectacular ally to the beautiful weather as we made are way up to Ballyvaughn, down through Doolin past the Cliffs of Moher and into Lahinch. The coast road which heads south from Black Head, with views of Galway and the Aran islands is particularly impressive. We moved on then to Spanish Point before turning in east and heading back to Ennis from where we had embarked that morning.
We were seven hours in the saddle, with a few short breaks thrown in. The lads made sure I kept eating and drinking enough and having seen my test results the day before, they probably knew how hard and how far they could push me before I burned out and collapsed. But thankfully they had mercy on me and kept me teetering on the right side of exhaustion while they kindly paced me up the climbs.
The packages that Go Cycle Ireland provide are ideal for elite athletes and cycling clubs, cyclo-tourists or anybody who’s curious to know what their athletic potential might be. I found the whole experience enlightening and fulfilling and I’d recommend a trip to be tested in UL followed by a spin around Clare to anyone. I know a lot more about my body now and how to go about getting the most out of it. But with a VO2 max of a mere 54 I’ve finally had to accept the fact that I’ll never win the Tour de France. I guess I’ll have to stick to the sportifs. Now, only 78 more days until the Wicklow 200!