What's Cool In Road Cycling

A Week With The Speedies (Skaters, That Is!)

I’d like to do something a bit different with this week’s Toolbox… I was fortunate enough to spend a week with the US National Speed Skating long team, as they road tripped out to Northern California for a cycling training camp. They spend a good deal of their off season (summer) on the bike. It was interesting to see that their goals on the bike as skaters are almost identical to cyclists.

While here, their primary objectives, other than getting a tan were:
1. Completing biomechanical and physiological testing with Dr. Massimo Testa and Dr. Eric Heiden. Dr. Heiden is the best example of how these two sports complement each other, given his history as a five time gold medalist speed skater and then going onto being a professional bike racer. Most of the skaters had never been properly fit on their bike, so this presented an excellent opportunity to make sure they had correct positions on their bikes. Max VO2 tests were also performed on a select group. The results varied, but for the most part their max VO2 on a bike was lower than done when skating. This is attributable to the fact that skating involves use of the whole body while the cycling test is more focused solely on the legs while seated on a computrainer.

2. Determining Aerobic Capacity – The ability of the body to process oxygen more efficiently by doing rides in training zones approaching lactate threshold. This is very similar to cyclists spending a lot of early season on the bike developing this portion of fitness.

The major difference between these athletes and primary cyclists is that their development of power comes from weight training, plyometrics and running sprints (although a lot of cyclists spend a great deal of time in the gym, especially in cold weather climates). The skaters’ benefit from getting some power from the bike, but it’s not their primary objective. It surprised me that many of the skaters actually ride the bike 12 months a year. While they don’t ride a significant amount in the winter, they still use the bike as an important part of their yearly training program.

The group of 16 skaters (men and women) got a good taste of the big hills and great riding around the NorCal Gold Country area. What was most impressive was their mental toughness. Most of them had not done terrain like this on repeated days. Despite the significant challenges, they never complained, they just kept plugging along and gained alot of satisfaction from their accomplishments on their bikes. This doesn’t’ surprise me, given that there were many World Class athletes in the group. What was also apparent was how tight knit this group was, always supporting each other and being a positive influence to their teammates! The coaches and trainers were very knowledgeable, always supportive and thinking about how to get the best out of each athlete.

Their views on cycling’s difficulty relative to skating varied a lot. I had a strong view of how difficult skating is because it requires perfect technique combined with a very high level of fitness. When skaters suffer, technique becomes their first priority. With cycling, you basically have a tool to allow you maintain technique (i.e. the bike). While it is difficult to assess this question objectively, it is true that case, these two sports are amongst the greatest sports in the world. For their part, the skaters gained a new sense of respect for bike racers and learned a lot about cycling and the mental and physical demands it requires. I hope to see them again next year, because there are even bigger hills to ride!!


Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com.

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