What's Cool In Road Cycling

Pro Shop: Developing Power and Your Racing Style

Now is the time of the season that many of us are starting to phase out of base training and into higher aerobic capacity training. So it’s a perfect time to wander into the Pro Shop and see what Roy Knickman and Brian Walton have to say about developing power and also about how they evolved as racers…

Let’s keep the Pro Shop rolling this month with more retired veterans of the sport; the ageless Roy Knickman and our very own Pez contributor Brian Walton. As present day athletes, we can learn so much from the riders that paved the road (or trail) before us. There is no substitute for experience, especially in a dynamic sport such as bike racing. Our article will focus on how these different style riders developed the all-important “power” element of their fitness and offer some good advice on how to define your specific style of racing.

First, some background on today’s guests:

Roy Knickman: Without a doubt, one of the hardest competitors to ever put on a pair of cycling shoes. He defines the word “tough” in competitive cycling. Roy Knickman’s cycling career spanned over two decades, from his early days at Toshiba/La Vie Claire to 7-Eleven, Coors Light and Mercury. He stopped racing at the end of 1993 to coach the US national team, but made a comeback in 1998 to ride three more years. He now lives in Southern California with his wife Debbie and 2 boys.

Brian Walton: Brian was a rider who excelled across the whole gamut of racing disciplines. He was one of the top Canadian racers of the 80s and 90s, riding as a pro with 7-Eleven, Motorola, and Saturn. During that time, he developed a talent for time trialing and climbing that saw him win the 1989 Milk Race with a brilliant solo breakaway. Another career highlight was taking the silver medal in the 1996 Olympic Points Race on the track. He is currently the Director of Performance for Cadence Cycling and Multisport in Philadelphia.

Power is Everything
Pez: How did you work on developing power on the bike for specific types of races? For example, you were a veteran of Paris-Roubaix (Roy) and a great stage racer (Brian), how did you spend your early season developing what you would need to be successful in your races of choice?

Roy: I always worked from the “traditional” training style of that era. Build a good base of mileage, and then develop the capacity for work which included a lot of high tempo and threshold hours. I would add in some bigger gear riding and use the early season races to complete the fitness which included the high power and anaerobic components. Those asked to be ready for Paris-Roubaix (early April) would normally start the season a little sooner and work a little harder then those focusing purely on the Grand Tours (late spring/summer.)

Brian: Without a doubt, power is the key to success and I developed it in a couple ways. I started with a good endurance base of miles, followed by a phase of fixed gearing (42×19). Using the fixed gear helped me a lot because I rode with local amateurs (including our Toolbox Editor Stephen Cheung) and my fixed gear bike allowed me to ride with them, while still getting a great workout. After the fixed gear was put on its hook in my garage, I usually traveled over to Europe, where I used shorter repetitions to fine tune my power. That may not seem so unique now, but I did it in a time when short intervals (5-10’) were rarely used as a training tool. At that time, everything was focused on volume.

Specialist or Generalist?
Pez: You started racing young and did a variety of different types of races (i.e. hills, flats, stage.) When in your cycling career did you decide to specialize on a certain type of race and build your training and season around those goals?

Roy: As an amateur I did all types of racing; ranging from cyclocross to team pursuit on the track. Although I tried to keep versatility, over time my strengths surfaced and became obvious. My coach and I decided to focus on these strengths once they became evident, while still trying to maintain other skills and abilities. This occurred during my third year of racing, but no real time frame can be suggested as some may take less or more time to develop and show the area they should focus on.

Brian: I think I was a bit different than most riders. I really never said that I was going to train for a specific type of event. I did well in stage racing and the track, which are day and night in the cycling world. I loved all different types of races and had success throughout the year. Maybe that is a style eh? I did know though that after doing my first Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders that I would NEVER do well there in my life (he laughs). Once was enough!

Let’s summarize what both Roy and Brian have to say and see what we can take away to apply to our training:

• Power wins bike races – both Roy and Brian knew that and focused a lot of their training on developing this all-important ingredient of success. Don’t confuse power with strength, as sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably. Power is defined as a product of force x velocity (e.g., number of watts). In cycling, strength can be more associated with torque. For example, you could be spinning a 39×17 on a climb next to a rider (of roughly the same weight), using a 53×17 (more torque produced) at a lower cadence and still be producing the same power. Two different styles of riding, but the common denominator is still the power produced being similar. Which ever way you cut it, bike racers should always be working on increasing their power.

Endurance Base – Both Roy and Brian began each season with a lot of endurance miles to develop a base. Having a solid endurance base is the glue that holds your fitness together. The longer it takes to get fit, the longer you stay fit. Having a solid base gives the body the ability to recover and clear out waste products (e.g. lactic acid); one of the keys to having a successful endurance base is knowing the intensity level at which to perform those miles. That intensity is different for different athletes. A good place to start would be to go to a Performance Testing Camp or Lab (like AthletiCamps or Cadence Cycling) to be evaluated and determine your unique training zones, both in heart rate and power.

Fixed Gear – Using a fixed gear (See our previous article) in the hills is one of the most useful and overlooked training tools available to a road cyclist. Most who ride a fixed in the off season only ride on the flats for the spinning. However, it’s in the hills where you develop the power and muscle endurance necessary to succeed during the season.

Don’t stereotype your style – Too often and too early in their cycling careers, riders falsely classify themselves as a specific type of rider (e.g. “sprinter” or “climber”.) The question was asked as to when Roy and Brian eventually (and correctly) made this decision, because early in our cycling careers, riders should not stereotype themselves. Instead, they should focus on becoming all-around bike racers by experiencing all types of races and training techniques, while at the same time, racing the types of events you truly enjoy. Make it a point to focus on improving your overall fitness and skill level as you move up the ladder of success. Once you attain the highest level you will achieve (given life’s priorities), then you can decide to really fine tune your strengths to achieve as much success as possible.

Both Roy and Brian knew themselves extremely well, as do most successful athletes. To develop their maximum power, they had different styles, but both achieved enormous success. That is the key, understanding what works best for you, which takes time. As Roy put it, for some it may happen quickly, for others it may take longer. Be patient, enjoy the sport, and success will come. Ride safe and strong!

About Bruce
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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