If You Ain’t First, You’re Second: My Runner-Up Trip Across America

After a couple months of travel, school related annoyance and National Racing Calendar induced fatigue I think I am finally ready to start writing cycling again. Usually I lean away from personal update/race report type articles but I think this is the time to make an exception. I have had some really satisfying moments in my last two weeks of racing and the narcissist in me wants to tell you all about them.

 A Hectic Life on the Road

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I am currently sitting on the coach/bed/closet at my host house here in Fayetteville, Arkansas awaiting my tornado delayed ride to the Tour of Gila in New Mexico. That drive will be around 15 hours and the race starts in about 44 hours, so that is a little anxiety invoking. I am also staring across the living room at the carcass of my Specialized Tarmac, which has a nice quarter sized crack down the seat stay. I am frantically trying to find a replacement option for that little UCI race in 44 hours and hoping that Sram neutral support will be nice to me and lend me a bike on race day. And just to ice that particular cortisol layer cake is the fact that SouthWest is trying to avoid all liability, leaving me holding the bag.

This is all feeling a tad overwhelming but I constantly remind myself that overcoming this type of…ummm…bullshit is part of success in the nomadic adventure of bike racing. And so I will trudge onwards towards another long night on the road and more logistical scrambling while repeatedly reminding myself that it is bike racing I am worrying about, not real life.

Pressure, Success and Stupidity

I have had to repeat that reminder to myself a lot in the last few days as I have enjoyed and sometimes endured a whirlwind ride at the Joe Martin Stage Race here in Arkansas. More on that in just a minute.

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The Tour of Walla Walla

Even before I arrived in Fayetteville I felt the pressure creeping up on me as I enjoyed a strong weekend of racing in Walla Walla Washington. I entered the race knowing that I had great form coming off my first NRC race/beat down in Redlands Caifornia at the beginning of April. To begin the 3-stage race I completed my first TT of the year on my brand new Specialized Shiv TT. Despite the novelty of the situation, I managed to settle in to the effort and surprised myself with 2nd place at only 11 seconds to Jamis-Hagens Berman professional Ian Crane. After a frustrating and crash-marred criterium I was bumped to third overall by my former teammate and crit-specialist Kris Dahl.

The next day, the team brought an aggressive attitude and strong legs to the 100-mile road race and continually attacked to try to move back up in the standings. Thankfully, the good form I knew I had shone through because it took a full day of attacking and a huge team effort on the last lap to force an elite selection of 12 riders and take back 2nd overall from Kris. Ian Crane would prove to be immovable in the leader’s jersey, which would become a bit of a theme. Overall, Walla Walla was a very satisfying result in my first real race with the team this year and confirmed that I had the form I wanted for my next foray into the big leagues.

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Joe Martin Stage Race Part One: The Ecstasy

Thursday’s 4km 5% uphill time trial in Devil’s Den State Park was an event that I have been thinking about for months if not years. While an 8 minute, 30 km/h climb isn’t ideally suited to my strengths as a pure climber, my careful analysis of past year’s Strava data told me I had a good shot. Still, I entered Thursday with carefully managed expectations. I had also fixated on the San Dimas uphill TT in March but proceeded to produce a choke of Bill Buckner proportions on race day and finish a distant 17th. I made a huge effort to stay calm and act as if the race was just another training ride and I think it actually worked.

I relaxed my body as I rolled off the start ramp and I rode strong and steady for the first 6 minutes of the hill and then suffered furiously as I started to fade towards the top. I didn’t quite have the power I was expecting based on my training but I still ringed everything out of my body on the day.

It wasn’t until 3 hours later that I finally got the results back at our homestay’s palatial ranch house in the woods. It took me several endless moments to finally scan far enough up in the results to see my name in second place-only 5 seconds behind a certain Mr. Ian Crane. I was shirtless, balancing my computer on a towel on the way to the shower-and that was how I got the biggest result of my young career.

At first I tried to convince myself that it was really nothing special. Maybe it was a slow year? Maybe this wasn’t actually an important race? Looking at past results allowed the skeptic in me to accept it: I had just achieved a breakthrough result. My time on the course was on par with past rides from NRC champions Rory Sutherland and Francisco Mancebo. I am also the first amateur to podium in the Joe Martin TT since Andrew Talansky won in 2010. This isn’t bragging here, this is just the validation process I went through in my own mind. My conclusion? Yes I can do this and yes I will keep going.

And the Agony:

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The next 3 days of racing consisted of roughly 11 hours of good, focused bike racing and about 3 minutes of horrible execution that cost me a podium spot on General Classification. On stage 2 I fought tooth and nail not to loose time on the super technical and ferociously fast final 1500m of racing and I pulled it off while two thirds of the field got time gapped. On day 2 I felt strong as the race roared through the windy and hilly terrain outside Pine Grove, AR. And then on the final lap of the race those 4 terrible minutes happened. A 50m gap opened up in front of me as the field exploded on the day’s final substantial climb. I panicked and made a series of explosive efforts to try to bridge to the leaders ahead. In what seemed like an instant, I had blown myself up completely and could only watch, bathed in lactic acid, as the race rode away. Stupid move, very stupid. I lost 9 minutes riding in with the grupetto and slipped to 51st overall. Lesson learned.

After a rough night of chastising myself and with just the right amount of support and encouragement from my peers and loved ones I decided to ride out the next days hellish criterium to prove that I could. I finished in the front group of 25 amid mass carnage on the wet, hilly and technical circuit. Perplexingly, it was perhaps my proudest moment of the weekend because I overcame such doubt from the day before.

Yes I can do this and yes I will keep going.

Fifteen Free Watts from Muve Lube?

About a year ago an article from VeloNews had every performance minded cyclist suddenly talking lubricant. The article boasted the bold result that the very best lube, Prolink by ProGold, saved up to 6 watts of friction loss over the least effective lubricants in an exhaustive efficiency test. Apparently six watts is enough to capture the hearts and minds of the cycling community because the article I must have heard about that article a dozen times and Velonews published several follow up articles and tests. Apparently lube is a bigger deal than we all thought it was.

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So if 6 watts of savings could inspire such rampant enthusiasm about friction reduction, imagine my incredulity when my industry source Shawn at CyclePath Kelowna boasted about a new lube that could save 15 watts! Indeed according to Muve Lube, a Kelowna based bike lubricant specialist company; their lube will save an astonishing 6% over other, unspecified lubricant. If that sounds crazy high that’s because it is. Most aspiring professional cyclists would consider committing a modest felony for that kind of wattage gain. Still despite the possible wattage hyperbole, the Muve website is complete with a testimonials from cycling legend Axel Merckx and Canadian triathlon pro Trevor Wuertle. With this strong nudge of credibility and growing curiosity I decided I needed to try this supposed wonder product. So as Kelowna’s first stretch of beautiful outdoor riding weather arrived, Shawn gave me a bottle of “Muve” to sample.

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How Did it Do?

I could have tried to compare power outputs on different meters and try to tease out the performance difference between Muve and the other lube choices at my disposal but I felt this was just asking for trouble. The last thing I need is a nerdtastic argument over my testing methods and sources of error. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to try to test the wattage savings claimed by Muve but rather try to judge the product as a whole.

Some of Muve's test results

Some of Muve’s test results

I began by thoroughly degreasing my chain and pulley wheels and then applying Muve carefully as directed on the product website. The lube goes on thin and spreads readily into the crevices of the chain. The chain seemed to soak up the Muve and there was little excess to wipe away after application.

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On the road the Muve-lubed chain felt noticeably smoother than with the Finishline lube I had been using previously.  There was that silky sensation of the rollers gliding over the cogs with that “new-chain” feel that you usually wears off after a few rides. This performance was maintained over 3-4 hours of damp and dirty spring road riding. I usually find that my drivetrain gets a little clunky or squeaky towards the end of a ride in such conditions as debris accumulates in the drivetrain. To test Muve even further, this past weekend I raced two particularly miserable and wet Spring Series races near Vancouver and put Muve’s “all weather, long lasting, waterproof” to the test. Again, the lube’s performance held up and my chain stayed squeak and rust free with a little wipe-down and reapplication post race. I didn’t even have to use a degreaser; the lube seemed to do all of the work. I don’t claim to understand Muve’s advertised “single-micron thickness-ionic bond matrix” technology, but it succeeds in creating a light viscosity lube for all weather conditions.

 The kind of weather my chain was exposed to last week.

The Verdict:

Over the seasons I have used many different chain lubes and none has really stood out from the others. I would never have insisted on a specific lube product for its special attributes. Muve lube may change that for me.  You can take or leave the incredible claims of wattage savings and durability but the lube qualitatively outperforms anything else I have used.

For more information including testing results and protocols for those magic 15 watts, check out Muve Lube: http://www.muvelube.com/

For best pricing, Muve is available in several retail locations including Cyclepath Kelowna.

What Does It Take? Canada’s Need for Physiological Talent Identification

Do I Have What It Takes?

With about 6-8 weeks to go towards my season’s first serious targets I am starting to get antsy. Most of the hay is in the barn when it comes to my training and I have a good idea of what my sharpened and honed form will amount to when I line up at my first start lines. I feel excited, I feel anxious but more than anything I always start to speculate. How will the races play out? How will it feel to fly 3 wide into those tight corners at 40 km/h again? Most of all though: What will it take to get results? I wonder if I will be skilled enough to make the right moves and whether I will be strong enough to make those moves count. Do I have what it takes?

This pattern of pointless pondering is somewhat of a preseason ritual for me at this point. Over the years, I have gradually learned ways to quite my mind and get the work done without dwelling on the uncertainty. This winter has been different though and it feels as though someone has dumped a bucket of fuel on my fire of speculative insecurity.

Looking insecure at the Catskills start line.

Looking insecure at the Catskills start line.

Apparently Not:

Perhaps naively, I thought I was starting to figure out the whole “what it takes” question in 2013. I had what was far and away my best season, including 3 TT wins, 8 podiums and a pair of queen-stage victories in two of North America’s biggest Pro/Am stage races. I had performed far beyond my own expectations and I thought I had made a breakthrough.

And so it came as a repeated and unpleasant surprise when I was ignored and passed up by every fund, bursary and Division 3 Pro or development squad I made contact with. I will admit that some of this failure was due to my overestimating my own appeal and some was due to my off-day at Nationals (bed shat, message received). But the most frustrating of these “thanks for contacting us, but not at this time” responses have come with either no explanation at all or a failure to meet a set of vague, subjective and comically misapplied guidelines. (That last sentence was my subtle reference to the Global Relay Bridge the Gap fund, in case you missed it.) Regardless of the reason, the outcome is the same: by one criteria or another I was lacking. Whatever it takes to win races and be successful at cycling’s highest level, whatever I thought I had in 2013…these folks didn’t think I had “it”.

Thankfully, I don’t agree with all of the advisory boards and selection committees. If I were a crude person, and I am most definitely not a crude person, I imagine that perhaps in certain cases, the words “kiss my ass” might come to mind. I do think that I have “it”. I win races, I am going to win more and I have lots of areas to improve and unexploited opportunities.  These selection committees and development programs have just missed me on their collective radar. “Oh well” you say,” “Such is life…sometimes the breaks don’t go your way”. But I don’t think this was an accident and I don’t think I am the only talented athlete being missed. I think the radar is broken.

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 Talent Identification is Difficult…

I sympathize with the difficulty facing selectors when it comes to identifying talent and predicting potential in such an abstractly quantified sport. Trying to accurately weight any rider’s result from any race on the calendar verges on a fool’s errand. One rider’s single podium at a UCI event may indicate more talent than another rider’s 10 regional wins. Any system designed to rank riders universally across a huge variety of races likely fall victim its own complexity.

Instead, decisions are often based on key “criteria races” that ultimately decide which athletes are supported. While perhaps necessary, this objective “selection-event” approach is far from ideal in the unpredictable world of single-day bike racing. Flat tires, team tactics, course variations, crashes, injury and illness can all drastically effect an athlete’s results.

A perfect example of this problem came at this year’s National Championships. Thanks to Quebec’s medieval-era road surfaces, almost half of the field flatted out of the race in the first 20km. A podium result at Nationals almost certainly means selection for multiple funding sources and in this case the first 50% of that selection was based on dumb luck and crater-avoidance. The cream usually does rise to the top in challenging selection races, but it is certainly not an ideal or reliable way to identify top talent.

But Canadian Cycling is 30 Years Behind:

When I think of identifying cycling talent, my first impulse to request physiological test results. Power meters are cheap, plentiful and easy to use and there is nothing standing in the way between athletes and determining their maximum output for a given duration. In rising cycling powers like Great Britain, Australia and the U.S., physiological testing is a crucial part of early talent identification and data is carefully tracked over years of development. The United States in particular, many rising starts like Giant-Shimano’s Lawson Craddock were first spotted at Regional Talent Identification Camps in which dozens of young hopefuls are tested in each region of the country. All over the cycling world, national federations and teams are using simple power testing to pick out potential, identify strengths and weaknesses and confirm the efficacy of their training and development programs. Cycling’s most successful nations, physiological testing and identification is not the way of the future; it is just how things are done.

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All of this said, you might be surprised to learn that over 5 years as an identified Junior and U23 I was tested exactly one time by Ontario Cycling and never by the National team or any development project. And I am not the exception; there is simply no significant standardized performance-testing program in Canadian cycling. In this area, we are embarrassingly far behind any credible cycling nation. Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and the U.S.-they all started tracking physiological capacity in aerobic sports decades ago and we aren’t even talking about it.

I would never claim that watts translate directly into wins in bike racing. It takes more than a gifted physiology to be a world-class bike racer, without a doubt. But the strongest argument for using power data in athlete development is in that statement itself. It takes more than a gifted physiology, yes, but at the core a gifted physiology is still necessary.  In a way, making to the World Tour level is a little like applying to Harvard. You may get in based on special qualities and achievements that go beyond measured intelligence but statistically over 95% of accepted applicants have 4.0 GPA’s and SAT scores above 2300. With few exceptions, the world’s very best students have tremendous measured intellect just as very few of the world’s best cyclists succeed without a tremendous measurable physiological talent.

With all of the racing and training data available online today via sources like Strava, Training Peaks and SRM you (and by you, I mean me and guys like Andrew Coggan) can make a pretty decent guess at where the barriers of entry are set in today’s professional peloton. I would wager that 90% of 2013’s Tour de France riders had a fresh threshold power of 5.5 watts per kg of body weight or more. The same would go for anyone contending for a stage win in a UCI stage race. Any rider capable of winning an National Racing Calendar Crit probably packs a 5 second sprint north of 20 watts/kg or a 1 minute power of 10 watts/kg. These are just paper napkin estimates but I would call them conservative. You could argue some exceptional cases but I would argue that they prove the rule (very original I know). If a carded athlete can’t make at least 1 of those numbers happen in a test, the National Development program is playing some very long odds. It makes intuitive sense that Canada should track development pool athletes along these physiological parameters if it is going to put together many winning hands.

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But How Would a Physiological Testing Program Work?

It seems really simple because it is. Test the athletes, figure out who looks like they have raw potential and use this data as the foundation or complement to further criteria. Small differences in power data should never be the deciding factor in selecting one athlete over another, just as small differences in physiological capacity don’t usually decide bike races. But big differences do. Talent identification decisions could easily account for this with fairly generous minimum thresholds for funding and perhaps a second set of very high thresholds that could count as a result in consideration.

Once a pool of riders is established, cycling Canada could request semi-regular testing updates to track physical progress along with progress in results. If an athlete is consistently underperforming to his/her physiological potential(s), specific coaching and psychological training could be offered. An athlete’s power profile could also be used to guide him/her towards compatible provincial and national team projects that would best suit his/her capabilities. Far from being a tool meant to exclude athletes from selection, power data could be also used to guide riders towards new opportunities in the sport’s different disciplines based on unexploited talents.

Finally, it has been suggested that power data analysis could be a part of an effective anti-doping tracking program. This is a contentious idea but it could be a valuable one. If an athlete suddenly produces a spectacular leap in form after a long history of lower test results, this may suggest foul play. Suggest is the key word here. Inconsistent power data is circumstantial evidence of doping at best-just ask any accused Grand Tour contender. Blood and urine tests are expensive however and power data could eventually be used to better target athletes producing eyebrow-raising results. Testers already pick out “hot” riders based on results. For example, Chris Horner was tested over 12 times in the last quarter of 2013 during and after his miraculous Vuelta win. With longitudinal power data for selected athletes and a refined algorithm; training, testing and racing outputs could be compared to separate the impressive from the suspicious and justify focused testing.

It Takes Watts to Win:

In summary I think that this entire thorny issue can be distilled down into several fairly obvious points. First, it takes a certain, quantifiable physiological talent to become a world cyclist and we have mountains of data to prove it. Second, the world’s most successful cycling nations are using power testing to identify, develop and track the progression of this kind of talent but Canada is not. And finally, it would not be prohibitively difficult or expensive to start a power-testing database since power meters are now ubiquitous in elite cycling and testing services are widely available. There is a need for advancement and we have tools and the resources to address it, so what are we waiting for? Let’s find out who actually has what it takes to be the next Canadian to race down the Champs Elysees and into cycling’s world class.

Canadian Svein Tuft leads his team to a TDF stage win.

Canadian Svein Tuft leads his team to a TDF stage win.

Inside Job: Learning to Love Riding Indoors

It was Boxing Day 2008 when my dad and I assembled my brand new Tacx Cycle Trak trainer for its maiden training session. After much fiddling and a great deal of excitement, I clipped in and set off. I had no fan, no music, a concrete wall in front of me and only a watch to keep me company. I eagerly spun up the flywheel, clicked through several gears, punched it out of the saddle and then sat down again before surveying every crack in the wall in front of me. I looked down at my watch expectantly…54 seconds had passed. How could time pass so slowly? Who invented this godforsaken machine? It was absolute purgatory but 62 minutes of interval-laden, sweat-soaked monotony later, my introduction to the indoor trainer was complete.  Thankfully, it only got better from there.

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I found the wonderful respite of an oscillating fan. I taped two of Floyd Landis’ great triumphs in the 2006 Tour de France and rode through the stages dozens of times. I eventually became so immersed in these workouts that I duct-taped two 30cm wooden rulers (courtesy of Moira Secondary School-thanks guys!), to my handlebars so I could emulate Floyd’s “Praying Landis” aero position. I was hooked.

Over the next two years I began building my way to breakthrough indoor workouts as I incorporated a power meter and gradually added volume. I got better and better on the trainer and by the time the weather turned and my first serious bike racing began, I was good enough to compete. To some degree, I believe I can than thank my little red magnetic trainer for starting my cycling career. I should also thank Floyd Landis. You still have at least one fan, champ.

My relationship with my Tacx trainers has only grown over the years. As of this writing I am approximately 150 hours into my training for the 2014 cycling season. Sixty rides, 115 thousand kilojoules of work and every second of it has been indoors. In my pursuit of the sport of cycling over the last 5 winters, I have easily amassed 1200 hours of indoor training. For me, riding indoors continues to be a beautifully simple input-output relationship. I input my high motivation to get better (i.e. turn my body into a lethal weapon) and after many strenuous hours I am given the output of an excellent base of fitness to start my season with. The process never fails.

My indoor training amounts to as much as 20 hours a week and I enjoy almost all of it. To be certain this training is sometimes painful and often mentally taxing but those sensations are what high-level sports are all about. If the training needs to be done I will do it, whether that is on the roads or in my living room.

Enter: Trainer Haters

That may sound like the perspective of any typical, highly driven athlete. You might expect that the majority ambitious cyclists would just gut out and do the hard yards indoors, but this is decidedly not the case. Instead most turn to southern training camps, Xc skiing or a periodized laziness commonly referred to as “keeping it low-key”. When I mention my indoor training time to the vast majority of other cyclist they share one uniform response: “Dude, you are nuts! Just…I could never…but…why!?!?”. Usually they continue on with something like “I could never handle that, its just too boring/hot and gross/uncomfortable/much like torture”. From the fitness rider to the national team professional, everyone seems to detest the trainer with a nearly religious fervor.

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Relax, It’s All Good

But indoor training isn’t nearly as bad as people make it out to be. What’s with all the hate? Aren’t people ignoring the advantages of indoor training? Yes, they are. Here are just a few examples of the tremendous upside “trainer haters” are missing out on:

Indoor Training Hardens You Up:

There is one truism about winter training that can be agreed upon. If you log base miles outdoors in the cold, sloppy mess that is Canadian winter, you are Bad-Ass Hard Man (or Woman, I know, I know). And yet, if you chose the warm monotony of the indoor trainer to log those long miles no one gives you the same credit. If you crush yourself indoors, you aren’t hard, you are a certifiable nut job. What’s more, you are likely a “soft-as-velvet panzy flower who is afraid of getting wet” (that is a technical term). That doesn’t make any sense. If indoor training is so tortuous and so emotionally trying, and it certainly can be, then surely it helps train you into a stronger mental competitor. If something is hard and you push through, you will become hard. That’s just good science. The trainer therefore, is a tremendously valuable tool for any cyclist seeking a healthy dose of “HTFU”.

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It is Efficient:

 Providing I don’t lose my heart rate strap somewhere in the laundry, it takes me about 10 minutes to get up and rolling on the trainer from being planted on the couch. Putting on 12 layers of clothing and preparing to go over the top and into winter-riding hell takes at least twice that long and spits out more dirty laundry than the Eagles (a timely reference, I know). The time commitments involved in heading to the XC ski club, or to Tucson Arizona for winter training are even larger. On the other hand, it only takes me about 3.5 hours total to get a 3-hour trainer ride done and be back on the couch. What’s more: with no stop lights, no downhills and better focus, I can usually hammer out a 4-5 hour outdoor ride’s worth of work (~3500kj) in 3.5 hours or less. The trainer is a sharp training instrument cuts through my training objectives in one swift motion. We would all like to be back on the couch (or working something, if you like, do that) a little sooner wouldn’t we? The efficiency of the indoor trainer is the solution to the problem of life’s ticking clock.

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It is Motivating and Enjoyable:

It took a little practice, but once I learned to visualize myself riding in the races alongside Floyd and Alberto, I started to get excited about doing long rides watching old Tour de France stages. I like to follow the attacks, crank the resistance on cobbled climbs and constantly think about just how many watts I would need to stay with those WorldTour Pros.

On easier days, I have occupied myself with a huge variety of TV shows while breaking the ride up into manageable episode-size chunks. How would I have ever found time to watch the entirety of the Gilmore Girls (yep), Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Entourage, The Office, Weeds, Parks and Rec., Community, 30 Rock, Modern Family, The Wire, Mad Men, Boston Legal and 6 captivating seasons of Gossip Girl (for real) if I didn’t do a good deal of my TV watching on the trainer. I have also listened to a dozen audiobooks, 1000+ hours of the Adam Carolla podcast (http://adamcarolla.com), the a lot of Jay-Z and Eminem and watched countless NFL games, all while spinning away the kilojoules. Those were some very entertaining hours, even if they were spent grinding away at 250 watts and swilling Gatorade.

With all of these media options, I can make almost any type of workout enjoyable and compelling and sometimes even more so than the outdoor equivalent. Perhaps, it can be said that there is no such thing as a boring trainer ride, just boring media selections. If your indoor training is mind-numbing, you clearly aren’t watching enough Gossip Girl in the saddle. Case Closed.

My 2013 Cycling Consumer Review

The Blog is Back!

It has been a while and I think I am ready to bring an end to what has turned into my blogging off-season and fire up the (word) press once again. I had plenty of good reasons not to write in this past month and after 17 posts it was a good time to take a break. In the time since my last post (http://wp.me/p3tHad-5W) I have been busy writing exams, flying across the country, having wisdom teeth wrenched out of my gums and logging some 80 thousand kilojoules of indoor base training. If that sounds like a fun list of activities to you, we should never hang out because two cranky Type A whiners is a crowd. Luckily all of those wonderful stressors relented just in time for the Christmas festivities this week and, upon emerging from a Nanaimo bar induced haze, I was ready to bang out a compelling piece of Internet journalism…or something like that.

Happy Holidays and thanks for reading.

My 2013 Cycling Consumer Review:

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After five or so years or pursuing this little bike-racing hobby of mine, it is almost embarrassing (almost) to consider the literal mountain of equipment, clothing and nutrition products that I have consumed. My ass has graced the saddle of no fewer than 14 bikes in that time while wearing no fewer than 23 different chamois and one of 11 different helmets. I am fortunate enough to receive a good deal of this equipment from teams and sponsors for free or at a reduced price. Nonetheless, if I can identify myself as a cyclist, I can identify myself as a consumer just as well and I don’t mind that at all. And so, in the final days of 2013 I have been compiling a list of the best “cycling stuff” I came across in the year along with a couple less than satisfying products I ran into. I hope that the list is useful to any prospective buyers, or at the very least entertaining.

The Big Ticket Items:

Power2Max Powermeter (Price: $1249, $1349 with Praxis chainrings):

Power2Max Rotor 3D+: Effective, Affordable and Attractive

Power2Max Rotor 3D+: Effective, Affordable and Attractive

In 2013 I have used 3 different power meters: a 2012 Quarq s975, a 2011 Powertap Elite+ and a new Power2Max that I received about a month ago. My tank-like Powertap training wheel has been a solid workhorse for almost 2 years now but after repeated connectivity issues I decided to invest in a new unit. After a lot of research in the now flooded powermeter marketplace, I purchased a Power2Max Rotor 3D+ with Praxis chain rings. I think I will save an in-depth, dedicated review for the spring when I can test the P2Max outside but for now I can give a brief rave.

After a ordering online the Power2Max unit shipped to my door in two days and I was riding on it about two hours after opening the package with none of the fiddly magnet alignment business involved with other units. Calibration is a breeze and readings are far more reliable than the fickle Quarq that I became terminally frustrated with mid-season. The Rotor crankset feels like an upgrade over anything from Sram in terms of stiffness and responsiveness and is over 100 grams lighter than my Quarq/Sram crankset. The Praxis chainrings were a pleasant surprise to top the entire package off. At this early stage, I would say the Praxis rings actually work better with Sram than Sram does and even make Sram Red’s baffling front derailleur adjustment a little more forgiving.

Over the years I have come to accept a good deal of limitations and frustrations when it comes to training with power but I think that Power2Max may have put an end to that. Time will tell, but for now the Power2Max Rotor 3D+ has proven to be a simple and reliable training tool that is also light and stiff enough to race on in the coming season.

Kask Bambino (Price: For me-free, for everyone else $350-499):

The most beautiful piece of cycling equipment I own.

The most beautiful piece of cycling equipment I own.

Part aerodynamic innovation and part art piece, the Kask Bambino was the perfect Christmas gift from my wonderful girlfriend in 2012. I have long lamented standard “long-tail” aero helmets because of my inability to hold my head up and still during time trials. I have an unavoidable tendency to look at the ground, my stem and the wheat fields beside me during a TT, which transformed the tail of my aero helmet into a sail and cost me precious grams of drag. The innovative kammtail design of the Kask Bambino helped solve this problem, keeping my noggin relatively aero no matter where I looked. I don’t have any hard data, but I scored more TT wins than ever this year and I think the Bambino had something to do with that.

To state the obvious: 500 for a helmet is pretty hefty. However, the Kask isn’t your typical plastic and foam lid. The reason the Kask made my Christmas list in the first place is that to me, it is as beautiful as it is fast. I actually have the helmet displayed in my living room because just looking at it motivates me. I can only hope to make myself as fast as the Kask looks. I love the clean, sculpted shape and stark graphics and the Italian leather strap is a nice touch. Overall, I am just in love with the thing and I will hang on to it long after I stop racing with it. The Kask Bambino is one guilty consumerist pleasure that is worth indulging in.

A nice visual of the Kask's aero advantage.

A nice visual of the Kask’s aero advantage.

USE Tula Aerobars (~$600):

The stunning USE Tula Aerobar

The stunning USE Tula Aerobar

When I decided to upgrade my bargain basement aluminum aerobars there was one bar that caught my attention and held it. The USE Tula featuring its trademark horizontal brake levers seemed like an outstanding and intuitive aerodynamic breakthrough. By aligning the brake levers with the base bar, USE claims to shave an astounding 15 watts of drag from the standard aero basebar at 30 mph. Now, wind tunnel statistics like that are usually about as trustworthy as Kim Jong-Il’s golf score but I do think that the Tula’s are about as aerodynamic as an aerobar can be. They are also exceptionally well designed and machined, from the intricate hand pods to the nearly infinitely adjustable “Rock n Roll” arm rest system.

Apart from the aerodynamics, the USE carbon base bar is stiffer than any road bar than I have ever ridden, making out of the saddle accelerations and climbing particularly enjoyable. Once you get used to a mountain bike style brake squeeze the USE’s unusual brake levers work just as well as any standard TT lever, if not a little better due to their closer proximity to the extensions. All of this considered, I am surprised that I was the only rider at any of my races this year time trialing on USE’s. In fact, the bars drew interest from most of my competitors and even the usually stoic commissaires, with the general concensus being “Those things are pretty cool”. So for aerodynamics, quality and “wow factor”  my USE Tulas were a great buy in 2013.

Some More Hits:

Bontrager RXL Shoes ($280): I bought these middle of the road shoes as a mid-season replacement for my expired Sidi Genius 5’s. Despite being about $300 cheaper than the Italian masterpieces, these shoes are lighter, feel stiffer and actually fit my narrow lady feet a little better. Highly recommended to anyone with narrow feet and an eye on shaving every last gram from equipment at a reasonable price.

Bontrager RXL shoes

Bontrager RXL shoes

Compact crankset(s) (~$250): As I approached the final month of my 2013 season, two very steep and decisive climbs stood between me and my racing goals. The 20%+ pitches Appalachian Gap climb of the Green Mountain Stage Race (http://wp.me/p3tHad-3j) and especially the Devil’s Kitchen climb of the Tour of the Catskills (http://wp.me/p3tHad-1Q) had previously brought me to my knees on a standard 53/39 crank. So I decided to take the plunge and purchased a Sram Force compact rank with a 50/34 while running a Sram 11-28 WiFi cassette in the back. This relatively modest investment in lighter gearing paid off big time as I won both stages while attacking each climb with my preferred 90+ cadence. Granny gear FTW!

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Cannondale Bikes (Slice 5: $2000, Evo Red: $4250):

In 2013 I ended up selecting and buying my own bikes for the year and I never regretted my decision to go with Cannondale. You can read my full reviews of the Cannondale Slice (http://wp.me/p3tHad-v) and the Evo Red (http://kelownacycle.ca/2013-cannondale-evo-red/) but to summarize: they were both stellar performers all year and never let me down or left me wanting. I liked the Evo so much that I am going to hold on to it as my personal bike going forward despite the option to move into something new over the winter.

The delightful Evo Red

The delightful Evo Red

…And a Couple of Misses:

I am hesitant to end this compilation on a sour note but there were a couple underwhelming products that I ran into in 2013 that I feel obliged to mention.

Sram Red Front Derailleur:

 I am still not entirely sure what “Yaw Control” is but I am sure of one thing: It drives me crazy. The balance between proper shifting and chain rub in adjusting this mystifying 3 inch piece of alloy seems to be so small that even a Jedi mechanic like Bloomfield Bicycle’s Rick Willing couldn’t trick it into working for long. So to Sram I humbly submit: The front derailleur was never broken and “Yaw Control” sure as hell didn’t fix it.

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Garmin Quality Control

Garmin products record, display, guide and even analyze data in such a natural and seamless way that there is little reason to consider anything else as a digital training companion. Until they break. In the past 2 years my girlfriend and I have been sent back two Garmin 110 watches, three 500 head units and now my new 510 has decided it doesn’t much like being connected to its USB cord and requires careful coaxing to upload data. Problems range from buttons falling off, to a screen cracking under a tight grip to water damage in heavy rain (seriously!?). In Canada, Garmin’s answer to such complaints is for the customer to send his/her unit to Siberia (Raytech Electronics in Laval, QC) for 3-6 weeks and wait for a replacement or a repair. This is a complete drag and has led to me purchasing new Garmins instead of waiting for warranty items to arrive. I cannot imagine I am the only one experiencing these issues and frustrations. I don’t want to desert Garmin for another bike computer but it is something I will be considering in 2014.

Some of my favourite products of 2013 in action.

Some of my favourite products of 2013 in action.

And that about sums up my experience in the wonderful world of bike consumerism in 2013. I hope you enjoyed your purchases as much as I did this year and I look forward to another batch of exciting new products in 2014. Happy New Year!

TianChi RealEnergy Supplement Review

mental-energy-tianchi

But First, A Personal Update

After two months of easy and carefree offseason riding I decided to kick my training back into gear about two weeks ago. I tried not to set my “2014 back-to-work-and off-your-lazy-ass date” in stone and simply wait until I felt ready. With a depressing lack of daylight, a nearly unmanageable level of restlessness and a pile drive of motivation coming from the slew of early November pro-continental team roster announcements not including my name-I was really ready.

However, as motivated as I was, starting a new training block always gives me a good dose of trepidation. In the last two seasons I have walked a tight rope between hard training and a relapse into chronic fatigue. This balancing act always seems the hardest when I am trying to ramp things up and I usually sway in and out of a feeling of shaky fatigue and brain fog with each workout. I hate that unstable feeling and progress is always hard to come by. In my desperation to beat this cycle of stress and fatigue I have often turned to pills and herbs. It’s not as bad as it sounds…trust me.

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Jordan Cheyne: Supplement Connoisseur

Its true, I have tried a lot of things that were supposed to do a lot of stuff to help my body work the way I want it to. Before anyone has a doping-related brain hemorrhage, yes I have been very careful to keep my wanderings in the big bad supplement world safe and legal. I decided against buying that 20kg tub of Mega-Nandro-Oxo-Performance Stack 3000, as enticing as it was and I have studied the WADA “banned list” like that creepy dude in Starbucks studies the Old Testament (very intensely, just in case something new is going to surprise him). What I play around with is more in the realm of herbs like Rhodiola and Ashwaganda, Fish Oil and amino acid supplements and all from reputable, clean sources.

I don’t think I am alone in my self-experimentations here. It seems that a majority of Type-A endurance athletes, probably just Type A people in general, end up with some sort of hormonal imbalance or persistent fatigue issues at some point in their torrid affair with excellence. Constantly pushing life’s envelopes may be a lot of fun but it really isn’t all that healthy. But, just like Miley Cyrus mid-twerk, we can’t stop. I, for one, don’t plan on putting away my bike to rebalance my body and mind in a Tibetan monastery. That will never be an option in the culture of competitive athletics or in my slightly depraved, competitive approach to life. Managing your health as an athlete is all about damage control and I look to supplements as part of that effort.

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In the summer I tried Optygen HP (review here:http://wp.me/p3tHad-h), which contains a nice mix of Rhodiola, Beta-Alanine and other adaptogenic herbs. I liked it a lot and it seemed to give me a boost in workouts, but the pleasant feeling of alertness and general energy was inconsistent and faded over time. My guess is that my terrible GI system didn’t absorb Optygen consistently and so the herbals couldn’t do their job. And, so as a supplement connoisseur does, I began searching for something new.

Enter TianChi

TianChi is marketed as a high quality blend of powerful nutrients and adaptogenic herbs that will balance your body and give you lasting, “Heavenly Energy”. TianChi comes from a renowned Chinese Herbologist named Roger Drummer who formulated and produces the supplement out of a very small operation called HerbWorks in Oregon. I spoke with Dr.Drummer’s Herbworks co-owner and the company’s commitment to quality was obvious. While the average supplement company uses about 4 lbs of herb to product 1lb of product, Herbworks insists on a “pure-yield” concentration of up to 45:1. This process must make profit margins razor-thin, but it would appear that quality is integral to the business model.

But what is actually in TianChi? TianChi contains two main components: Nutrients and Adaptogens. The nutrients consist of several neurotransmitter precursors like Tyrosine, Choline and Citicholine that are aimed to enhance brain and endocrine function by leveling out common deficiencies. Most of these nutrients have been medically accepted as beneficial and are popular in the anti-aging research field.

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There are also five key adaptogens in the formula consisting of Shizandra, Rhodiola, Reishi Mushroom, Ashwaganda and Eluthero. But “what is a frickin’ adaptogen anyway?! “, you shout. An adaptogen is essentially an Eastern Medicine concept of an herb or practice that promotes a healthy balance in the body. The five herbs above are considered the heavy hitters in the adaptogen world. Now, before you write the whole-thing off as a bunch of hippie-dippie, Eastern philosophy hoo-hah (maybe you didn’t use those words exactly), there is some good research-based evidence for this stuff. Various adaptogens have been shown to help modulate the body’s sympathetic stress response through various biological mechanisms. I will not belabor you with nerd-speak but if you want to see the research, Professor Google would be happy to guide you.

My (stunning) Experience with TianChi:

When I am training hard, I usually rely on steady, small doses (read: cans of diet coke) of caffeine to keep my adrenal system plodding along throughout the day. The problem with this strategy is that pesky tolerance thing and usually my little regimen has me falling flat every couple weeks. TianChi promised all-day energy so I decided to put it to the test. I took my first packet upon waking and wrote off any caffeine for the rest of the day, which included a tough tempo workout on the trainer.

My first TianChi shipment with instructions

My first TianChi shipment with instructions

The TianChi powder is taken mixed with water and the taste is actually pretty good despite a bitter aftertaste with a sweetness coming from 45 calories of natural sugar and some Stevia. Five minutes after gulping it down, I felt a wave of alertness and a pleasant buzz as if I had polished off a glorious Grande Americano. But TianChi only has about 40-50mg of caffeine, which is paltry compared to the 200mg+ in the coffee. The feeling never got too intense and remarkably didn’t fade throughout the morning and afternoon. My workout for the day was my first structured session in almost 10 weeks with a few tempo intervals and some steady pace for 2.5 hours. I didn’t have high expectations and I pretty much expected not to finish the intervals because I usually feel kind of shaky (light-headed, tingling feeling) after the first or second intense effort I do, which is hugely convenient in a race, believe me.

To my surprise, I kicked that workout’s ass! I felt fully charged the entire time and I exceeded all of my targets. That may sound like a happy coincidence but I haven’t felt like that for over three years. For once, my adrenals weren’t whining for me to slow down and mellow out-it was absolutely awesome. Still I tamped down my excitement and tried to stay objective for the next 9 days of my TianChi “10-days to Transformation” trial pack. To my delight the stuff just kept working, and I noticed the following trends:

  • I had my best and most consistent 10 days of training since 2010. I exceeded my goals for every one of my Tempo and Threshold workouts. My fatigue has been minimal and my recovery has been more predictable than usual.
Just one of many kickass, TianChi fuelled workouts.

Just one of many kickass, TianChi fuelled workouts.

  • In a highly controlled experiment at the Shoppers Drug Mart, I was surprised to find my resting heart rate was only 38bpm; a good 8-10 beats lower than my my tired and wired normal. I tested a few more times over the next few days and was always between 35-44 bpm. Maybe this is a weird coincidence but it helps me feel like a superhuman freak so I will take it.
  • My appetite was more controllable and I did not experience my usual energy nosedives in the hours after a meal.
  •  My intellectual day is a usually somewhat of a write-off after a hard workout. It seems like I use up every ounce of intensity and focus on the bike and end up staring blankly at the empty computer screen where my lab report should be. I haven’t had an episode like that while taking TianChi, I feel sharp, relaxed and productive all day.
What training usually does to my brain, not with TianChi

What training usually does to my brain, not with TianChi

  • I have still been making my thrice-nightly pilgrimage to the bathroom (which is a sign of cortisol disregulation). With TianChi however, I have fallen asleep immediately 10 nights in a row and slept at least 7.5 hours each night. Usually I struggle to fall asleep maybe 5/10 nights and am stuck awake watching Netflix at 4:30am after 6 hours of sleep on 3/10 nights.
  • I had only 2 diet cokes and 0 (!!) cups of coffee in my 10-day trial. I never craved the caffeine buzz and that is an entirely new feeling for me.

As much as TianChi impressed me, I don’t want this to come off as a delusional rave review. The effects didn’t fade over 10 days but I can’t be sure whether it will keep working over weeks and months. My contact at Herbworks did say, that about 10% of people don’t respond noticeably to TianChi for unclear reasons. I think that it is possible that TiaChi could make some people feel over-stimulated if they are generally “wired up” to begin with. If you try it, I wouldn’t recommend hammering your usual 6 doppio espressos per day on top of TianChi-the stuff is pretty powerful.

One other important consideration is that TianChi is a little pricey at around 3$/day. For reference the Optygen HP adaptogen supplement worked out to about 2$/day while a good Rhodiola supplement might run you around 1-1.50$/day. For me, the choice is easy. For the amount I invest into going fast on my bike and getting a good education, how can I turn my nose up at something that made me feel stronger and smarter every day for a reasonable price.

tianchi-real-energy-health-benefits-3

The Verdict:

So far, for me TianChi has been an absolute game changer. I am sure it will not have the same effect for everyone but the research supporting its formula’s efficacy seems strong. Based on my outstanding experience, I think that for anyone who is struggling to manage stress and increase overall energy Tian Chi is definitely worth a try.

You can find out more about TianChi at: Herbworks.com

You can save $5 using this coupon code that Herbworks gave me: 79148