It’s been almost a year since I came on board with Stages Indoor cycling and ramped up my knowledge of teaching with power in the world of indoor cycling. Yet it has always intrigued me about what this would mean in the outdoor world of cycling.
This weekend thanks to Stages Cycling by providing me with a power meter, I went out to Spain to attach it to my road bike, purchased a new bike computer and set off to further my knowledge into the world of Power.
I read in various Power Meter books that the first time you ride with power it’s a minefield, the number is constantly changing every second and you are not sure what you are trying to achieve. So before I took to the road I had one quick look at my zones from an indoor cycling FTP test and off I went. I would use these as a benchmark on this trip, but will perform an outdoor FTP test on another visit.
As we roll out of the team garage, we quickly go up an incline. Straight away my power zones went to zone 5b (anaerobic), I quickly shifted down gears. My power dropped as I picked up my cadence and whirled my legs around. I had definitely not been warming my poor legs up properly on my previous outings on my bike. Naturally as you stop pedalling to corner the number drops to 0, as you accelerate out of the corner the power massively jumps up before settling down as you get into your rhythm, so with my knowledge of power, I knew that the sole purpose of riding with a power meter was to try and stay in a zone.
What quickly became apparent, was a reinforcement of something I had heard at a Sufferfest training day from Dig Deep Coaching. They had been touring the UK going from cycling club to cycling club, and telling these groups that riding in a group is detrimental to your riding! Which as you can imagine went down well with the clubs. But what they are saying is true. (They were also highlighting the benefits of outdoor cyclists training indoors).
I discovered this on day one of my riding. I was struggling to get my power into Zone 2 ( Aerobic Zone) for long periods of the initial ride until we hit a headwind, I took the front, sheltering my team leader from it. This extra work enabled me to get into the training zone I was trying to achieve. As we swung around a corner I was hit by a strong gust of wind. I accelerated, pushing my power into zone 5a (V02 max). For this increase in Power I perceived very negligent affect on the speed odometer. However power does translate to speed and whilst I thought the 1km/h increase in speed didn’t warrant the exertion, unfortunately for the 10 seconds I was pushing that power it was enough to create a gap between me and my team leader (for those of you who have been on my Stages training, you will know, my team leader and cycling influence is my dad). So I slowed up and waited for him to catch up for the draft once more.
So day one had been about observing the relationship between gear, cadence and speed. As you build up your rolling speed your power will drop, so you can utilise a bigger gear to keep you in your training zone. If you were on your own the gradual increase in speed wouldn’t affect anyone. With a group you would find this frustrating. Also as I experimented with in day 2 even going out with just 2 or 3 riders can greatly compromise your training. Riding with a power meter was definitely starting to increase my knowledge and understanding of outdoor cycling.
Day 2 of the tour was a flat stage, an ideal opportunity to maximise the power meter, my goal was simple, to stay in the aerobic zone for a couple of hours. Riding in front of the team leader and taking the head wind made this possible, as I was able to push the gear and cadence to produce the power which maintained me in that zone. As we went around the corner losing the head wind the team leader decided to take the front for a bit (thanks dad about time!) Ahead I saw the road was going to turn once more into the head wind, so just for a moment I thought I would see how much energy I would save by drafting. I saved about 15% power output, drafting the team leader. As I hit the front once more I went back to the wattage I was aiming to average out through the ride. Up ahead we caught another rider who tucked in for a tow.
At the front of the pack the wind was constantly hounding me and I noticed my watts creeping into zone 3 (Tempo), which is no bad thing but was not my goal of the day, so from a racing perspective I had two choices which would lead to a win win situation.
I dropped a gear and picked up my cadence, slowing the pace and relieving my legs. The break away now had several options, either they could go with this slower pace or hit the front. They chose to hit the front; great, a win as I tucked into 3rd place and again looked at the wattage saving. Between 50/60 watts difference; 25% saving just riding in 3rd. So again riding with a group can greatly compromise your training goals. I hit the front once more and at the end of my ride I had been much more consistent with my power output, gear and cadence.
I wanted to experiment with power in the hills, as riding just a few short inclines, with poor gear choice had sent me into zone 5b and even zone 5c, when I had been on a slightly longer ascent I had dropped the gears to achieve my FTP range, I was slightly disappointed at the speed I was climbing at, yet again trying to compare yourself to pros generally isn’t a good idea. But I will be back to tackle some longer climbs.
From a training and knowledge perspective riding with a power meter was awesome and I feel more confident when it comes to both educating indoor cycling instructors and designing my indoor cycling classes.
Should you buy a power meter? Most definitely if you are doing time trials or sportives as they are truly the best way to pace yourself and from what I can gather improve your cycling knowledge & efficiency. However you may have to make the sacrifice to either ride on your own, ride at the front of the pack or break away for timed intervals and wait for the group to catch up during your recovery, if you want to receive the benefits of training with this tool.
As a first time rider with power I welcome your thoughts on whether my experiences and views are accurate.