Using Data to Optimise your Cycling Performance

Owning a power meter gives you a powerful tool that can be used to optimise your performance. However, just like that top of the range Park tool kit, you have to know how to use it. In this article Liam Holohan, former professional cyclist turned coach, aims to provide you with some pointers on how to use those numbers to make you faster.


KNOW YOUR EVENT


One of the amazing things about cycling is all the available data. We're able to track and capture a mountain of information analysing the demands of your key event in every detail possible. It is therefore through an event’s demand analysis that I start all my training plans asking the question, ‘What is required by the athlete to meet their goals in their chosen event?’.


Data from a stage of the Haute Route


There are two ways to gather this information: your historical performances or using other people's data from websites such as Strava. For an event like the Haute Route, some key areas to focus on are the duration, intensity and density of the stages. However, you shouldn't stop there. It's important to consider other factors, too; for example, what will the environmental conditions be? Everything you uncover about the event should be listed and prioritised before the next step.


KNOW YOURSELF


I often use the analogy of a long car journey. The destination is where you need your performance to be; you should have uncovered this in the events demands analysis. Now you need to know your current GPS position, where you're starting from before you can plot your route. This is where 'baseline' testing comes in.


With a head unit, heart rate monitor and power meter, you have a powerful on the move laboratory. With these tools, you can carry out some in the field testing to work out your current performance level relative to your goal event. Not only that, but you can also accurately model your current physiology to determine your training zones.

Power meter equipped bicycle = a moving laboratory


Many athletes have heard of the FTP test (Functional Threshold Power); however, things have moved on, and there are more accurate field tests. The easiest method is the Critical Power (CP) test. You can do this with two maximal efforts between 3 and 20 minutes, but I recommend you use the 3-test model. The beauty of this CP is that you get your CP and your W'; this is your capacity to work above CP. Many free calculators and spreadsheets are online to help you determine your CP.


An alternative is to use software such as WKO and Golden Cheetah, which both use a power duration curve. A power duration curve considers all your maximal efforts over a period to produce a model of your current performance.

A power duration model


Now that you know how you stack up compared to your event, you can create a training schedule to prepare you for your goal(s). This training plan should address any event-specific weaknesses while maintaining your event-specific strengths. Note that I've said 'event specific'. For example, I'm a weak sprinter; however, my ability to sprint doesn't significantly influence my performance in an event like the Haute Route, so I wouldn't need to prioritise this ability in my preparation.


MODIFICATIONS


In an ideal world, you would follow your training plan and adapt as planned, seeing progress up to your event. However, life isn't that simple, and progress isn't linear. Think back to the journey analogy; what if you've made a wrong turn? In this case, it would require you to adjust your training strategy.


You must test, adjust, and train in a continuous cycle leading up to your event. After all, if you don't test, how do you know the training is working? It is also vital to update your training zones as you get fitter. You may need to increase the wattage of those intervals you have been doing to continue to progress. Remember what Greg Lemond rightly said; 'It never gets easier; you just get faster'.


A power meter will not make you faster, but carefully using the information that it can provide certainly can. Know your event and self so you can train optimally for goals.


So you've put together a training plan together using data to optimise your performance. Now it's time to put it into action; Join Team NOMAN at the Haute Route Alpe D'Huez or Davos in 2022 and ride to end HPV cancers. Find out more and sign up.