Do endurance track cyclists produce the best road racers?

Posted by Verve Cycling on May 21, 2015 in
InfoCrank data analysis

In his first blog for Verve Cycling, Clay Worthington, senior track coach for the Western Australian Institute of Sport, has put together his thoughts around why track cycling development seems so heavily steeped in road cycling performance. 

I often bear the cross of being an eccentric thinker, an over-thinker. These qualities often leave me in a world of my own creation. In my world, the best endurance track cyclists are synonymous with very good road cyclists. However, this is not a fact born from an eccentric, over-thinking brain. It is a fact born from investigation. In the track cycling world it is seen as the fact that supports methods and pathways of athlete development.

To observe this fact is an easy exercise for those who care to put rigour to the statement. Recently there have been a number of WorldTour professionals who have attacked the Hour Record. In addition, there are a number of women [including Dame Sarah Storey] who are beginning to show interest in the record. For this article however, I’ll focus my argument using the data from Sam Welsford (Navitas-Satalyst), a current junior world, oceania and national track champion, whom I have coached for the past four years.

How many athletes have the Australian or Great Britain team graduated from their track program into road professionals? Twice in my coaching career I have tested the statement by taking the top-four place getters in various events at the senior World Track Championships and found that, with very few exceptions, these cyclists compete in high-level UCI races for WorldTour, Pro Continental, Continental, or national level teams. Let’s pretend that this is now a well-established fact upon which we can base a discussion.

My bias as the head coach of a track cycling program might, at this point, come across as suspicious. You might decide that’s a fair lens through which to read my presented perspective. So please read on with suspicion as I present some ideas on my chosen topic:

Why track cycling is so dependent on road performance

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The Framework

Based on Functional Thresshold Power (FTP) and testing data, Sam’s track power zones start at 484 watts. This information is presented as a frame of reference for the data pulled from his training and racing power files, and used to determine the value of his work toward his development.

The Math and Comparison

When Sam trains for the individual pursuit (IP) on the track we will typically do 4 x IP style efforts with a little bit of speed work to finish. This will result in Sam working his track power ranges for 10-15 minutes in a 2.5-hour session. The session consists of a warm up, intervals, skills and recovery between efforts.

Sam recently raced the Tom Lowry Memorial Criterium in Collie, Western Australia. Some statistics of Sam’s performance include:

Distance: 36.9km
Elapsed Time: 50:29
Normalised Power (NP): 412 watts
Intensity Factor (IF): 1.03
Energy Expenditure: 1,025 kilojoules

En route to producing these stats, Sam spent 11 minutes and 16 seconds within his track power zones. The following day, Sam lined up in the road race of the same event. He produced the following statistics:

Distance: 121km
Elapsed Time: 2:52:23
Normalised Power: 349w
Intensity Factor: 0.87
Energy Expenditure: 2,904kj

Sam rode an accumulated 21 minutes and 17 seconds within his track power zones.

A Conclusive Comparison

Preparation for road events is not about track power (i.e. anaerobic power) development. Rather, it is about aerobic development. Despite the aerobic nature of road preparation, a highly developed anaerobic system is clearly required to perform well, and thus, Sam’s track power provided the same or greater raw developmental/adaptive stress as if he had come to the track to perform pure track work. The benefits then become that Sam received better aerobic development, similar or better anaerobic development, and also had more fun trying to give his friends a heart attack and reveling in the adrenaline high of competition. It’s no wonder that apart from skills, the best track engine work is done in hard road riding/racing.

The Counter Attack

Now, for those suspicious souls who have gotten this far, it’s time to unveil the punch line. Those of us who live in the performance environment of track cycling sport are under no disillusion of the benefits and needs of our road cousin. The truth we (trackies) hold that is that the skill and tactical work that occurs in the fishbowl of the track is highly beneficial for road cyclists. Not all agree and so we’ll leave that argument for another blog. Perhaps I’ll look at identifying the crop of successful road cyclists who also have track aspirations. For example, Miles Scotson – 2016 national road race and TT champion – or Alex Edmonson who became the first Australian winner of the under-23 Tour of Flanders. Maybe we’ll do the math on roadies who are using the track for the specific intent to improve their road racing. Any of the current Hour Record attempters will do or even a rider like Cam Meyer who prepared for and raced the Australian Madison National Championships in December 2015 or riders like Michael Storer; 2015 junior world TT bronze medalist.

Be suspicious of the view if you want, but the fact will remain that the best cyclists are those who train and play with multiple disciplines and/or outside of their specialist disciplines.

Clay Worthington is a senior cycling coach at the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) and was the successful recipient of the 2013 Cycling Australia Coach of the Year Award.

Sam Welsford was Junior Track Athlete of the year at the 2014 Jayco Cycling Australia Cyclist of the Year Awards. Sam is the current Oceania madison and team pursuit champion and was part of the winning junior team pursuit squad at the 2014 Track World Championships. Away from track duties, Sam is a current rider for the Continental-registered Navitas-Satalyst squad.

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See the InfoCrank used by Sam and his Navitas-Satalyst teammates here.

Must Read: Power Data Analysis: Solo Break vs. Sitting In

See the InfoCrank in action

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