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Road Bike Action Q&A: Prologues and Power Meters

October 14, 2011
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WHAT’S A PROLOGUE?
Why did last year’s Tour de France begin with a prologue while the 2011 Tour begins with the nearly 200-kilometer Stage 1? And what’s even the difference between a ‘prologue’ and a ‘stage’?
-Eddie
Eddie, a ‘prologue’ is an individual time trial that, as the name implies, is the opening event of the race. The 2011 UCI rulebook states that a prologue must not be in excess of eight kilometers in length, compared to a time trial that is usually in the 40?50-kilometer range. Oftentimes the Tour de France opens with a prologue, giving fans an opportunity to see the racers, one at a time, on a generally technical short course. While a prologue does not count as Stage 1, it does count as a race day. So, since the Tour de France has a total of 21 race days, if it begins with a prologue, it will have 20 stages. If it starts with Stage 1, it will have 21 stages.
SICK OF NOT RIDING
Here’s the million-dollar question: to ride or stay in bed? What symptoms should I look for in determining if I can ride easy or just rest? If sick with a head cold, is it OK to ride easy and take in some fresh air, or will the activity set back my recovery?
-Emily
Allen Richburg, M.D., M.S., F.A.A.F.P. and head team physician at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, responds:
Exercising when you have a bacterial or viral illness, while your body is telling you to rest, can really make things worse if you are not careful. Yet we never want to needlessly sit on the couch if some fresh air can help. A simple rule to follow is the ‘above-your-neck rule.’ Simply put, if you have mild symptoms above your neck, you can train. For example, with nasal congestion, mild sore throat, mild earache or a light cough, you can train. If you have a fever, chills, body aches, lack of appetite, cough from the lungs, severe sore throat that hurts when you eat, or a sinus pressure headache that hurts more when you move your body, you are better off resting.
RUNNING: BETTER THAN NOTHING?
I like to add running into my training since I’m sometimes pressed for time and I can get in a good running workout in half the time of a ride. But, one of my friends told me that I was hurting my cycling by running. Is there any truth to this? I want to get the most out of the time I have to train, but without sacrificing my cycling fitness. Any advice?
-Barry
Barry, it really depends on your goals as a cyclist. If you’re a competitive cyclist, and are looking to improve your cycling fitness, then you would be better served by spending those two hours a week on the bike instead of running. Cycling tends to benefit runners more than running benefits cyclists. However, during the off season, running or strenuous hiking two hours a week can have big benefits in bone density. The impact caused by running builds stronger, healthier bones-something that cycling doesn’t do. This is extra important for older cyclists who tend to loose bone density and have weaker bones.

Yet, for the time-crunched athlete, running can be beneficial. If you travel and can’t bring a bike, or are short on time, running for 30?60 minutes at a time will help keep weight down and stress your aerobic and muscular systems. While it may not make you stronger on the bike, it will help keep you healthy and active.

The data that a power meter collects allows you to make sense of it all once it’s downloaded to the device’s software, or to websites like Training Peaks.

POWER METER CONVERT?
I’m contemplating buying a power meter, but want to make sure that if I make the considerable investment, the information I will get from it will be better than using a heart rate monitor. I only race a few times a year, but enjoy purposeful training and having a plan so that when I do race, I feel as prepared as possible. Will a power meter complicate things to the point where I’ll need a coach to understand the information?
-Glenn
This is a great question, and one that I’m hearing more often as power meters become available at lower prices. I used a power meter for training and racing most of my career, and believe it’s the best way to get the most out of your time on the bike. As great as a power meter can potentially be, it alone will not make you faster; it is a tool that when used properly can have significant advantages over training by heart rate alone. Many factors can affect heart rate, such as temperature, altitude and hydration, to name a few, whereas none of these things affect power measurement. A power meter precisely measures the effort you put into the pedals, without any variables, taking the guesswork out of workouts.

A power meter allows you to quantify every workout, making it easy to track changes in fitness and fatigue levels. All the current power meter manufacturers provide software with their devices, allowing easy analysis of the information- even for those of us without engineering degrees. Training with power along with heart rate is like a laser-guided missile; if steered correctly, it’s going to hit its target precisely. Whereas training by heart rate alone is like shooting a cannon; it’s only going to get you close to your target.

One of RBA‘s favorite homemade ride foods is a jelly and honey sandwich. Nutella isn’t exactly the healthiest choice of spreads, but it’s a staple in European racers’ feed bags.

FUELING THE ENGINE
I’ve been training for a Gran Fondo coming up in August and am having a hard time when it comes to knowing what kind and how much food to eat on my training rides. On Saturdays I’ve been doing a five-hour ride and typically try to drink a 16-ounce bottle of water every hour and eat two Clif Bars. I’m always spent by the end of the ride and figure I’m probably not eating enough, but I also don’t want to overeat and gain weight. What do you think?
-Tony
On-the-bike nutrition is one of the most overlooked aspects of cycling performance. To keep your engine running at peak performance, you have to be constantly fueling it. On a ride that is over a couple of hours in length, a good guideline is to consume 300?350 calories per hour, starting after the first hour of riding. Some of these calories should come in the way of a carbohydrate/electrolyte drink mix (most mixes are 80?100 calories for a 16-oz bottle), and the rest should be in  the form of solid food. Sports bars like Clif Bars are about 250 calories and work well, but a cheaper option is to simply make your own food at home. Half of a jelly and honey sandwich was one of my favorite training and race foods. It’s easy to make and has the necessary carbohydrates needed to fuel your working muscles. When considering foods for the ride, choose options that are high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat; save those for the post-ride meal. Gels can come in handy in the last hour of the ride since they digest quickly and can give you a little boost toward the end, especially if you choose the caffeinated kind. But, be ready to take one every 20?30 minutes to avoid a drop in blood sugar.

If you stay on top of your caloric intake from the beginning, the last couple hours of the ride should be much more enjoyable and productive; and allow you to finish the ride strong. With consistent calorie intake during the ride, you will finish with less of a caloric deficit, reduce hunger cravings and possible overeating afterwards, which leads to weight gain.
RBA

If you have any pressing questions that you’d like answered, send them on to Road Bike Action.

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