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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, April 10, 2020

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2019 Tour de France | 2019 Giro d'Italia

One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody everything everynight before you go to bed. - Bernard Baruch

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Interview with Ag2r trainer Stephen Barrett

Here's the second installement in Ag2r-La Mondiale's interviews of its coaching staff:

We posted part one on April 6. It's here.

What are the main goals in this situation [during the Coronavirus shutdown]?

Generally, what we try to do with the team is:

1- To minimize too much loss of condition. The guys have worked quite hard in the pre-season and the first months of the season to built up a condition. A number of riders are in a good condition right now. So de-conditionning is normal but we try to minimize that as much as we can.

2- The second point is really unique as we have time for the riders. It’s very rare for a professional cyclist to have all this uninterrupted lack of time as you don’t have to travel, no training camps, don’t have races, so you can really focus on improving yourself individually.

How have you prepared training plans?

So how we look at it is, instead of doing a generic training plan, you can look at each rider individually and see what areas they want to improve on themselves. It’s a really nice way to motivate somebody. Because now the biggest issue is the motivation. There’s no date for the next race. So if you can develop a programme that is individually focused, it increases motivation.

So with some riders, they want to work more on force, some on their pace and pedaling efficiency. Training indoor really allows you to get If you train on a home trainer for a hour, a hour and half. It’s continuous pedaling while when you’re on the road, you have stop lights, interceptions, you free wheel. So it’s a really efficient way to get a lot of work done.

Some riders do 2 home trainer training session per day. One in the morning time before breakfast. The idea here is to improve your metabiotic efficiency at an intensity calling Zone 2, you increase your body ability to use more fat as a fuel and you become more efficient. And then they will do a 2nd training session the same day with a little bit more intensity and then we can guess two distinct body adaptation. That’s why you see lots professional doing 2 sessions the same day.

How do riders work on their core strength?

The other aspect we look at is what you call in France "musculation". Strength and core exercices. For me it’s an area, I’m quite passionate about. Gym training should be look on how we can translate that to cycling.

So for me as a coach, I look at gym training in 2 different ways. We can split the body into upper body and lower body.

Lower body : The emphasis is to produce force which is what we need to do on a bike.

Upper body : The purpose of upper body when you ride bikes, is to resist force. So we’ll do lots of exercice of resisting different forces So we try to prevent an excess of rotation in our upper body, excess of extension.

Because what happens where you ride your bike for 5 or 6 hours, if your lower back gets tired, you’re going to flex more the shoulders and it makes it quite inefficient on the bike So the exercice that I have prepared for the rider is very focused on being isometric strong in the upper body, preventing rotations. So we do side plank, exercices with resistance and external forces.

Why is it important?

These exercices translate well to cycling when you think of Paris-Roubaix for instance, the most efficient bike riders generally have the more stable upper body. So you can produce force for a longer period of time. It’s not just the legs that get tired in those races but also the upper body gets tired. Then it’s quite inefficient to transfer power to the bike.

How do you keep in touch with riders?

A few years ago, we would have used a phone call or text message. Now we have whatsapp , Video call, conference call. A good way to communicate with the rider is through video call. I find video call more personal You can see the person, the body language, It’s easier to get a sense of how they’re feeling. You can speak to 20 guys at once. I have prepared video that the guys can watch and replicate themselves. Something visual is always more effective to maximize communication. You may have the best training programm, if it’s not communicate effectively, it’s not useful.

Mike Woods update after breaking his femur at Paris-Nice

Woods' EF Education First team posted this:

By his mid-twenties a persistent running injury would prematurely end his running career. It was the catalyst to him swapping his kicks for a set of wheels as he entered the world of professional cycling. Having ruined one career through injury, he says he won’t make the same mistakes again whilst he’s recovering from a broken femur after crashing on stage five of Paris-Nice. He knows that too much too soon can mean not coming back at all.

Michael Woods

Michael Woods at the 2019 Amstel Gold Race. Sirotti photo

Three weeks post crash and he’s started pushing the pedals again on his Tacx trainer indoors and offering himself up as fair game for people on Zwift. “Now there’s an opportunity for people to drop me for a change,” Woods laughs. “I’m getting passed by everyone on Zwift right now.”

Joking aside, Woods knows that the journey ahead to full recovery is a long one. This kind of injury takes the body a lot of energy and rehabilitation to heal. “It’s a really difficult injury to come back from,” team doctor Jon Greenwell explains. “You lose a lot of muscle mass in the leg, which means you lose a lot of strength.” To help him regain that strength he has a team of experts behind him from Greenwell, to his coach Paulo Saldanha, along with our physio and nutrition teams.

Goals for the season are constantly changing for all of the WorldTour peloton with the current situation. For the moment Woods is taking things week-by-week, relishing each little step of progress. “When I was able to get on the bike it was just so nice, I was buzzing afterwards, even though it was just 15 minutes at a 50 watt average, it was just lovely to move the leg and be a bit more active,” he says. 

It’s three weeks post crash, and Greenwell is pleased with his progress. “He’s ahead of our expectations, we’re almost having to slow him down a little bit,” he said. Too much too soon can easily derail progress, especially when Woods even admits the significant improvement has meant almost occasional lapses in concentration and nearly attempting to walk on his leg. He may have made it back onto the static trainer but he’s still not able to walk and bear weight on his right leg for another month. “Crutching around,” as Woods calls it, will still be his prime mode of transport for a few weeks to come.

A serious crash not only means physical rehabilitation, there’s the mental process to go through too. Every rider will ask themselves if it’s possible to come back, when will it be possible to come back or even if they want to race again; keeping motivation levels high can be tough. “At the moment I’m finding motivation in the fact that the Olympics have been postponed to 2021,” Woods says. “The World Championships also look like they’re going to happen in September, and those were the two biggest goals for me this season, and now I think I can certainly be back 100 percent for both of them.”

Greenwell agrees. “There’s no reason that if everything goes to plan he will not be fit for the World Championships [in September]”. Which are the words of encouragement that Woods will digest and hold onto in his coming months of recovery. 

“I’m lucky in a way by having the experience of ruining one athletic career by not doing it right in the recovery process, and it’s taught me some valuable lessons,” Woods says. Although he has September in his mind as his goal to be back racing, he knows that injuries such as these can have their setbacks and he’s ready for any that come his way. “I’ve set a date for when I want to be back by but it’s not set in stone, so if anything pops up I’m not going to rush it, I’m just going to take it as it comes.”   

As his season has been put on hold, alongside the rest of the peloton’s, the silver lining of that is having more time at home to spend with his newborn daughter, Max, and wife Elly.

“I was so focused on this season, on the Olympics, on the Tour de France, the World Championships, but that focus and that hard work was at the detriment of me being present with my family,” Woods says. “I think this injury has been a nice way of rebooting the body and spending time with Max, looking at her, looking into her eyes and watching her smile,” he gushes. “She’s been a lovely little couch partner.”

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