Sit and Spin

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

The next step was to look at what it would take to tackle the Tour the following summer. Armstrong started training immediately after Worlds, doing six-hour rides at 90 rpm or more—a fast cadence and a fundamental change made at Carmichael's behest. "Lance is a small rider, compared with Miguel Indurain," says the coach, referring to the Spaniard who is the Tour's only five-time consecutive champ (Armstrong is 5-foot-10 and weighs 158 pounds). "Indurain has larger muscle mass, meaning he can use bigger gears. Lance needed to break this work into smaller segments. It's like lifting 300 pounds. If you're a gorilla, you can lift it all at once, but if you're a little guy, you'd be better off lifting 100 pounds three times. In Lance's case, it meant he had to pedal faster."

The old Armstrong pedaled at 75 to 80 rpm on climbs, while the new Armstrong spins at 85 to 90. (To figure your optimal cadence, see "Ring of Fire," previous page.) According to the cyclist, "I completely changed my training by going high gears, always staying in the seat, never standing up on the climbs." The idea, according to Carmichael, was to train his aerobic system to adapt by elevating his heart rate. "The Catch-22 is you have to breathe more," he says. "It wasn't just 'Lance, you're going to time-trial faster if you can pedal faster.' We had to give him the aerobic system to do that."

Specifically, that meant making sure that during the bulk of his training Armstrong is fueling his muscle-cell contractions with glucose and oxygen, a sustainable process that creates no nasty by-products. In contrast, pumping along anaerobically and firing muscle contractions with stored glycogen creates leg-searing lactic acid. Even if you could ignore the burn, you'd quickly deplete your muscles' glycogen stores, which are finite. You simply cannot sustain anaerobic metabolism without adequate recovery, which is why racing predominately on aerobic energy offers an edge in the three-week-long Tour.


What really counts is watts

Every time Lance Armstrong rides his bike, he's on the clock. But in addition to logging his work hours he has to keep track of precisely how much effort he's expending. Likewise, if you're serious about wanting to crush your riding buddies, consider a gadget called the Tune Power-Tap Prologue, a souped-up bike computer-and-hub combo that costs a whopping $500.

It displays cyclometer functions such as speed and distance, along with heart rate and cadence, but what sets the Power-Tap apart is another metric: watts. Speed is a flaky indicator of effort because of variables like wind and road gradient; heart rate is iffy because it can fluctuate for the same effort depending on whether you went for the triple or the quad espresso. But watts are watts. A reading of your wattage is an absolute number that tells you precisely how hard your body is working.

While some stationary trainers will gauge watts, the Power-Tap (877-520-2179, lets you do it outside, on the bike you typically ride. Wondering whether that new aero front wheel really makes you faster? Slap it on your Power-Tap-equipped bike and see how many watts it takes to go, say, 20 mph. If it takes less power than it did with your old wheel, you've got yourself a winner.

The Power-Tap consists of a handlebar-mounted computer, a chest-strap to transmit heart rate, and a special rear hub that measures torque. You have to build the hub into a wheel, but don't sweat it—any good shop can help you pick the right rim, spokes, and nipples and then assemble everything for you. Beyond that chore, setting up the Power-Tap is no more complicated than any other bike computer. The real work, come to think of it, starts when you hop on your newly outfitted bike. —G.L.

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