December brings cold weather to most parts of the country; it also kicks off Lance's 2001 training program. He has eight months to prepare himself for his major goal, a third consecutive victory at the Tour de France. I like to take the first two months of training to focus on secondary aspects of his cycling, things that don't normally get much attention. I believe this is great time to focus on developing better pedaling technique. How Lance pedals affects his style on the bike. Smooth pedaling style means Lance delivers more power to the pedals. It starts with a relaxed and stable upper body, the more movement in his the upper body, the sloppier his pedaling becomes. Lance has also spent many years developing a proper bike fit, since a perfect bike fit ensures stability at all points of contact with the bicycle.
Pedal mechanics are very important for Lance and all cyclists. Lance has greatly improved his pedaling technique over the past several years. Pedaling correctly is more than just clipping in and letting the circular motion of your cranks determine power distribution. The foot and pedal move in a circular motion but the forces applied to the pedal vary around the 360 degrees of the pedal stroke. Let's look at the details of pedaling and find out just where pedaling power comes from:
There are four important regions of every pedal stroke. Starting from just before top-dead-center, there is a forward push, referred to as the forestroke. There is similar region in the vicinity of bottom-dead-center, where the foot pulls back through the bottom on the stroke. This region is referred to as the backstroke. When your foot is rising toward top-dead-center, it is in the upstroke. The upstroke region supplies no positive, propulsive forces, so the concept of circular pedaling for better power distribution is false. The power from the downstroke is so great that it actually lifts the other leg during the upstroke. The backstroke (through bottom-dead-center) and the forestroke (through-top-dead center) do supply propulsive forces and are perhaps more important than the upstroke in terms of power distribution since they lead into and out of the most powerful region of the pedal stroke, the downstroke.
I have prescribed specific workouts for Lance over the last ten years in hopes of improving his pedaling mechanics. I like to isolate the backstroke and forestroke and train these aspects independently. The best way to do this is to pedal with just one leg at a time. Here is a workout that I have prescribed for Lance over the last ten years.
One Legged Pedaling
This is best performed indoors, where you can ride on a trainer and put your non-pedaling leg up on box or stool. One legged pedaling forces you to apply positive forces in the backstroke and forestroke regions of your pedal stroke. Start with just 35 revolutions and increase this to several minutes at a stretch, two to five times per workout for each leg. Keep gearing and resistance light-to-moderate and increase the gearing and resistance as your grow stronger. Remember there is considerably more load upon your leg (and knee) since only one leg is doing the work, so keep an eye out for knee soreness, especially behind your knee. If soreness is too great, take some time off this workout.
Cadence and Pedaling
It seems like everyone comments on Lance's faster pedaling cadence. Why is his cadence so high and what good does it do? It is important to realize that pedal cadence can be, and is, variable. It depends on many factors, including gear selection, terrain, wind resistance, glycogen and energy reserves, and your own personal choice. Is there an optimal pedal cadence? Yes, and no! I believe there are optimal cadence ranges for specific events, individual physiologies, and terrains. I believe that Lance's physical musculature is best suited to meet the power demands needed for the Tour de France by utilizing a high cadence. The increase in pedal cadence increases the demand on his cardiovascular system. Therefore, it is imperative for him to have a smooth and efficient pedal stroke in order not to waste energy. The only way to increase Lance's competition cadence was to develop a training program that targeted the demands and adaptations necessary for increased leg speed. Included specific pedaling exercises and plenty of aerobic workouts and resistance training for the upper body. Improving Lance's pedal mechanics has improved his time trial and climbing performance. You too can expect increased overall performance if you are willing to focus on your pedaling technique.