Riding in the pro peleton
Last Post 04/01/2014 04:16 PM by jacques anquetil. 40 Replies.
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stronz

Posts:312

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03/29/2014 05:39 PM
So here's a question I was pondering on today's ride. Is the ability to ride comfortably - or almost comfortably - in the pro peleton something you are born with or can you be trained to do it? Stated another way -- Could an average or above average athlete, of which there are many, if given enough proper training, diet, recovery and proper equipment be made into a pro-peleton level rider? Or is this something you either have or you dont? I'm not talking about dominating or winning. Just keeping up with the pros on a consistent basis. My feeling is that if given the mental committment, the time to train and do it right with diet and recovery, a lot of athletes could get to that level.
jacques_anquetil

Posts:227

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03/29/2014 08:53 PM
a good question. probably dependant on two major factors: good genes, and mental fortitude.

so, that said, choose your parents well and push yourself really hard.
Ride On

Posts:442

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03/29/2014 09:14 PM
Terreno stage

Pelucchi averaged 188 watts over the 166km stage with an average cadence of 66rpm. He held an average speed of 41kph with a 141bpm heart rate average requiring over 2,100 kilocalories.
Cosmic Kid

Posts:1150

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03/29/2014 09:46 PM
188w seems insanely low.....hell, I did 183w for 82 miles the other day and avg 21mph+.

Just say "NO!" to WCP!!!!
stronz

Posts:312

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03/29/2014 10:09 PM
I do think you need a certain amount of genetic luck. But how much really? Do you have to be a major outlier? I dont think so. 188w seems very sustainable to this average athlete. OK maybe a little above average.
longslowdistance

Posts:703

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03/29/2014 10:18 PM
Miles count for a lot. But to be really good like good trackies, stealthy field sprinters, Sean Yates, George Hincappie and a ton of others, genetics and courage surely come into play, too. And position on the bike. Some aero positions we see can't help bike handling in a pack or on a tricky high speed descent.
longslowdistance

Posts:703

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03/29/2014 10:22 PM
That's Yates in the pic. He would get dropped on a climb but bomb the descent without crashing or going into the red zone and rejoin before the bottom, did this so often it became known as "pulling a Yates".
 PS: the forum once again just let me post a pic with a simple click and drag, done while editing the post. (post the post, then edit - then sometimes I can add a photo with a simple click and drag. Just sometimes.) This seems only to work late at night. I wish I understood the alchemy.
Bernie

Posts:7

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03/30/2014 09:26 AM
Regarding the first question posed, I say don't kid yourself. The example cited only shows some days are easier than others. Have you ever ridden with one of those guys when things got hard? What I've seen is what those guys do is head and shoulders above what the local strong athlete can pull off. Could a strong athlete ride in the peleton protected and exist on an easy day, probably. Could a strong local athlete go to the front and take a monumental pull like you see Jens Voight do year after year, no way. My guess is the strong athlete would be spit out the back as soon as someone decided to turn on the heat and stretch things out.
Keith Richards

Posts:743

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03/30/2014 10:47 AM
A pro? No, pros (no matter what sport) are pros for a reason.

But do I think anyone who starts the sport at a young age, HS say, can get to the cat 1/2 stage?

The answer to that is certainly yes.
----- It is his word versus ours. We like our word. We like where we stand and we like our credibility."--Lance Armstrong.
steelbikerider

Posts:44

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03/30/2014 11:42 AM
My experience shows cat 2 - yes. Cat 1 /pro is a huge step up.
I played all sports growing up but was never more than an average athlete who got by on smarts and practice/training. I starting racing in college and reached cat 2 in 3 1/2 years. As a 3 I was at the front and always in at the finish. 5 more years as a 2 and I was never more than pack filler. The first 2 years of that time was serious, after that - not so much. The eye-opener was riding Wisconsin Superweek pro/1/2 in the late 80's. It was 200 rider pack strung out double file at 35 mph on the lakefront drive in 53-12. I was hanging on for awhile by the skin of my teeth before getting dropped while the guys at the front seemed to be out for a Sunday ride, then they started racing.
Testing showed that my lung capacity/V02 max etc were right about the 3/2 level so it looks like I achieved about what was normal. The limit for me was training capacity. Anything more than 250 - 300 miles per week and I would break down and get sick. I was a college student and graduated and worked part-time to race and train
Orange Crush

Posts:1221

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03/30/2014 11:47 AM
I'd say hard work for the vast majority and genetic disposition for the lucky few; guys like Freire.
Keith Richards

Posts:743

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03/30/2014 11:54 AM
steelbikerider, yup. I think just about anyone picking up the sport at a young age can get to that level. I don't think genetics has all that much to do with it. The multi geared bike is a great equalizer of human potential, IMHO.
----- It is his word versus ours. We like our word. We like where we stand and we like our credibility."--Lance Armstrong.
longslowdistance

Posts:703

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03/30/2014 12:01 PM
Duh, I misunderstood the question, thought it was about bike handling, not horsepower. KR may be right, but I think US cat 1/2 pelotons are fast enough that only a small minority of the population could ever get fit and fast enough to hang comfortably.
jacques_anquetil

Posts:227

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03/30/2014 12:05 PM
Hey Ride On. those are interesting numbers for sure. but to put it in perspective Pelucchi probably did 117w for the first three hours, then 400w for the last hour for an average of 188 watts.
Keith Richards

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03/30/2014 12:16 PM
longslowdistance to me there is a huge difference between your local P/1/2 race and a 1/2 race at a national level event. I think the former is totally doable for person who is not a genetic outlier provided they got into the sport at a young enough age and are trained properly.

I always point to huge guys like Eros Poli and Magnus Backestedt. Are they gonna win a hilly stage race? Never. But they are big strong dudes who made a mark by picking their shots on terrain that suits them. I think anyone who starts out young, learns the sport and knows their strengths can be a cat 2.
----- It is his word versus ours. We like our word. We like where we stand and we like our credibility."--Lance Armstrong.
79pmooney

Posts:1177

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03/30/2014 01:41 PM
I did OK as a 3. Not much on the flats except one or two well timed moves late in races. In the hills, I could ride with much higher level riders, 1s and 2s (back before pro racing even existed here). I could have qualified and raced as a solid 2/marginal 1 IF there were Cat 2 multi-week stage races, especially with mountains. I probably would have had a good shot at spotted jerseys and maybe a top 5 finish if the race were long and hard enough.

But those races don't exist. I got to marginal 2 and never would have gone farther. I don't remember my long capacity, but remember clearly (and with a lot of shame) it being the smallest in my junior high class. And years later, I remember Raleigh rider John Gromek telling me on the Olympic development race in Harvard, MA telling me to drop back and go easy on the long climb so I wouldn't blow up. I didn't; I knew full well that when my lungs max out, you could hear my breathing from a mile away, but that my body was doing fine.

I started racing at 23. If started at 12 I could have been better, but not radically better and never Elite/national 1/Pro level. Not with the body I was issued.

Ben
79pmooney

Posts:1177

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03/30/2014 02:05 PM
Just remembered a funny episode from my last season/post accident year. The district rep had allowed me to become a Cat 2 so I could ride the 1/2 Mt Washington race to close my last season. (She knew well of my accident. She was at the annual dinner of my club, NEBC, while I was in a coma 8 miles away. She knew I was a couple of places away from moving up and would make it easily if not for the accident and that I had riding/pack skills.)

So I moved up in July and started racing every race I could to get my speed up. At a local 1/2 crit, I got dropped pretty quickly. Chased, knowing full well I would get pulled in a few lap, but the work was good. Behind us, the women's race was running. Clubmate Lynn Lemaire, current national TT champ/record holder, had broken free and was on course to a long solo victory. She caught me. I took her wheel and held on until we got lapped, I was pulled and she continued on to the top spot.

So here I am. Glued to a woman's wheel, getting my speed work in prep for my big race in 2 months! In front of a healthy crowd! And of course, I could not lead! A) she was leading a separate race and B) I wasn't strong enough! The District rep was at that race and many of the other races I rode that season. She saw where I came from, a small shadow of the rider of a year before. And she was my biggest fan! Thank you, Grace Jones!

Ben
stronz

Posts:312

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03/30/2014 05:45 PM
all interesting but missing the point. The question is NOT how did you all do when you tried to hang with the pros or riders that were faster than you. We all have lives that dictate we cannot be doing this properly 100% of the time as we might like. The question is could you take just about any good athlete and devoted them 100% to getting in the miles, nutrition, intervals, equipment and recovery that modern thinking dictates produces the best results and come out with a rider capable of hanging in the pro peleton.

Lets say we start with a 100 good athletes of 16 years old. Lean and fit and mentally committed. Spend five years of high miles and propper training. Theyre not doing anything else. This is their job. How many 21 year old pro level riders do we wind up with? I think over 50%. Maybe even 75
Ride On

Posts:442

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03/30/2014 05:56 PM
Anquetil , you nailed it. The avg is low but when they went his watts went off the chart.
steelbikerider

Posts:44

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03/30/2014 06:29 PM
I think you would be lucky to get 10%. Lack of desire, burn out, changing interests, injuries would all be factors. Look up numbers from the Soviet- bloc countries in the 60's thru the 80's and you would get a good answer.
longslowdistance

Posts:703

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03/30/2014 10:00 PM
Stronz I say likely less than 0.1%.
Pretty much all pro tour cyclists are freaks of nature. Top rouleurs like Poli would kill most riders on climbs. It's only against the truly top tier they get dropped.

Master50

Posts:238

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03/30/2014 11:25 PM
Every rider I have known that made it in pro cycling was outstanding from the first time we ever saw them race. The very first race and the fastest pace is manageable for them
Keith Richards

Posts:743

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03/31/2014 09:26 AM
An elite level athlete is an elite level athlete. They are hard to come by.

My only point is that an average good athlete can get to decently high level if they start early enough with this sport.
----- It is his word versus ours. We like our word. We like where we stand and we like our credibility."--Lance Armstrong.
Master50

Posts:238

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03/31/2014 10:07 AM
Posted By Keith Jackson on 03/31/2014 09:26 AM
An elite level athlete is an elite level athlete. They are hard to come by.

My only point is that an average good athlete can get to decently high level if they start early enough with this sport.


I would agree that an early start is essential for athletic development. I really think that had I taken to bike racing as a teen that I would have been a better cyclist as an adult. That said as a teen cycling was one of the few physical activities I enjoyed but not as a sport, as transportation. Training is essential to reaching what ever potential we have but there are definitely a rare bunch that start higher than most can reach. These are likely the pool of athletes the Pros swim out of.
stronz

Posts:312

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03/31/2014 10:07 AM
very interesting to me. So the consesnus is that it is mostly natural talent. I would certainly agree for the top 20% or so of the pros. But I'm skeptical for all the rest. I think an average pro is made. Not born.
79pmooney

Posts:1177

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03/31/2014 12:06 PM
Stronz, I think it is both. Becoming pro is only possible for the top say 5% of the gene pool. Then it is years of some of the hardest work in sports. Occasionally a 0.01% comes along who can easliy ride and win the early races and even go pro without too much effort. Those 0.01%ers that so the work are the Lemonds, the Merckxs. etc. (They might actually be more like 0.0001%)

Ben
jrt1045

Posts:362

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03/31/2014 12:15 PM
you can train your way to a 2 - given time, resources and a bit of drive. from there its all about genetics.

My only regret is that I didn't sandbag the 3's until I got tired of feeling successful went from a 4 to a 2 in about 3 seasons and some change. Never amounted to much after that, after a season or 2 I realized it was a kinda a waste of time with a few good days scattered here and there. The crits are doable at the Pro 1/2 level but its the road races and circuit races with a little something wrinkled in where you notice that the good genes make a difference. Handful are racing, the rest are pack filler, should polish up their resumes and stop being delusional enough to fly out to redlands. Like one of the other posters, for me it was Superweek back in the day, too - only I was getting drug around alpine valley at like a zillion miles an hour, then the real racing started.

From what I've noticed over the years, a real pro looks like a pro from the moment he ever decided to first swing a leg over the top tube. Even most of those guys don't really make it either. Its a tough sport at the sharp end of the grid
Orange Crush

Posts:1221

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03/31/2014 12:57 PM
Posted By Keith Jackson on 03/31/2014 09:26 AM
An elite level athlete is an elite level athlete. They are hard to come by.

My only point is that an average good athlete can get to decently high level if they start early enough with this sport.


As the local T&F and soccer coaches say, if you can teach your kids to do it properly before age 13 (give or take), then they can operate an order of magnitude above those that start later in life. It is those kids that show early motivation that make it. Is Marianne Vos genetics or is it the fact that from a young age she was super-keen to beat her older brother that gave her that competitiveness that brought her to where she is?
longslowdistance

Posts:703

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03/31/2014 03:54 PM
For skill sports like soccer starting young is essential.
While of course there is some skill to cycling, it's mostly about horsepower. Merckx started racing when he was 16, which is still fine today.
I still think only a tiny minority of the population would ever have a shot at a pro tour contract. Choose your parents carefully!
Keith Richards

Posts:743

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03/31/2014 04:56 PM
I would never go up to cat 2 unless they made me, to be honest.

As I tell all my friends when they get to cat 2, "no more easy days for you!"

For the average recreational racer, cat 3/masters racing in your age group is plenty of entertainment without too much sacrifice.
----- It is his word versus ours. We like our word. We like where we stand and we like our credibility."--Lance Armstrong.
Dale

Posts:501

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03/31/2014 05:07 PM
At the Tour of Missouri a few years ago there was a time trial coming out of Branson. Pretty steep in several sections, definitely not a pancake flat get-in-the-tt-bars-and-hammer course. They let regular people ride the course ahead of time and the number of people that were mouthing off about how they were within X number of seconds or minutes of some pro was laughable:

1) They hadn't done several days of hard racing prior to their TT

2) Many of the pros were just riding the course and not trying to flame out.

I noticed none of the guys mentioned how far back they were from the GC contenders who went flat out but it could have been measured with a sun-dial, a stop watch was not necessary
Cosmic Kid

Posts:1150

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03/31/2014 05:07 PM
Posted By Keith Jackson on 03/31/2014 04:56 PM
I would never go up to cat 2 unless they made me, to be honest.

As I tell all my friends when they get to cat 2, "no more easy days for you!"

For the average recreational racer, cat 3/masters racing in your age group is plenty of entertainment without too much sacrifice.


This.

At one point when I was in CO, I really wanted to get to a 2. Started working my way towards it and thought "WTF am I doing?" yeah, I coulda upgraded but why? I would never be more than pack filler and was approaching Masters categories anyway, where I could race a bunch of the same guys.
Just say "NO!" to WCP!!!!
Orange Crush

Posts:1221

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03/31/2014 05:34 PM
Posted By Frederick Jones on 03/31/2014 03:54 PM
I still think only a tiny minority of the population would ever have a shot at a pro tour contract. Choose your parents carefully!


OK, this is my limited 2-sample perspective.

Uncle, won a ton of races including precursor to Amstel Gold and almost made TdF squad only to have to abondon career due to misdiagnosed back injury. Dad: a miner, mom a housewife, neither with any apparent athletic ability.

Good friend, German track champ at age 18, easily could have made pro if it wasn't for being more focused on partying and smoking. Neither parent has athetic inclination.

Both got to where they got by being hardnosed hard working.
Keith Richards

Posts:743

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03/31/2014 10:11 PM
Posted By Cosmic Kid on 03/31/2014 05:07 PM
This.

At one point when I was in CO, I really wanted to get to a 2. Started working my way towards it and thought "WTF am I doing?" yeah, I coulda upgraded but why? I would never be more than pack filler and was approaching Masters categories anyway, where I could race a bunch of the same guys.


This is why I say just being young makes a huge difference, a guy in the same position at age 19...he'd be cat 2 in a season.
----- It is his word versus ours. We like our word. We like where we stand and we like our credibility."--Lance Armstrong.
Ride On

Posts:442

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03/31/2014 10:21 PM
I often wonder how many people/kids start out with a good fit on a bike and how many don't. If you don't and you don't really love it and stick with it long enough to get a better position do you just give up before you show your talent.
Patched Tube

Posts:29

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04/01/2014 05:35 AM
I had one experience riding with a former pro that convinces me that you either have it - or you don't. I won't rehash the details (some of the old VN folks might remember the story) but suffice to say that I was in really great shape, riding well and got hooked up with some guy who rode in Belgium for a bit.

We decided to distance ourselves from some congestion caused by a big club ride and when this guy put the hammer down I was just cannon fodder - he used me to spell himself every couple of miles and could have EASILY rode me off his wheel any moment he wanted to. I was barely hanging on and he was barely breaking a sweat.

I agree with Keith that 1) if you start early enough and 2) girls and intoxicants don't derail you along the way anybody of average ability, given a lot of hard work, can go pretty far in the sport. But after that - its all about your parents.

-- that which cannot be proven as true must be regarded as false or not affirmed as true
jrt1045

Posts:362

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04/01/2014 09:56 AM
Cat 5: clueless
Cat 4: having fun
Cat 3: delusional
Cat 2: unemployable
Keith Richards

Posts:743

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04/01/2014 11:18 AM
Cat 5: Beginner
Cat 4: Novice
Cat 3: Expert
Cat 2 and above: Pro

That is how I look at it. If you are a fast cat 3 you can jump in an occasional 1/2/3 race to get your swerve on or race cat 3 and get a decent result.

If you are a cat 2...you have no easy racing. Ever.
----- It is his word versus ours. We like our word. We like where we stand and we like our credibility."--Lance Armstrong.
stronz

Posts:312

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04/01/2014 12:42 PM
since we're swapping stories: Was in France in 2004 riding the etape and other stuff. Met up with Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney's group one day. They had their scrawny 13 year old Taylor with them. There were three very strong riders and I was the best climber in our group. Our route was very hilly that day and I soon found myself way out in front. Toward the end of a very long (and wonderful) day of riding. I was caught by Taylor and one of the other strong riders - who was a very fit 30yr old. He looked ragged and spent. Taylor was just having a great time and looked like he could go on for days. They told me they had been trying to catch me for a while and had taken alternating pulls. So between Taylors youth - I mean how many 13yr olds have the mental and physical ability to surpass two very fit, very dedicated adult cyclists? - and obvious genetic gifts my breakaway was doomed. Point is that at some point genetics clearly trumps everything else. Especially for the super elite which I would say TP is. But for the not so super elite I'm not so sure.
Keith Richards

Posts:743

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04/01/2014 01:14 PM
Stronz, I personally think there are more relative genetic outliers than we think. They just never pick up the proper sport.

On the swapping stories front...

I was on the local group ride at the end of my first full season racing, I was a cat 4 but had not finished out of the top 10 in any event that season. In short, the legs were great.

I ended up in a break with nothing but cat 1 and 2s. One of the cat 2s gave me a hard time because I didn't pull, mainly because I knew I could catch the other cat 2s on the next climb, which I did. I got to the finish with them and the cat 2 was complaining that, "someone held him up" not knowing it was me. I admitted it was me and said I was the only cat 4 in the break when the cat 1 (Russell Langley for those who know the local scene), cut me off "you are here right? RIGHT? Fucking ride then and don't sell yourself short!" It was then that I stopped having any intimidation or respect for cat 1s and 2s as far as them being special.

You work hard, train hard, ride hard and you can go further than one thinks. I know I am nothing special genetically, at least I don't think I am.

But an elite level pro...that is different. Like you said.
----- It is his word versus ours. We like our word. We like where we stand and we like our credibility."--Lance Armstrong.
jacques_anquetil

Posts:227

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04/01/2014 04:16 PM
i'm loving this thread. more war stories!


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