Ask the Pro: The benefits and techniques of motor pacing
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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ask the Pro: The benefits and techniques of motor pacing

by Forme Coaching at 7:40 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Coaching
Tips on boosting form behind an engine

Forme CoachingOver the past two decades professional cycling as a sport has changed significantly. Gone are the days when riders were expected to race straight through the entire season. Now it is a profession where teams are more selective about the riders they send to individual races, and the riders are also more focused on racing to their strengths.

This latest post by Forme Coaching’s Stephen Gallagher talks about a technique pro riders use to build form and pedaling technique. It has been used successfully in the past by riders such as Mario Cipollini (pictured), who employed motor pacing to help peak for his successful bid to win the 2003 world road race championships in Zolder.

Mario CipolliniA secret of the pro peloton has always been the riders’ ability to ride with a fluid motion at a high intensity effort that seems to look effortless to the viewer. Watch any of the big races and you will see a grace of effort that is produced by some the world’s top pro cyclists. This is not only noticeable in the Classic-style one day races and time trials, but also the long alpine climbs the world’s best seem to glide over. They move with a perfect technique, shredding up the road and producing impressive wattage.

How? One of the components to gain this graceful effort is motor pacing. It is used by many of the world’s top cyclists as part of a very structured training plan to help them improve many different areas from climbing, sprinting, threshold, cadence and so on.

So, what is motor pacing? Motor pacing is an activity whereby a motorized vehicle paces the rider. The rider rides closely behind the vehicle to gain a draft...much like they would do in a race situation. As with racing, the speed needs to be high to gain the maximum benefits of the activity. This can either be with a car or a scooter/motor bike. The scooter is the regular choice for the pro’s when possible.

Word of Caution: To be clear to all the readers of this article, motor pacing is legal in certain countries and illegal in check before you all go out there and get behind a scooter or car. This type of training is for those with experience and who are confident in their bike handling skills. Please be aware of all these aspects before undertaking such sessions.

So why Motor Pace? Well, the main reasons behind it is to help you develop your ‘race form’. It can sometimes be the final piece of training when coming into top form or aiming for a big event you have targeted. The real benefit of motor pacing lies in its ability to simulate the variable nature of racing with fluctuating power outputs i.e. coasting, accelerating and constant power. This improvement in your leg speed is what you are trying to simulate to a race. Developing your muscle fibres and aerobic system to handle this variance using a high cadence and less torque is one of the main aims.

Can I not do this myself in training? This type of effort is difficult to produce in a solo training session without a motorised aid to help develop the speed. Yes, you can produce the same sort of wattage for a similar duration without being motor paced, but the neuromuscular effort needed for the two sessions can be different between one and the other. This is why pacing behind a vehicle can be very useful.

What Other Benefits Are There? The ability to simulate group riding on a slightly rolling course and accelerating on the shorter hills at a high pace is one. So too high cadence using the scooter, as drafting is similar to sitting in a bunch.

It is exactly how it is done in a race situation, and this is close to impossible to mimic on a solo training run. Producing this high-end wattage effort at a high cadence, low torque, high speed in a fluid motion is exactly the action you all watch in the world’s biggest races. This is why motor pacing can be such a great training tool.

So what sessions are normally done?
Well, everyone has to work on their own strengths and weaknesses but everyone can produce benefits with this training tool. Below are two different training files which illustrate Forme Coaching’s Dan Fleeman embarking on very different motor pacing sessions. The first file shows a typical tempo (sub threshold) effort, producing a consistent effort for 3x13min at a fast average speed and high cadence.

This was aimed at improving or maintaining his leg speed and body’s ability to keep a fluid rotation of power while sitting at a ‘cruising’ pace. Just like you would do in the peloton:

Click here for data for file 1:

This next file is very different from the one above. The aim here is to improve the body’s ability to go over your threshold and then under your threshold repeatedly and improving your recovery along with improving your body’s neural response to such efforts. This is a typical Over/Under effort but in this case the ‘Over’ effort is done riding on the outside of the motor bike, thus taking the wind while still having to ride at 40+kph reaching from 120-140% of threshold. The under part is an immediate return to the slipstream of the motor bike and returning to your given ‘sweet spot’, 85-95% of threshold, before the next over effort.

On this occasion it was done on a 20:40 ratio (20sec over threshold 40sec under threshold).

Click here for data for file 2:

Being able to have such a tool is a luxury for most people. It’s worth emphasizing that care needs to be taken when doing such sessions. Being aware of the road surface (in other words, avoiding pot holes and uneven roads) is essential. Also, having an experienced pilot in the driving seat is a must.

Motorpacing can be very useful in developing the kind of fluidity you see in the pro peloton, but safety must be a priorty.

Do you have a question you would like the Pros to answer?

Dan Lloyd, Dan Fleeman and Stephen Gallagher have built up a wealth of experience between them, racing with such teams as Garmin-Cervélo, the Cervélo Test Team, IG Markets Sigma Sport and the An Post Grant Thornton Sean Kelly squads.

Now working together via their company Forme Coaching, the trio are sharing their knowledge with VeloNation readers in our new Ask the Pro section. Got questions for them? Email your queries about racing and training to and we’ll pass them on. Please provide your full name and general contact details.


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