… or perhaps 2…8…0…?
I’ve been writing about some of my friends and fellow club riders who have become much stronger during the last year. The Editor went from non-climber to 5 Pass Death Ride Finisher. Red Shoes Eric climbs away from me when a short time ago it was the other way around. Bionicbabe and Doug were inducted into a Hall of Fame for completing 50 (!) double centuries; 200 miles in one day and within the time cutoff. People are setting PR’s on Strava segments and doing epic rides and tours.
I was starting to think that not only were lots of people getting better, but I might be getting worse. And although I had a great ride up Mont Ventoux in June, I really haven’t done anything notable since. No centuries, Death Rides, PR’s or epic tours. I haven’t felt weak, but I haven’t felt really strong either. I’ve been in a kind of cycling rut.
A couple of weeks ago, I had to miss the Saturday club ride because I needed to help Stoker prepare for a big party we were co-hosting that evening. But I did have time for a two hour early morning ride from our house, and I decided to do the dreaded 20 minute ‘Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test’. The FTP test is an excellent measure of cycling fitness and would give me some idea of whether or not my performance had deteriorated.
The FTP is ‘dreaded’ because doing it correctly really hurts. You do a good warm up, with a couple of 1 minute all out efforts to get the lungs going. Then you find a stretch of road with no stop signs and few turns and light traffic. You can do this test on a climb as long as there are no downhill segments, but a flat course is ideal. The idea is sustain the highest constant power you can for 20 minutes, and you want the pacing to be as even as possible; the power you generate for the first 10 minutes should be close to the last 10, and by the end of the test you should be close to exhausted.
After the test you use your power meter data to determine the average power for the 20 minutes. Then you take 95% of this number; this is your FTP. You use the FTP to set up training zones if you want to take a systematic approach to getting stronger, or at least keeping the fitness you have. Of course you could follow Eddy Merckx’s advice about how to get better: he said simply “Ride a lot!” But I’m betting if power meters had existed in Merckx’s day he would have used one.
I’ve done 4 FTP tests over the last 3 years, usually one in late spring and one in early fall. All of those tests came out in the 275-280 watt range for the 20 minutes. The last was in April 2013, and I averaged 280 for that one. So I was kind of surprised when I looked at the data after last week’s test and found I averaged 289 watts for the 20 minutes. And my pacing was pretty good; 292 watts for the first 10 minutes and 287 for the last 10 minutes. Surprised and satisfied; this is my highest FTP test ever.
So I guess I’m not getting any worse. And if/when I do start to deteriorate as a cyclist (more like ‘when’; I’m not getting younger) my power meter will let me know exactly how much.