Thursday, February 07, 2008

An Hour of Power

For a change, I thought I'd write about someone else. It's not all about me you know!

In this case it's about my club mate, Jayson Austin, who had the guts to take on a cycling challenge which is not for the faint hearted. You see Jayson wanted to break the world record distance for riding a bicycle around a velodrome in one-hour, for his age category (Mens Masters cat 2 - ages 35-39).

The current record is held by Jason Sprouse at 45.641km. Think about that - go out and ride your bike at 45 km/h. Now do it for an hour. By yourself.

Now these record attempts are done under strictly controlled conditions. They must be done on an officially certified track, so that the track distance is precise. In this case it was performed on Sydney's 250 metre Dunc Gray Velodrome, which hosted the track cycling events of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and many world level events since then.

There must be World level International Cycling Union (UCI - the world governing body for the sport of cycling) officials present to officiate and sign off on the results. Electronic timing must be in place and the tape of the record showing every lap split is to be provided to the UCI for certification. Electronically controlled starting gates must be used. The bicycle must conform to UCI regulations and be checked and passed by relevant UCI official. In this case the bike is similar in set up to those used by riders who ride the Individual Pursuit.

Officals from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority have to be present to conduct drug/dope testing. The velodrome has to be hired. The local cycling administration has to provide its support and so on.

And that's before you even get on a bike and ride!

Jayson was preparing well for the event, had taken on a coach (my club mate and good riding buddy - Peter Montford of, was using an SRM power meter to guide training and had even done a practice trial at which he unofficially beat the target riding 46.41km.

I had designed a spreadsheet to manage the split timing data and provide his coach valuable feedback on Jay's pacing (relative to target) and with Jay's Mum calling the splits to me as we went - I entered the times in the laptop and could tell Peter what was going on.

Why bother with that? Don't you just go out there and ride it hard, and do what you can do? Well not quite. You see for aerobic endurance events like time trialling, good pacing is critical to attaining the best result (in this case the maximal distance in an hour).

So all was set. What happened?

He didn't make it, that's what. Missed it by 4 laps of the 250m velodrome. Arrgghh!

How come?

1. Well in fairness to Jay - he did get quite sick in the fortnight before the event. That's never good when you're about to lay it all on the line.

2. His gearing and pacing on the day were sub-optimal.

3. A fault in the timing system didn't help but was not, in my view, a primary consideration. His first attempt was aborted after 4 minutes as the electronic timing had not worked correctly. He had to stop and do a restart.

I'll talk through #2.

Here are some charts to show how it panned out. The first one shows his cumulative average speed through the hour. It also shows the distance covered at each 15 minute mark. Click on the chart to show a larger version.

It is pretty clear than Jay started too fast and faded as the hour progressed. His last 10 minutes were particularly painful.

How did that translate in power terms? Well here is a graphic showing his power output (yellow), speed (blue), cadence (green) and heart rate (red). Again,click on the chart to see a larger version.

This one tells the tale even more starkly. It's almost as if, without realling knowing it, Jay paced by Heart Rate (which is never a good guide to pacing a TT). His speed and power in the early stages were simply unsustainable and so began the long slow decay in his power output until it reached such a low level that his pace became very slow, so slow that it more than made up for Jay being over the target until the 53rd minute!

The other remarkable thing to note is Jay's average power for the hour. An amazingly low 242 watts. So despite comments from some that considered him to be less than aerodynamically positioned on the bike, Jay's Coefficient of Drag by Frontal Area (CdA - a measure of how "slippery" through the air you are) is estimated to be less than 0.21, probably close to 0.20. That is very slick for a time triallist and most testers out there would give their eye tooth for a CdA that low.

Could he have broken the record on the day? Absolutely. How? Well the data clearly shows that Jay really should have listened to his coach's pacing instructions. While I was on the laptop collecting the split data - I would yell through to Pete that he was going way too fast. Jay however, simply chose to ignore the sideline pacing instruction to ease back and instead went by feel. Remember it's not a distance Jay hasn't tried before. But I don't think Jay counted on the mental effect of race day and the extra adrenaline it produces.

He didn't want to break the record - he wanted to smash it.

However, since Jay was determined to go faster than he was capable of on the day, had he followed the pacing instructions, started more conservatively, I am pretty darn sure the record would be his.

Anyway - a few of us are having a beer this weekend to conduct the post mortem.

So that it's clear there's nothing in what I say that Jay doesn't already recognise, here is his own summary - in his own words:

“Just An Hour”-the Day

Oh so close but not to be. What happened-I blew up big time- more than anytime on the road when I had gone out as an attack rider for my team in races or when I bonked from hunger flats. This was harder than an ironman but I gave 110% & had nothing left. I experienced blurry vision and hit the pads in the last 10 mins of the event & fought hard to lift the pace when I knew it was over. I was determined I would finish but it sure was hard BIG time.

What went wrong -easy in hindsight? Being sick with a strep throat & asthma since 21 January & on antibiotics did not help especially the final track workouts which we would have used to determine the gearing. I have ridden when sick before but nothing of this intensity and relentlessness. I overruled Coach Peter on the gear-stuck with 59 x 16 believing that another gear may have been harder on my respiratory & overruled him again on the pace. I had been on target before the sickness to go, we thought in the 47kms + for the hour. & I wanted to really break the record by a big margin. Pace would be as per training I said. (On June 17, 2007 I had ridden 46.41 km in an hour with no problems or any predetermined pace.)

Saturday morning felt better than I had for a fortnight although I was already starting to feel nervous. Bike was ready and it was pouring rain but warm OK. Had an easy 20 mins on rollers & some coughing but not too badly. Started hydrating with First Endurance EFS & water & watched DVD of Chris Boardman .That got me choked up but I was feeling up to it.

At the Dunc Gray Velodrome all was ready-Kevin Young had worked hard to get me an area with access for a fan & away from some of the crowds. All was good. Warmed up well and took to the track & felt great. The new TWE chain ring was so smooth & the bike moved so nicely.

The gun goes & I felt good- cadence was a bit high 109 but would slow over the next couple of laps. Don’t look down-affect aero dynamics-helmet great-concentrate & focus-laps are coming up quickly –trying to slow as too fast –feeling very good. Coach Peter calling me to back off-found out later was hitting 51.5kph/111 cadence for over 3 mins but trying to slow was difficult, it was just rolling & the adrenaline was up.

At 4 mins Peter is waving me down & yelling to stop-what’s going on-Oh no the electronic timing didn’t start. Regroup-stay calm-heart is racing-breathing affected-asthma spray-go again –bit slower.

50 mins-Really hurting and I knew the record was gone- just had to finish-don’t fall off bike. It is over & I missed the record. Congratulation to Jason Sprouse who holds the current record it is yours for the time being. I will try again & be wiser the next time.

Went to the Handlebar Tavern for a beer and a talk with some of the team and then drove back to Terrey Hills. Had beers & pizza at Terrey Hills Tavern with my parents & then home.

Sunday- feel OK a bit upset but body, legs, back are very good. My neck is sore from holding the position. No saddle sores-the chamois in the Hot Design skin suit was fantastic-even has a saddle imprint in it.

Some Facts from the Race—restart

1 km 1.21.58___10 km 12.30.15___35 km 44.57.12

2 km 2.33.94___15 km 18.50.38___40 km 52.23.71

3 km 3.47.14___20 km 25.11.48___44.628 km 60.00.00

4 km 5.00.57___25 km 31.39.40

5 km 6.14.90___30 km 38.13.26


1 Should have cancelled attempt when I got sick-result definitely affected

2. Should have cancelled attempt after completing over 12 laps when electronic time keeping failed- result definitely affected

3. Should have not set the pace so high- result might have been different.


I would like to thank my sponsors: Peter, Steve, Austin’s Timber Flooring, First Endurance Aust/NZ and my club Bicisport Cycling. Other supporters whose help & encouragement has been invaluable were, Jim Tzakos-Proline Technology P/L, Lindsay Harvey, Warwick McAlpine, Vic Davidson from LactAway, Greg Ryan-Twe Wheels, Mike O’Reilly and training partner, Peter Verhoeven.

Cycling Australia, Cycling NSW, Bill Clinch, Kevin Young, Brian Crawford, Paul Craft, Cycle SportNews and the officials and people in attendance at the Dunc all encouraged me and I am truly grateful for your support.



Anonymous said...

242 watts average? How much does he weigh?

Piotrek said...

Wow, world record attempt with 259 NP. I guess there's hope for us little guys. :-) Thanks for a great post.

Anonymous said...

Our gym bike's power calibration must be way out. Or I am in contention at an even older age group. ;)

Thanks for the in depth discussion. Most informative.

hippy said...

Very interesting read. When is he gonna have another crack at the record?

Alex Simmons said...

Jason is 63kg. He would normally ride an hour at 295-305W (and has done so before).

We were talking about his next attempt tonight. He is still deciding.

rmur said...

hi alex,
at around 300W, very good pacing, and equal equipment and conditions to that attempt, I reckon he would beat it easily and probably approach 48km.

Play it safe and sched 47.5 ;-)

hope he has another go.


Anonymous said...

Alex yet another brilliant post!
You managed to bring this hour back to life for me.
Next time I'm not screaming at Jay, but using big blinking signs, as well as holding a big cash deposit that he will lose if he doesn't follow his pacing instructions ;-)

Anonymous said...


This is a very fascinating read and has some very valuable lessons for us all. Whilst it must be very disappointing for the team to miss the record, the most valuable lessons in history have been gained by seeing failures as valuable learning opportunities. Most of histories failures get tainted with excuses and justifications that are designed to minimise reputations.

Knowing the class of ridder Jason is, he is with out doubt capable of smashing the bejesus out of the hour record in the future. I look forward to the next report showing what went right.

Jason said...

Great account. Good luck for next time.

Anonymous said...

This was a great article. I enjoyed reading it very much and have personal insight into the event, as I coached the current record holder Jason Sprouse to his winning ride in 2007.
It's always interresting to hear peoples perspective of something, when they have no referrence point, in having attempted one for themselves. No one ever smashes the hour record. Even adding 333 meters to the record, is hardly smashing it, when you consider that it takes roughly 26 seconds to add that. Twenty six seconds in an hour is a bare fraction. The target is to beat it first, and if you happen to add some significant distance to it, then run with the wind mate, run.
As I'm sure the lesson is now learnt, pacing and sticking with the protocol is the key to success here. Set lap splits, adjust the first 5 laps back, and then tap them out like a metronome for the next 58 minutes. And stick to the plan!!!
Records are there to be beaten, and I hope he gives it another attempt. He's the better rider for having failed the first time. Now he knows everything there is, to put together a winning ride.
As for the watts questions some of the posters had,'s all relative to a riders weight guys. If a kid is 55 kilo's, he can push far less watts than a kid of 75 kilo's, to go the same distance in the same time. It's all about power to weight.

rmur said...

hi Alex,
Is your mate having another go at the record this year?


Alex Simmons said...

Jays has indicated his strong desire to have another go in 2009.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, someone's done 50.392km....

Alex Simmons said...

Oh dear, someone doesn't know the difference between an attempt at a Masters hour record done under UCI regulations, supervision, doping control on a UCI spec bike, and someone rolling around the velodrome on a recumbant.

Arland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arland said...

Just wondering what gearing he used looks like a pretty big chain ring up front!

rmur said...

okay I'm fascinated by this sort of thing. Any attempts this year?

Alex Simmons said...

Yes, Jays will be having another crack at the hour. Can't say much more than that right now. ;)

King Quon Johnson said...

Will you be using the same equipment Jay?Any upgrades ? and what gear have you decided on this time?