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What’s needed in a fixed gear criterium and how to train for

Talking fixed gear criteriums

If you’ve ever heard of fixed gear criteriums you’ve probably heard of the Red Hook Criterium Series. This format of racing is composed of short technical courses raced on bikes without brakes and gears. Nowadays, the popularity of fixed gear racing has significantly increased in local races or series such as the NL Criterium Series, but no other series is worldwide more prestigious than the Red Hook Criteriums. The strongest and most experienced fixed gear racers meet in Brooklyn, London, Barcelona and Milano. Usually, hundreds of riders must qualify for the main event held at night. The hard-fought qualifying races, also called heat races, are performed throughout the day eventually concluding in the main event. The criterium is about 45 minutes in length and promises great spectacles such as a relentless pace where racers take high risks in an unmatched atmosphere that is unique in the world of cycling. The reputation of the Red Hook Criteriums often exemplifies on of the most spectator friendly bike-events in the world.

Qualifying

The qualifying races are a crucial component of the series. Especially at any Red Hook criterium, the starting position, which is determined in the qualifying, has a big impact on the outcome in the final race.

Fig. 1: 1 Workout report

Lets explore the race data of Robin’s heat race in Milan: 10 laps consisting of 9 turns and 1.3 kilometres (0.8 miles) on the lesser end of technical courses were to master. Robin covered the race distance in 18:10 min:sec (Fig. 1) with an average power output of 301 watts (4.42w/kg).

With two laps to go, Robin attempted to break away (Fig. 2) by attacking with a maximal power of 1302 (19.14 w/kg) watts. As we can see, his timing of the attack was not optimal with a constant regression of power, Robin was caught shortly

Fig.2: Big increase of stress results through drastic rise of heart rate during attack

before the finish and realized that the initiation of his attempt was too early.

Considering the Matches-Chart (Fig. 2), we see a significant time span Robin spent over his individual functional threshold power, approx. 2 minutes with an avg. wattage of 450 (150% of FTP). Essentially, Robin went deep into the red and expended all of his glycolytic capacities too early and wasn’t able to be a factor in the sprint. Therefore, saving as much energy as possible until the finish line or incorporating a better-timed attack is of vast importance. However, Robin concluded the qualifying in 10th place and was respectively satisfied with the outcome.

Apart from perceived personal feeling, it is undoubtedly important to replenish lost fluids and refill glycogen storages immediately after the race. One factor Robin recognized was his fast recovery from the qualifying race, which corresponds to his solid fitness levels on the given day. Knowing that, Robin was confident that the race in the evening potentially turns out well for him.

Grande finale

Some data to create common ground:

44min 31sec;
43.4km/h (27.6 miles/h) avg speed
295w (4.33 w/kg) avg power
319w (4.69 w/kg)NP
185 avg HR     
197 max HR
101 avg cadence.

Fig. 3 Match finder chart of the final race

Qualifying in 10th enabled Robin to start on 40th position, which is not optimal for the fast course in Milan. As we can see in figure 3 and 4, Robin had to invest a lot of effort to reach the front. It took him almost half the race to finally be in the top 10 positions. The analysis of the lap times revealed having the same time of lap 4 vs lap 20 the physiological demands of each lap were quite different. As we can see in figure 4, in lap 4 Robin’s average wattage was 324 with an intensity factor (IF) of 1.18 compared to an average wattage of 276 (4.05 w/kg) and an IF of merely 1.08 in lap 20. Moving through the field cost Robin crucial energy he could have spent later in the race if he’d been better positioned at the start of the criterium. Robin’s case clearly exemplifies the importance of being lined up under the first 15 start positions of a Red Hook criterium to avoid unnecessary fight for positions and moving through the field. With four laps to go, Robin finally reached the top five positions establishing a solid foundation for the final laps and the upcoming sprint finish.

Fig. 4: compare lap 4 and 20 – same lap time, huge difference in avg. power and IF. This also shows that starting position is a key in a fixed gear criterium.

Robin’s fitness leading up the event progressively improved enabling him of being in great shape in Milan. Unfortunately, there are factors we sometimes cannot influence and with 2 laps to go, a rider next to Robin punctured his front wheel taking out both of them, DNF. However, initially very disappointed Robin realized that his performance of a Saturday in Milan was actually not bad, considering the circumstances such as disadvantageous starting position and crashing of other riders. He proved that he was competitive merely experiencing some bad luck. Importantly, learning from undesirable experiences and implementing measures to counteract reoccurrence of mistakes are crucial for every competitive athlete. Robin can be optimistic for the upcoming Red Hook Series in which he will participate.

 

Fig. 5: Reveals the polarized intensities occurring in a fixed gear criterium. Over one-third of total duration, Robin spent at high intensities mainly requiring glycolytic or anaerobic pathways (energy production). Peak power outputs above 1000 watts in every lap were produced.

Contribution: Manuel Fasnacht is a former UCI professional MTB rider from Switzerland. J & S Basic training with extension 1 (C-Diploma) and TrainingPeaks Level 2 certified. Marcel Berger is a USA-Cycling level 1 certified coach from Germany. Currently, he studies Kinesiology with Performance Psychology at New Mexico State University. Robin Gemperle former MTB rider and currently fixed gear racer from Switzerland. 

 

How to train

Due the fact that a fixed gear criterium is a short endurance event composed of efforts that require high force and anaerobic efforts, a rider needs to have capabilities that enable her/him to produce high and short power outputs lasting from approximately 6 to 30 seconds. The dominant energy systems used in these durations are mainly the PCr (phosphocreatine) and anaerobic glycolysis. However, the importance of having a high mitochondrial density, which is largest in slow twitch muscle fibers (type I), is not to underestimate. When doing short hard bouts of high intensity exercise over 6 seconds (as occurring in fixed gear criteriums), we produce lactate in our muscle cells. Subsequently, after a short high intensity effort, a racer must slow down because the muscle cell environment becomes too hostile by accumulating too many hydrogen ions, lactate, and a drop of pH-amount. The forced slowdown leads to a re-availability of oxygen in the muscle cell and lactate is converted back to its original product namely pyruvate that, in turn, enters the mitochondria for energy production in the citric-acid cycle (Krebs-cycle). Therefore, fixed gear racers not only must be able to produce multiple bouts of high intensity exercises in a short time amount, rather an efficient lactate clearance is of vast importance as well. It is for that reason that makes endurance training (increasing mitochondrial density) for fixed gear racing so important. Additionally, fixed gear racers essentially never stop pedalling and ride through various cadences ranging from low to high that require different muscle fiber recruitment patterns. Especially this must be trained and approached correctly. Furthermore, we suggest that every fixed gear racer employs a strength training regime all year around. Strength and conditioning fosters and develop anaerobic/glycolytic pathways plus - to a certain extent - increases fast twitch muscle fiber content, which are necessary to produce high force. In addition, we recommend to divide the training process into separate phases. One advantage of this approach is that it encourages athletes to develop their fitness in a rational sequence of steps. The nonlinear periodization includes a healthy variety of training stimuli in every phase of training, not every training stimulus is given equal emphasis in every phase. The order in which the various training stimuli are emphasized and deemphasized is important.

Exercise 1: Sprinting

Goal:      Improvement of sprint capacities (PCr system, anaerobic glycolysis).

Warm-Up: 20 mins of endurance spinning with 2-3 cadence-spinups to reach 120 rpm

Set 1: 5x25 secs all-out starting at walking pace; 8 mins easy spinning in between each sprint

Set 2: 5x25 secs all-out starting at 30 km/h and finishing at maximum rpm; 8 mins easy spinning in between each sprint

Cool-Down: easy spinning

Duration: 120 mins

Exercise 2: Anaerobic capacity

Goal: Improvement of anaerobic capacity (anaerobic glycolysis). Increasing quantity and activity of glycolytic enzyme reactions.

Warm-Up: 20 mins of endurance spinning with 2-3 cadence-spinups to reach 120 rpm followed by 3 mins at FTP 100

Set 1: 3-5 blocks of 3x40 seconds all-out out of the saddle; 2.5 - 3 mins of zone 1 recovering in between the efforts; 8 mins of zone 1 recovering in between blocks

Cool-Down: easy spinning

Duration: 90-105 mins

Exercise 3: Fixed Gear Ride

Goal: Ride through different cadences on the cadence continuum to have different muscle fiber recruitment patterns. 

Warm-Up: 20 mins of endurance on a flat section of road.

Main: 60 minutes of fixed gear riding. This can be done either on a fixed gear bike or road bike. However, when riding on your road bike, choose an appropriated gear ratio and sustain it for the entire main set. Find an undulating section of road where you can ride on. Push it over ascents, turns, etc. and hit higher cadences on the descents. RPE may vary ranging from 3-8

Cool-Down: easy spinning

Duration: 90 mins

About the author

Manuel Fasnacht
Manuel is a former professional MTB Rider,  Trainingpeaks Level 2 certified Coach and founder/head coach of meinTrainingsplan.ch. Athletes who want to improve benefit the most from his personalized training program. Manuel lives in Switzerland and is fluent in German, Italian and English which allows him to coach athletes troughout the world. Follow Coach Manuel on Facebook and Instagram.
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