Thursday, October 5, 2017

Swimming Progress?

First scene is in Le Torrent des Glaciers at 3.3°C yesterday. Need more cold adaptation!

The proper swim in the Lac d'Annecy at 21.5°C today.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Landgraaf 3 - Lowlands Championship

Having spent a relatively sleepless night in the car at Geneva Airport, having checked in online and then rushing through security at 6am, I looked up at the information screen to discover my flight had been unceremoniously cancelled. Not cool! Everything was organised around synchronising my arrival at Dusselfdorf for onward travel to Landgraaf and an early start on the training couloirs with Alex. With the next flight at 12:30 pm the plans were slightly compromised - pretty much guaranteeing a 4pm arrival at landgraaf. I was going to book a cheap car to drive myself when arriving at Dusseldorf - at only €90 for the four days - but we agreed that a taxi would be simpler. Thankfully, when at the taxi stand in Dusseldorf I asked the price of the 109km ride and it was quoted at a ridiculous €500 !!!  The only economical option is to book a small hire car before the flight and then they have to upgrade it with no extra charge if they can only supply a big car. The real underlying issue though is that for a place like Landgraff you need to be there the night before if you are training through the day. Alex meanwhile did very well - training from morning until 7pm despite his own lack of sleep! Note: Geneva does not respect the European data roaming charges! Fortunately my telephone data connection cut off automatically after €60 to limit the rip off. 

Thankfully Alex had managed to attach himself to various training groups and just worked away at the things he had learned the previous week. The good quality of his skiing was commented on by other coaches and ex international racers. 

Although Alex was skiing well he was still struggling with consistently getting to the bottom of the courses, so there was a bit of work to do - though we didn't quite expect the very messy mixture of ice and weirdly formed ruts that the actual race would present....

Alex's favourite training run...

My favourite training run...

Alex - the day after the Lowlands Championship - back in the UK.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Bike Fitting - Short Crank Arms

Accurate fitting for a bicycle is just something that most of us never consider. There seems to be far too many variables involved so we probably just feel that we will adapt and make the most of it. I can't remember what specifically spurred my interest in this subject - probably just surfing the topic on the Internet out of curiosity and somehow landing up on the subject of  "crank arm length".

DuraAce Binned

The net result is that my expensive 170 mm DuraAce crank arms are in a cupboard and I'm now on a set of very cheap (compatible) 165 mm crank arms - which are there to stay because this apparently small difference is surprisingly, enormously beneficial. 

When stumbling around on the Internet trying to find sensible information even on crank arm length the only coherent source I could find was Living in France made arranging an appointment out of the question so I purchased the DIY guide and initially just used it to work out crank arm size.

BikeDynamics DIY

The little 45 page book is a treasure and really raises your awareness. There may only be 45 pages of information - but it's because it cuts out the BS and brings the benefit of a huge amount of experience. There is a clear avoidance of impractical "perfection" - yet the recognition that when you find your optimum even a couple of millimetres can make a huge difference. 

For crank length I used my inside leg measurement and another measurement to the top of the hip bone (trocanter) - inserted this into a given formula and out popped a figure of 167 mm. The advice is to round down to the nearest available size because it is always apparently better to go smaller not bigger. Other ways of estimating or calculating were all suggesting to go lower too so I settled on 165 mm.


When cycling I'd always had a problem of bouncing on the saddle when spinning out at over 70 kph. When asking others about it nobody else had this problem. It turns out as Mike from BikeDynamics explains in his book and on his website that it's due to the cranks being too long. There was also a constant problem of my thighs hitting my lower ribs when trying to pedal in a more aerodynamic posture - and not being able to tilt my pelvis forward (more efficient) because of this. Just 5 mm reduction of pedal crank arm length and those issues were history - but not without a battle!


Unfortunately initially I didn't read the rest of the book - it implied setting up the bike on a turbo trainer, filming and measuring and seemed like a real pain to do. Mistake! This is not only essential it turns out to be fascinating when guided by the little book or probably even much better if you can have a professional work with you directly. Consequently, for some unfathomable reason, I decided to lower the saddle a full 2 cm from my "normal" height. I simply figured that there had been so much messing around over the years trying to compensate for the "bouncing" etc that the saddle had gone higher and higher so it was best to get it back down to a reasonable height. Sure enough,  the usual problems had disappeared anyway, but now my quads burned like mad and were on the verge of serious cramping after only 70k. Despite all that sprinting was easier and there was no discernible difference in times over longer distances - yet now I needed to drop one gear lower in general and use a higher cadence. Several different issues were being muddled up now.

Gain Ratio ( )

Sheldon "Gain Ratio" Brown seems to have done a great job of figuring out what happens to your effective gearing when you change the crank lengths. My initial experience of the shorter cranks was that they caused a bit of a nightmare climbing if I stayed in the usual gearing and I was forced to lower by at least one gear - but in compensation the shorter cranks enabled a naturally faster cadence so in the end the speed was the same. On the plus side sprinting appeared to be better but on the negative side the quads were destroyed.

Superficially the problem seemed to be a reduction in the leverage provided by the short cranks. Sheldon Brown however puts that misunderstanding to rest. The critical issue really is the distance travelled by the foot (in a circular path) related to the distance travelled by the bike - the amount "Gained". Shortening the cranks means that for the foot to travel the same distance it has to go a few centimetres further than one rotation - and so the bike travels further on the ground.

If you look at it the another way - say the bike keeps everything the same except the cranks - then to have the same speed the actual feet are travelling slower (shorter cranks) - which is why you can eventually use a lower gearing and higher cadence comfortably and maintain the same power as before.

My quads were certainly being affected by the greater force required when using the same gearing as previously - but in reality the effect was being amplified unreasonably by lowering the saddle.

The improved sprinting probably had a lot to do with the shorter cranks allowing greater bike speed for the same foot speed as before.

The Inevitable Bike Fitting Session

The question was whether to continue with "adaptation" and wait until the legs sprouted new muscles or to try to see if setting up the bike differently could fix the exploding quads. Grudgingly I set about studying the bike fitting book and preparing equipment. First of all this meant digging out my old turbo trainer that I'd collected in Texas in the 1980s and dragged everywhere with me - then setting it up level. (Thankfully I'd failed to throw it out though it was on the current outbound junk pile). It's actually quite good - makes far less noise than my stupid Tacx (computerised piece of overpriced annoying crap) Trainer with the worst software on the planet. (Do I really need a motor to spin my wheel on downhill sections?)

My "uninformed" approach was to try the saddle at its current level and then move it up 1 cm at a time for a total of 4 cm, filming each setting. Subjectively the highest level felt best so I took still shots from the video and imported them into a drawing program where angles could be accurately measured. The knee and hip were on the limit of acceptable extension but surprisingly the ankle was actually the opposite - literally flexed when it should be extended.

Ankle Dorsiflexion Correction

Although I don't bend my ankles in skiing even a strong stance on the front of the heel requires the ankle flexed to about 12° - so it looks like this had migrated into my cycling. Realising that all the angles - hip, knee, ankle would be improved if the ankle dorsiflexion was removed it was necessary to work with the video to get a more "toes down " pedal stroke. What felt like being extreme "toes down" to me was in fact just about right or not even enough. Apparently pedalling correctly is very alien to me. This is the first major thing I learned from the bike fitting process - this alone being amazingly valuable.

Handlebars Up - Saddle Forwards

The handlebars were raised one centimetre to the position they were in when supplied by the factory. I realised that I hardly spent any time on the drop bars as they were already too low before even moving the saddle up. The saddle was moved about 1.5 cm forwards (now almost centered - it had been set backwards) to get the knee position correct over the pedal spindle and now all the arm angles fell correctly into place and it felt great. This was the point where I deluded myself into thinking the job was complete. I was just happy that the upper body felt great, the legs were no longer being destroyed and I could return to normal gearing on the climbs despite the increased "Gain Ratio" of the shorter cranks. Progress had certainly been made.

The Crunch

Contacting BikeDynamics to thank them for the advice it was suggested that I might make a comparison against calculated saddle height by using leg measurements. Reluctantly after a day or two I forced myself to make the dreaded leg measurements and then do the calculation. Turns out the formula suggested that my ideal height was 4 cm lower - exactly where I'd started off with the legs being destroyed. Unbelievable! That was clearly not ideal for me - but the discrepancy was far too great as statistically there was evidence that the leg calculation method is relatively accurate. Back to square one - almost. I decided that at least I had two extremes - to start from an upper and lower limit - and the right height would almost certainly be somewhere in between. Back to work!


The first obvious thing to do was to try the two extremes and note the differences. The high setting felt like there was an early loss of pressure during the stroke. The low setting felt like there was never a break in pressure and no relaxation at all of the quads as a result. Both could probably be considered acceptable solutions just though force of habit if someone got used to either of them. Placing the saddle in the middle (2 cm) of the two the positions the sensation was still "loss of pressure". Lowering by half the distance again to only 1 cm up from the bottom setting it was a return to the constant load on the quads. At 1.5 cm the load was still predominant. It was only at 1.85 cm that the load vanished and and so did the loss of pressure. (3.85 cm up from the seat tube top to the bottom of the "Y" in the "Ritchey" seat post - note for my memory) It turns out that there appears to be an optimum setting - despite all the variables with the ankles etc. The fore/aft position of the saddle was corrected and this didn't appear to change anything other than the upper body fit - which once again felt right.

(Inside leg 80cm trocanter 88 cm - calculated result 71 cm saddle height from centre of axle - 75 cm being the height worked out just by looking at angles. Final height was 72.85 cm)

Going out on the bike for a climb it was clear that sitting back in the saddle allowed that "optimum" feeling where there was just enough muscle relaxation at the end of the stroke but no real loss of pressure. When sprinting a slight slide forward in the saddle allowed the quads to remain engaged all the time and this felt appropriate over such a short distance.

I have no idea if any of this is right - but it kind of makes sense to me. In addition my bum is a lot less sore than when having the saddle high, legs less sore than when having the saddle low and there is plenty of freedom with the ribs/knees for a good aero position (though the stomach need to be reduced!) and spinning at high cadence. There is no bouncing with the short cranks and only apparent advantages with the shorter cranks - no disadvantges.

I'm writing this here more as a diary than anything else - because it's all very easy to forget. If I  was in the UK though I'd definitely prefer to have the clearly vast experience of BikeDynamics do the job directly. The stunning thing is realising that when close to being accurate then just a millimetre or two can make a huge difference - just the same as with crank length.

One of the most obvious aspects of feedback when the angle is dorsiflexing is that the sole of the cycling shoe pulls down and away from the foot. I'm finding the simplest way to get clear proprioception is to focus on maintaining pressure along the underside of the foot.

Here is a photo of the ankle over-flexing - unconsciously - despite the saddle being way too high...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Landgraaf 2 - Apex Iceman

Two very constructive days at Landgraff. The overall result is that Alex (Apex Iceman- as he is now called!) is coping well with the poles and his skiing is far more solid, consistent, confident, efficient, functional and faster. 

Full technical details are here in the password protected report:
Headings: Iceman, Flow, Early Pressure, Pole Clearing, Moving On

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Landgraaf 1

Only a few hours of actual slalom time was available to us on this trip - but Alex made the most of it with a very much improved response to his reactions to the long poles. 

Technical Report (password accessed)

Drifting sideways before the turn (dramatic speed loss - details explained in password file)


Good in verticalé (but left arm falling back due to upper body rotation/reaching)

Stand up here

Friday, August 18, 2017

3.9 degrees

Today was a scorching hot 38°C with relentless sun and a stiff wind from the West. I’d set off in the morning on a 115km bike ride taking in a 2000m mountain pass but not anticipating anything like this temperature or the accompanying dehydration. Despite drinking about two litres of water I still lost 2.5kg by the end.

Recent modifications to the bike made the cycling even harder because of the time taken for the muscles to adapt to a different mechanical action. The pedal crank arms had been reduced by half a centimetre and the saddle lowered by two centimetres. Less leverage on the cranks necessitates using a lower gear but also facilitates higher cadence due to the circle being shorter. Getting this geometry right for your leg length just makes you more efficient overall once you are used to it. I’m now on 165mm cranks instead of the industry standard 170/175mm.

The outcome was that despite an enjoyable climb and high heart rate for two and a half hours the legs died from Beaufort onwards about half way through the ride. Deep pain in the thighs just means the muscles are not used to it and that cramps are imminent – so you need to back off a bit and nurse things along carefully. I had one stop at about 90k just to refill the two water bottles and by then the wind was no longer in my face but the legs were mush. The heat was really strong and uncomfortable contributing to a headache as well as muscle pain so arriving home was a great relief. After drinking and recovering a bit Christiane offered to take me to the river above Bourg (from the Cormet de Roselend) to swim in the cold water and she would drive because I absolutely could not concentrate well enough to drive.

The river in contrast to the air is very low in temperature at around 3.9°C with the water flowing from glaciers. It seriously shocks the system to go into it let alone to try to swim in it and I didn’t think in that state I would even have to fortitude to even get into the water.

Prior to the cold water swimming I felt totally trashed by the cycling. Immediately after – with only a few minutes actually in the water – the headache was completely gone and normal energy levels returned and it stayed that way both for the rest of the evening and the next day (today – as of writing).

Usually the day after a hard workout my HRV (Heart Rate Variability) is low and related stress levels read very high because the body cannot distinguish between physical and emotional stress. This morning – as well as feeling good the HRV was high and stress levels very low. The long hard workout tends to suppress the sympathetic autonomic nervous system and leave you feeling very tired and flattened – this ramping down HRV significantly. (High HRV is healthy – a very steady linear heart rate means that it is unresponsive). It appears that the significant full bodied cold exposure practically reset the sympathetic autonomic nervous system on the spot by boosting adrenaline and probably a bunch of other hormones or nerve actions. The result was both unexpected and amazing. Not only was my head clear for driving but energy levels were immediately normal once again. Sleeping at night was only very lightly disturbed but otherwise normal whereas in such situations it would normally be difficult to settle down and sleep.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Luke Slalom day 3

Final day and mountain under threat of imminent closure – 40°C in the valley at 700m altitude.

Luke and Leonie have different technical problems but gradually it became apparent that they have a common source and are just different expressions of the same basic issues. We focused on two fundamentals only:

  1. Really getting pressure on the fronts of the boots and skis safely
  2. Committing to really coming over the downhill ski

Those two issues are intimately related even though they can be separated. Leonie was stemming a lot to varying degrees but the cause of stemming is nearly always a failure to go far enough over the downhill ski to exit the existing turn. Luke was lifting up his inside ski tip quite high and simultaneously getting into the backs of his ski boots and skis. For Luke the lifting of the ski is a move he has learned will allow him to fall into the new turn – but it is much too slow and then serves instead just to get the ski out of the way and not help directly with dynamics. This needs to be replaced with a solid pressure on that downhill ski until the body passes over it even beyond perpendicularity – implying a true commitment to dynamics. Later on this can be refined with measured leg retraction at the right moment.

We used the exercise of leaning hard forwards to feel pressure on the ski fronts – almost pulling the heels out of the boots – and even turning in this exaggerated stance just to feel the directional effect of the ski fronts. It is only safe to go hard on the fronts if good dynamics and angulation are already present so as to avoid being pitched over the ski tips. In Luke’s case the this worked a bit in reverse because getting forward allowed him to angulate better and produce better dynamics.

In the verticale section of the slalom Luke was seriously allowing his skis to overturn and brake – which is why he was fighting to be quick enough to stay in the course and tending to lift the inside ski – but he still calmed this action down very well with just improved dynamics over his lower ski.

Leonie was able to eliminate the worst of her stems and hopefully realised that “throwing herself downhill” really means using that downhill ski to come up out of the turn and over the ski. Remember that the ski lifts you up – so use it for that not just as a safety crutch for stemming.

Both were looking like true skiers during the descent on the glass with Luke definitely on the fronts of his boots and standing well on his right hip.

Dead centre – observe the concentric rings on the glacier (you have to look carefully)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Luke Slalom day 2

Today we had a guest skier – young Ben. Ben is already a competent skier at age 11 even though most of his skiing experience is on plastic. My comments regarding skiing in the ruts is that he did a good job of keeping his legs independent and supple. He needs to avoid losing angulation in ruts as this leads to rotation and problems at higher speeds. I’d advise however reading the fixed page (accessed in the menu at the top of the page) on “Dynamics” – with a view to increasing dynamic range.

Luke came out strongest by the end of the day when the ruts became bigger – because despite being still partially stuck on the back of the boots he successfully managed to use leg retraction to get across his skis. This is on top of working on his right hip and trying to angulate so as to be secure on the fronts of the skis (only in combination with appropriate dynamics).

Leonie had one of the best runs of the day – smooth and efficient – when moving from coming up over her downhill leg to using leg retraction when the bumps became bigger. She was also working on several other issues and managing to organize and coordinate it all.

Ella was working hard on several technical points – but performed best when asked to forget them all and just go back to throwing herself into each turn – a natural movement for her. The thing is that some to the technical work sticks even when you stop thinking specifically about it. With Ella it’s a case of working with her natural aptitudes and letting technical issues feed into this appropriately – not as directly as other people might require. She has a natural feel for things so it has to be exploited constructively.

Jacob understood how he had to resist the forces at the end of the turn and immediately skied far better. It’s very early days for Jacob’s technical skiing but he is doing well. The ruts at the end of the session were just a bit too much to allow him to relax enough to cope at this stage.

This blue run is a black ski run in the winter

Val d’Isere Glacier

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Luke Slalom Day 1

Luke, Leonie, Ella, Jacob in slalom for the first time ever. Simon is missing from the video as he was recharging his batteries in anticipation of the icey descent of the glacier to come…

Arrival day (prior to skiing) was used to acclimatize to altitude and attitude with a late afternoon introduction to downhill mountain biking – which went very well… (Ella was missing)

Simon was very wobbly on his skis and I hesitated about taking him up the glacier – but what assured me that he would manage was the way he had done so well on the mountain bike the previous day. He did not disappoint – concluding the day with a strong descent of the glacier all the way to the bottom.

Both Simon and Jacob had to be rapidly introduced to dynamics to try to get them to stop pushing their skis outwards. They both understood the idea regardless of a minimum of explanation, exercises or practice so were able to use this to protect themselves when going from slush onto ice and in the ruts in the slalom course. They didn’t have time or enough information to develop real skill and avoid traps and errors – but both became far more secure on their skis as the morning progressed.

I could let Leonie, Luke and Ella just ski meantime to get their feet back and their confidence on the special glacier snow and ice and they all managed to do that as expected.

Simon in particular was wobbly due to staying vertical during the descents and being jammed firmly in the backs of his ski boots – so this was explained – and how to stand perpendicular. Entanglement with the drag lift and general temporary exhaustion brought our efforts to a halt for the day.

Jacob needed more input but there wasn’t enough time to go around – I let him get on with it by himself because he is young and strong. The only emphasis was to move the body more like he had done the day previously on his bike.

Leonie was working on “selective muscle use” and had to work to correct her hip and upper body rotation – which she improved in slalom. If skiing slalom ruts with rotation then expect to spin straight out of the course. Just note it’s not the shoulders facing downhill it’s the pelvis! Leonie was asked to use the fronts of her boots and skis – this helping to grip and to avoid rotation.

Luke was struggling with posture on his right leg – and not managing to stay on that hip – probably exacerbated due to getting on the backs of the boots.

Ella was the surprise of the day – fully understanding that she had to launch her body face first downhill to get into the next turn early – and she discovered the exhilaration  of slalom.

Luke – good posture on the left leg

Bad posture…

Pelvis and upper body need to face downhill for slalom…

Strong entry into the turn – slight stemming – more dynamics needed – move the body not the skis…

Looking good…

Not so good… watch the posture (hollowing of the lower back), keep both hands in front and in sight.

Not bad – a bit back on the boots and not looking downhill – where you are intending to go…

During the end phase of the turn drive the body uphill so as to stay inside the turn – otherwise rotation is spectacular… you found out later on the Ice to at least keep the hip tucked in and not allow the bottom to fly out downhill as you try to grab the mountain in desperation.