After a very successful 6-week “Couch to Cat C” project, my cousin Boone took a week off for a little skiing and rest. But soon enough he was back in my office, and we were making plans.
“What should we do next?” was our question to each other. He’d gone from a rookie cyclist with a starting FTP of 1.92w/kg to a stronger, lighter 2.62w/kg version in six weeks. He was now a C racer, but he was looking to continue dropping weight while building fitness.
We needed a goal. A SMART goal: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based. So we settled on this: From C to Shining C. Boone was a beginner C with watts per kilo that barely got him out of the D category. Could we move him to a podium spot in a C race over 5 weeks? That’s the new goal.
The basic plan we’ve settled on for the 5 weeks contains a mix of four different types of rides. (Many thanks to Alan Dempsey of HPP Coaching for giving us solid advice that sets Boone up for success).
- Races: Boone will race the C’s every week or two to check his progress, work on race craft, and of course get in a good workout.
- VO2 Workouts: this will be the cornerstone workout of each week. Nobody likes VO2 work, but we both agree Boone is getting a lot of benefit from these.
- Pace Partner Intervals: we’ll use the Pace Partners (Diesel or Cadence) to anchor a fun, interactive interval workout. Warm up with the pace partner, then sprint off the front for 15s. Or drop off the back, and put in a measured 2-minute effort to get back on. Lots of options here.
- FTP Ramp Tests: we’ll do at least two ramp tests to measure FTP progress.
- Recovery Rides: some days, Boone will just need an easier effort in the saddle. Since he’s still a beginning cyclist, even easy efforts are far from wasted.
Ride 1: Boone’s First C Race
In Boone’s last race he broke away from the D’s and soloed to glorious victory. But now he was a C, and we needed to set a baseline. How would he perform in a higher category?
First things first, we needed to update his account and give him any and all advantages he could legally get. That meant adjusting his weight once again (down to 231.4 pounds!) and buying his first new bike – the Canyon Aeroad 2021. He now had the Aeroad + DT Swiss wheels – a solid racing setup.
After an easy warmup he headed to Crit City of 8 laps of the Bell Lap. There were 38 C’s in the race – not a small group! But Boone did a great job of pushing hard to make the front selection of 15 riders going into lap 2.
Once again I was on the keyboard, manning his powerups. But he was getting the worst powerups! Ghosts. Steamrollers. One feather, thankfully. But that was the best we got.
There were clearly some strong riders pushing the pace in the front group. Boone was in no position to attack – he was just trying to hold on up and over the twisty climb each lap. And on the 5th lap he finally go gapped off the back.
At first he tried to keep his pace up enough to stay away from the three riders who were about 40s behind, but it became clear he wouldn’t be able to do that. So instead he heeded my advice to ease up, recover, and get caught. He could probably outsprint them, as long as his legs weren’t toast.
And that’s exactly what he did! He sprinted off the front of his small chase group, then somehow managed to tap the left shift lever, dropping the chain into the small ring in front! I reached up and pushed the lever back, the chain went to the big ring, Boone powered back up… and got second in his group, good enough for 17th place on Zwift’s results, and 10th on ZwiftPower.
We had a baseline. And Boone was pleased with his result, given it was his first C race and he wasn’t feeling great that day anyway.
But here’s the bummer about this race – check out ZwiftPower’s “Unfiltered” view of the event:
In the front group of 14 riders, 6 were DQ’d by ZwiftPower for sandbagging. Two additional riders were not DQ’d, but averaged 3.4 for the race, meaning they are actually-level B riders.
Could Boone have hung with the front without all the B-grade firepower pushing the pace? Probably. Would he have won? Probably not. Not yet, anyway. And while Boone is perfectly willing to take his lumps as a new C, he also thinks it’s silly that Zwift can’t stop sandbaggers from signing up for a category well below their FTP. I absolutely agree.
Ride 2: V02 Workout
Two days later we headed to the Epic KOM for a VO2 workout. If you’ve never done a VO2 workout, let me say this: you probably should. Also let me say: you’re going to hate me once you begin the workout.
VO2 efforts are generally 3-5 minutes in length, with 3-5 minutes of recovery between each interval. The hard effort is 110-120% of your FTP, and you usually do 5 intervals.
It’s a real butt kicker. The first couple intervals feel doable, but if you’re doing it right, the last one is a real struggle.
Boone did 3 minutes on, 3:30 off for this week’s workout. His previous VO2 workout had been done a few weeks earlier at an FTP of 250W… but he had since tested at 278W. So his VO2 intervals had jumped from 290W to 320W. Ouch!
I had the bright idea to create a custom playlist for today’s workout: one hand-picked rocker for each of the five intervals:
- Danger Zone (best workout kickoff song ever)
- Eye of the Tiger
- Living on Prayer (we’re halfway there, right?)
- Pour Some Sugar On Me
- No Pain No Gain (Scorpions, a favorite band of Boone’s)
Honestly, I had my doubts about Boone being able to finish all 5 intervals, given the big wattage jump he’d made. But he kicked this workout’s butt! Destroyed it. Owned it. Our plan for the next VO2 workout is to add a few seconds to the VO2 interval, and subtract a few from the rest interval.
Starting and ending heartrate for each interval – talk about a steady progression! You can see he wasn’t quite able to recover heading into the final set:
Ride 3: Sprint + Spin with Cara
For this ride, our plan was to test out a few different types of intervals while riding with C. Cadence.
After a solid warmup, we did our first set: 15s sprints, 45s recovery, 5 times. This didn’t seem like a crazy hard effort to me, but it absolutely fried Boone’s legs. In hindsight, he probably came into this ride more tuckered than he realized.
He didn’t really have enough left for any hard intervals after that, so he rode with Cara to finish out the hour. It may not seem like much, and it wasn’t what we had planned… but compared to him struggling to hold her wheel for 30 minutes just a few weeks ago… this is major progress!
Ride 4: Recovery Ride + New Kit
Our goal for this effort was to give Boone a true recovery ride – he was tired from a long week, and would be riding the next day. So today shouldn’t make him work – it should help him recover.
This is such a key training principle, and so many cyclists get it wrong. You don’t get stronger while doing hard rides! You get stronger when you recover from hard rides. So you can’t just keep killing yourself every day and expect to build fitness. Instead, you need to alternate between hard days and rest days. Make your hard days hard. Make your easy days easy. This is the way.
Boone his level 11 at the end of his ride, so we restyled his avatar, putting him in some digital camo and giving his Canyon a fresh coat of matching yellow paint. He’s looking like a serious C rider now!
Week 1 Takeaways
This was a very reassuring week for Boone. After a rest week, it felt good for him to come back, perform well in his first C race, and boss his upgraded VO2 workout.
At the same time, his workouts are becoming more physically demanding – he needs more than temp time in the saddle in order to build fitness to the next level. Boone’s learning that his workdays as a builder can really make it tough to put in a hard effort in the afternoons – so we’re talking about trying a morning workout or two, or at least being able to plan workouts around his day’s work a bit better.
Questions or Comments?