The Science and Practice of Training Elite Road Cyclists [transcript]

Written by Christopher Kelly

May 13, 2019

[0:00:00]

Simon:    Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast. My name is Dr. Simon Marshall. I'm the performance psychologist for MBT. I've been a guest on the show a few times talking about all things mindset related but not today. Today, I'm the guest host of the podcast. My first one in fact, so be gentle with me.

    My guest this week is Dr. David Bailey, the Head of Performance for the Bahrain Merida Professional Cycling Team. Now, if you don't follow professional cycling, Bahrain Merida is one of the 18 teams licensed to compete at the world tour level, the highest level in professional cycling -- think the Tour de France.

    Prior to his job at Bahrain Merida, Dave led the performance division for BMC Racing Team where he was responsible for scientific testing, equipment testing and development, sports nutrition, as well as being the personal coach to a whole cadre of top riders like Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis, Stefan Küng, and Silvan Dillier. Welcome, Dave Bailey.

David:    Hello.

Simon:    That's it? That's all you got? Well, I thought we could start by -- if you could tell us a little bit about your background and the things that led you to the job that you have now.

David:    Sure. No problem. First of all, thank you very much for this invite and this opportunity. It's great to be a part of this podcast series. I followed it closely. Thanks.

Simon:    Sure.

David:    My interest, I guess, in sports science, which is really my background, began at university. I did three degrees, an undergraduate, a Masters and a PhD, eventually specializing over the course of, I guess, eight years with more of a focus on Exercise Physiology, which is more how the body's working at muscular level.

    Then what really gave me a buzz as opposed to publishing research was actually applying that knowledge. I wanted to see if what I was looking at in a laboratory or with people coming in to be tested was actually of benefit to the Joe public and really lucky for me, elite athletes.

    After that, I worked with the English Institute of Sport. The timing was pretty good because it was around the time that London was named as an Olympic venue and there was more funding in the UK so I was able to be a part of the institute model which grew. I started off in a multisport role with sports like swimming, canoeing and triathlon.

    Then after three years of that, I went to work with the British Cycling team still as a representative of the institute and did an Olympic cycle with them and went to Beijing. They had a very successful game. They had 14 medals, eight golds. Then I moved back to where I studied at the institute there and worked with British Triathlon and was fortunate enough to work with the Brownlee brothers who went on to get gold and bronze in London.

    Then I took a complete change. I had done the research bit, the applied bit and then had an opportunity to go and work in industry. My PhD was funded by Unilever. I had an opportunity to go and work for Nestlé. They owned a PowerBar, a sports nutrition brand and another brand. I went and worked in their R&D center in Switzerland, moved country and did that for three years.

    Unfortunately, they sold the brand, hopefully nothing to do with my research. But, yeah, I was lucky enough to keep some contacts in cycling and got offered a position with BMC. And as you said, that's where I had my foot on introduction to professional cycling.

Simon:    When you left your PhD, what was your PhD in? Or should I say dissertation in?

David:    It was a mix of exercise physiology and sports nutrition. In simple terms, it was looking at muscle damage, so when the muscles get injured after exercise and how important that process was and whether you could affect it with nutrition.

Simon:    Were you publishing at that time? Were your research active or were you already seguing to --

David:    Yeah. Absolutely, yeah. I did. It's the currency in all academic research, whether you're doing a PhD or you stay on to become a research fellow like I did or an academic practicing research. It is important. Yeah. We published a research on Vitamin C and recovery from exercise and then even physical therapies like ice baths. I looked at that in the latter years of my research work in the academic world.

Simon:    So those are two quite different industries obviously, Nestle Switzerland coming from the English Institute of Sport working with -- how did you make that transition? How did you find it working in actually an industry away from that sort of government funded model?

David:    It's a good question. A lot of people look at my professional background and say, “Well, how does that fit into things?” You can understand the transition from a quite applied research interest into working with athletes. But it really was a little bit like a step back into more of a research focus. It was in R&D center. It was working in collaboration with the universities. It was almost like I was on the other side of the fence.

    When I did my PhD, it was funded by Unilever and other global nutrition company. Then the project manager working for that nutrition company, Nestlé, I’m working with universities all over the world helping to run clinical trials to find evidence to support the claims they want to make around their product.

Simon:    Right. When you are in sport background, it’s what? Do you came as a swimmer or --

David:    As a kid, I was a swimmer. I did a lot of different sports. My parents were encouraging my brother and I to do lots of different ones. Swimming became a pretty interesting one. I grew up by the sea so I guess that helped. Then that led to an ability to do a lot of other sports.

    I got to Loughborough when I met you. You introduced me to cycling so I guess you have a big part to play in my professional development.

Simon:    Yeah, [0:04:50] [Indiscernible] here. Dave and I go back probably 20 -- oh, god, has it been that long? -- 20 years or so. We did our PhDs together in England, in Loughborough University. Dave was in Exercise Physiology and mine was in Psychology. We met as well through cycling and started to do a bit more of that together. Then other respective careers spat us into two different parts of the world. Then you ended up in Switzerland and me in US.

    But then talk me through. What I'm finding really fascinating -- I've grown up as a cyclist and went to the France on holiday with my family every year watching the tour. You, I know that you also had a strong bond with cycling. What was it like getting that call that you're now working at the world tour level and possibly going to the races that you grew up watching on TV?

[0:05:38]

David:    I think to say it was my dream job would probably be fair. Of course, you don't think that when you're a teenager at school or even when you're at university. You're still trying to find your way as to where your interest may lead you professionally. I consider myself really lucky that what has been my passion in my free time has also spilled over into my professional role.

    So yes, to end up having had, like you, a real childhood fandom of the tour and cycling with the possibility to be in that world and see things, yeah, it was fantastic and super exciting. Yeah. It really got me out of bed in the mornings. Then I had experienced it now for I guess five years. It’s still the same. It's still really, really unique.

Simon:    Well, a lot of our listeners might not be familiar with professional cycling, so I wonder if you could just give us a bit of a dummy's guide into professional road cycling like how many riders on a team and that way their funding come from, sorts of races they do, all the sorts of riders or where do you find them and so on.

David:    Yeah. No problem. I guess the best frame of reference would be my transition from Olympic sports to what is in essence a professional sport. Olympic sports, as we know, people represent their countries supported by their federations and they go every four years to an Olympic venue. In theory, the Olympics is supposed to be amateur, but as we know now, professional sport is prevalent everywhere even in Olympic events. It differs depending upon the popularity of that sport.

    But professional cycling is not dissimilar to professional sports in the US basketball, football, ice hockey, baseball. It is trade sponsored teams. The slight difference in cycling is that they don't really have a fixed location. So often, the name of the team is dictated by the title sponsor rather than it being named after a city or a town or a region, which presents a few challenges in terms of sponsorship and the legacy of a team.

    But in the existing professional peloton, there are, as you mentioned, a World Tour level. There's a level below called Pro Continental and a level below that called Continental. They speak for themselves. The Continental is the country or the region. Pro Continental overlaps a little bit. Then the top level, which is 18 teams, is the World Tour, the Premier League if you like, the top division. They are ranged budgets from maybe ten million up to 40 million. That's driven by any corporate interest and sponsorship, which is predominantly through bike manufacturers, but some other related industries that want to do that.

    Each team can have anything from -- I think the minimum is 23 riders now. The maximum, I think there isn't really a limit, but in terms of budget, it's probably 30. They are comprised of international riders. There's usually a fixed nationality depending upon where the team originates from.

    With the BMC, it was quite mixed, although there were a lot of Swiss and Americans linked to the sponsor and the licensing of the team. Bahrain has evolved from it. Italian teams, there's still quite a strong Italian cohort there. Team Sky, for example, is a British team. There's obviously a strong cohort of British riders.

    Those riders are accompanied with anything from 30 to 60 staff. The core roles in a professional bike team is: the mechanic, so obviously, the technical aspect of the sport requires a specialist to maintain bikes; a role called a Soigneur, which is a French word for carer. They tend to be people with a background in sports massage and also end up doing all the other jobs: nutrition, luggage, picking up people from airports.

    You have doctors. You have sports directors, which are former riders typically that drive in the convoy behind the race or in communication with the riders during the race. Then you have team managers. More recently, there's been an influx of sports scientists. I think that reflects what's coming from an institute model and other professional sports where there's a growing understanding that a more objective evidence based approach to practice seems to be beneficial to performance.

Simon:    I think what's interesting particularly about -- I mean sports science now is embedded in most professional sports. That's not often without friction too. Historically, many of the sports are -- been managed, coached and run by former professionals, whether it's cycling or any other sport. The influx of the nerds coming in can tread on some toes.

    Also, to be fair to the status quo in the sport is that the scientist trained in largely academic or research departments maybe don't have some of the skills of implementation. Can you talk about some of that, if you saw that at BMC or in Bahrain Merida or just generally about that friction between science and practice?

[0:09:53]

David:    Sure. You get told a lot of horror stories when you move from a more scientific focus, in a university to an applied role about coaches that, “What can you tell me?” or athletes that aren't interested. I think maybe my transition was quite smooth and that I went to an Olympic institute or a little model supporting Olympic sports, which inherently hadn't got a lot of support medically and scientifically. So they were just appreciative of support.

    In my experience, I've never really had any horror stories to tell. For sure, there've been challenging moments when you're working with people. I guess my expectation was there'll be a line of people at my office door, athletes and coaches wanted to know how I can help them and in reality there was no one there.

    You had to understand that you had to find some common ground where you could help them and they saw that you were there to help with their performance goals and their performance challenges. It was about building rapport. That's something that no one teaches you at university, no one teaches you in a way in academia in general. All of a sudden, you had to pick up this skillset. For sure, if you're in a sport that you have a personal interest in and or you just have respect and want to know more about professional sport, then inevitably, it's quite easy to build that rapport.

Simon:    Was it the same in Olympic sport as well or not quite as pronounced, that sort of no one outside your door?

David:    That was the starting point. That's where I realized it. Then going into cycling, it's interesting. I've changed teams recently, so I come with a bit of a reputation now, hopefully a good one. People do seem to respect my opinion, God knows why.

    But when I went to BMC, I had a lot of contacts through cycling through my time with British Cycling, but most international cyclists and staff didn't know me. So you have to earn your stripes. It doesn't mean you have to be super proactive and tell people what you know. In fact, that's probably the worst thing to do. You just have to be interested, listen well and have a really good degree of integrity and not feel too obliged to help or find problems to solve, more to understand where you can help.

    I guess one of the things I say to people aspiring to do this is to know that it's okay to say you don't know. I think you reassure a lot of people in that world of high performance sport where there's a lot of pressure to perform and a lot of financial and lifestyle implications of underperformance. But if you go there and say, “Look, I'm going to help you if I can, but if I can't, I'll tell you,” then people, their insecurities get put to one side and they realize that you're actually in it with them and you're there to help them.

Simon:    Do you recall making any major blunders as you started out? You’d go in with the advice or the input and then that didn't work? Do you remember something, “Oh God, why did I do that or try that?”

David:    It's funny you say that where I was asked recently about -- at a workshop, I’m working, presenting with other practitioners. It was to an audience of young sports scientist and coaches. Could we give an example where we didn't do something well or something went wrong? I think I said I could do an afternoon on it because I think that you learn more from things going wrong and then you do going right and you have to take risks, manage risk.

    But the one that sticks out when I started in professional cycling was -- it was linked to a race. The race season in Europe starts with classics races in Belgium. It was a race in Belgium, Ghent. BMC had some very successful classics riders, two Belgian guys, one from the French speaking part, Phillips Gilbert and one from the Flemish part. It always blows me away that these guys who’ve achieved great things are still open to support and advice.

    Phillips Gilbert, who was interested in my ideas around nutrition, he'd heard that I'd got a background in that. We sat down and we talked about what we could do. I basically prescribed nutrition or at least tailored it a little bit more to him.

    To do that in a bike race, they can be given food from the car. But in a classics race where it's pretty crazy with cobbled roads and traffic furniture, -- and the race is often the race of attrition so you need to be at the front -- we had to do it from the side. So I took the responsibility to give him the last feedback. He came out of a cobbled section. I didn't see him until the last minute, held this bag out for him, which was his final nutrition, he’s in the break ready to go and I dropped it.

Simon:    Oh, brutal.

David:    It wasn't a big deal. I mean he finished the race and I don't think it had a big impact on performance. Things like that really help you to put things into context. But equally, I remember his massage therapist who also hand out the bags and racing to me, “It's the first time you've done this, right?” “Yeah.” And you lose a little bit of credibility. But also, like I say, to show that you are fallible and that you do make mistakes is actually quite humbling. And people develop it a little quicker.

Simon:    Yeah. I think that also, it speaks to a bigger issue of -- I've spoken about this on some of our other podcasts -- about our relationship with failure. That's one of the biggest obstacles I think to progress. It’s fundamentally changing our relationship with failure.

    

    It's not easy to do because often, it's not just ego on the line, but there's also that you're worried about not right off the bat showing that you don't have the skills or the competence to do the job that you've been hired for. So many people tend to dig deeper holes in an attempt to cover up what they don't know rather than just dropping a feed bag. It's pretty impressive.

David:    Yes.

Simon:    I remember when I -- because we met -- I worked for BMC a few years ago. I also has been -- I was put in the feed zone. It's terrifying. I've been a cyclist all my life. But when you're feeding at the Tour de France with bottles and riders coming through and [0:14:52] [Indiscernible] giving you some advice about the position of the bottle and the handling of it is really quite -- and just something that you would do time and time again in an amateur race. Then when the pressures are on, you suddenly can kind of fall so that was interesting.

    What about your first success thinking, “I've something that I've been trying to implement early on with BMC or even in the Olympic program,” and then you can sit back and give yourself a pat on the back? You've had a change in strategy or a change in technique that you've has been implemented well and taken on board by the riders? Have you got any of those?

[0:15:25]

David:    It's a difficult thing. It depends how you define success. It's an interesting concept when you're role is to support others in their performance because I'm of the philosophy that there's a little obsession with people working in a high performance environment. They almost feel like they want to own part of the performance.

    For me, it's not about that. I think you really have to be quite careful how you position yourself because if you're trying to fight for that top podium step with the athlete you've worked that have won, has won, then that's not, in my opinion, the best philosophical approach to the sport. You have to find your own process and reward.

    Success to me in my role means, “Have I felt that my contribution has firstly been, on reflection, rewarding and productive to me and secondly, has had an impact on performance?” And by impact, I don't mean the result but has changed the behavior or has led to some continuous improvement.

    And more recently, that, with BMC, – and hoping to transition that to Bahrain Merida -- has been around time trialing. Time trialing is one of the most scientifically quantifiable elements of road cycling. It is of the events a little bit more definable. It's the man against the clock rather than in a bunch and a little bit more open to other factors.

    You can model that event. You can get some degree of accuracy and teams that have the resource and interest and the scientific expertise invested in that. We invested that at BMC. Over the course of my four years there, they went from winning less than five time trials a year. In the final year, I think we had doubled the wins of the next team, so in the region of 18. And it was almost -- I think it was more than 80% of the team's wins that year.

    Absolutely, that's down to the riders and their abilities. And a team obviously develops a focus. BMC’s focus had become time trialing. But also, what really was rewarding for me and as sort of success was that I was leading a group of people who are really passionate about the process underpinning that.

    I remember, last year, the team won the team time trial at the Tour de France. The other sports scientists and trainers, after the victory, we're arguing about whether they’d used the right timing and protocol for the ice fest and the warm-up. For me, that was a success. And that might sound a bit strange, but it was the fact they'd become focused so much on the process that the outcome was the outcome.

    Of course, they were happy they won, but it was that they wanted to be better at everything they do. I think that's what an athlete does when they're training. Every day, they go out and train. They're trying to understand how they can be better. And if you can create that culture around an athlete and other people who have a role to support them who are also trying to be better at what they do, then that's a real success.

Simon:    And that segues nicely into topic that has been made its way into the mainstream sort of self-help world, which is this notion of marginal gains. Marginal gains, those of you that are not familiar with the term, it's really about finding small improvements. We’ll talk a little bit about how maybe contentious some of these statements are, but small improvements in multiple areas that are cumulative and add up to overall giving larger boost performance.

    And I think that was pioneered -- I'm not sure who came up with the phrase. Was it Dave Brailsford from Team Sky or who came up with that or branded it that way as the marginal gains?

David:    I think it's a concept that’s existed in business for a long time. Marginal contributions, how you invest your resources and look at your return on investment. For sure, Dave Brailsford has been linked to it in application in cycling and in sport. And it's been subsequently used, as you say, as a concept that can transition and translate into “back into business” maybe and instantly into other sports.

    But it's an interesting one because I think in my opinion or in my experience, having been with that setup when they were advocating that philosophy, I think it's been misinterpreted and those that are promoting it don't go out of their way to correct people.

Simon:    Again, because in the media, certainly, following the tour and sort of the practice of Team Sky especially, marginal gains became distilled down into taking your own mattress or the certain sort of pillow and the things that we might think of fairly tangential to performance, but they all add up. But marginal gains goes beyond the things that are on the somewhat the periphery supporting sleep and recovery. I mean it's also about training, right?

David:    Absolutely. And I always say, “Don't forget the massive gains.” And I think that it's case in point that people interpret the word marginal to be small. In fairness to Dave B, he has been quoted and has never implied that it's just the one or two percenters. It's about a philosophy of understanding performance.

    And performance is very multifactorial. There are so many things that can influence the outcome, those that are controllable, those that aren't. But it's human nature to try and simplify that performance. When you get such small winning margins, people inherently want to explain that away as one thing. And in reality it's not. It's multifactorial.

    I often give the example that in my role, I'm dealing with professional athletes that represent the pinnacle of human performance in their chosen sport. And I'm only dealing with maybe the last ten or even 5% of their progression to get to where they are. They started off by picking the right parents. Then it's about the nurture argument and how they're introduced to the sport.

    And there's a whole myriad of factors that contributed to who they are as an athlete and arguably how they perform every time they get on their bike or put on a swimming costume or put on some running shoes. It's a little bit naive to assume that you can influence performance with someone to a great extent.

[0:20:32]

    But getting back to the concept of marginal gains, my understanding of it is that, like I say, performance is multifactorial. So if you can take a performance demands approach and look at the event and fortunate enough to work in a sport like cycling where you can measure a lot of things, it enables you to objectively assess factors contributing to performance whether it's training, psychology, nutrition, weather equipment, and then understand where the priorities lies which will give you your biggest return on investment.

    So as you say, it might be that the media chooses to highlight some apparent innovations, whether it's a new mattress or chain lube or a helmet or a skin suit, or even a flashing light in the bus that helps the riders find the bus in the car park after a stage. It's a nice story. Like I say, when you see the very small winning margins, it might be that people can link with that.

    But in reality, in my experience, it's about understanding the bigger contributing factor, so training, just even things like effective organization and communication and what is an industry with mixed cultures spread all over Europe or the world with different languages. So these things, in my opinion, are the massive gains and what you really need to do before you start getting distracted by the one percenters.

Simon:    As a head of performance, how does one go about prioritizing where to start, right? So assuming you obviously know the sport well, but there's also then how do you -- if there are these myriad of factors of which some are marginal, some are massive, but how do you start to prioritize where to focus your efforts on so you don't start with mattresses?

David:    Exactly. It's a very easy path to fall into and it's quite typical in cycling more so than any other sport I've worked in to fall into those traps. And I often struggle with it personally because you get caught up in the bubble of trying to understand what it takes and how to invest your resources. But I always try to default back to a position of understanding performance.

    And if you're in at any team or any sport, then you would hope there is a performance goal. So if you know what you're aiming at and you can quantify that goal, then you can reverse engineer it. You say, “Okay, well we're trying to win the Tour de France,” or, “We're trying to win this time trial. We're trying to get better at this.”

    Then you can break that performance down into its component parts and then work backwards and say, “Okay. Well, for the Tour de France, it’s about being -- holding the highest relative power to weight at the end of the four hour stage and been able to sustain a very high intensity or load day in, day out.” And you can work backwards from that. You can understand how that reflects in training and how the preparation through the season would go and even just the physical requirements and psychological requirements of an athlete to be able to do that.

    So if you’d go from what you're trying to achieve and work backwards, it’s a little bit more clear than if you're trying to build something up from scratch.

Simon:    Right. So you're saying I shouldn't have bought those titanium wheels skew as I just lost 20 pounds in my diet.  

David:    It depends what brand they are. If they’re linked to my team, then that's a very good purchase decision.

Simon:    Right. Exactly. So how do you go about preparing a team of nine riders for the Tour de France? When does that process start?

David:    It’s eight now.

Simon:    Oh, it’s eight? It’s gone down to eight? All right. Thank you.

David:    I guess all teams – so the competitive season runs from January through to October. Most teams have a break in November. Then I guess even in October, November time, people are already looking to the next Tour de France, for example, because the route is released in October.

    The team will have a grand tour rider. That is their goal. So it's not sit down blank piece of paper in December and say, “How are we going to get there?” It's driven by the performance demands. You know the routes. You can already understand quite what you're looking for.

    Sometimes, it's challenging because some routes aren't released until quite late. So they might put a race in a rider's calendar, then you might decide that maybe that's not suited for them because it's not what you expected. But inherently, over years, these events are quite similar, particularly grand tour because there's so much in a three-week you can do, so inevitably, there's something of everything. It's normally dictated by mountain stages and time trials. So you sit down and you say, “Okay. What's the goal for the team? Do we want to try and contest the overall, the general classification or is it stages or is it time trials or is it a particular focus?”

    With BMC, with Richie Porte and now at Bahrain Merida with Vincenzo Nibali, they are serious contenders. Vincenzo has won the tour before. He's won five grand tours in total. Richie never quite made it to the podium yet, but he has every potential to achieve that. So with those guys, you look at building a team around them. And you come back to the performance demands approach and, “Okay, where's the race going to be won?” And that's really tough to answer in a three-week race because there's so many days you can lose the race.

    But you have to make a call. And you have to say, “Well, inherently over the years, it's been one at the mountains. It's been one at a time trial. It's been one at a particular point in the three weeks where it's more open to gaining time and gaining advantage,” and not get distracted by, “Okay. We need a team for the cobbled stage because they can lose that.”

    And that's what I found really challenging working in cycling, which is quite a traditional sport. It’s that sometimes people lose sight of the bigger goal and they start to worry about a rider's perceived weaknesses or team’s perceived weaknesses on one particular day. You have to accept that it's 21-stage race. There might be a day where you're not strong. Maybe you can come through unscathed. It may be that you lose the race. That’s sport. But you should really try and invest in the things that are more quantifiable and more controllable, like time trialing, like mountain stages.

[0:25:39]

Simon:    And then reconnaissance of the stages themselves with the riders who are particularly in contention to be chosen or selected for the team. So that happens when? I mean most of the stages have probably written that some stage in previous tours, so many of the riders might know some of them, but when does the actual rubber hit the road for actually going out and –

David:    Reconnaissance is an interesting thing in professional cycling because it's a moving stadium. You're right. They're often repetitions, the same climb, the same year or at least every other year. It's not like over the course of 20 years, it's a different road every day, but it's usually quite different. In most rider’s cases, majority of the stages, that'll be the first time they've seen the road. It's quite a can of worms reconnaissance.

    When I first worked with BMC, it was a high priority. The route being announced in October meant that you really couldn't ride the roads, particularly those in the mountain, which as I said, are important for the race. You couldn't ride them really until after the winter when they were clear from snow. And we often found May, June time fitting around race calendar was the best but then you go there and they'd be shocked because they'd be resurfacing them because that was the only opportunity they had to repair and resurface the road before the race.

    Reconnaissance is important. And it really makes you question its validity. Certainly, a cyclist will tell you that they have peace of mind if they've seen a descent or seen a particular finish. But they'll also tell you that it's completely different in a race.

    So what we worked on is a continuum of if you like virtual reconnaissance versus real reconnaissance. So with modern technology, with Google maps and with the ability to go out and video those things with telemetry and model stuff and provide virtual experiences of it or may be, and often is the case in some of them wrestling up, they actually race that climb or that descent.

    You have to find the balance and you say, “Okay. That mountain dissent or that mountain finish is really important. And we're not going to get a chance to see it.” So then you make a special trip and do it in reality live there. For others, it might be that the last 10K could be tricky. And you can get that information from a Google video or you can send someone there with a camera and collect that. So it's a lot of kilometers to try and see. And you certainly can't do it once. It's three and a half thousand. And you just have to prioritize.

Simon:    And race radios, right? So the riders have a role communicating with the team car wirelessly. I know that there's some interference or the quality of that signal isn't good enough, but is that used in rally racing or there are upcoming -- the wind has changed direction or reminding them. There's a hairpin coming up for some other places. They’re used for that as well?

David:    It's a very challenging sporting environment, professional cycling, because as I mentioned, it's a moving stadium. So I'm really envious of sports that do have a central location, not just because they are all based in the same place and train together but also that they can quantify things in a very controlled manner. Team sports had evolution in technology with tracking plays during a game and you can break down performance. In cycling, you can measure things on the bike but you can't predict what's coming very easily and certainly, when you do that road once a year.

    What you don't see in the Tour de France is most teams have what they call it a lead car, so car ahead of the race. Perhaps anything from three hours to 30 minutes, they can't really get any closer [0:28:42] [Indiscernible] caught by the break, but they will be ahead of the race on particular days when they know that there might be wind or weather that could contribute to the race. It might be that the stage is not reconnaissance. And that then enables them to communicate to the car behind the race, which is the one that's in communication with the riders.

    Again, being a moving stadium, that's often problematic, the certainly intimate TV and cellular coverage. So sometimes, the director in the car will lose all of his feed and he knows less than you watching on TV for that particular moment. So we did at BMC -- and other teams do this as well -- have someone at home with live feed, like a mission control who can be there to cover gaps in coverage. But even then, if the team car following the race loses all data coverage, then they're on their own.

    And this then you realize that it's the riders and the athletes that are ultimately dictating the race and supporting role. And with the race radios, they can communicate things that are coming and things that might be seen by others. And it's an area where we hope to evolve with different partnerships and different technological solutions. But at best, maybe you can give update ten seconds after something has happened and that's obviously, significantly slower than what's happening to the riders in front of them in the race.

Simon:    I mean taking a race like the tour, it's a three-week arduous slog around France. What are some of the physical demands on the body to be able to do that? How many calories are the riders consuming each day, the sleep they're getting or just the general fatigue and how that's measured throughout a three-week period?

[0:30:07]

David:    So in essence, it's almost four weeks because all the teams arrive on the Wednesday before the race starts on the Saturday because of meeting obligations and just getting everyone together. It's quite a big operation. It's significantly bigger than most other races through the year. So there's a big caravan, publicity and press. It's quite a circus. It's often called a circus.

    In terms of the demands on the riders, it's obviously as you allude to, day after day for 21 stages and 23 days because it's normally two rest days and it can vary in terms of load. So the first week, traditionally in the tour, you tend to have a week of mixed terrain, so perhaps some, in the north of France or Belgium, some cobbled stages, some windy days or not depending on the weather. Then they typically do one, two or three visits to mountainous areas. So you understand how load can be distributed through the race.

    So typically, it might be a time during the first week of team time trial. It might be some cobbled days, but it's a little less predictable. But on average, it tends to be the load for the guy trying to contest the race, not trying to win the stage. It’s a little bit more lower than when you get to the mountains. So it could be burning from two and a half to four and a half thousand kilojoules a day. That can be in the saddle for four to six hours depending upon the length of the stage.

    But those stages can be quite polarized. It usually quite intense in the beginning when the breakaway tries to form. I think quite mellow, an almost training ride intensity, moderate to low training ride intensity in the middle of the stage, especially if it's a 200 kilometer flat stage. And then intense at the end when it's a sprint or an uphill finish or something. You don't often get that from TV coverage because you inevitably only see the last 50 kilometers, the last few hours of racing.

    In the mountains, it’s a different story because the terrain dictates the intensity. So the load in a 150 to 180 kilometer stage in the mountains, let’s say they do four or five mountain passes, it's pretty high. Even at 70 kilo ride, it can be burning in excess of 5,000 kilojoules. That intensity, it’s still a little polarized. It's still intense in the beginning and normally relatively controlled until the final climb. But even that, just because of the terrain, it makes the load much higher.

Simon:    So in terms of the day-to-day review of a rider's stage, when you review race data from that individual rider’s bike, their power file, their heart rate, or is it just sort of once the race is underway, it's just that you're doing the best you can with what you got or will you actually be making adjustments on the fly based on how individual riders are adapting and quantifying that adaptation?

David:    I think that a race is all about execution. In the case of the grand tour, it's really down to the riders and the staff that are onsite to do that. The mechanics to maintain and prepare bikes, this one used to support the rider's recovery, massage, nutrition, the chefs to cook the food and the directors who are really the operational manager on the ground to help manage the staff on site and then call the shots from the team car within their position in the race.

    So as a sport scientist in that environment, you have to be careful how you enter into that and to what extent you can have a beneficial impact. In my opinion, a lot of what I do is more beneficial in the buildup to these races and execution is not really my domain. Perhaps in the time trial, it is because that's a little bit more scientifically based and we can go in and review the course and take a little bit of a load off the other staff if they're recovering from a prior day of a road stage, look at the course, make a plan, work with the key riders on pacing and therefore provide some support that is really of benefit.

    But if it's a more one step backwards roles to look at the load each day, we've done that. And I've done that a lot. That certainly helps to support the riders. But as I say, it's about execution. There's really nothing you should be doing new at the Tour de France. You should have tried it in the race before, whether it's mattresses, whether it's monitoring load.

    But in the years that I've done the tour, it's been exactly what you described. You would look at their data. Often, it's done remotely. You can be at home and have a phone conversation with the team on site. It’s often easier to be there just because things are just easier face-to-face. But in reality, you might confirm, “Yes, the tactics of protecting the leader are working. He has, on average, the lowest load each day or yesterday’s stage was much harder on these two riders because they had to ride, because of what happened, because there was a crash.”

    More often than not, it confirms intuition. And that's an interesting concept in sport. Often, you're dealing with coaches and athletes who really know what's happening. They just maybe haven't sat down and measured it, but they know what's happening. You'll tell them, “Yeah, you got hot on that day,” and it's, “Yeah, I know I've got hot,” or, “This can happen because of this finish,” and they’ll say, “Yeah, I know.”

    And it's trying to be humble in that situation and say, “Well, my role is to provide more objective, consistent feedback so that when emotions hit the fan, then you're able to keep a little bit of parity and a little bit of levity to the situation.”

Simon:    Do you find that some of the rider’s temperament or even personality tend to change across a grand tour as fatigue sets in? Maybe some confidence is probably on a roller coaster as well, depending on what's happened, if he’d had crashes or so on? A rider is harder to talk to or they become different sorts of people as the race moves on. Either it’s not just as a coach, it was for scientists in your capacity, but as a race director and as a manager or as an owner of a team just trying to communicate with the warriors out there, some of which are wounded and beaten up.

[0:35:11]

David:    I think anyone who's watched the Tour de France will see how nervous and stressful it is on day one and day two. It certainly finds the rhythm after the first week. It depends upon the focus of the team.  If the team is less focused on the overall race result and more on stage by stage, inherently, those teams tend to be a little bit more laid back, a little bit less pressured.

    If you're a team that is trying to win the race, then of course, every day, you can lose the race. So this creates a lot of pressure and anxiety. And that spills over into the staff and everybody who wants to do the best at their jobs. But naturally when you're on the road and you're living with the same people for three or four weeks, then people will fatigue and people would get grumpy and people will be frustrated.

    And in the past two years, the tour, our key leader, Richie Porte, unfortunately crashed on the same stage, stage nine. And the change in mindset in the team overnight is incredible because it goes from a team that's focused purely on one individual and making sure that individual passes through each day unscathed, that he’s in the best position possible. And all of a sudden, he's not there.

    Then there's a little bit of people lost with purpose initially, but then they've sort of find themselves and realized that there's less expectation. And they then ultimately often performed higher than expected because there's no pressure to perform. There's no fear of failure in the same sense of when you're trying to protect one clear goal. So it depends very much on the team's focus.

Simon:    Right. And in terms of the typical GC riders, so someone's in contention to try and podium at the Tour de France or the leader of the team. Is there a typical body type that is usually successful, that in terms of height and weight and the general build of these guys?

David:    Yeah. We'd have to go back to the performance demands approach and say, “Okay. What's the nature of the event?” There are three grand tours. There's the Giro d’Italia, the tour of Italy. There's the Tour de France. Then there's the Vuelta a España, which is the tour of Spain.

    The Giro and the Vuelta often have steeper climbs, harder climbs. They don't get as much publicity. It’s not as big an event globally. You tend to find riders that are more what you call climbers. These are people that can sustain a high relative power for sustained periods after four or five hours of racing, so summit finishes.

    The Tour de France has a bit more of a balance, what they call parcours or route. That has typically meant that it's been a bit more open to different types of riders. But typically speaking, if you were to try to put a number on it, you’d see a rider between 65 and 70 kilos who's able to sustain 6.2 watts per kilo for -- I mean it's a bit of a can of worms because people talk about threshold, but in my experience, threshold is very dependent upon the duration you're trying to hold that.

    So when people talk about six watts per kilo, what they're talking about is an hour or 40 minutes to an hour. Whereas of course, some climbs might be far shorter than that. And of course, it's about being fatigue resistance and doing that after hundreds of kilometers prior to that. So typically, skinny, wirey character, but someone who is lungs and legs. I think it's probably the best analogy I've ever heard of a cyclist. And that confers a benefit in time trialing too. So that's also an important discipline in stage in the tour.

Simon:    So in terms of identifying talent early on or riders that are coming up through amateur ranks, when pro teams are looking at new talent, is there -- so what sort of characteristics or what is it based on? Lab data? Was it just based on wins? What do teams look for in identifying new upcoming riders?

David:    So having had a real breadth of experience across different sports in my career as an applied scientist, cycling is probably the most traditional in this approach. And it tends to focus a lot on results. A lot of other sports, particularly Olympic sports where there's a more established talent ID program tend to be more data focused, physiological characteristics, testing. I think I personally believe that's the case because of vision.

    

    In the cycling industry where sponsorship is limited and they rarely commits for more than one or two years, people's ability to plan and develop talent is very different to an Olympic model where you have a four-year cycle or maybe for an eight year cycle depending upon your country's budget and interest in Olympic performance.

    So in cycling, people will obviously get selected based upon their results in the junior ranks. Nowadays, in recent years, they certainly look at their physiological abilities because you can measure so much through training and racing, but it's not like they have a clear plan to go out and find potential talented bike riders and build them. Federations certainly do because of the links to the Olympic model, but often, professional cycling teams are really skimming off the top crop of the lower ranks and then hoping that that will translate to a world class rider.

Simon:    So they've all been groomed ahead of time in a way. So when you look down at the lower ranks from amateur to professional, these top teams are really not even -- that's not really on their radar yet.

David:    No. And one of my jobs and my role -- and it's something that, as I mentioned, because of the nature of the sport and the fact that people don't really think beyond 12 months or even two years -- one of my jobs is to try and emphasize that if you want to have some sustainability and performance and get some more consistency and be able to do that, it's much easier to invest in the future rather than pay over the odds perhaps for someone who's currently very successful.

    That's just a business model, right? It's about investing in something you think is going to be profitable long-term versus paying considerably more for short-term gains. It's quite a political minefield in how you then work with those people because sponsors expect results, expect visibility. And if you buy or if you invest in the talent of 21 year old riders, there's a high chance that they don't achieve that. We’re still learning as to what makes a tour de France winner. And I know a little bit about that, but I certainly couldn't guarantee that 21. So when push comes to shove, the teams are going to go with more known quantities than something that's not well known.

[0:40:47]

Simon:    Right. So what is a typical day -- it may not be impossible to ask -- for you look like as a head of performance. I mean, what are the things that are occupying the majority of your time for preparing riders for their race calendar?

David:    So my role is quite polarized. I'm on the road perhaps 50% of the time. I'm working from a central base at home because of the nature that everyone lives all over Europe for the other 50% of the time. So when I'm on the road, it could be at a training camp, which is where the physical preparation riders is perhaps the most structured.

    In cycling, sports scientist is getting it into teams as trainers, as coaches, probably because it's inherently well researched, scientific discipline with power meters, heart rate monitors, GPS. The traditional coaching is a bit different in cycling. It tends to have a more data focus to it. So that's an avenue that I got into it. And I still do that now. I still coach six riders in the current team. So that is probably one of the most routine things I do irrespective of where I am geographically.

    When I'm on the road, it'll be a race or a training camp or maybe even away testing in a wind tunnel or meeting with sponsors on developing equipment. So the performance role is all encompassing. So when people ask me what I do, it's like all the scientific affairs link to performance.

    When I'm at home, it's a little easier because you have more time and more resources available to you and even a decent internet signal which might sound crazy in this era, but that can be a real game changer when you're on the road for anyone who travels a lot knows that. Then I'm able to invest more time in detailed things linked to projects.

    What we do to Bahrain and what I did previously at BMC is we have performance projects aligned with the team's performance goals. For example, if Vincenzo Nibali is trying to target the Giro in the tour, then we'll have that as a project. And that might have key performance indicators linked to components of performance we've identified whether it’d be reconnaissance and understanding the event, the training, monitoring, whether it’d be time trials specific to those events

    Other project we have is around a new sprinter that we brought to the team from another team and understanding how we can support him in a team now where he's going to be supported as a sprinter and have a rider dedicated to support him in the final part of races. That's, again, linked to a team goal.

    So the performance team have this real unique situation where they're not inherently on the road dealing with the ins and outs of the race every day. There's kind of one or two steps back so they can almost come up for air and have that perspective where they're not too caught up in a performance in a race that's preceding a key goal. Instead, they have that vision.

    It's really hard to get the other people involved to see that at times. But I believe that's the role of performance science in sport. It’s to be able to say, “Okay. The results of this race might not have gone well,” but as you said earlier, a lot can be learned from failure or underperformance. So the scientists might say, “Okay. Well, clearly, this equipment is set up or this preparation of this altitude camp wasn't appropriately timed, so we can adjust that leading into our key goal.” And that's pretty common place in business, right? It's project tracking. It's project management.

Simon:    Right. Is it hard to -- because that's quite a broad spectrum of tasks that you’re involved in. On the one hand, you’re setting daily training for a rider, right? You're thinking very much in terms of intervals and power zones. Then at the other hand, you're looking at projects that might be on the drag coefficients involved with skin suits that might still be at 12 months, 18 months away from anyone ever wearing it. So how do you reconcile those sorts of that such a huge swing in macro to micro involvement? It's that difficult to do as a sports scientist or –

David:    Sure. Absolutely. It's doing bigger picture and little picture in now every day. And there are very few roles in any organization where people are expected to have that, those different fields of view.

    It certainly helps to have to touch on the different levels because when you've sat with a sponsor talking about development of clothing or some innovation equipment wise and you're dealing on a day-to-day basis with a cyclist to training and preparing for a race, then you can directly relate to how that would be implemented rather than being a little bit too far away from the coalface, so to speak. It's not ideal. I think it ultimately comes down to having some degree of integrity and honesty with yourself and saying, “Should I be doing this?”

    When I worked in British Cycling, there was an individual there that would go round all the staff working on the projects and preparation for the Olympics in Beijing. He would say, “How is what you're doing now helping us win a medal in Beijing?” And I think, “That was fairly direct questioning,” but it's a really good question to ask yourself. “How is what I'm doing now related to our performance goal for this team?” If I struggled to answer that, then I need to refocus my priorities.

[0:45:18]

Simon:    In terms of typical -- I don't know whether riders think of their training in some proprietary special source but what sort of training on a typical week? I know this is a hugely broad question. It depends on the type of riders, times of year, but what kind of volumes our world tour cyclist doing in a week?

David:    Cycling has got an interesting sport because you can divide the year into half. It's the competition phase and then a preparatory phase and a little off season. The better the rider, the lower number of competition days, but we're talking about a range from 50 to 90.

    There's actually an official limit that the UCI, the governing body of the sport, imposes now for fear of people doing too many race days, but a lot of that comes because of the nature of the sport. It's got a relatively low mechanical load in that there's not much impact like running and unless they're unlucky enough to crash that cycling bites.

    Nature isn't too mechanically strenuous on the body. Obviously, it's very metabolically strenuous because of the amount of energy they burn. But because cycling, I think, I believe it’s the most efficient form of human powered movement. That's why the races are so long. That's why they're racing for three weeks or five hours or what have you.

    So those things put together means that you're always -- you're either in one of two modes. You're either preparing at this time of year in the winter for the first race, which is anything from 12 weeks to 24 weeks depending upon when that rider’s season finished or you're dealing with the competition phase, which might be just the week between two weekends or at most ten days. And that might mean that you need to allow a period of time for recovery and then a period of time the pre-race work and then in the middle, there might be time to just some instructor training.

    As I say, if you're dealing with a grand tour contender, then maybe they have less racing and you can also use the racing. And cycling is really interesting in that regard because a lot of cyclists in the traditional mindset is you race to get race fit and, yeah, absolutely the concepts of specificity and training would advocate that. But trouble with racing is the load isn't always that predictable and certainly not as predictable as prescribed training.

    So I'm not really answering your question here. I guess the typical day in the winter is probably cyclic micro cycles of anything for three to four days to a week, probably weighted more towards higher intensity in the first days and building up to more longer duration, lower intensity in the latter days of that block.

    When you get in the season, as I mentioned, depending upon the frequency of racing it’s probably the balancing act between allowing time to recover, hopefully trying to fit some quality work in to help maintain performance and then that last phase taper or preparatory period before a race.

Simon:    So the range of hours on the bike in a week for riders, they’re not gym work or strength work or massage or just as a pure hours on the bike --

David:    It can be anything from 15 hours to 35 hours. I think a grand tour week, it can be 30 to 40 hours depending upon the distance. But remember, the cycling has a big thing called drafting. And I think recently, someone did some research in a wind tunnel in Eindhoven and showed that the back of the peloton, they're working at 5%, 10 to 5% of the guys at the front. So you ever wonder why some of these sprinters get to the end and are able to sprint? Well, because they're not doing a lot most of the stage.

    Racing is high volume. And the load is relatively high because of the duration, because most of the load calculations are heavy duration weighted. But it depends upon where you are in peloton. And if you're at the back and hiding in the wheels and you’re small guy, then it's very different to the guys whose job is to be at the front.

Simon:    Well, it's an interesting model isn't it? Because there might even be days or certain races where it's actually more advantageous to not race and train because you can better simulate races that are more important to you versus if you're sitting in a bunch for four hours and coasting along at 180 watts or 150 watts. You might even be detraining.

David:    For sure. And I have to be careful what I say here because my team is sponsored by a Middle East country. But the Middle East races, which are usually in the February, we've seen historically how that lower total load in the guys at the training camp in Spain.

    So a lot of riders that are obligated to race because that's what they're paid to do will become quite frustrated that they feel like they've missed a training block because they've gone and done a race where they're not a sprinter or suited to that terrain. And then the daily load is significantly lower than if they were to train in camp in Europe in warm weather.

Simon:    So is there a trend of increasing specialist if you want to win a grand tour that really becomes the focus of your season and all the other for the GC riders, all the other races are simply as preparation for that? But there are still some riders, right, doing multiple grand tours in a year in the same season?

[0:49:41]

David:    Yeah, absolutely. The old adage, if there's more than one way to skin a cat is the real relevant point. But really frustrating for me because as a scientist, you want to say, “No, this is the way to do it.” And in reality, there is more than one way to do it. Every athlete wants certainty, but every scientist has to deal with degrees of probability.

    So when you talk about what's the best way to prepare for a grand tour, I think then it becomes debatable and there's more than one way to achieve it. And cyclists even last season have showed that, someone who won a grand tour. I think it was one of the Yates brothers that won the world tour. He did the majority – well, he did the Giro earlier in the year. Whereas Aaron Thomas won the Tour de France and that was his only race.

    It's a lot to do with understanding load and understanding that that load can be achieved through training and through racing. One great example are the classics races. They are one day events in excess of five, six hours, very arduous cobbled terrain. They do have a lot of what they called demi classics or small classics building up to that.

    And a lot of riders do them in preparation for the big classics races. I would completely support that because it's very hard to replicate that load of that specific nature. So it's not a surprise when you watch those classics races, if you've ever watched, followed the races in Belgium in northern France that you see the riders racing for 200 kilometers, five hours, two or three days before the big classic because it does represent very specific stimulus.

    But certainly, in grand tour races, I think certainly in the last 15 years or more, there's been an understanding that, yes, racing helps to act as key performance indicators to understand how you're progressing in components to performance. But it should also be balanced with periods of intensive training, training camps at altitude or training camps in warm weather. And if you follow most of the grand tour contenders these days, they will raise less than their equivalent classics racist. So I think typically Chris Froome races -- I think one year, he did less than 20 days before the tour, whereas the average is normally 45 to 50.

Simon:    I think Lance used to do that as well.

David:    Exactly. I would say that he pioneered that approach to saying, “Hold on a minute. It’s silly to be chasing ourselves around Europe where we're compromising performance and recovery. And sometimes we can't predict what's going to happen in races and maybe get ill or injured. So it's better to dedicate periods of time to prepare physically in order to peak.” And that's the goal in any sport. It’s to peak for those key events.

Simon:    What's been probably that one of the biggest single innovative technologies that have emerged in cycling over the last five or ten years or so that's really changed the way that your job is done? Is it something like the power meter or is it how the frames or components are constructed or aerodynamics? Is there one thing that you think of has been really quite a game changer for as a coach or as a sport scientist?

David:    That's a tough question to answer because there's innovations all the time. It would be easy to say power meters. And it's quite a topical thing because I know lots of this race organizers want to remove those because they feel they affect performance. That's actually quite naive because they don't -- but I think the best answer I can give you is the fact that it's become easier to objectively quantify training and performance.

    If you go to a sport like running, these guys are still predominantly reliant upon a stopwatch and a pencil and a piece of paper. And that's not to be derogatory. That's just the nature of it. Okay, they have GPS, but that is their performance measured, their tool that they do that. Whenever I talk to coaches and sports scientists working in sports where they have less access to those technological solutions, they're quite envious of what we have in cycling. But equally, I'm quite envious of the simplicity of what they have.

    So in one hand, it's advantageous and in another hand, it can be quite challenging to deal with that. But it certainly enables you to be more confident when it comes to making performance decisions around training and racing.

Simon:    What are the main advantages of using something like a power meter as a measure of load or intensity as a proxy for that over something like heart rate or even perceived exertion?

David:    I mean it's basically less influenced by other factors. A good example of comparing heart rate to power, heart rate is for shorter duration efforts. Heart rate is not what you call a square wave response. When you do a woman effort on the bike, you get a square wave response. The moment you push on the pedals, it goes up and it stays in that intensity and it drops away. Whereas heart rate will slowly progress through that minute and probably stay elevated for five, ten, 20 minutes afterwards.

    So it is a more valid way of measuring specific given amount of work during a given amount of time. However, it's a tool and these things are just tools. So one of my big frustrations with power meters in terms of monitoring training load is that they only monitor training load or load on an athlete when they're on the bike. And a cyclist will probably train between four and six hours a day. Well, that's only a small proportion of a total day.

    So you might on a Sunday do a six hour ride, a low intensity with some specific intervals, one week. And after that ride, you go and sit at home. You do the correct recovery nutrition. You watch TV. You relax. You have a massage. The next week, you may do exactly the same training session, so you get exactly the same total load, but you might go shopping with the family or you might be forced to travel to the next race.

    So I still think we are filling in the gaps in terms of understanding total load and how that impacts on performance. For sure, that four to six hours is a big contributor to a 24-hour period but what you do in terms of recovery and nutrition also has a dramatic impact upon a rider’s response to training.

Simon:    So is that one of those areas that sports scientists are looking for technological solutions for how do we quantify load outside of time on the bike?

[0:55:07]

David:    A hundred percent and we’re already doing that. Everyone's aware of devices that will track activity, various brands of watches that contain accelerometers or GPS tracking devices and even jewelry now that does that. Also, you have methods of quantifying sleep, which is paramount when it comes to performance and adaptation.  I'm no expert in that field, but I've learned a lot about that recently. We can integrate that with the training and monitoring training.

    Nutrition as well, nutrition is an interesting one because it is, in my experience, 50% functional, 50% emotional. Self-reporting is inherently fraught with difficulties because people may not be honest with themselves in report. No one's yet found a solution. In an ideal world, you'd find a solution where people -- where you can objectively assess what rider’s eaten, not just what they've eaten, but how much of actually gets absorbed because we know that not everything that you put in your mouth actually gets to the muscles. And that's hard to do. So this is where technology may help us.

    The area that you're an expert in, which in my experience in elite sport is super important, is mindset, psychological state. And that's really important. I've worked with many sports scientists fresh out of university who'll be staring at a laptop or a computer in the morning and they’ll ask a rider for his morning urine to measure his hydration state. They don't once look him in the face and say, “How are you feeling?” So it's not to be cynical of different approach. And I'm almost sort of –

Simon:    Oh, come on, be cynical.

David:    I'm almost backtracking and saying the traditional approach is the way forwards. But I think it's understanding that these things are tools. There are some scenarios where you can perhaps more objectively and more consistently measure or monitor something. And I think it's only smart that you embrace that, but you always remember it's a tool and you don't let yourself get driven by that.

Simon:    Yeah. I think that's been the challenge. It’s that because the mindset stuff, the head stuff is so difficult to quantify and therefore track with some reliability, never mind the validity of what you're measuring. And I think that puts a lot of people off, right? These are for most coaches and athletes themselves. It's a black box, right?

    But I think that when you look at trends in technology trying to quantify -- I mean just the recent developments in neuroscience we've had about understanding of how the brain works, what's happening, enduring under different tasks and loads and how you can train that in a way that isn't intuitive or common sensical are really nice developments.

    But are there any innovations or technologies that you're excited about this in down the pipe? Up the pipeline down the pipeline for endurance athletes or even athletes in general? Are there things that -- and I should probably preface that by also saying things that you're excited about, but things that just make you roll your eyes and cringe that people are buying this crap that is really not helping?

David:    There's plenty of that out there. And that's really sad in some respects that certain things aren't regulated. Probably, it's not an innovation, but probably, one of the biggest factors is the placebo effect. What fascinates me in my role is how you manage that. You might find it in controlled settings, in a wind tunnel in a laboratory that some intervention gives you some percentage improvement, but you can almost double that if you implement it in the right way with athletes.

    Speaking to that, there's lots of things out there that don't necessarily do what they say on the tin. I mean, that's because there's a placebo effect underpinning that and how that's marketed. From a commercial perspective, I get that. I was in that industry. But from a performance perspective, I don't want athletes with the suitcases full of supplements and various rituals that are ultimately driving a placebo effect rather than actually an effect itself. Although, it's important to understand there is a placebo effect and it's pretty powerful.

    In terms of innovations, there's things that I can't tell you about because we're working on them and we've recently partnered with the McLaren, the Formula One team. They obviously have a –

Simon:    That’s an interesting partnership. How does McLaren -- why McLaren interested in professional cycling?

David:    Well, in essence, the route to the relationship comes from the fact that Bahraini crown prince is the majority shareholder in McLaren and they’ve –

Simon:    And he owns your team?

David:    No. His brother, his stepbrother owns the team. So there's a family link there, but it's also -- McLaren actually came on board with British Cycling shortly after I left. And they've since worked with another bright manufacturer to Merida for the last, I think, maybe eight years.

    So they've always had an interest in sport. And they're also in a company -- in addition to having a Formula One team manufactures sports cars. But they also have an applied technology center. And that's an area that they've grown over the last years to support industry and another sports with their expertise. And it's not the technical expertise for sure. That's the basis of their identity.

    But it's about understanding performance. They understand performance culture and understand how you create an organization that thrives under high pressure sports.

Simon:    It's not just they’ve got a bigger wind tunnel.

David:    Well, I'm sure they have but it's not just that. No.

Simon:    Has BMC done much work in the wind tunnel or is it now most professional teams are in the wind tunnel on a yearly basis?

[0:59:44]

David:    When I was at BMC, we did a lot and it was a bit of a continuum. So if you like, if you were dealing with a really top time trialist where you were trying to find very smaller gains and understand if you could make improvements here and there, the wind tunnel is probably the best solution because it's more controllable, but it lacks ecological validity.

    If we got a rider came to the team, we'd probably start off by testing them on a velodrome, on a track that now exists technology and one of the things that I'm excited about, but it's been around for a while where you can measure it real time on the bike. You can actually estimate it just from some basic calculations if it's relatively controlled conditions, but there are now devices that will go on the bike and give the right of that feedback real time so they can see how they change their position on the bike affects their drag.

    But with the team time trial approach, where at BMC and I'm now transitioning to Bahrain, we learned a lot about rider order. So that's not just about one individual. That's a team event. I mean it's a combination of those individual's physical capacity, their ability to generate power for a given period versus the position they are in that line.

    And it reminds me of when I worked with the British Cycling and team pursuit on the track, which is four riders doing 16 laps. We learned a lot about how order and time at the front and time in a drafted position effects overall performance. We're now translating that to team time trial. And one insight I can give you is that the limitation to these events is no longer how hard you can go at the front. It's whether or not you can recover behind someone. And if you're unfortunate enough to be behind the climber, the 60 kilos small guy, then you're probably never going to recover.

Simon:    And what about the rider behind you? Does that have an impact on -- I mean it sounds bonkers to think about pushing yourself through wind and some behind you having an effect on what's going on in front of you.

David:    Yeah, it does. It makes it easier. Not a lot, maybe three to 5% easier, but that basically reduces the low pressure behind the riders. So in essence, it creates a lower drag at the front. So the guy at the front, if he's strong already and you are not a great rider and you're behind him and you’re bigger, not only is it hard for you but you actually making it easier for him.

Simon:    And so do I want a bigger guy or a smaller guy behind me?

David:    You want a bigger guy. You probably want a car.

Simon:    I want a bigger guy in front of me and a bigger guy behind me. I want to be in a big guy sandwich so I can get -- is that the best --

David:    Well, you touched on an interesting point. Anyone who watched the classics races, these riders that often hold like a ten or 15 second advantage for the last 40 kilometers on their own being chased by three or four riders, you might think, “Well, how on earth is that happening?” Surely, three or four riders are able to catch an individual.

    Well, you do have to remember that it's a race of attrition and that selection has been made because the guy at the front is the strongest, but also he's surrounded by 50 motorbikes or there's an official car behind him and it's well documented. And if you go on social media, you see it that these things impact aerodynamics.

    Even when we look at team time trial, we know that the rider, when he's finished his turn on the front, if he stays too close to his teammates going back down the line, he can potentially create an increase in drag, certainly for the first few riders. So we try to advise them to take a little bit of distance further away and then join the line.

    But then of course, they'll tell you what, when they're just on the limit and they've just done a turn at 500 plus watts, all they want to do is get to the back and hide in the out of the wind. So these things on paper or in a wind tunnel may be very clear cut. But in reality when you're trying to apply that, it's a different game.

Simon:    I read an article, I think, earlier in this week. I think was it Chris Boardman who’s setting up a wind tunnel in the UK for amateurs to rent out because most of these are really cost prohibitive. It's always struck me as all the -- considering the energy cost of pushing yourself through air, it's such a huge component. But many amateur cyclists don't really pay much attention to it or they buy all of this equipment and then they set up a big bike. And they've got all this technology kind of goes out the window. But is that a trend that amateur riders are moving more towards looking into aerodynamics or --

David:    Sure. I think that particularly in the UK where the sport has grown exponentially after the success, the Olympics I was part of and then the road team with Team Sky, it has meant that the more people take up the sport, there's more investment in these things. People buy power meters. They get a coach. And then it's only a logical step to then start thinking about these components.

    Chris himself is probably – he admitted himself that he's a scientist trapped in a cyclist body so it's no surprise to me that he's endorsing and doing these things. He's pretty realistic about where he can help so he's not trying to sell people nonsense. It’s actually good things. And I'm sure he's had a lot of time trialist, the recreational level or sub elite level that go and benefit from that.

    You're absolutely right. And I think what we have to remember is that a lot of perception of performance gains in cycling are driven by the commercial aspect of the sport, which is in essence, the equipment, namely the bike. So you'll read a lot of things in media or in magazines about X wheels or X frame or X handlebars give you this advantage. But all that testing is done in isolation without a rider.

    And if I were to tell you that if you put a cyclist on a bike in a wind tunnel that the cyclist accounts to 80% of drag, then you might reconsider what you invest your monthly salary.

Simon:    I need more spanx, tighter clothing I think to –

David:    Exactly. In terms of priority, what we've seen is that the first thing is position. The second thing is the clothing covering that position, so the skin suit. The third thing is the helmet and then maybe you get to the bike.

Simon:    Would you give any advice to -- I'm kind of a weekend warrior. I mean I've come from a cycling background but never really ridden at a very high level. What sort of advice would you give to someone like me or the thousands of other Janes and Joes out there that are trying to -- you've got five to ten hours a week that you can probably get in. Where should I be investing my time in terms of the kind of training I should be doing -- I know it's a big question that -- or the sorts of things that I can start doing tomorrow that are going to have an impact on my performance but I probably don't even think about them?

[1:05:20]

David:    Well, the keyword in that question is your performance. So my first question back to you would be what's your performance goal?

Simon:    Yeah, right. Say I'm interested in -- I want to do some racing, some criterium racing, some cyclocross racing. I don't really like to do many races that last longer than a couple of hours. I might do some mountain bike racing. So all of the racing I'm likely to do is fairly high intensity, 45 minutes to two hours in length. And I've got an hour a day or I've got seven hours a week I can spend. What kind of training should I be doing?

David:    You're starting to answer your own question a bit there. I think that's because I'm trying to guide you down the performance focused approach. In that case, it's probably best to ask each other questions, “What do I not need to do?” So you're not trying to ride a three week stage race. You're not trying to do a 200 kilometer classics race.

    So you're saying already that your event is less than an hour. So if we just work on the basis of specificity, there's no point in you training for five hours. And then if we think about basic principles in training, then yet, maybe merits in you developing your endurance capacity by doing a few long rides when you have the time, two to three hours. But if you can find to seven hours a week, then there was plenty of research that shows that high intensity interval training confers a benefit. There's a debate as to how long that benefit is sustained. I'm talking about over the course of years.

    In professional cycling, it's not uncommon to see some of the top cyclist at some point in their life were doing ridiculous volumes of training. Then perhaps there would have to refine that. But if you're someone that is a weekend warrior as you put it and you would preparing for a crit race or short cyclists Sportive, then, “What's the demands of the event? Okay. If it's not going to last about an hour, then I probably don't need to worry about doing more than a couple of hours of consistent riding.”

    But if it's a criterium or something with high intensity, then it makes sense to try and do some intervals of the nature of that race. So it might be that you do a race once and you see that, “Oh, that's interesting for ten minutes. Then I was doing quite a sarcastic rhythm of 30 seconds full gas. Then it was like maybe two or three minutes of easy.” Well, replicate that in training.

Simon:    So the performance modeling approach or for want of a better word is to take the event that I'm breaking it down into what sorts of efforts I'm going to be expected to do or at least if I want to do well and then design my training around that. And that sounds so intuitive in common sense, but it's not really the way most of us think. We think about, “Well, I've got seven hours. I should probably do some longer, slower staff, a few sprints. I'm on a group ride. It’s the old street sign that we're all going to and that should be good.”

David:    As I said earlier, there's more than one way to skin a cat. But if you are in conflict as to how to do something, then it's a no brainer to try and measure what you're trying to achieve and then reverse engineer it. That doesn't mean you aren't going to get results, but take an alternative approach. I think you just have to ask yourself. The question is, “What's the rationale for doing this?”

    And if you're asking me what to do in a seven hour window of training a week, it's much easier to justify what you're doing if you're basing it upon what you expect or what you know is the performance. Whereas if you go out and say, “Okay. I'm going to do eight by one minute full,” and then in a race, you never go at an intensity above a zone four or 500 watts for 30 seconds, then you’re probably doing intervals that aren't specific to your event. It doesn't mean they're not beneficial. It doesn't mean they're not going to confer an advantage and help you get fitter. It just means that it's not specific to your performance goal.

Simon:    And should I be -- every all of the articles I read tell me I need to be doing an FTP test. I need to measure my functional threshold power. It seems to be almost like the currency of the cyclist. “Watch your FTP. Watch your FTP?” So you talked a little bit about what FTP is. If you're not a cyclist, we might have to break this down a little bit more simply, but can you talk about the merits of that? Is it we got caught up in a lot of hyperbole about this concept?

David:    Sure. It is very common place. There's a reason for that. These things don't just come about because some has marketed it as a concept. You'd have to go to back to basic principles. And I don't want to get into too much detail because it would take a long time.

    But the body has different ways of generating energy. Anything from a two or three seconds sprint which is your [1:09:15] [Indiscernible] system to prolong sustained endurance activity, which is your burning carbohydrate and fat to generate energy and that's more fatigue free. Whereas the shorter duration stuff is more fatigue inducing.

    In endurance sports, functional threshold power or just a threshold identifies a point where in which you can sustain at that point or slightly below that point exercise intensity for a long period of time. Above that, you will start to fatigue. The high you go above that, the quicker your fatigue and not in a linear manner but in an exponential manner.

    So yeah, in reality, if you go for a bike ride and you set off at an intensity that you know that you're going to bring to for a minute, there’s a reason for that because you're using energy systems that give you that energy. It's not a bad thing. But if the race is an hour and a half long, then you know it's a no brainer. So functional threshold power is born out of the fact that most endurance sports last for more than an hour. So it's a power that relates to a roundabout 30 minutes to an hour.

[1:10:05]

    What we look at to be a bit more holistic and to understand that it's not just one thing is the power duration curves that’s saying that there's a threshold for every interval of time. There's something that you can do your best power for one second, ten seconds, one minute, five minutes, ten minutes, even up to an hour and they’re all relevant. And they're very relevant to the event you're doing.

    But understanding how you are as a physiological cyclist in terms of your power profile helps you understand where your strengths lie and what type of races that you would probably do better at than others. Whereas just a one dimensional approach with FTP means that you might never be measuring like with like.

    You might be a 90 kilos cyclist whose power to weight is less than four watts per kilo and you think, “I'm never going to do this,” but you go out and do your local crit and you get on the podium where you win it. That's because functional threshold power isn't as much of a predictor of performance or what I would call a determinant performance as the shorter duration intervals, which are more typically associated with the racing you're doing.

Simon:    So for coaching world tour riders, FTP is something that you do measure or you mainly focus on this power profile or power duration?

David:    We still measure it. Inherently, we use it to determine training zones. Recently, we had a training camp. In that training camp, we did a lactate profile test or a blood lactate profile test. Lactate is not a bad thing. It's the acid that’s linked to it. That's a fatiguing thing. And that is not a linear response. When you get to a certain intensity, it goes through the roof. And that is the threshold, your functional threshold.

    And based upon that, you can make some arbitrary training zones, which we know from research can confer some physiological adaptations. We typically use the ones “at or below” in terms of prescription. Above is a bit more defined by duration of interval and what you know from that curve. So it has its place. But as I alluded to with power and other technological interventions in sports, they're tools. And the tool is only as good as the user. So if you know the limits of any tool, then in theory, you can use that tool to get the gains or to bring the advantage as you want, but you don't get too distracted or too focused on it.

Simon:    Many, particularly for MBT folks who listen to the podcast, many of them are athletes. Some of them have compromised health or gut issues. They might have all been over trained or for one reason or the other, they are coming back to endurance sport and quite rightly, so nervous about having an excessive training load exacerbating symptoms, setting them back.

    Many have been following what's known as maff training or maffetone training, this kind of lower heart rate training. Is that much on the radar in the performance world or is it more -- I often think of it as exercise medicine. It’s sort of a training medicine for lower heart rate training. But what was your sense of maffetone draining?

David:    It's not a concept that I'm super familiar with. It's something that I'm aware of. I understand its application in what you said, people returning from chronic injury or illness at face value. Again, I reiterate, I'm not fully aware of it in detail, but at face value, it strikes me as a way just to -- another way to manage intensity.

    I think that the old adage of “maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age” was always criticized because it's not just one number and people who are in their 60s can get their heart rate above 200. It's another way to perhaps refine that and to help give people confidence in monitoring their training. So I would be a hypocrite not to support it as a way to be more objective in understanding how you manage training intensity and training load. But equally, like I said previously, there's limits to every tool. So I'm sure that at a certain point, it's relevant but it doesn't give you the complete picture.

Simon:    So in that sense, would a power meter be a better investment or what would they -- for the aspiring cyclists weekend warrior, what should my little toolbox contain? Obviously, a bike. I don't need the titanium skewers. We've established that but are there -- do I need a coach? Can I self-coach? Do I need some measure, objective measure of intensity? What do you think really should be in my arsenal? I think that came out wrong.

David:    I think it's a great question. There was a recent study that was done through a professional team -- I think it was a Dutch team -- where they, through the season, monitor training load. They used a heart rate. They used a power meter. And they used the rating of perceived exertion, which is just like, “How'd you feel? How did that feel? How hard was that?”

    And over the course of a variety of training and racing using all these things they found on average, no one was better than the other for assessing total training load. So I guess it boils down to how much money you've got and how much disposable income you have as to whether you want a power meter. But there's a lot of -- that's a fairly simplistic study. And there's lots of nuances too. That would mean you can't really compare a four kilometer pursuit on the track to a five hour Tour of Flanders Classics Race.

    

    What it's basically saying is that these things are tools. And if you're new to the sport and you're trying to gauge intensity or load, then of course, it makes sense to have some objective tool, whether that's heart rate or whether that's a power meter or even just average speed or climbing. Those things are helped to confirm your own perception of intensity.

    But inevitably, perception is pretty reliable. And what you often find is in a time trial, for example, a professional cyclist will set off and probably won't look at his power meter a lot and will base it a lot on his perception of intensity and afterwards, will probably be fairly accurate in estimating his average power.

[1:15:10]

Simon:    But is that because they're so experienced and he's calibrated, that sort --

David:    Exactly. So these tools are relevant not just to these guys trying to polish the performance. They're also highly relevant to someone who is returning from injury or illness and perhaps lost a little bit of that gauge of performance, but also someone who's saying, “Oh, I want to do an iron man or I want to do a cyclist Sportive or Gran Fondo.” Doing that, if you have the opportunity and access to those things, they’re going to help inform you better and help maybe make you more efficient in terms of your training and preparation.

Simon:    Well, listen, no talk of professional cycling can go on without some mention of the D word -- drugs and the culture that certainly fostered some of it's darker days. As a sport scientist, you've been in the sport professional cycling, what, for five or six years or so – no, longer actually, because obviously, at the Olympic level. What’s your sense of cycling's dark past and now? I mean drug culture. Is it sort of everyone knows it's there and no one talks about it or is it a belief that things are clean now or what was your sense of --

David:    Within the sport, it’s very much punctuated by cases of doping infractions, adverse in analytical findings, whatever the correct terminology is now. For me, it's a really interesting topic because I think it has a very emotional and moral connotations. When you hear about something, it's closely linked to cheating.

    And for me, defining cheating becomes an issue more than doping. And by that, I mean that you assumed that it's a level playing field. And I now had the insights I've had, not just in cycling but in other sports that is not a level playing field. You might be in a nation where you have a population of people you can pick. You have a bigger talent pool. You might be in a nation where there's a bigger investment in sports.

    One example I’ll give you is the Olympic sports. I believe you can split Olympic nations into three categories. You can have the “happy to be there” category because they just don't have the infrastructure or access to sport and they just qualify because of the fundamental philosophy of the Olympics. You have the guys that can play the numbers games, the Russians, the Chinese, the Americans. Then you have the European nations, Australia who have to be a bit smarter with their resources. So in essence, there is no such thing as a level playing field.

    And when you're talking about doping, the reason that gets publicity is that those interventions, those substances or those methodologies confer a profound performance benefit. And then people then associate that with cheating. Whereas if you were to sit down and do the math and say, “Okay. I'm born in Bangladesh. I want to be a cyclist. I can't get access to a better drum. I haven't got a bike. But physiologically, I'm the same as...” for argument's sake, “Geraint Thomas.” You could argue that Geraint Thomas had an unfair advantage because of where he was born. Now, you can't -- that wasn't through intent.

Simon:    Yeah. That might be a little bit of a stretch though, surely because it’s not unlawful to be born in another country you’re not competing --

David:    No. What I'm trying to say is don't over simplify performance in itself. I think, as I said earlier, that it represents the pinnacle of a lot of things that have gone on before. And yeah, for sure, some of these interventions are giving profound benefit.

    If we say something that permitted caffeine or sodium bicarbonate, we know this good research in sports nutrition that these things can confer a benefit of three to 4%. The placebo effect may be up to six or 7% whereas EPO is eight to 10% as I understand from research. Yet people will see a youth approach and a method of enhancing and red blood cell mass and oxygen carrying capacity as unfair.

    Now, I'm not saying it is or isn't. In my position as a scientist working in cycling, it is a prohibited substance, part of the wider list and endorsed by the UCI. Therefore, it's against the rules of the sport. So you cannot do that. But that doesn't mean the first person who thought of that as an intervention to help improve performance was doing anything wrong. But in any moral level, they were like me trying to find and understand the limits of human performance.

    When somebody decides that that is unfair and maybe has an impact on this -- the argument around health, right, the saying that doing these things can have profound impact upon health growth, hormone use and things, well, you could argue that being a professional athlete has a significant impact upon your health. So I think it's much more complex than people like to make it. And when someone is associated either with a federal or established system, dopey model or someone has fallen foul of making some bad decisions, it doesn't mean that they should be judged morally out of context.

    Someone [1:19:28] [Indiscernible] statistic back in the ‘90s when there was – since been discovered, there's a lot of doping in cycling that maybe ten or 15 people contend the Tour de France but in excess of a hundred. So in excess of 80% of the field were doping. Why would they be doing that? Because only one of 15 people could win it.

    And then you get a bit of an insight into a professional athlete in how their livelihood is linked to their performance and how they're forced into situations. Now, I'm not advocating or justifying doping. There are -- in my position, the simple way to look at it, is there a rules? And those rules are supposed to create a level playing field, supposed to protect the athletes and the staff working. And we adhere to those rules. They're not black and white.

[1:20:09]

Simon:    And I think that's been one of the frustrations. This is certainly is the, from the public's perspective, the moment some of the scandals, if that's even correct term, that have played cycling in the last year or two have been at that very gray intersection between both banned but also you can unban them occasionally.

    And this is where in the realm of what is known in cycling is this – though it’s not just in cycling -- it is the therapeutic use exemption that a doctor's note can somehow let me off the hook if there's a medical need. So how does sports science teams -- do they play roles? Is that just the relationship between the doctors and the riders or determining that the TUEs and the applications of those? Or does the sports science team get involved in any of that at all?

David:    In my experience, no. That's driven by the medical team. And the sole purpose of a therapeutic exemption is to allow an athlete with an existing condition to receive medication that otherwise would be prohibited. And that's the domain of the medical team.

Simon:    Is your sense, -- I'm not asking you for specifics because you may not know them, but it's more to do with a sense that this seems to be the area that's most ripe for exploitation. I'm not even pointing things at individuals, I mean organizationally, institutionally about these therapeutic use exemptions that seem to be a source of exploitation.

    What efforts are there? What can be done to help that? I mean I know some people have said, “Well, listen, if you need to compete, if you need a banned substance to compete, even with a doctor's note, a therapeutic use exemption, you perhaps shouldn't -- you should be sitting this one out or you shouldn't be competing.”

    Should we be making this a purely transparent process so that when you apply for TUE, everyone knows about it? I know these are big questions. I'm not expecting you'd get answers, but do you have any sense of this what your gut reaction to some of these things are or what you think that might be the next step as we try to clean the sport, try to clean itself up?

David:    It is a loaded question and it's a difficult one to answer without having an extensive discussion over all the different nuances and the history of it. Sadly, cycling is a sport that's been tarnished with that in the past. People ask me whether I've seen or had any involvement with doping and a hand on heart, I’d never seen anything. Of course, never had any involvement in that.  

    But I deal with the legacy of that every day and that is it's a sport. That is a traditional mindset because perhaps ten, 15, 20 years ago, hopefully longer, there were easier or more simplistic solutions to improve performance. Now, people are having to be smarter in how they do things and a lot of what we talked about is a reflection on that. But there's still generations involved that are from that era, so perhaps have never been forced to think like I think and like the modern generation of thinking.

    When it comes to exploitation of things like TUE, yeah, we don't live in a fairy tale world. There's always going to be people who break the rules. There's always people that are going to speed on the highway. There's always people that will take advantage of the system. You can't do that.

    You could argue that the sport is modern warfare. There's a big commercial investment and an entertainment investment in that. And people, there's such big reward to win. Maybe if you take those rewards away, maybe that changes people's behavior, but unlikely. By nature, we're competitive and someone wants to be successful. So people would achieve that success by methods that may be deemed fair or unfair.

Simon:    And I think that we see this in amateur sport, right? One of the highest incidence of positive testing now is for athletes or events that are, really, there's so little on the line. There's no prize money. It might be brightening rights, our local criterium or an iron man triathlon and it's running deep.

    And I don't expect to make any headway into these sorts of things and any sort of -- this sort of conversation. But I am interested from the inside how directors, doctors within the cycling now think of these issues. Is it very much, “This has tarnished us in the past. And we need to all be proactively trying to secure, return the reputation of the sport,” or are they sort of, “Listen, it was all blown out of context. It was never really as bad as people say it was.” Is there any sense of where the inside of the sport thinks about these or how they think about these issues?

David:    It's difficult to give you a complete answer because I've only had experience in a number of teams and interactions with others and other teams. So I don't know the mindset, but the general theme is one of a degree of embarrassment and also a degree of regret because of the implications that the history of that has had on the sport as it stands today.

    There are many nations that stopped televising the sport. There are many sponsors that got out of the sport because of that. And I think that there is an embarrassment or a regret that the sport has been tarnished with that. And whenever there is a positive case or there's some infraction that comes up, then it is perceived as a backwards step for that sport.

Simon:    Well, Dave, that seems a good opportunity to wrap it up. Thank you so much for joining us on the MBT Podcast. I know that I'll certainly continue to have lots of questions for you in an attempt to turn me into the Nibali. I know that it’s trapped inside of me.

[1:25:01]

David:    We're entering the world, realms of fantasy aren't we?

Simon:    I will say on that note, not in any way compared to me, what is the main difference between a Richie Porte, Nibali and someone like me? It can't be just my parents that I've poorly chosen.

David:    Oh, you’re British. That's the first problem.

Simon:    But seriously, if I remain completely untrained for two years and Nibali remains completely untrained for two years, how long will it take for Nibali to regain some sort of race? Would that differ compared to me or what? Are there any other things, variables that make me different? Give me some good news.

David:    Good news. Well, it depends on the demands of the event you're trying to choose. So if you pick the right race, you can raise smart, then you can be a Nibali. But the simple fact is these guys are responders. And they respond tenfold better to a stimulus than you and I. And that's the difference.

Simon:    And by that, you mean what? If we're given one hour of training a week, he will respond different than I?

David:    Yeah. Well, I just came back from our winter training camp. And what the guys did in the first five days would make most people, you and I included, struggle home and need a chair in the shower whereas these guys start to get better. They start to get better with no training.

Simon:    Phenomenal. Anyway, thank you very much, Dave. And I'm sure I’ll look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

David:    My pleasure. Thank you, Simon.

[1:26:16]    End of Audio

 
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