I am a numbers’ guy.

I am 48. I have six kids, one wife and I ride a Madone 6.9. I weigh 150 pounds. Next week I will be riding 683 miles in seven days. Four week ago, I was in the Pyrenées with two friends, riding over 35 hours in nine days trying to get ready for next week. 

This morning I flew out to Colorado on Air Canada 1071 at 08:05 am. I am here to join nineteen other time crunched cyclists for whom riding 100 miles with four or five friends on a Saturday morning just doesn’t cut it anymore. I already know five of these nineteen nuts (including 2012 Tour of California alumnus Doc Forman who just completed the same type of event last week during the Tour of Utah – making him the man to beat next week, but that is a topic for a different post) and by the time it is all over on August 27th I am pretty sure I will have become close to the majority of the other fourteen riders.  

What does this all mean? What’s going on next week? Next week I will be participating in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge CTS Race Experience. What is that? It is the ultimate physical and mental challenge for fully employed, married men with kids, friends and a real social life. We get to ride the same seven stages as the best pro riders in the world except that we leave the start line three hours before them and we need to cross the finish line before they catch us. It is actually the ultimate mental break as well as we get so tired we can hardly think.

In May 2011 and 2012 I successfully completed the same type of event at the Tour of California and I found those events completely gruelling. I wrote earlier this week that I thought the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will be way harder. And this is what CTS CEO Chris Carmichael says on his website about next week’s event:

“Riding the Tour of California in front of the pros was hard, but with the altitude and the climbing in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, this event will push everyone to their limits! .” – Chris Carmichael

I agree with Chris.

But why do I feel so relaxed just three days before the #1 cycling event of my life? Because I’ve done the work and the numbers prove it. Today is August 17, 2012 and I have already spent more time on the bike this year and ridden more kilometers than in all of 2008 and 2009. I have also done almost as much work on the bike as for all of 2010.

I have spent a significant portion of my life in the last seven months getting ready for that seven day race which starts in Durango, Colorado on Monday August 20th, 2012. And being a numbers guys, here’s a pretty good summary of what it takes for a time crunched athlete to get ready to ride the same seven stage course as international level pros.

This first chart tracks four key data points on a yearly basis for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 year to date. These data points are the time spent on the bike (gold bar) the kilometers ridden (black bar), the kilojoules (red bar) and the Training Stress Score (green line).

Here’s how the numbers stack up:

This next chart shows how the duration per week (gold bars) looks like for 2012. The first big spike was Tour of California in May and the second one was my training in the Pyrenees.

As my training season was officially launched on January 16, I have been training for 32 weeks so far this year. 355 hours of training over that period means that I ride my bike an average of eleven hours per week. My most active week was 33:13 hrs and the least active week was 4:00 hrs.

Weekly duration and Training Stree Score

This next chart is also a 2012 weekly chart except that the red bars represent kilojoules. The week that took the most amount of energy to complete required 20,868 kilojoules and the easiest week 2,255 kilojoules.

I am pretty sure a few of my teammates are reading this and asking themselves: “Alright, Lambert rides his bike a lot, but can he put out the power when it matters?”

From top to bottom the squares represent my best ten normalized power for 30 secs, one minute, seven minutes, twenty minutes, one hour and two hours. I am pretty happy with good consistent twenty minute power in August. My short term power is also looking good and that will be key to handle the expected battles to the line, the accelerations at the top of the climbs and the sprints to create a break.

The final chart I want to highlight is what we call the Performance Management Chart. At this stage of the training season and being a few days before what will be the hardest week of the year, what matters most to me are the small gold bars. They tell me how well rested I am. At +17.2 TSB (Training Stress Balance) I am rested enough to get going.

So why am I so relaxed today? Because I’ve done the work and all the numbers support that. “But how much will the numbers mean once the race gets going?” Not a whole lot. There will be plenty of guys next week who will have done the work and will have good power.

As I wrote on the blog when I recently came back from training in France cycling is not just about how fit you are but also about how tough you are.

“The truth of the matter is that cyclists have a lot of misconceptions about the sport and about how well the human body and mind adapt to increased training stress. Some people think we get stronger when we ride a lot as opposed to when we rest, some people think our sport is all about riding more and more miles etc etc. Generally speaking, riders think that cycling is almost all about fitness. Wrong. It is about fitness but it is also about mental toughness.

My Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) coach is Jason Tullous. Jason takes care of my fitness, training plan and input into race strategies. My other “unofficial ” CTS coach is a mental coach. His name is Chris Carmichael.

Some people know Chris as Lance Armstrong`s coach, some people know him as their boss at CTS. Personally, I know him as the guy who is constantly busting my balls. I have been a member of CTS for over six years now. I have attended sixteen CTS camps, events or Race Experiences. Do you think that would get me any respect from the CEO? The answer is no. And for that, I am immensely grateful to Chris.

Chris is the guy who will tell me to ask myself “If I am tough enough” before signing up to a big event. He is the guy who, while riding together in a peloton on our way to a big climb, will tell me: “Try not to get dropped today.” Before I went over to Europe I asked Chris if he had any tips I could focus on to try and become a better descender. His answer? “Grow some balls.” The point of all these one liners is that cycling is not all about the physical it is also about the mental.

Over the years I have had the great pleasure of riding with Gord Fraser, former Canadian Champion and Olympian. He too likes to push me. To him, a great portion of the sport is about HTFU (“Hardening The Fuck Up”). Wanna take the day off the day after a ten hour ride? Hell no! Harden The Fuck Up and go race Luz-Ardiden with your buddies.”

More often than not it will come down to who has the biggest balls going down the fast descents, who can work through the pain of the climbs in order not to get dropped and who is tough enough to do it again the next day.

I personally have a lot of respect for my teammates just for showing up. And I know there will be plenty of guys ready to “push me to my limits”, as Chris says on his website. So the stories I will write about this week will be stories about people, courage, lessons learned, sportsmanship and not numbers.

“So leave your numbers behind boys, Harden The Fuck Up and be ready to ride hard.”