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I met Chris Carmichael today. (Long piece.)(22 posts)

I met Chris Carmichael today. (Long piece.)nigel
Nov 14, 2001 9:28 PM

None other than Lance's personal coach and trainer visited New York City today and made a Q&A appearance at Toga Bike Shop on the Upper West Side. He did a book signing/Q&A session to about 40 people--the appearance wasn't NEARLY publicized enough, I feel--for an hour fifteen or so, and here are some of the interesting points (in no particular order):

-- Elite male cyclists who do the big tours generally have from three to five percent body fat. Elite women who race hilly courses range from 12 to 15 percent body fat.

-- As the Tour ends, Lance's body measurements (leg and arm muscles) are a good amount smaller than they were at the start of the race. He's not only burned up all the carbs he's taken in, but is working on the muscle protein at this point as well, making his muscles smaller (and weaker). LA is at his lowest body weight for the three-week period of the Tour and the week prior--this is the longest he can realistically sustain such careful eating and a strict diet/riding regimen. In the two weeks post-Tour, he gains close to ten pounds!!! All that celebrating (and Chris mentioned drinking and eating pizza, cheeseburgers, etc.!!) and restocking his fuel stores.

-- According to Chris, "Lance wins the Tour de France in November, December, and January" with the intense training he does in preparation for the July peak. This explains why he barely races after the TdF: he's celebrating, relaxing, and then he hits it HARD for a few months with lots of stretching, weights, hill climbs, time-trial efforts, positioning tweaks, and other such cycling-specific endeavors.

-- Speaking of cycling-specific training, Chris suggests making all of your "cross training" cycling specific. Do weights in only the range of motion that you pedal (half squats), and he doesn't recommend running (as such, as in distance running) for his athletes. For triathletes, sure, but for racing cyclists, no.

-- Chris mentioned that those following a training program/schedule should watch out for spinning classes. They're a great "workout," he says, but aren't considered "training." Training sessions are more focused--power/hill workouts, sprint/speed workouts, et al.--not such variety and high heart-rate work mixed up in a day. I suppose that a spinning class could work as a shorter "club ride," though. This difference between a "workout" and a "training session" were quite interesting to me.

-- He prefers his riders to use their water bottles for water and electrolyte-replacement bevvies, not really for food/carb supplements like Extran. He says Extran can be good for some in races, but he'd prefer to have his riders using either energy bars or gels/syrups of some sort for their "fuel" and to save the bottles for basic fluids and hydration needs.

-- He explained why he's so for riders to have coaches as opposed to simply following training programs (Besides his paycheck.). A rider on their own, he said, can try his best to stick to a program (though he usually won't be able to), but can either overdo it or underdo it on any given day. Having a coach is having a relationship with someone who really knows the sport and the nutrional requirements and the scientific aspects. If someone works too hard one day, they may not either recover enough or may take it too easy the next day; a (good) coach analyzes the heart-rate data, perceived effort, what the rider ate/drank, the sleep they got, and even the stresses in the person's life. Plus, he says, a coach can push a rider far harder than they might push themselves (or allow a teammate/partner to push them), equaling far greater performance gains. A coach will work with a rider to reach the rider's seasonal goals (peak performances, strengths and weaknesses, etc.), and will be a confidante and friend at the same time. Sounded good to me, of course. Now if only I decide to race in the next year or so....

-- Lance can hold 34 mph for between 35 and 40 miles. (My all-out SPRINT is about 34 mph!!! Good grief!) Simply awesome. No other word can describe it.

-- Because Lance has smaller muscles than Jan Ullrich, he needs to spin lighter gears in order to beat him up big cols like L'Alpe D'Huez. In order to produce similar wattage per kilometer, he needs to pedal smaller gears faster (and stay fresher and create less lactic acid at the same time), whereas Jan uses his big muscles to push big gears (and build up MAJOR amounts of lactic acid). If he tried spinning, it might not even work well for him; it's different for everyone. For time trialing, though, Jan can compete much more closely with Lance, since it's a steadier effort without jumps, and the lactic acid's about the same for all the top riders.

There were more things he said, but I can't remember all of them--he talked about this program and that, and numbers like watts generated, etc., which lost me a bit. I found it interesting, and it has me thinking a LITTLE more about getting back into racing (it's been ten years, with eight of those years off the bike altogether). Hmmm....

I hope this proved to be of good interest to you. I enjoyed rehashing it all in my mind, at any rate. :)

I will shoot for Lance's 40 mile ave.I Love Shimano
Nov 15, 2001 12:51 AM
Good read dude! Thanks for the post. Lance's 40 mile average is really something to shoot for!
Nov 15, 2001 5:08 AM
Interesting summary. I've got one of his books, and there's some good advice in there as well. I guess I am more into achieving a "workout" than training, as I have no desire to race (and would be pitiful if I did). Now that 35 mph average -- was that a 40-mile downhill with the wind?
Great post Nige.Sintesi
Nov 15, 2001 6:15 AM
I work about 5 blocks away from Toga. I would have made it for sure if I knew about it. Pisser. I bet I could time trial 26 mph for 5 blocks just to impress Chris. : )
Nice coverage. I'll try the same with Gary Klein.Tig
Nov 15, 2001 7:16 AM
Not everyone likes Chris' book, but the guy is a great coach. Of course, having a talent like LA would help make any coach look good! I think Lance tuned his abilities to their peak this year with Chris' coaching work.

The LBS that sells Trek & Klein will be hosting a ride with Gary Klein this Saturday. I'll ask him about their latest ZR alloy 9000 tubing and the new Q-Pro Carbon bike. Anything he says that is useful and not just a sales pitch will be reported here.
"The guy is a great coach"TJeanloz
Nov 15, 2001 8:57 AM
Calling Chris a 'great coach' is a bit of an overstatement. It's not like he turned lead into gold. Lance Armstrong was the most promising racer since Greg Lemond, well before he even met Carmicheal. Chris is just doing a wonderful job marketing himself as the brains behind Lance's tour wins.

Chris also coached many dozen junior national team members who are now burned out and asking people if they want fries with their big macs.

Back in the .com era, a venture capitalist said that he had given out $100million to 100 different companies- $1million each- and that 99 of them had failed. 1 was wildly successful, and suddenly everybody was calling this VC a genious. But he points out that he made 99 bad investments, and only 1 good one.

Carmichael is much the same- he coached hundreds of athletes, and one made it. Now he pawns himself off as a coaching genious.
Good counterpoint, T - thanks for the perspective. (nm)RhodyRider
Nov 15, 2001 9:11 AM
ditto. Was looking at LA's spinning/climbing improvement...Tig
Nov 15, 2001 9:47 AM
...that Carmichael suggested as well as the increased stretching that helped him somehow improve beyond last year's level. The hypobaric tent had to help as well.

You made some good points. Carmichael is getting all the mileage he can on LA's coat tails. I wouldn't put him in the same league as Eddy B!
"The guy is a great coach"mr_spin
Nov 15, 2001 12:00 PM
What you say is true, but you could say the same things about any coach. Guys like Vince Lombardi and Bela Karoly, aren't they all in the same boat? Given good material, any coach can look like a genius.

Carmichael must be a coaching genius, because Lance thinks he is and has the results to prove it. That's all that matters in the end. Anyone who seeks him out as a coach because Lance has done so well is a fool if there isn't a 100% match up between coach and rider in personality, commitment, motivation, desires, or any of a hundred other factors.

Of all those ex-riders now flipping burgers, how many had a realistic chance of making it to the big leagues? Less than 1%? Who's responsible for that? The rider's parents have more to do with his failure than Carmichael. If they had only passed on better genes....

Using your own example against you, I'll say that 198 riders lined up at the start of the Tour de France. 1 was wildly successful. The coach is proclaimed a genius. :)
Shouldn't Dr. Ferrari get some credit too! (nm)Wayne
Nov 15, 2001 12:38 PM
"The guy is a great coach"jschrotz
Nov 15, 2001 6:49 PM
I consider Carmichael to be a very good coach, but I'd hesitate to put him in the "great" category. He has as his poster boy a man who has an unbelievable work ethic and seemingly even greater capacity for suffering. It seems to me that one of the hardest things in coaching someone like Armstrong is holding him back and keeping him from doing too much. That said, I'd call Carmichael great if he could guide Armstrong to dominating performances in the Tour while also riding something approaching at least half of a professional season.
Tig - where is this ride you mentioned? nmcioccman
Nov 15, 2001 9:13 AM
Here's the location URL and a bannerTig
Nov 15, 2001 9:56 AM
You'll have to live near Houston to make it to the ride. Maybe a call to the Klein factory could help find out if he has any scheduled appearances in other towns.
Thanks. nmcioccman
Nov 15, 2001 1:15 PM
Nov 15, 2001 12:52 PM
Interesting guy. Supposed to be rather an eccentric character. Rumor is the USPS team will be riding Klein's next year or the year after. This must have had something to do about the move to Waterloo WI. I wrote an email to the Klein website back in August and my question was answered by Gary Klein himself. I get the impression that he is rather outspoken and says what he thinks. I'd like to ask him why the Quantum Pro's are priced so high. Loved to own one but there are out of my pocket book range. I could however turn my QR into a pro by doing a couple of upgrades.
Curious to know what the new QP with cf seat stays will go for. Yes, love my Klein, will never part with it, but I see no need for two al bikes..
he's from MIT, so it should be an interesting talkTig
Nov 15, 2001 2:22 PM
I'm used to talking with the super-brained "rocket scientists" and astronauts, so he shouldn't be too much different... except cooler since he rides and loves bikes.
Getting him to shut up might be the real problem!!!
re: I met Chris Carmichael today. (Long piece.)kyroadie
Nov 15, 2001 7:21 AM
- Lance can hold 34 mph for between 35 and 40 miles.

We are not worthy! We are all posers!
Can Lance really average 55km/h for 65km??!!!Hans1
Nov 15, 2001 9:00 AM
Great post Nigel. That sounds pretty unbelievable. What's the fastest time trial on record. Definitely something to shoot for!!

I like Chris' insights about spinning classes and fuel replacement. If only I could get a coach for cheap!!
34mph. . .If memory serves. . .js5280
Nov 15, 2001 9:40 AM
I'm usually spinning 53/11 right around 100 rpm. . .and that's always on a downhill! The Analyticcycling server is down so can come up w/ the actuals. Pretty amazing, spinning the biggest gear most of us have that distance. Surprised Lance would even have use for a small ring.
gearing, etc.Dog
Nov 15, 2001 1:09 PM
53x11 at 100 rpms is almost 39 mph with a 700c wheel. Keep in mind that 34 mph is his average over 50k. Actually, he's probably using something like a 53x14 and spinning pretty fast at 34 mph.

He'd surely not use his small ring in a time trial that didn't involve a mountain. But, he does like to spin, seemingly standing and spinning at times at 110 rpms.

I can sprint on flat ground up to around 36 mph alone. I can do this much easier in a 53x15 gear than in anything taller. Power comes with the rpms, not mashing big gears.

re: a great coachguido
Nov 15, 2001 1:21 PM
An inspiring read, Nigel! Carmichael is in a long line of coaches successfully applying science, exercise physiology, nutrition, diet, and task specific training, to improve performance--not just riding the bike, putting in the miles, and getting a "workout", which is what most of us do, basically. Carmichael's ideas are derived from coaches he had while riding. Eddy B.was one of them. He espouses Carmichael's philosophy in his book, "Road Racing." (Velo News Books) Cyrille Guimard was another. He coached Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond with much the same ideas and methods.

I got a couple of the hammerheads to agree the other day that our group rides, which until now are pretty much out and out racing, every man for himself, could be a little more structured. We could decide beforehand to work on a rotating pace-line, go easier attempting to stay together, then have sprints for road signs, or race the last few miles, instead of the first. The working principle here is discipline, sticking to a plan, and delayed ego gratification. One can learn not only confidence on the bike riding with a group, be forced to ride at a higher level than one would solo, but also how to work with others towards a common goal, and get fitter in the process. Clubs ought to be doing more of this.
I'm glad you peeps enjoyed the read.nigel
Nov 15, 2001 2:13 PM
Yeah, I'd say that Carmichael's certainly a great coach. If he didn't know his stuff, Lance et al. wouldn't be working with him. He's got to be doing lots of things right. Granted, he's got a diamond to work with, but he's obviously working thing out JUST RIGHT for Lance. Lance has the talent physically (and, to a point, mentally--not knocking the man), but a coach can make a super rider into a superstar with the right parts of this and the right parts of that. I find it funny that this post turned into a Carmichael bashfest. Give the guy a break--he's at the peak of his field.

I have the Eddy B. Book--THE BIBLE when I was racing ten years ago--called "Bicycle Road Racing." I wonder if it's out of print. Everyone's been talking about the Friel book--even Chris mentioned it last night--and not the Eddy B. tome anymore. I've found it to be comprehensive and a fascinating read, and I've read/re-read it a thousand times here and there. I STRONGLY recommend picking it up if it's available. I've heard people say that the Friel book takes a read or two to "get" at times. "Bicycle Road Racing" was simple but thorough from the first time I read it (as a young 20-something), and easy to implement and understand--and EFFECTIVE! The only book, probably, that you'd ever need. Now, if only I'd really had what it took to strictly FOLLOW that book.... :(