Cavner's Corner: Spinning to Win

10/21/2016 | by Jonathan Cavner

With the end of the road season and the cold weather setting in it is a good time to take inventory of the past season and set some goals for the new year.  For me this past season was a year where I may not have won as many races as the previous year, but I had more success in the races that mattered to me.  That’s what I feel makes it a fun year.  It’s great to be able to set a challenging goal to win a few key races and actually making it happen.  Each off season I like to choose one specific focus that I believe will take my riding to the next level.  Relative old age has certainly tempered huge gains, but every year I seem to make a little progress.  That keeps cycling enjoyable and worth going through the training process all over again.

When I first began to ride my biggest strength was a fast cadence.  I had come from a running background and I could pin my heart rate at a high BPM. As long as I didn’t go full gas in the first 10 minutes of a race I could redline for hours. I also had a natural ability to go into the VO2 Max zone and be able to recover easily after that kind of effort.  After the transition to cycling I found that I could essentially do the same on the bike.  Even though I didn’t have the ability to produce much force I could spin at a high rate and make selections that most of my rivals couldn’t make. It also was handy for winning the sprint.  This served me well as a cat4. I could sit in, make the important moves, conserve and win a sprint.  Long breakaways were a challenge, but I didn’t need that tool to win in cat4.  Once I upgraded to cat3 that was not nearly enough.  Yes, I could get lucky in some races, but I didn’t have the sustained power that I needed to be consistent. 

After a year as a cat3 rider I recognized my ability to create force as my biggest limiter.  I started hitting the gym and doing lots of low cadence climbing drills.  This paid dividends and I began to be consistently competitive again.  This was a time in my life where my daughter enjoyed being towed in the tag-a-long and we spent many hours climbing to the Colorado Springs zoo, biking to restaurants and ice cream shops across town.  Its amazing how much force you have to product to haul a heavy trailer up climbs.  Also, I was hitting the Computrainers during the winter.  For those of you that have ridden the Computrainer you have experienced the incredible resistance that it provides.  It seemed to me the only way to overcome the resistance was to power through it. Spinning fast was very difficult for me on those rigs. Year after year I became more and more comfortable being a slow cadence rider.  I saw my average racing cadence drop from 90 to the 70s!

Last fall I was looking to set my goals for 2016.  I really enjoy stage races and I had come close to winning at Tour of the Gila and Superior Morgul (Omnium).  I hadn’t been able to quite close the deal.  I recognized that the TT was my biggest weakness. I had all this force I had developed, but I was not using it efficiently. I wanted to improve my time trial and felt like the best way to do that was to increase my cadence.

I had learned that mastering a new discipline of cycling does wonders for improving road racing.  In the past I have experienced incredible benefits from Cyclocross and even mountain biking.  I knew that taking on a new discipline of cycling would give me all sorts of new adaptations.  Fortunately the stars were aligning in Colorado Springs.  USA Cycling was investing in track cycling and were constructing a dome over the Velodrome in Colorado Springs. This made it possible to train and race on the track all winter long.  Living only a few minutes from this facility provided a unique opportunity to use the winter months to learn the discipline and in doing so really work on my cadence limitation.  I went through the mandatory classes and began to do the Tuesday night training races in January.  In addition to the racing I would spend one or two days a week doing TT intervals. 

As suspected and as the research indicated being on a fixed gear track bike during the winter months increased my racing cadence radically.  Even so I was shocked after doing my first local practice time trial race.  I had moved into a new hemisphere on the time trial bike.  In the past I had averaged around 27-28 mph on out and back courses. My first TT even without a rear disc averaged close to 28.9mph!  Throughout the 2016 season the TT improved and at my last time trial the average was nearly 30mph. This increased cadence translated to a win at the master’s Superior Morgul TT and Steamboat TT.  The combination of winning the TTs, having an incredible team behind me and being a natural climber made it relatively easy to defend and win the GC in those races. A very challenging TT at Tour of the Gila also went well and translated into a 2nd place GC result in a competitive, national level field.

As I write this the dome is going back up at the Colorado Springs velodrome. I find myself looking forward to winter training in Colorado. What a fantastic opportunity for the Colorado cycling community.  My daughter, Avery, is now 9 years old and has her own track bike.  It’s great to be able to bring her to the velodrome and train together. It’s also super to see all the new juniors taking up the track cycling discipline. Many times there have been more juniors training at an open training session on the track than adults thanks to Jim Lawrence and the Front Ranger junior cycling program.  I look forward to seeing how this helps to develop our Colorado Springs junior racers over the next several years.

I’m now reviewing the past year and figuring out what I need to focus on this winter to get to that next level in 2017.  When I take the time to look back at my season its remarkable how easy it is to figure out what needs to be improved.  Once I take the time to do this it’s not really that hard to provide a game plan to improve that limiter. I will say I will certainly be using the Velodrome this winter to get me where I want to be next season.

–Jonathan Cavner