Rubber-faced Frenchman Thomas Voeckler was a cyclist who divided opinion. He was either a grandstanding, showboating, drama queen, or an entertaining character in a peloton full of calculating stat-bots.
He was well known for his disdain for the modern methods; power meters, for example, were brushed off with a Gallic ‘pfffssshhh’ and a dismissive wave of the hand.
He was a man who rode by ‘feel’ (or so he’d have us believe).
Again, your response to that will either be bravo, chapeau, and vive le romantisme, or you may have a sneaky feeling that, had he embraced the cool calibration of scientific method he might have won more bike races.
We’ll never know.
It takes all sorts, is my view, and the (cycling) world would be a slightly duller place without the free-form mavericks and their propensity to pull funny faces for the camera.
Now, there are many differences between myself and Thomas Voeckler.
Although I holiday there regularly and spend my Euros in support of their economy, I am not considered a national hero in France. My lack of days wearing the yellow jersey count against me on that score.
I’m also taller than him.
But, these minor differences aside, there is one area where the Venn diagrams of our lives intersect: our mistrust of power meters.
At this point, let me be clear about my relationship with science, stats, and data: I’m a fan.
I can enjoy a romantic evening alone with my own Strava stats with the best of ‘em. I care how many kilometres I’ve ridden and how fast I rode them. I want to know how I compare against my younger self, my friends, my enemies, and those who ride a bike for a living.
Put all this on a graph and email it to me on a Friday evening and you’ve just planned my weekend for me.
But I don’t have a power meter. I don’t know what my cadence is. My heart rate is a rough guess, and nothing more. I don’t know what zone I’m riding in. I want to ride quickly, but I want to ‘feel’ it.
Sounds a bit ‘fluffy’, but it’s true.
I don’t race, and the point of my fitness is to have as many days as possible on the bike where I feel great. Simple as that. The fitter, stronger, lighter, and faster I am, the greater I feel.
Without on-bike data I (attempt to) expend energy at the moments that make me quicker. I read the road. I might accelerate on a small rise, over the crest, and ease off when it feels like extra effort won’t be worth it. I look for smooth patches of tarmac. I tuck my knees in, bend my elbows, and dodge the wind.
If I want a hard time I point my bike uphill and pedal as hard as I can until I see stars. If I want to improve my endurance I ride for quite a while quite quickly and I feel my leg muscles start to break down. When I rest they’ll rebuild themselves and I’ll be a stronger cyclist.
There are better, more efficient ways to become faster. They’re not for me. If I was racing they might be, but I just want to ‘feel’ like a faster cyclist.
With any luck, once that happens my Strava stats back it up afterwards.
And if they don’t?
C’est la vie.
(Image: By youkeys (D71_7086_DxO) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)