Our Head of Science Dr Tim Podlogar is a man of numerous occupations. He is a researcher, a lecturer and in our centre the person that cannot stop discussing the importance of carbohydrates and how their availability impacts training adaptations and performance. But he is not only that. He is also a keen cyclist with a VO2max of 75. He is convinced that he has to test everything on himself before trying different approaches on the athletes he is working with.
Don’t be surprised if you hear a story of how he suffered (he would probably call this enjoyment) in the environmental chamber at a high altitude or in the extreme heat while measuring numerous different parameters. That’s just him…
Together with HPC’s Head Coach Simon Cirnski, they started a project last year that aimed to demonstrate what can be achieved if an amateur athlete listens to HPC’s experts with Tim being that amateur athlete. We will do a series of articles explaining what they did and how they did it. It will be interesting, so make sure you keep checking for a new content.
It is getting harder and harder in Slovenia these days to find a climb where Strava KOM isn’t taken by one of the world-tour riders specialising in climbs. Both Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič took quite a few climbs just this spring when they were getting ready for the Tour de France.
There is one climb that hasn’t been taken by the Pros. Vršič Pass. This is probably the most famous climb in Slovenia due to its history. Russian prisoners built it for the purposes of the military during the 1st World War. This climb is well known for its cobbled bends that heavily annoy cyclists as riding on them isn’t really pleasant. Vršič pass is 1611m high and the climb from Kranjska Gora starts at 800 meters, so the elevation gain is just slightly over 800 meters.
This climb is featured in an uphill cycling race in Slovenia that takes place every year in September. The official segment starts a couple of kilometres before the real start of the climb so in order to get a KOM a lead-out is required. By the way, the current KOM holder of Vršič Pass is a multiple-time amateur world champion Matej Lovše who is coached by the experts from the Human Performance Centre. So we invited him and 7 other cyclists to help with the KOM attempt. The plan was that either Tim or Matej take the KOM in the end. However, the attempt was unfortunately unsuccessful.
Despite the lack of success, HPC’s Head Coach Cirnski wasn’t too dissapointed:
»No, we haven’t been succesfull this time around, but that is nothing to worry about. When we were deciding for this climb we knew where the problem might to be. The official segment starts way before the start of the real climb and I remember the race when Matej set the KOM. There was a group of 30 riders that was riding through this very gentle uphill stretch of road. Our group was much smaller and the physics simply wasn’t on our side even though the pacing was well planned. After looking at the results it became very clear that we lost the KOM exactly at this part of the road. Not only were Tim and Matej riding slower than required, but they had to produce more power as well and this consequently affected their power production during the real climb. As a matter of fact, if we had chosen the Strava segment that started at the beginning of the real ascent, Matej would have missed the KOM by only 20 seconds. This just means that we were well prepared, but the circumstances didn’t allow us to achieve the goal. Unfortunately Tim had some more problems during the climb and he finished 40 seconds behind Matej. He still set a very good time as if there was a race he would likely have finished in the top 3. But his power output was at least 15 watts lower than what he was able to produce at the time, but that is just a bad day. It can happen to everybody, even to the best.«Simon Cirnski
But because Tim didn’t want to finish this summer season with such an unfortunate defeat, he started thinking about the new attempt. The initial thought was to repeat this attempt but aim for the segment that only includes the real climb, but in the end the team decided to focus on another climb.
»In Slovenia there are two climbs that I really don’t like. And this one is one of them. The cobbles are just horrible to ride on and I also don’t like the gradient. I just never feel great on the climb. That’s why I started thinking about other possible climbs.«Tim Podlogar
He didn’t look far away, as he ended up deciding for an Italian climb Nassfeld that is very close to Kranjska Gora. It is a 12.4 km long climb with an average gradient of 7.5% and an altitude gain of 917 meters. To-date the record holder was multiple marathon MTB world champion Austrian Albin Lakata. His time was 39 minutes and 58 seconds.
»I got to know this climb a few weeks ago when I was exploring this part of the Alps. I really liked it and felt like at home. The gradient is constant and the road is not busy. It is also pretty long as I really like long climbs.«Tim Podlogar
This time around Tim didn’t want to have the help of more than a couple of riders and even then he didn’t do any planning in terms of the tactics. He just went full gas. Even his tapering was different to the last time as he insisted on doing some hard intervals just days before the climb saying that he needs to feel slightly fatigued. What he did plan meticulously however was his body weight. He really wanted to have the lowest possible weight on the day so he opted for a low fibre diet and low sodium diet in the days leading into the attempt.
»We approached this attempt slightly differently, as Tim didn’t have a proper lead-out. The weather was perfect, road was empty and we just went for the KOM. Tim had two riders with him and they exchanged in the front in the first third of the climb after which Tim was left alone. The pace was very high and we knew we would reach the summit very quickly. Just by looking at Tim from the car it was obvious that he was way more relaxed on the bike as compared to the Vršič attempt. For the whole climb he maintained the cadence in the range between 80 and 90 and his adoption of an aerodynamic position even on the climb helped him maintain pretty high speed. Climbing with 18-22 km/h is pretty fast so his position definitely contributed towards the success. When we were approaching the end of the climb I noticed that Tim started looking back to where the other riders were. This occurs when the rider is getting tired and the rider can easliy lose the focus and reduce the pace. I verbally motivated him and this helped that he again directed his concentration on his riding. The clock stopped at 39 minutes and 32 seconds and Tim was just exhausted. He bent over his bike and leaned on the handlebars for quite a few minutes. In the evening we analysed the effort and he really had a great day. 341 watts is extremely good for an ex-sailor that is actually still learning how to ride the bike.«Simon Cirnski
This was just one part of the story of Tim’s cycling story and in the upcoming articles we will be discussing his training, nutrition and other KOM attempts as well so stay tuned.