An Inside Look at the Evolution of Australian Cycling…
Incorporating thoughts and perspectives from Dr Dave Martin, AIS Sports Physiologist
It has been a stellar year for Australian cycling.. and with eleven Australians having started the Tour De France this month and another yellow jersey it just keeps powering forward, literally.
With more eyes than ever before glued to the rolling sea of wheels and colours making its way through France this month, I decided to look at what has got us so fixated on the international and professional cycling phenomenon. And give some of mine and Dr Dave Martins views on what’s driving Australia’s on going success.
Given there has been a substantial global popularity rise in cycling over the past ten years and the fact that we have the rainbow jersey and the world championships on home turf this year – how has the Aussie cycling profile been grown to be more than just a healthy bandwagon
Increasingly cycling is making it up the order in sports news headlines with record numbers of Aussie cyclists in prestigious grand tours, standing on international podiums and starring as some of the worlds best in the peloton.
Since Phil Anderson became the first non-European to wear the Tour de France yellow leader’s jersey in 1981 we are no longer just passengers in the peloton. Now almost twenty years later our Aussie professional men and women boast quite a list of prestigious one day classic, stage and tour winners, olympic and world champions.
So it can be said that Australian cyclists are and have been doing something right…for a few years now. Let’s go past reasoning a flourishing ‘cycling culture’ or the explosion of the ‘bike industry’ and reflect on what, from a performance perspective, amalgamated to create athletes with such capabilities.
Australian High Performance Cycling Program is Born
A series of events saw the inception of an Australian cycling training base in Europe, the integration of AIS sports science & physiology, the birth of power meter technology and essentially a new physiological training methodology taking place. These were just a few quiet achievers in this performance equation of the Australian cycling evolution.
Being a non native bicycling country, Australian cycling had to make active decisions to build a pathway for healthy rider development. Essentially something that would enable us to be capable of competing on the world stage that was a clean approach to athelete development at a time when the sport was dabbling in a mirriad of non-clean advancements!
In the late 80’s / early 90s a team of passionate performance and knowledge thirsty Australian coaches began with the inception of the European AIS cycling program. According to a recent interview with David Martin (AIS) this illustrates how the intricate foundation was laid;
“There was of course the amazing leadership of Shayne Bannan that enabled Australia to capitalise on the concept of a European training base. This European presence was most helpful as Aussie cyclists truly adopt the European lifestyle and the professional cyclist way of life. It is amazing to see what can happen when a group of committed individuals pursue a goal over a number of years – the high performance cycling program within Australia persevered for more than 20 years. Great leadership, good opportunities, supper commitment sustained for multiple years and voila – a crop of incredible Aussie Pros.” Dr David Martin (AIS)
Enter The PowerMeter and A New Training Methodology
The evolution of power training began in the late 80′s in Germany when passionate cyclist and German medical engineer Uli Schoberer, decided to design a system that quantified power output through torque sensors in the cranks.
The first SRM Powermeter
This technology was rapidly adopted by Neil Craig and Charlie Walsh the driving force of our forward thinking Australian Cycling Federation at the time.
“Both Heiko Salzwedel and Charlie Walsh were incredibly committed and passionate individuals. These leaders were surrounded by very motivated and capable support staff and the entire adventure was supported by the Australian Institute of Sport.” Dr David Martin (AIS)
This new way to measure power captured cycling physiologists worldwide and the word began to spread.
“I first heard about SRMs in 1987 when I was in Graduate School studying the “Anaerobic Threshold”. I remember going to a conference and hearing Dr. Pete Van Handel from the USOTC mention that Greg Lemond and Bjarn Riis were using a new portable power meter that allowed speed, power, cadence and heart rate to be recorded during training and racing. I couldn’t believe it. I thought this technology was absolutely amazing.” Dr David Martin (AIS)
A modest Schoberer says “Australian cycling were among the first to begin using SRM, not only were they purchasing the systems but they were experimenting with power training regimes.”
This ‘power training’ platform is well ingrained in our riders now to the point that 10-25 years later we reap the rewards of the cumulative years of performance development and refinement. Gerrans, O’Grady, Rogers, Roberts, Hansen, Renshaw, all religiously racing with SRM over the French countryside this month are the riders who were the first to develop under these programs.
Power meters are no longer reserved for elite cyclists, but are now being used by a significant number of amateur riders whether it is to bring home the roubaix rock, rainbow jersey or simply to win the tuesday evening local B grade criterium.
“Power meters have provided new insight into demands of competition and the relationship between training and race relevant fitness.. allow the coach, trainer and athlete to better evaluate how the preparation process is influencing fitness.” Dr David Martin (AIS)
Not only have powermeters been integral in advancing cycling performances but more so in revolutionizing the physiological approach to developing riders making power training a gold standard methodology worldwide.
“ power meters have been my primary scientific tool as a cycling sport scientist. Like a microbiologist has a microscope and a doctor has a stethoscope I have had my cycling power metres.” Dr David Martin (AIS)
In essence the progression of Australian cycling performance has been punctuated by the evolution of the powermeter from its inception to now where it is our essential preparation, development and performance enhancing tool.
Technology and sports performance these days undoubtably go hand in hand – however no one training tool in isolation can improve performance. Only when coupled with the right implementation is when we see long-term investment reward.
This is when we can sit back, watch our athletes stand on podiums and be proud of a hand crafted Australian cycling performance culture going from strength to strength.