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Rider Development: From a Cat 2 to U23 National Champion

I was introduced to Alex Hoehn and his family by a mutual friend and Source Endurance alumnus, Phil Groninger. Phil had always said, “This kid is crazy good.  Watch him and you’ll see he has the right stuff.” Apparently, Phil made a similar pitch to Alex and his family about the work we do as coaches at Source Endurance.  Fast forward a few months and I was working with Alex to bring a full-time ice hockey player up to speed so he could compete at the Tour of the Gila… with only 10 weeks on the bike.  It was at the Tour of the Gila where I noticed that Alex had some special potential.

That year saw Alex land in 2nd place in the Men 1,2 event but the standout moment was that he rode >5w/kg on the last day to get up the Gila Monster as an 18 year old who was just beginning his 2016 season. It was a head turner.

That was just the beginning a the process where we laid out where Alex needed to improve to make that jump from ‘good amateur’ to ‘professional caliber’ and even ‘Europe ready.’  This was in addition to learning how to race by becoming a student of the sport. He needed to learn race strategy and tactics and how to apply them and he needed to learn them quickly.  That is for another discussion and, indeed, we can compose an entire book about this process.

Functional Threshold Power and Exposure to High Intensity (FTP)

This metric is probably the single most important indicator of any athlete’s ability to be successful in the world of endurance sports.  When we first met, Alex had an FTP that was competitive at an elite level but not enough to turn heads at the UCI level. As he continues to mature, that FTP number has improved to a level that allowed him to win a U23 National Championship and also compete among the absolute best in North America as well as World Tour riders at high level UCI events. Alex’s FTP has increased steadily as he continues to develop and continues to compete at a high level.

Along with an improved FTP is a need to be able ride more volume at high intensities. However, every increment intensity climbs above Functional Threshold Power (FTP), comes at an exponentially increasing metabolic cost.  While we know that Alex’s FTP increased over the last 3 years, we also know that his ability to ride high volume at or above that FTP has also increased. Alex has built his ability to not only ride more, but also to ride harder for longer and more often in training.  That’s a fantastic physical attribute to have as he continues to race at the UCI level.

Depth of Fitness

Alex comes from a competitive ice hockey background where games are 3 periods of 15 minutes.  That high intensity fitness translates well but 45 minutes won’t get you very far into a 4+ hour race. With elite races lasting much longer than 45 minutes, there was an immediate need to expand Alex’s depth of fitness. It’s common knowledge that endurance athletes need to train a lot.  Two benchmarks are an ability to handle a series of 10,000kJ weeks as well as an 800 hour training calendar year.  

We had to build Alex’s ability to manage big weeks and high volume months as he progressed towards an annual volume that would let him compete with professional athletes. You’ll see his kilojoule output in the image here but also note that his annual volume has built from ~240 hours in 2015 to >800 hours so far in the 2018 season.

High volume rides are also key for any rider wanting to ride at a professional level.  For comparison, elite level criterium events rarely hit above the 2000kJ mark now that events have been shortened to less than 90 minutes. UCI level road race events rarely come in below 3500kJ so there’s enormous pressure to not only be able to ride big days, but to ride them often and to be effective at the end of a 4000kj race.  We address these needs in many ways but the easiest way to see it is to look at the number of >3500kJ rides Alex has accomplished. A quick glance shows us that in 2016 he completed 4 of these rides, 2017 he managed 10 and so far in 2018, he’s turned in 34 of these epic days.

 

Fatigue Resistance

While single best performances are good markers, it’s equally important that the best performances occur at a point in an event where they are useful. Many overzealous riders click the ‘send’ button in the first 5 minutes of a criterium and are too fatigued in the last 3 laps to earn a result.  The same concept applies at a professional level. Sure, an amazing 5 minute effort is unique tool that can be used tactically in a high-level race. But if that tool is only available for the first 1000kJ of a 4000kJ race the window to effectively use it is almost closed before the first feed zone. Alex has worked from day one to make sure that he fatigues slowly and that he can produce big powers late into a big kJ day of training or racing.  The lines on this chart show his power duration curve per 1000kJ from 2016 to 2018. The closer the curves are to each other; the less fatigue Alex suffers on big days. Also, at some point everyone fatigues.

More?

Undoubtedly there are more ways to discuss and analyze Alex’s progress over the years. We never even looked at his Performance Manager Chart, for starters.  My goal here was to show that using analytics we can assess performance trends and even say that someone like Alex still has significant capacity remaining to improve.  His career will be one to follow and I, for one, am excited to be part of it. I want to thank Alex for all his hard work and the entire Hoehn family for their support in his career advancement. For more on Alex and his recent U23 Nationals win, check out the SoCal Cyclist podcast he did.

Thanks for reading.

About the Author: Adam Mills has raced at the elite level since 2002 and graduated with a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kansas in 2005. His true talent comes with his ability to combine his vast experience with his knowledge of sport. He is indeed a student of science, sport, athletic performance, strategy, and tactics. He continuously educates himself by keeping up to date with current research trends and methods in sport and his clients have reaped the benefits from this work with over 15 national championships in 10 disciplines on two continents. Adam is able to incorporate these attributes on a daily basis to help his clients reach and exceed their goals whether they are a beginner or a seasoned professional. Learn more about Adam and Source Endurance here.

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