Ethan Doherty 2022 Goals Review: Road Racer Stepping up to a CX Nationals Podium
Ethan Doherty races on the road but had two main goals for the cyclocross season: consistent performance in the local NCCX series and peak performance at Nationals. Ethan’s physiology suits him well in long diesel type efforts at or just under threshold, but he has always struggled with hard, repeated anaerobic efforts. I’ve worked with Ethan over the last 3 years and what has impressed me the most is Ethan’s determination, discipline and resilience. Cycling is not a sport where you can put in a big year of training and automatically be at the top. Cycling takes years of deliberate training to see steady improvement. At times this slow, tough process can be overwhelming and frustrating, especially if it feels like you are consistently putting the work in. But you can’t speed-up physiology and everyone has a different adaptation timeline.
Ethan can be a challenging athlete to coach, not because he is non-compliant, but due to the fact that he is a high-level multisport athlete. Ethan is a Category 2 road racer who has seen steady improvement through the last few seasons, but he is also a high level cyclocross racer. Typically, Ethan’s primary goals have fallen in the back half of the year with performance in cyclocross racing. Specifically, performance at the Cyclocross National Championships. There-in lies a significant challenge of having exceptional performances at both ends of the calendar. Hitting all his road season goals while being able to recover, train, and be at his physiological best coming into the cyclocross season is a complicated dance.
While there are many similarities between road and cross racing, their nuanced differences and timing on the calendar can lead to hard decision making when planning a full year of racing. By examining Ethan’s Performance Manager Chart (PMC) and a few other key metrics, such as time above 85% of VO2max during specific blocks, we can delve into how we planned out a dual season that eventually culminated in a 2nd place finish at the Master’s Nationals Cyclocross Championships.
Over the last couple training seasons, a lot of Ethan’s training emphasis has been on aerobic foundation and extending Time to Exhaustion (TTE) at threshold. This year, we decided to take a different approach and work more on VO2 max development and improving Ethan’s absolute power when at VO2 max, as well as working on Ethan’s Functional Reserve Capacity (FRC) and repeated anaerobic ability during the cyclocross season.
Looking at the PMC, we had three distinct periods of the season. The first period of the year, between January and late March, is characterized as the preparatory phase. During this time frame, a lot of emphasis was on building volume, increasing strength in the gym and rebuilding back to in-season threshold power values using threshold and subthreshold type workouts and can be seen in the Functional Threshold Power (FTP) review chart below.
After our initial preparation phase, we took a period of rest followed by a VO2 max build in mid-February. This block not only worked to improve Ethan’s race readiness but was also step 1 in building a podium worthy engine by the end of the year. We used early season races, such as the Hincapie Race Series to analyze early season race readiness as the best indicator of performance is performance itself.
The chart above represents time above 85% of VO2max power, a key metric used in our VO2 blocks. This was block number one during a two week period in mid February. Ethan performed 5 VO2 bouts in two weeks with an average time of 16 min at or above 85% of VO2 max power per session.
Ethan raced on the road from late March to early June, culminating with a strong performance at the BWR NC for his first peak of the season in the middle of June. After Ethan’s BWR NC performance, we already had our sights set on the cyclocross season and specifically Nationals in the early part of December. Following a rest period following the road season, we went back to a volume building phase to keep Chronic Training Load (CTL) and fitness high and started to reintroduce weight training along with running, a key sport specific demand of cyclocross. Once Ethan was adequately rested and we had built volume back up, it was time for the 2nd big VO2 max block of the year. This VO2max block was again two weeks long and very intense with this block including four VO2 max training sessions per week for a total count of 8 sessions in all. Again, the main goal of the block was to maximize time at or above 85% of VO2max power. If this seems a little extreme, it’s because it is, and why we only included two VO2 max blocks throughout the entire year. When an athlete is elite and developed, it takes quite a bit of training stimulus to push the needle. We opted for a block periodization style where during this time Ethan was either performing VO2 sessions, resting or riding very easy endurance.
We took advantage of the lack of race days in July and August to build volume and fitness but once the season started, we switched focus. The goal for the 2022 cyclocross season was to focus less on fitness and volume, more on anaerobic repeatability and place a big emphasis on bike handling which is required to place on a Cyclocross Nationals podium. The most challenging part about coaching Ethan through this period was keeping everything in balance. We decided to maintain fitness and CTL while putting a greater emphasis on Ethan’s limiters. There are no solutions, only trade-offs. We worked to keep volume just high enough to maintain good fitness and support anaerobic repeatability, while balancing enough recovery to compete weekly in the NCCX series. Although arguably not the best approach to build or even maintain fitness, racing every weekend against high level competition was the best thing we could have done to push Ethan’s handling skills to the next level.
Above shows power distribution from 9/6/22 to 12/7/22, where over 3 hours of time was performed at anaerobic capacity. This zone distribution displays the shift of focus from work at threshold/VO2max to work at anaerobic capacity on a six zone model. Zone 1 and 2 remain the highest value in the power distribution
The next challenge came towards the end of the year, when Ethan made a career change and started a new job. This provided new off-the-bike challenges, as the human element is very much a factor in being a successful bike racer. Once we figured out how to navigate the new workspace while also balancing a consistent training rhythm, Cyclocross Nationals was right around the corner. Nationals this past year was in Hartford, CT on a legacy course that was used in 2017. The skills and fitness we had been sharpening were exactly what was required of the course in Hartford. It was cold, muddy, and very technical, with a lot of hard power spikes throughout the course. We decided to have a short taper into nationals, as fitness was already coming down and freshness was high. During November, Ethan’s average training week came in at 8 hours in duration. whereas the week before nationals was 6 hours in duration or a 25% decrease in total volume. Race day saw Ethan optimized with high anaerobic fitness, a decent relative CTL but most importantly he came into race day very fresh and capable of a podium position. After a hard start, a few laps in he was running in 2nd place and would eventually land in that position at the finish, firmly on the podium.
I was delighted to hear Ethan had finished second and secured his best result to date. He is an extremely hard-working athlete and deserves all the success. As a coach, one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is when a long-term plan (in this case, three years in the making) comes together in the culmination of year-end success. Ethan is a student of the game and is an excellent case study showing that continued diligent work leads to achieving long term goals. I also know that Ethan is just getting started, and this next year we will continue to put in the work for a chance to stand on the top podium step at Master’s Nationals but to also compete in the elite field as well. I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes next.
Thanks for reading.
USA Cycling Level 1 Coach