Fixed Gear Crit

Why fixed gear crit cycling training and race tactics begin with a performance test

Winter is the perfect time to critically assess the last season and more specifically, your training habits. By doing so, you can improve them, and eventually get yourself to the next level for the upcoming season. But what is perfect training for fixed gear crit racing? To answer this question generally is quite difficult, because perfect training should always be built up individually and specifically work on your strengths and weaknesses. However, you should only focus on those strengths and weaknesses that are useful in the fixed gear crit format. Fixed gear crit racing is a mixture of endurance, sprinting, and bike handling. Each rider has a certain level of each of those skills. From those strengths and weaknesses your perfect training plan can be made, but before we go in-depth on performance tests, we want to clarify on which factors we are relying during fixed gear crits.
Text & Photography: Brian Megens

Raphael Jung from Diagnose Berlin

When we start moving, our muscles have a certain need for energy. Like an engine in a car, our muscles can produce this energy for themselves. This production of energy is called metabolism and can be separated in two different consecutive ways:

  1. Anaerobic metabolism (which is processing a carbohydrate to lactate (pyruvate) without the use of oxygen)
  2. Aerobic metabolism (which is the further oxidation of lactate (and fatty acids) with the use of oxygen).

Try to imagine the behaviour of these two ways like a bottle upside-down. Every energy production starts with the anaerobic processing of a carbohydrate. Here, energy can be produced very quickly. To maintain a metabolic equilibrium, the processed carbohydrates (and also fatty acids) are then subsequently oxidised via the aerobic system. Because this system includes several complex steps and is completely dependent on oxygen, this can only be executed in a limited amount per time.

Which mode is used at a higher rate is mostly dependent on the amount of energy needed per time. When we start moving or accelerate quickly, first the anaerobic rate of energy production is increased. Once we get back to steady and lower intensities, we rely more on our aerobic system.

There is a state (intensity, measurable in Watts) where these two systems are at maximum balance. Once you go over this intensity, the energy need per time is so high, that we need to increase the anaerobic processing. But because the aerobic system fails to subsequently oxidise all of the processed carbohydrates, the system starts bottlenecking and lactate accumulates over time. This „threshold“ is defined as the maximum lactate steady-state (MLSS) and is a very important endurance factor.

Fact: The more energy you can produce at your MLSS, the higher your power output will be

In general, the pace of a crit is continuously high meaning that the majority of the peloton rides around and above their threshold zone most of the time. Although it often doesn’t feel like it, this pace can be maintained for an extended period, mostly around 60 mins.

Besides, it is important to note that watt production does not equal speed but only is a factor in it. So when we talk about ‘a cyclist’ having a high threshold we mean ‘a high threshold taking into account their weight’.

Riders with a high threshold are often cyclists that can maintain a high tempo for a longer period. In road cycling they can be good in time-trials, but not necessarily as there is a mental aspect that comes into play in a Time Trial. In fixed gear crit racing they are the ones that will go for a break-away as they know that once they have a gap, they can maintain it. In my eyes, Stefan Schafer, Colin Strickland, and David Santos are the most famous fixed-gear riders with (probably) a very high threshold. I say probably because I have never seen their test results and I only make this assumption based on my experience in racing with them.

So why should cyclists do performance tests?
First, by assessing your MLSS from time to time, you can track if your endurance capacity improves or declines. With a metabolic performance test, you’ll get a precise determination of your MLSS. But that’s not the main advantage since there are other tests looking at the simple, functional outcome like an FTP test (although this method isn’t very precise as some recent studies showed).

The big advantage is to find out, where the limitations of your endurance capacity are in detail. As explained above, your MLSS depends on lactate production (anaerobic system) and lactate elimination (aerobic system), so it’s very important to assess both sides of the system.

  • How much energy can you produce in a short amount of time?
  • How „tolerant“ are you to accumulating lactate (so-called anaerobic tolerance).
  • How fast can you recover after the anaerobic bout (which is determined by the capacity of your aerobic system)?

By doing several performance tests, each with different protocol, the power profile can be determined. In other words, your cycling capabilities in numbers or ‘the type of cyclist’ you are. These numbers are essential to target specific aspects of training. Your power profile, your strengths and weaknesses, will be determined to adjust your training so that you can work on your weaknesses while keeping, or even improving, your strengths.

Besides performance tests being important to find out your power profile and ‘what type of cyclist you are’, it also can be used to adjust your race tactics accordingly. For example, when you know that you do not have the highest threshold of the peloton but do have an explosive sprint, you logically try to stay in the front of the race and cover moves but mainly focus on the last lap and the upcoming sprint. Famous fixed gear crit riders with an excellent sprint capacity include Filippo Fortin, David van Eerd, Aldo Ino Ilesic, Eamon Lucas, and Tim Ceresa.

So now you know why to do performance tests. In the next article in the series Get Brian in Shape Again’ we will cover the more practical part of performance testing and training as we went to Berlin to our friends from Diagnose Berlin where we did several tests with Raphael Jung to determine my power profile and to come up with a training plan so ‘I can get back in shape’.