Koen Pelgrim is the trainer of Etixx – Quick-Step. In his role, he oversees the riders’ exercise physiology and programs and is intently focused on improving their cycling performance. We caught up with him at a recent camp and asked him a few questions.
4iiii. You’ve been working with the team for how long?
KP. This will be my fifth season.
4iiii. What’s your professional background?
K.P. I did my thesis on altitude training in Leuven. When I finished my Master’s, I started working in the field, first working with young riders to test them, develop their talents, and advise them. In parallel, I got to know team Etixx – Quick-Step when they needed performance testing for the riders. Later, the team asked me to join as a trainer.
4iiii. Are you a former rider?
K.P. Yes. I competed until the age of 23. When I was riding I was always interested in training and how to improve and the science behind it. My interest was sparked when I found out I could study the topic through Human Movement Sciences and Exercise physiology.
4iiii. What’s the role of performance data in how you train athletes?
K.P. Today, with power meters, there’s so much available data. Before, all you had was speed and later we had heart rate. Now, the data of performance is all there. You can see the way time trialists pace themselves and compare performances of climbers based on things like power output relatively to their body weight, and that’s just a couple examples. For me, I try to prepare the rider for races and help them improve. If you see them improve it’s really satisfying. Even something like young riders exceeding expectations.
4iiii. How do you leverage performance data to help riders improve?
K.P. Every rider is different for how they utilize data. Some riders are really analytical and want to see the data to understand where they’re going. Others think it’s useful, but rely more on the feeling. It’s very individualized. The truth is somewhere in the middle. The data is important, but the sensations you have as a rider are also really key. You should never just use one or the other. The data tells you something if you consider the sensations you felt. You can see the heart rate and how hard they push, but it’s important to speak to the riders and know if they felt tired or fresh and how they perceived the effort. We have to work closely with each rider to understand their individual personalities and goals, and design the right racing programs together with the Etixx – Quick-Step Sport Directors. This can’t be possible without communication with the riders and understanding how to use data. It’s a big puzzle we have to solve considering everything. It’s a lot of work, but I love to do it.
4iiii. How do you conduct power testing with the athletes?
K.P. We do a combination of lab- and field testing. Field testing is usually done on a climb, where we let them ride at increasing power output and measure heart rate and lactate at these intensities. Based on these values we can set power- and heartrate thresholds and get a good impression of their endurance capacities. For sprinters we do max power in addition, but also do sprints in the lab at different cadences to see at which cadence they reach their peak power and to see their maximum strength at low cadences. We also do an analysis of power output on various trainings to see if their shape is improving.
4iiii. Does team Etixx – Quick-Step do anything different from other teams in terms of physical preparation?
K.P. You can never be sure if you do things really differently than other teams but we try to do things well and give good structure and guidance. We work closely with the riders and mainly try to keep a really good atmosphere within the team. They work hard and we try to create a fun environment. After training, they chat, have a drink, enjoy times together. It’s important to all get along and have a good connection. This environment motivates all riders to better perform on race day.
4iiii. What do you foresee as the next technological advances in cycling?
K.P. It will be a combination of things, but in the future there will probably be extra sensors. They are already developing wearable glucose and lactate sensors, but that’s not yet ready to use. Other things like real time data with body temperature, oxygen uptake, or maybe body suits measuring breathing frequency and more. In the future, there will be so much available data. It will look like a dash board of information and it might become a big chaos if you do not have some experts in the field to show you what it means.
4iiii. What’s the best training tip for weekend warriors who want to improve?
K.P. The key is to do long rides and high intensity rides. If your time is limited, then for sure two sessions of intensity would give you a decent training outcome. Personally, what I usually do in the winter is that I only ride for 45 minutes to one hour on the trainer, two times per week.
My routine consists of 10 to 15 minutes of warm up plus a series of 3 to 5 minutes at 85 % of max 5-minute power.
I like to vary the interval sessions and not do same every day.
Depending on the rider’s conditioning, I’d suggest breaks between sets with 2 min recovery time.
It’s important to add more stress to the muscle for better conditioning and feeling. It’s really important to push one’s limits to see benefits.
4iiii. Ok now tell us the truth! How diligent are the Etixx – Quick-Step riders with following the training programs you design for them?
K.P. Most of the guys follow their training program really consistant. We use Training Peaks as a data compilation and visualization tool so I can see everything. But sometimes, I catch little inconsistencies! A few weeks ago, I was reviewing training data file from one of the riders and noticed that in the middle of a 5 hour ride and in the middle of the graph …. there was a 40 minutes of nothing…??? I checked on the map and I could see a little detour and where he actually decided to stop riding ….for coffee or lunch break! So yes, I’m kind of a cycling Big Brother!
4iiii: Official Supplier of Power Measurement for Team Etixx – Quick-Step
4iiii Innovations Inc. (4iiii), a global trendsetter in sport monitoring technology. In January 2016, it was named the 2016 Official Supplier of Power Measurement for the Etixx – Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team. Through a partnership with the team’s official equipment supplier, Specialized Bicycle Components, 4iiii is providing dual-sided PRECISION PRO power meters to the team’s more than 30 world-class riders.