A serious GC contender must possess several skills. He needs to be able to stay with the very best on the long mountain stages, if not attacking right where the road grinds uphill. He must then be able to perform well on a time trial (short and long), he must have luck and a strong team to protect him during the tricky stages, and he also needs to stay focus for one or even three weeks in the Grand Tours.
One characteristic that a serious GC contender also needs to have – and that you may have never heard of – is that he needs to have a lower VLamax.
This physiological metric, although unknown to most of the riders and coaches out there, has been the secret weapon of professional cycling coaches for the last 20 years. From this year, though, our team has been working together with the most advanced physiological software for performance analysis – INSCYD – to monitor our riders' VLamax (or glycolytic power ). And this has been one of the keys of our success.
“In cycling, for many years, we couldn’t measure the VLamax, which is the lactate production system per second,” says Marc Lamberts, now coach of Primož Roglič and in the past coach of Jurgen Van den Broeck (twice 4th at the Tour in 2010 and 2012).
“But now with INSCYD it is possible and it was very, very useful for Primož”, explains Lamberts. “The first year I worked with him [three years ago], we all saw he could perform well in a time trial, especially short ones like the prologues. He was able to produce a lot of power in a short time, like two to 10 minutes. But he was not good enough to be a GC guy and go with the best riders on longer climbs.”
In January of this year, we were able to see – through INSCYD – that his VLamax was a bit too high for him to be able to stay with the best climbers for a long time. But after that test, we thought we could make him a good GC rider if we could lower his VLamax. In addition, with the use of the INSCYD performance projection, we also saw what could happen to his physiology if we lowered the VLamax: he would gain 15 watts at his anaerobic threshold. And that means a lot when you need to do a climb of 30/40 minutes.
“We tested Primož before the Tour and after he won the Romandie,” explains Lamberts, “and our goal was to keep his VO2max as high as possible, but at the same time we wanted to lower his VLamax. And that’s what we did for six weeks before he started the Tour de France.”
What we achieved with Primož this year was truly incredible. On the table he was supposed to ride for a GC in a Grand Tour next year and in 2020, while this year was more of a test to see if he was able to keep the focus for one or three weeks in a row and in race scenario. Three years ago he showed an extremely high VO2max, but he had to learn a lot, including riding in a group. But he also showed us he’s a fast learner and improved very quickly in every single aspect he was working on.
This year we first wanted to try to win a one-week race, like the Tour of Romandie, the Tour of Slovenia and the Basque Country. He won all of them. We also knew he was one of the strongest riders in the world on short climbs, so we wanted to make him stronger on the longer ones. Lowering his VLamax was crucial to bring up to speed with the best cyclists in the world on that terrain. And finally, we wanted to see if he was able to focus for a three-week race like the Tour. And after this year’s Tour he clearly showed he’s able to do that too.
“If in the future he can grow 1 or 2%,” continues Lamberts, “he can go at least for the podium at the Tour or in one of the other Grand Tours, Giro or Vuelta.”
The next crucial race of the season is of course the World Championships, that will take place in Innsbruck (Austria) on Sunday the 30th of September. And that is also a route that could suit Primož very well...
VLamax: maximum glycolytic power. The ability of the body to produce energy/power anaerobically by the breakdown of glucose.
VO2max: maximum aerobic power. The ability of the body to produce energy/power aerobically by oxidating („burning“) fuel using oxygen.