How do you measure endurance capabilities?


Milan-San Remo is a special race on the cycling calendar. Normally it is the official opening of the classic cycling season. Milan-San Remo is characterised by 300 quite boring kilometres each year, with all the spectacle crammed into the last 30 kilometres. Thirty kilometers before the finish, the Cipressa will start, followed by the climb of the Poggio. The summit is 5 kilometers before the finish, which ensures that a puncher/climber could outsmart a sprinter.


This race requires the winner to keep the gunpowder dry for hours, while the teammates have to make sure that he keeps in the front of the pack until the Poggio as economically as possible. Then it’s up to a sprinter to follow the tempo of the punchers/climbers. Whether that succeeds depends on how fresh you get to the foot of the Poggio, or in other words to what extent the 290 kilometers have ensured that the legs are gone already. Also for the attackers on the Poggio it’s not about how fast you can ride up the Poggio, but how fast you can go after 290 kilometers. Often in cycling it’s not about how fast you can do something once, but how fast you can do it 20 times or after 300 kilometers. The cyclist who doesn’t really get worse is often the one who ends up on the podium.
This is exactly why it is very misleading to only watch to FTP, the maximum power you can sustain for up to an hour, or a Power Profile. A Power Profile indicates your best power over the whole range from 1 second to often 3 hours. Of course these kind of values really do say something about the quality of the cyclist, but in many situations it gives a distorted picture.
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Nibali managed to barely stay ahead of the sprinters in 2018.


Luckily there is a measure to get an idea of the degree of deterioration or vice versa how well the aerobic endurance is developed. This measure is called the aerobic decoupling. Very simply compare the ratio heart rate and power over the first half of the workout with the second half of the workout. The difference between the first and second half is expressed as a percentage. If you then have a much higher heart rate in the second half of the workout at the same power, this indicates that the body is deteriorating.


If you want to compare these aerobic decoupling numbers you have to take a few things into account. First of all, dehydration has a huge impact on this decoupling. A very high percentage can also indicate that you have had too little to drink or that the weather was very hot. The same is true for insufficient food. In addition, a training must be at least 2 hours to really get two good halves that can be compared to each other. Finally, the first half should be comparable to the second half in terms of intensity distribution. If the intensity is completely different, then the ratio between them is also incomparable. So, for example, if you want to see how the aerobic decoupling improves from week to week, compare more or less two of the same training sessions, with the same conditions and the same training work in the days before.
If you do that then your goal should be to get the decoupling below 5% for endurance training sessions of 2 to 4 hours. Step two will then be to reach this decoupling over 300 kilometers of Milan San Remo, but by then you will most likely already be in the pro peloton.
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