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Team's time trial races: technical analysis

by Paolo Marcelloni

This is an extract, literally translated from italian, of an article published by Mr. Marcelloni in May 2006, in which he elaborates interesting considerations about this new tipe of race.

Introductory remarks

On racing day in Basel, at about noon, the tramway was still in service. At one o’ clock the rails are covered and protected with barriers. Right in this spot the start and arrival lines of the race are intended to be, with an uphill and very narrow passage where two skaters would have trouble doing a hawk. If we tried to do this sort of arrival area in Italy, they would execute us!
Perhaps that situation brought in the past many problems with mass sprint arrivals on this course, so it has been decided to insert the “time trial” race for the professional teams.
The circuit is an urban one, a total of 5 kilometres of which some are completely closed to the traffic. The first race of the day is the children’s one, a couple of kilometres. While divided in many groups, none of the kids abandoned the race… several were crying but I couldn’t tell if it was for the satisfaction of completing the race, or painful tiredness. Just like we would do in our country, caring parents hold them tight, consoling the disappointed ones and cheering the winners.
In my opinion, it poses no problem for children to race a few kilometres, but something comes to mind… If in Europe’s countries the usual type of race is always this “long and straight” road business –as banked tracks are mostly unknown to the vast majority of athletes, and there are virtually no track races with the exception of France and Germany-, children in an age suited with a maximum sensibility to all coordination aspects and quick-execution conditions, are deprived of several fundamental motion experiences for our sport.
This type of course and the choosing of long distance races cause on the young athletes a negative stance towards a “slow” movement, right when at their age, aside the technical learning process (that may be achieved with slow and lengthy exercises), fast and technical movements should be given priority.
The results of this situation can be observed, these days, with adult skaters in the European field: quite a few sprinters (or rather none) are match to the Italian ones. That should bring thought food for us coaches: even if type of races and related rules do not guarantee the best movement/gesture ability development for children and pre-teens, it is our job to grant whatever needed to complete adequately the long term growth of our athletes.

Back to the main event: there were so many categories and skaters (more than 2500) that group starts were required. By the way: around the skaters, all food and drinks booths were working at full capacity, a lot of technical material stands crowded to the top, music, party, thousands of people about… In short everything we would like to have in Italy.
It’s time now for the big stars to get to the departure line. But first let me pop in some history here: in 2000, during World Championships in Colombia, the CIC created a “technical board” in charge of recommending new alternative races for World Championships. As often happens in these cases, not everyone worked it out; in the end Christophe Audoire and me elaborated a scheme delivered to CIC. One of the races that we wanted included in the Worlds programme was the 20km team trial… Alas, they rejected our ideas because “it was too much a substantial change” for them.
So when I encountered Christophe here in Basel I reminded him of our old idea, and congratulated him for committing and verifying the feasibility of that idea, as an interesting skating race (as it is in cycling, an Olympic classic).

A few observations about team’s time trials

Methodological & Phisiological aspects
The 25 km choice looks fine to me. Working time is between 35 and 45 minutes (less if in a different, flat course). That forces athletes to manage their effort at least for ¾ of the race in the “Aerobic Power” zone, working in the anaerobic threshold. Winning times: 38’45”84 males, 44’24”14 females.
The number of team mates obviously has influenced the metabolic work (some teams started with 5 skaters, some with only 2!). If there are less skaters in a team, all of them will have to work in anaerobic threshold conditions for almost all the race, as the changes at the front of the pack should be reduced in order to achieve an adequate recovery for the next change, maintaining the same speed. For instance, if there are 3 athletes all on same conditions, working time and recovery time have a relationship of 1:2. In the case of a team composed of 5 skaters, whoever leads the pack could do it at a higher intensity from the beginning, say 4-5 heartbeats over the threshold (but a couple of changes each should be done a bit under the threshold). That’s simply because the time “sucking wheels” will be longer, so recovery time will be more than enough. In this case, with all 5 athletes under the same conditions, the relationship between work and recovery would be 1:4.

Another extremely important issue it’s the length of time each component of the team should be leading the rest. An easy to see, intuitive factor is that the more constant the effort of each one of the team mates, the more efficient will be the total effort of the team, with negligible variations of speed. A more complex factor, evident only when it’s too late, has to do with the “lactacid cinetics”: as we said before, a great deal of the race has to be faced around the anaerobic threshold, but if a change from 25”- 30” goes to 45”-50”, it’s very easy to pass over the threshold (over 6 Mm., and going up and down often to 8-10!), especially at the beginning of the race, when fatigue is still not palpable.
The heart frequency threshold a skater has while leading (ex. 180 b.p/m) tends to decrease about 5 to 10 b.p/m when he gets at the back (higher rates for best athletes with superior threshold), so naturally not losing skaters from the start spells a better performance from half of the race on for the whole team.

Technical – Management aspects
How many of these elite athletes know their personal threshold? Most of the Italian stars, while training camps with the National Team, are submit to Mader tests and their 6 Mn. value threshold known. But almost nobody started with a cardiometer! It’s true that while racing going strong must be more than enough, but effort management sometimes cannot be engaged only by the athlete’s own personal sensations.
How were the leading timed decided by the teams? Who administered the changes on the leading position?
Even after the first lap (5 km!) either women and men teams had defections already!
Who announced to the team in real time the detachment from other teams? I doubt radio signals covered the entire 5 kms of the course. How many teams used radios?

Organizational aspects
This problem could be solved allowing teams to be followed by their coaches on a motorbike, who can count of official chronometric surveys via cell phone, then he can radioed any useful info to the athletes, giving at the same time the correct change rhythm, choose the best strategies regarding the team situation, motivate them, etc. (just like they do in cycling)

All in all, I like this new alternative. It was a decent success; the best racers are not used yet to it. But, as we know, in the sporting system athletes are those who can adapt more easily: let’s give them some time, and they will be able to perform at their best in this kind of race.

It is my belief that there is no greater joy than to win the first national championship, the first continental championship, the first world championship. A victory in a World Cup could never reach their prestige and importance. Indeed, a victory in one of those fundamental stages of an athlete’s career gave to many the opportunity to be part of professional teams. As a matter of fact, I don’t seem to recall the opposite: all big stars are in the spotlight today thanks to their respective national teams.
But what pushes the elite skater as well as the “fitness” one to choose this kind of race, rather than the 40 year old “establishment”, is the general context in which the race develops. The world champion, the elite skater, the veteran or the beginner, all of them are equally merged by the same objective: the pleasure of skating.
In Italy, this scarce awareness of the vast skating population brought us to a difficult situation of “chase-up”: we are forced to follow the steps of nations that, while not having a strong and structured federation like ours, have demonstrated how the product skating can be sold easily and profitably.
What we can do now is to create adequate events tailor-made to the satisfaction of a world that changes at the speed of our skaters.

Paolo Marcelloni – Director of SIPAR (Italian School of Skating)

A day with the italian national team
Colombia's secret