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Why cyclists should put their faith in science

In new book, renowned coach Hunter Allen endorses evidence-based approach to training.

Champaign, IL—Technological advancements in the world of cycling continue to arrive at a dizzying pace. Unfortunately, the basic awareness and application of the science of training and fitness are still lagging behind for many amateurs and even some professionals. Former professional cyclist and renowned coach Hunter Allen believes that studying the scientific bases behind concepts like lactate threshold, periodization, bike positioning, pedaling technique and cadence, nutrition, and recovery will help athletes and coaches alike enjoy more success.


Allen, author of Cutting-Edge Cycling (Human Kinetics, April 2012), notes that except for the basic diamond frame shape, bicycles are almost completely unrecognizable from 20 or even 10 years ago. “It’s almost inconceivable for many cyclists these days to head out for a ride without their bike computers and heart rate or power monitors,” he says. “Numbers, though, are just random digits without any meaning unless cyclists understand what the values mean and how to use that knowledge to their advantage.”


Cycling’s focus on technology is undoubtedly one of the underlying fascinations of the sport for many people. Allen cautions, however, that many athletes are still stuck in variations of the “just ride more and harder” mentality of training. Despite the scientific advances in equipment, training itself continues to be rife with old-school ideas that instead gain cachet because they’re older. “Such ideas and beliefs may or may not have merit,” Allen comments. “But rather than examine the evidence, many coaches and athletes blindly accept the old beliefs simply because they have been handed down through the generations.”


In cycling as in other fields, Allen stresses that not only can art and science coexist, but each can magnify and enhance the enjoyment of the whole. “Just as patients who are better educated about their bodies and health make doctors better educated and more accountable, informed athletes and coaches spur one another to greater heights,” says Allen, who earned more than 40 career victories during his 17-year career.


Allen acknowledges that one argument often heard against the encroachment of scientific training is that relying on science turns people into mere robots enslaved to their gadgets and takes away from the mystique and beauty of cycling. He agrees that a basic beauty of cycling is the meshing of human and machine, such as being completely in the zone while carving switchback after switchback down a mountain pass. But he sees the path to success as one where cyclists, coaches, and triathletes develop a better understanding of their bodies, saying, “The more you know how your body works, the more enjoyable the already amazing experience of cycling becomes.”

Cutting-Edge Cycling, co-written with Stephen Cheung, will raise the bar for awareness and appreciation of sport science among cyclists at all levels.

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