You don’t know the fastest cyclist in New Mexico, do you? If I offered you $1,000 to find out in the next 20 minutes, what would you do? Yeah, you’d check Strava.
After a cursory survey of segments in Strava, focusing on areas with population centers like Albuquerque and Sante Fe, a few of the usual suspects would continually pop up, but as the minutes ticked down and the prospect of losing $1,000 became real, you’d have to take a gamble. Who did you pick?
Fortunato Ferrara. That’s who you picked, didn’t you? The money is in the mail…
Before you crack a new tab on your browser and look for something to blow your grand on, click on some of Fortunato’s rides. Notice anything?
If you’re found yourself clicking on ride after ride and ride and swallowing your pride and requesting to cold follow him, I get you. Fortunato is a freak of nature.
If you’re an attentive stalker, one thing you’ll notice is that half the time he set a KOM on a heavily trafficked Strava segment, he wasn’t 20 minutes into his ride. He wasn’t stopping to drop any saddlebags or water bottles to spare him those precious seconds that can mean the difference between a KOM and a top 10.
He KOMed the segment 4 hours in, after riding 70+ miles, at a reported temperature of 85 F, at the tail end of a 20 hour training week.
What else do you notice? Check the stats. Notice anything missing?
Now is a great time to get up, refresh your coffee, and take a quick stroll around the block. You’re encountering something in cycling you never hear about anymore – a cyclist that doesn’t use a power meter.
I mean, maybe your mom rides bikes a lot, and she doesn’t use a power meter – more power to her! Fortunato is legit fast, national-level fast; I’d put him up against all but the fastest actual professionals in the country, but, unlike them, he doesn’t have a power meter. He rides.
How can that be? Don’t you HAVE to have a power meter to be fast? Doesn’t EVERY serious cyclist have a power meter, obsess over their FTP, spend the majority of their rides glued to their Garmin watching their power numbers dance the screen?
I’ll instantly counter myself – Fortunato is likely a 0.1% level freak. He could probably hop on a bike straight from the disco at 4 am in full leather straight into a race and make everyone else feel like they’re trying to follow a motorbike.
But ignore that – that’s the easy way out. Talent aside, he doesn’t use a power meter in a sport dominated by a power meter. So, how the hell is he so fast?
Open up Strava again – what do you see? Don’t settle for the past year. Keep going back. Notice anything?
Fortunato trains roughly 20 hours a week, every week, all year, and he’s done that for about as long as he’s been on Strava.
“But quality over quantity.”
You’re forgetting Napolean. “Quantity has a quality all its own.”
Let me betray this post’s spirit and quantify what a 20 hour week would be in terms of training load and TSS.
OK – in Old School (non-power meter) terms, training 20 hours a week all year is an absurd amount of riding. To do that, you have to average approximately 3 hours a day, 80 hours a month, for a total of 1,000 hours a year. If we assume a rough average of 20 miles an hour, that means Fortunato covers about 400 miles a week, 1,600 a month, or almost 20,000 miles a year. You don’t even put that on your car.
I know you didn’t ask for it, but let’s ballpark what that would mean in metrics. Twenty hours a week at an average intensity factor of 0.7 means averaging 140 TSS/day, almost 4,000 TSS per month, and nearly 50,000 per year. His CTL? Well, about 140, duh, but to put it a different way, it’s like Fortunato averages going almost an hour and a half at threshold every day, for the entire year, for the past eight years.
If you feel like the conclusion I’m angling for is that ‘you don’t need a power meter to be fast, just ride lots,’ you’re right, sort of.
Here’s the thing – what cycling coaches, the cycling industry, and your friends have brainwashed you into believing is that if you’re a serious cyclist, you need a power meter to be fast.
That’s not the case. If you ever dust off old books on cycling training when they didn’t have power meters, they used older, cruder methods to measure their effort, like turning over a particular gear or riding a certain distance a specific volume.
That’s laughed at now, but it shouldn’t be. The measure of effort might be simple, but it’s binary. If I tell you to ride 100 miles, the 100 miles doesn’t care what your power meter says, or if you’re riding into a headwind, or how many feet you’ve climbs – 100 miles is 100 miles. You’ll either do it or not. If you finish, the distance itself will ask something out of you your power meter won’t.
Yes, I’m referencing the old beauty of cycling, the simple brutality of covering distances, riding a certain number of hours, and not shifting from a particular gear. No matter how expensive your bike, the task in front of you remains unchanged. You can’t find the next level in your power meter. You can only find it beyond the lie of what you think your limit is.
Yes, power meters have their place, which I’ll get to, but not today. The point is before you sink thousands of dollars into a power meter and hours into interpreting your data, take a step back and remember Eddy Merxck’s immortal words, “Ride lots”.