The simplest way to describe separation is that you are disconnecting your effort from whatever is happening on any given day of riding. Is there a big climb with steep pitches? That’s fine... you have your Power Floor and Power Ceiling, and that’s where you’ll be if anyone needs you. Is the peloton surging and bunching up during the nervous early miles of a race? No problem. You have your plan and you’ll use the other five points on the Execution North Star to build and maintain your momentum to stay in the bunch — and more importantly, stay in the PTZ you intend to use.
When you look at the power data from a race or group ride, it will be more difficult to see how well you were executing the concept of Separation. Unexpected things happen when you’re in a peloton, so your numbers are bound to fluctuate. When you look at workout data, on the other hand, you’ll learn quickly how to tell the difference between good use of Separation and when your intervals are blending in with your warm-up, rest, and cool down phases.
Clear Separation of PTZ and Effort
The first of the three types of Separation applies to your PTZ and your effort. The biggest mistake that new riders make is they get excited to go out and hammer their intervals and end up going too hard in the warmup and during the rests between efforts. This kills your progression because you end up wasting the energy you need to put in your best effort during the hardest parts of your workout. There needs to be clear, clean separation between the different zones you use in any given workout.
Not only will Separation help you be at your best for the most important parts of your workout, it will also reinforce your body’s use of specific fueling sources. As you’ll remember, one of the keys to the FORM Method is giving you the ability to shift through your PTZ so that you can strategically use your fuel sources. If you can be precise with your Separation, you can be precise with your body’s fuel consumption, improving your endurance and saving yourself for the most important moments of a race or ride.
If you have ever done a structured workout and then looked at your power graph, you should have an idea of what Separation of PTZ and effort looks like. You can tell when your intervals begin and when they end based on spikes in power. That’s just the beginning. I want you to scrutinize those graphs to see that you are staying within your Power Floors and Ceilings for each effort and rest. Those intervals should look square, not rounded or curved.
Clear Separation of Cadence
As I mentioned earlier in this chapter, people have a bad tendency to set it and forget it when it comes to pedaling cadence. This is extremely limiting. If you only pedal at low cadence, then you’re likely going to tax your muscular system too much. Pedal only at a high cadence and you’ll rely heavily on your cardiovascular system. And in both cases, depending on the terrain, race dynamics, and speed, you’ll be missing out on the torque you need to build and maintain momentum.
Using the FORM Method, you will get to a point where you select the cadence you want to use at any given point. That decision is completely separate from the steepness of a climb or what the competition is doing. Instead of a one-size fits all approach to cadence, you’ll selectively use high cadence for acceleration bursts to attack or cover attacks on climbs. In a different scenario, during a time trial, you’ll use that same separation to shift into a faster cadence to gain momentum at the top of a rolling hill and low cadence to cruise through a fast downhill with a tailwind.
So, when you look at your workout graph, you should be able to tell immediately what cadence you were switching into during a given interval. Riders who aren’t experienced will have a cadence graph like a heartrate EKG because it will always be dictated by the terrain or the race dynamics.
For my CINCH athletes, I always give them a specific cadence to work on, depending on whether they’re doing longer climbing intervals or short bursts, or all-day endurance rides. No matter what the effort, you should be able to feel the difference when you’re on the bike after you get used to this system.
Separation of Momentum
This third and final type of Separation is where the magic happens. Separation of momentum is where abstract concepts related to power and cadence translate into real results on the road. If you’ve ever imagined launching a solo attack to win your local race or time trialing faster than you’ve ever gone before, Separation of Momentum turns dreams into reality.
It is a complex concept, but essentially, you will strategically use your skills of Power Separation and Cadence Separation to generate momentum at the most opportune points of a course.
When you look at a graph that combines power, cadence, speed, and terrain, you’ll learn to see those key moments when you build your momentum over the crest of a hill, accelerating in speed, applying your power consistently with higher cadence to produce more torque. This brings you up to speed. Then, if you see the terrain level out, you should see a drop in cadence with more consistent power to keep that momentum without pushing your body beyond its limits.
This is how the best cyclists in the world win races, but up until now, the concept was rarely talked about or examined. Remember those rides where you felt powerless to control your effort, losing in the washing machine of the peloton? Imagine what Separation can do for you.