Talking Data with the Cyclists of Team TIBCO–SVB

Team TIBCO Members Lex Albrecht (left) and Emily Newsom
Team TIBCO-SVB Members Lex Albrecht (left) and Emily Newsom

The 2019 UCI Women’s World Tour is well underway, and we are excited to again be sponsors of the all-women cycling team, Team TIBCO–Silicon Valley Bank. The Team is comprised of 13 world-class athletes from eight different countries, and we sat down with one of the Canadian riders to learn a bit about the team.

The topic of our interview with Lex Albrecht was something near and dear to TIBCO’s heart: Data. Data is the fuel for insights, and analyzing data is critical—cycling is no exception. As professional cyclists with titles on the line, it comes as no surprise that analyzing every ride is beneficial. However, you might be surprised to learn just how many factors are taken into account when training.

TIBCO: How does Team TIBCO–SVB use data while training?

Lex Albrecht: Each member of the team has a 4iiii power meter that measures the amount of power put into every pedal stroke. The device sends the data to tiny bike computers that display speed, distance, and ride time, as well as things like cadence, altitude, temperature, and heart rate.

I send my data to my coach, who can see exactly where I rode, when, for how long, and at what intensity. The software accumulates data on each one of my training sessions and gives a good estimation of when I will need rest and when I will need to push through fatigue. The data also shows trends season over season.

TIBCO: Do you ever use data while you race?

LA: Knowing the distance that we’ve ridden in a race helps us know where we are on the course, and when to be ready for certain obstacles, or moments to play out our strategies. Also, data on how many calories we have burned can help us remember when and how much to eat during and after a race.

TIBCO: What tools and applications does the team use?

LA: We each use a smartphone, a small cycling computer that fits on the stem of our bike, a power meter, and a heart rate monitor. Most of the team use software that helps to analyze our fitness, fatigue, and form.

Aside from the data collected to analyze our performance and anticipated challenges in upcoming races, we use an app called Sway that helps us diagnose concussions. At the beginning of each season, we do a baseline test, evaluating what our normal reaction time and balancing skills are. If we have an accident in training or competition, we go through a plethora of tests on the app to predict whether or not we may have a concussion.

TIBCO: Do you measure any other factors in your own personal training?

LA: I use an app that tracks food and weight, two important factors in racing. I do lactate testing as well. I ride my bike at specific power outputs, and my coach takes blood samples at specific intervals to measure the amount of lactate my muscles are producing. This is important to know how to determine what my power output should be for different types of training sessions. I also do VO2 testing on occasion, which measures my oxygen intake at specific intensities.

TIBCO: What are the most important data points to a cyclist, and what can best be considered superfluous?

LA: I usually don’t care about my speed or distance. What is important to me is the effort (watts) and the time that it takes. That is what determines whether or not my body will make the necessary adaptations to be faster and stronger.

Most of the time in a road race, power doesn’t matter at the moment. There’s not much room for calculating whether or not you can maintain efforts—that’s partially what teammates are for. Once I’ve done my job, there are still other riders left to finish the job. Our goal is to have one woman on the top step of the podium at every race, and that takes sacrifices from everyone else. That’s the beauty of a team sport!

TIBCO: Are there times where it’s better to not look at the data?

LA: I don’t like to look at my training plan too far in advance. I like to ride in the moment and trust that if I focus on being present during each ride, I will be able to handle the work or challenges that come. For races, I usually only look at my power data afterward out of curiosity, if I look at all. The data still gets recorded with my other race and training data.

It’s pretty cool to see how data analysis can extend beyond the confines of a digital business, especially to be used to improve the performance of professional cyclists. Check back for more Team TIBCO–SVB news on the blog, and follow the team as they compete this season on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.