2020 on the saddle: a retrospective

Many factors have conspired to keep me indoors for far longer than I’d like.

There’s the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which isn’t going away any time soon, no thanks to government fumbling and underestimation. There’s my current work shift schedule, which sees each workday end at 2 am…so Sunday morning long rides are effectively no bueno. Finally there are my family commitments.

You’re probably sick of me, then, once again extolling the virtues of having the Wahoo KICKR SNAP around. The simple reality is, though, that if it were not for the very fortunate arrival of my indoor training setup, I would not have been much of a cyclist. If virtual rides and indoor cycling miles are fake, they certainly feel pretty damn real to my legs.

They were real enough for Strava to acknowledge, I guess.

My single longest ride in 2020 was a four-hour marathon effort to pedal 100 km around RGT Cycling’s Borrego Springs track. While flat and very gentle in profile, the sheer effort required to complete this feat is quite high, because on a turbo trainer, you have zero respite and no chance to freewheel. I am highly doubtful I am ever going to exceed this distance indoors.

Simply keeping any habitual modicum of physical activity is made more challenging by the pandemic. As a shut-in cyclist, having 146 active days in the year that was, ain’t all that bad.

One of my proudest moments in cycling in 2020 was completing the grueling 14.4-kilometer virtual monument to pain that is RGT Cycling’s Passo dello Stelvio. At an average of 8% gradient, with a nasty 22% spike at the final kilometer, this famously steep and winding Italian climb took me three hours to finish. My feet were in such pain and my head so deep in oxygen debt at that point that I had to step off and take a five-minute break.

It is arguably one of RGT’s most beautiful routes.

Finally we come to the headline figure: 3,385 kilometers ridden in 2020. Of these, more than half were spent indoors. As “fake” as indoor cycling distance is, it’s still comfortably more than what I did in 2019, by quite a clear margin. If nothing else, my gains in functional threshold power are about as real as it gets, too.

For me, in spite of all the challenges and difficulties, there is much to be proud about 2020 as a cyclist. Twenty-three days into 2021, I’m already making efforts to go beyond these achievements, and so should you. Let’s all keep pedaling, one foot at a time.

When a Strava challenge pays off, part 2: Le Col Sport bib shorts

A while back, I wrote about Strava’s monthly challenges, and how some of them can actually motivate you by offering discounts on premium cycling gear on completion. Back then, I treated myself to Le Col’s Pro Hex jersey, which has since been de-listed from their website.

Since then, I’ve completed more of Le Col’s Strava challenges – some of which I had failed to redeem before they expired. That was at least a good £100 or so of discounts that had lapsed on me; to be fair, I wasn’t in a hurry to build up a cycling wardrobe as my present one was still good. I decided to put one of these discount vouchers to work so I could retire my very first pair of bib shorts, which had developed some pilling on the Lycra around the inner leg area from years of riding.

Le Col’s packaging prominently features retired British pro cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins, with whom they have a clothing partnership.

As you may have guessed, this time around, I discount-shopped for bib shorts on Le Col. I decided to try their base model Sport bib shorts, to see if their premium was anything to write home about. Normally this pair cost US$160 (PhP7,900); the Strava challenge voucher brought it down to US$95 (PhP4,600) before shipping.

Unusually for me, these bibs are all black, right up to the straps. It isn’t everyday I see all-black bib shorts, and I must admit I got intrigued enough by the color to make me consider them (although they are also available with white straps). Speaking of the straps, even on these base model shorts, they are excellent: good width, gentle but assured tension on the shoulders, and quite sheer for good ventilation.

Out of concern for the well-being of my audience, I’ll leave it up to this very fit gentleman to model the fit of these shorts in my stead. Photo credit: LeCol.cc. Retrieved November 16, 2020.

Also noteworthy is just how high up they sit on my torso. On most of my other bibs the proverbial “belt line” lies just below the navel; on Le Col’s shorts they reach higher up onto my stomach. This does lend a more secure feeling to the shorts, and I’d wager the extra coverage would come in handy for fast descents on windy or overcast days, although there’s a bit more material to push out of the way when nature calls for a pee break.

One side effect of this higher belt line is that the bottom hem of the jersey tends to have a little less grip around the stomach area. You may find your jersey getting dragged left or right slightly as you turn at your waist or move your arm outward. It’s not enough to be annoying, but it’s notable.

Just like the Pro Hex jersey and its very nicely elasticated silicone arm grippers, the Sport bib shorts use a similar gripper around the thighs. Here it’s quite a bit wider, to better spread the retention of the shorts around a larger area and to avoid the unflattering look and feel of “sausage leg.” The one thing I’m not fond of is the loud “LE COL” print on the leg grippers, but at least it’s a little more restrained on these base model shorts.

Le Col also throws in smartly placed reflective tags on the thigh area, front and rear.

Finally we come to the core of the shorts, the chamois. Quite simply, this is an excellent quality pad. I’ve spent many a long training session on these shorts, many of them over the two-hour mark, and the pad kept its position and cushion without feeling like a diaper. I’ve heard many cycling shorts boast about multi-density padding, where the foam is thicker and more dense where more of a rider’s weight is, and I’ve always been inclined to dismiss it as a hoax, but the Le Col shorts are perhaps the closest I’ve felt to such a claim. For all their excellent value for money, Decathlon’s B’Twin cycling shorts need a week or two of wearing in to really feel “right” underneath my butt; these felt ready to go from day one, supporting without getting in the way of my thighs.

Longtime readers will know that when it comes to cycling apparel, I tend to gravitate towards a manufacturer’s entry-level offerings, as it’s usually harder to get this level right. While the price of admission is no doubt higher in this case, these nonetheless basic bib shorts from Le Col pack enough premium touches and construction to put them a league above other makers. These are great bib shorts, in my opinion. If nothing else, these make for a good incentive to complete their Strava challenges and propel you toward your cycling goals.

Squeezing the training juice from the Strava orange

Like many of you out there, I have had a long-term relationship with the ride-logging app and ecosystem known as Strava. I’ve been uploading my activities there since 2013. Prior to the middle of 2020, my interest in it hasn’t really moved beyond personal-best times on segments, accumulated ride mileage, route creation, cool challenges where you can actually win discounts on stuff, end-of-the-year bragging-rights pages…that sort of thing.

What if I told you that Strava has been profiting off the data it collects from you and your riding? Nothing new, right? That’s basically how many things free work these days – you are the product.

Now, what if I told you that you could use all that data you fed Strava…in order to better structure and periodize your training? And better yet – you could do it without paying a single cent?

Peak Torque and Hambini are two of my current favorite cycling YouTubers. As engineers, they cut through all the smoke and mirrors and show the bicycle industry for what it really is.

One of my favorite YouTube personalities of late, the British engineer and time trialist known as Peak Torque, mentioned in one of his videos a wondrous utility called Elevate. According to him, it was just about as good – perhaps even better – than the training analysis tools Strava hid under its subscription fees.

Curiosity thoroughly piqued, I decided to give it a whirl. I had already voluntarily given Strava this data anyway – what’s wrong in taking it back for my own purposes?

In a previous life, Elevate went by the name “StravistiX,” and it is the brainchild of a bloke named Thomas Champagne. In its current form, Elevate is a plug-in or extension for Google Chrome. According to Champagne, the long-term plan is to move away from its current form and blossom into an independent, standalone application.

After downloading it from the Chrome App Store, Elevate requires a few things from you as an athlete: weight, resting and maximum heart rate, and perhaps your FTP if you already have it. These are important inputs for the statistics the app can generate when compared to your Strava activity data.

This is where Elevate forks into two. As an analysis tool, it relies on synchronized Strava data that lives on your computer. As a Strava extension, it injects more detailed statistics into the normal activity summary screen, driven by your athletic data. We’ll start with that.


When navigating to your activity’s summary page on Strava using an instance of Google Chrome that has Elevate installed, you get a new section of extended stats. This is a high-level summary, which you can then drill down into as you click the “Display elevate extended stats” button.

Once you click that button, it becomes pretty detailed.

Depending on what sensors you have hooked up during your ride, real or virtual, Elevate takes their data and turns them into intelligble charts and graphs, broken up into zones. Some of them, such as speed, is of limited utility from a training perspective, but the heart rate and cadence charts can certainly help paint a more complete picture of you and your biomechanics.

The current hotness of training metrics, power, also gets the same treatment. You get a nice power curve graph as well, indicating your maximum output over a number of time intervals for this particular ride.


For Elevate to work its real magic, it needs to synchronize with Strava so that it can extract your activity data and save it locally. Doing this for the first time can be pretty tedious, as Strava places data caps on activity data export, and Champagne himself says this is one of the bigger downsides of Elevate’s current existence as a Chrome extension app. If, like me, you have seven years’ worth of activities hosted on Strava…expect the initial synchronization to take multiple attempts spread out over a day or three. Once you have everything, though, future sync-ups for new activities are quick and simple, and Elevate allows for easy backup of activity data to sync to, say, another computer running Google Chrome.

With sync-up done and Elevate brought up-to-date, we get to the really good stuff.

“Year Progressions” is a real-time comparison of your workouts through the years, done against factors like time, distance, or elevation. Fairly basic perhaps, but with Strava doing its best to hide more and more of its functionality behind a paywall, this is still welcome.

“Fitness Trend” is where Elevate really shines. Using your activity data and your athletic stats, it will attempt to calculate three metrics it calls Fitness, Fatigue, and Form. The app then plots these on a trend-line graph over time as the X-axis. The positive graphs are Fitness and Fatigue, while the negative graph is Form.

The thinking here is you want to train to increase your Fitness, but each time you train you are also going to increase your Fatigue. The difference between those two values is your Form, which gives you an educated estimate of how your body is responding to your training: are you getting enough of it, or do you need to back off and take a rest day?

A little metric called “Stress score” also shows up on these screens…and I have no doubt many of you will recognize it from elsewhere. The idea is to gradually and progressively increase this stress score with training, so that your training can lead to performance gains. All the while, you also have to manage the Fatigue level.

My Fitness Trend graph as of July 17th, 2020.
My Fitness Trend graph as of August 13th, 2020.

If you’re preparing for an event, the Fitness Trend graph can also help you with the so-called “taper” period, where you rest a week before said event. The trend-line graphs for Fatigue and Form literally taper to a point at the far right; it appears you’d want to have the event happen when you have the least possible Fatigue but have positive Form at the same time. It might even help you with your next FTP test.

Now, this sort of calculation and analysis is hardly unique to Elevate; there are quite a number of other apps that can do this as well. The real hack with Elevate is that it can do this for free. For that alone, I’m quite inclined to make a donation just to vote for Mr. Champagne’s good efforts creating and maintaining Elevate, and someday even bringing it into fruition as a dedicated app. If you can make sense of the analysis and plan your training and recovery accordingly, I think this can be a pretty powerful tool.