Whether he’s powering over the cobbles in the early season classics, on the attack at a stage race or punching a hole in the wind for his team leader at a Grand Tour, Ian Stannard’s graceful pedal stroke ensures that the enormous power he is able to put out transfers directly into forward momentum for his bike.
Even a rider as indomitable as Stannard will only have a finite amount of energy to expend on any one day, and ensuring that as little as possible is wasted means that energy can take him all the way to the line — or as far as his team needs him to go.
So how can you achieve a smooth style too? Tim Elverson, former-Elite level racer and now coaching and managing the UK-based UCI Continental team, has some tips.
1. From the top
The pedal stroke should be a continuous, unbroken thing on the bike, but we have to start somewhere, so let’s consider the moment your foot passes the high point of the stroke.
At this point you’re pushing away and down to deliver power from your quads in the initial phase.
2. Three o’clock switch
When your foot gets to three o’clock, this is where your glutes and hamstrings will take over the majority of the work, so you’re still delivering power down but also pulling the foot back in.
Imagine you are trying to stretch the chainring and make it bigger, and use your foot and ankle accordingly.
3. The undead
We often talk of the ‘dead spot’ of a pedal stroke where the feet pass through 12 and six o’clock respectively. The key here is to keep the stroke alive.
Many people talk of a ‘scraping mud off your shoe’ motion at the bottom of the stroke, but remember to convert that to upward motion later.
4. Heely good
We alluded earlier to using your feet to widen your pedalling circle, and a good way to achieve this is to use your heel.
The ball of your foot is fixed to the pedal, but if you push the heel down through the downstroke and up through the upstroke you are providing better leverage to the cranks.
5. Completing the circle
With your foot between nine o’clock and 12 o’clock, you will have just completed the peak power phase with your other foot, and should concentrate on maintaining that power by pulling through the stroke.
If you ‘stomp’ you will deliver power on the downstroke, but fail to utilise it throughout.
6. Cadence is key
Being able to pedal smoothly in big and small gears, at low and high cadences, is not easy but is something you can practice.
Too big a gear and we tend to grind, too small and we tend to bounce in the saddle as our cadence gets too high. Practice on a static trainer at different levels of resistance.
The Golden Rule… keep the chain tight
It sounds simple, but if you can keep the chain stretched tightly across the chainrings and cassette cogs then you’re ensuring maximum efficiency.
To achieve this, you’ll need to be applying tension to the chain throughout the pedal stroke, which is where being able to push and pull through the traditional dead spots will serve you well.
For some riders this comes naturally, but if you’re not one of them then it is something you can work on and improve. Try incorporating some pedalling drills into your turbo training sessions, aiming to stay smooth and avoid bouncing in the saddle at a variety of cadences.