Coaches spend countless hours analyzing the speed, power, pacing and biometrics of their athletes to figure out how to best guide their performance. I train athletes in professional track cycling, a sport where milliseconds can make a difference, so I can affirm that every bit of useful data helps.
I’ve been working with endurance athletes for more than 20 years — well before we were all carrying smartphones in our pockets — so I’ve seen a massive shift in coaching as a result of digital technology, mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, cloud computing and data analytics. As technology evolves, cycling coaches have a growing number of tools at their disposal, but they still face numerous challenges. Simply collecting data isn’t enough; we need fast analytics tools that can translate it into real-time insights coaches can apply during the race.
In the past, USA Cycling collected various separate streams of data but needed a way to rapidly synthesize it and deliver faster insights to coaches and our athletes. In September 2015, we started working with IBM to see how technology could transform our work and empower us to reach the next level in USA Cycling’s women’s team pursuit.
The data: What is it and where does it come from?
Women’s team pursuit is a track cycling event in which four women ride a distance of 4,000 meters in a velodrome. Having detailed data on each rider based on her individual physiology enables coaches to strategize optimal rider exchanges during the race.
First, let’s talk about the data that’s being collected. In track cycling, we look at several streams of data. Through mobile and IoT sensors, we gather information on the athletes themselves and their performance. Bicycles are fitted with power meters that collect power output, speed and cadence, and the riders are equipped with wearable devices that collect biometrics such as heart rate and muscle oxygen levels.
All the sensors and devices in use by riders and coaches are mobile, so the team can take this technology anywhere they go.
What do you do with all that information? In the past, this is where we met our challenge as coaches.