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Michael Freiberg: “I ran 200mm long cranks”

Michael Freiberg: “I ran 200mm long cranks”

In part two of the interview transcript from ‘Talking Cycling with Michael Freiberg…’ he speaks about winning the worlds and missing Olympic selection, his relationship with Cycling Australia and about riding with very, very long cranks…

Michael Freiberg has appeared regularly in stories by RIDE Media. As a rider and a product developer, he has achieved impressive things. He remains a racer while also being a businessman. The inventor of the AirHub and winner of the 2017 NRS likes to look at things from a range of perspectives. While demonstrating the effectiveness of his training tool, he found his love for cycling again… not that it ever really left him.

He won his world championship in 2011 and has since been putting the AirHub to market.

Racing is back on his program but he continues to work on other projects.

We spoke about his NRS win in part one of this interview and this time we delve into a range of themes, including his experiment with 200mm cranks. Freiberg looks at cycling from a unique perspective and although he could have reason to be disappointed with the sport, he takes the setbacks in his stride and rides on to generate other stories.

“When you come into these sorts of things you’ve got to know that you’re going to get screwed at some point. And you just go along with the flow,” he says about talking about just missing Olympic selection.

“You’ve got to enjoy the journey and it’s not about the final result because sometimes just making the team is actually harder than actually winning the medal.”

 

Click the link to listen to our interview with Michael Freiberg, and/or read part 2 of the transcript below.

Michael Freiberg talks cycling…

– This is the second part of a transcript of the discussion you can hear on RIDE’s SoundCloud channel. Click here for part 1

 

RIDE: We were talking about the feeling of being part of ‘the family’ at Cycling Australia…

Michael Freiberg: “It’s an interesting one. Personally, I didn’t really [feel part of the family].

“I was introduced as ‘The Back-Up Rider’ on two occasions. The first occasion was for the [2010] Commonwealth Games where they’d gone, ‘Oh shit, we don’t have enough riders to run a training camp in Aigle in Switzerland because we’ve got riders doing the Tour de France or the Giro… and we’re not going to have enough.’ So they looked down the list and saw that my IP time should get me through the training camp and I was whisked off to Adelaide for a two-month pre-camp before heading over to Switzerland and joining the team.

“Out of that I ended up winning a gold and silver medal at the Comm Games. [Laughs.] Which is a pretty handy by-product of being the guy who was furthest down the list.

“And then a very similar story happened six months later with the omnium where Australia wasn’t going to qualify a spot for the [London] Olympic Games in 18 months time.

“Scott Law was trying to score points for the national body but he wasn’t… it didn’t really suit him, the event. And so (former national track endurance coach) Ian McKenzie sat me down and was like, ‘Alright Michael, if you can place 10th or better in the next two (World Cup) events, we’ll take you to the world championships.’

“I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds like a pretty good deal…’

“[Cycling Australia] needed to score a spot for the Olympic Games a year and a half later because Glenn O’Shea was on the comeback trail and they saw him as the rider [who] was best suited to [the omnium] – so someone had to score [selection] points.

“Unfortunately I won the world championships that year. Well, fortunately for me, I won the world championships – which was pretty cool. I was able to get the opportunity, and be in a position where I was able to step up to the plate and get the job done.

“Where it was a bit difficult was in the next year or so where I wasn’t able to ride the world championships the following year, to defend my title, because they needed to put Glenn in [the national team]; he hadn’t had the experience racing the omnium.

“As it is, I didn’t end up going to the Olympics. So…”

 

You can draw all sorts of conclusions from that. I can understand that Glenn O’Shea is a quality bike rider and he certainly stepped up to the plate – and just fell short of a medal. But when you’ve won the world title in an Olympic event and you’re scoring that starting position for the world championships and the like, you would expect that you’d be given precedent…

“Yeah. It was an interesting conversation.

“I don’t think anyone who has won a world title hasn’t been allowed back to defend their spot. But the leverage they used was, ‘We don’t need your points…’ – because the championships happened to be in Melbourne that year (2012) so they had an auto start. So they [could] choose whoever they want. Which is fine, and I see why they do it. But you sort of have to deal with it at the time.”

 

Does that sort of stuff – that politics, that backroom negotiation – put you off the sport and [make you] wish you took up golf?

“No. I can see why they do it. At the end of the day, it’s their jobs on the line. It’s a bit unfortunate that that’s how it is but when you come into these sorts of things you’ve got to know that you’re going to get screwed at some point. And you just go along with the flow.

“You’ve got to enjoy the journey and it’s not about the final result because sometimes just making the team is actually harder than actually winning the medal.”

 

I was absolutely intent on talking to you about your successes and not getting into the politics or the nastiness that can come from cycling administration – or sporting administration. But talk about cycling in Australia tends to gravitate towards odd predicaments, doesn’t it?

“Yeah. I’ve been part of the system for a long time and a lot of the guys working there are my friends and they’ve been really great mentors so it’s not this big, bad beast that people make it out to be.

“Generally when people comment on social media, I read that stuff, but they don’t really… they haven’t met the people actually making the decisions and they don’t have to be in their position. And why it’s not everyone’s favourite decision, if someone is making a popular decision, they’re probably not the guy that should be in charge.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to make tough decisions to get results. And that’s important.”

 

It also takes maturity from the rider who is being rejected to be able to manage it.

“Yeah, exactly. And unfortunately a lot of riders don’t have the maturity to accept it but it’s part and parcel…

“It goes both ways. It happened to me and you sort of go, ‘Should I be upset? I know why they did it… if I was in their position, what would I choose?’ It would be a very hard decision.

“And there’s not much more you can say about it.

“Someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. And that’s the nature of sport.”

Photo courtesy of Neil Walker.

It’s a really refreshing attitude. And it’s nice to hear you say it with such a calm and measured tone…

You’re a numbers man. You like analysing your data and you take a great deal of effort to make sure that your workouts are harder than other people’s. You also don’t mind experimenting with product. We’ve talked about it before but it’s a pet topic of mine: the crank length debate – it goes long and then it goes short and then it goes long again. It’s coming back to being short. You’re a long crank man by nature aren’t you?

“I am. I actually remember you standing their [at the Hisense Arena] watching me warm up at a Melbourne World Cup back in 2009, I think it was, when Cam Meyer won the points score and I think I placed fourth.

“I was on super-long cranks and you were staring at me like, ‘Who is this kid? And what is that on his bike?’”

 

I remember it too…

“So I ran 200mm long cranks. It was part of a project I had going where I had to optimise everything I was doing. Whether it be nutrition, training, bikes, position… and this [theme] happened to be crank length.

“I had a theory that if I have a longer crank, it would make me faster or quicker in some sort of way – and so I gave it a shot.

“I actually ran it for quite a few years and I won the world title in 2011 on them.”

 

On 200mm cranks?

“On 200mm cranks, yes. And while I didn’t actually know why they were working, or how they were working at the time we see that there’s quite a good trend at the moment where a lot of the sprinters are now using much longer cranks.

“I think Eddie Dawkins rode 190mm cranks for one of his massive flying 200 efforts he did at one of the World Cups recently.

“A lot of the work that’s come out of the stuff from Jim Martin on how your force… when you’re doing a sprint, your power drops off according to the number of contractions you do, and not actually the power you put out.

“With a longer crank, you’re able to get between 10 and 20 percent more power down but you only fatigue at your rate of cadence. So, with a lower cadence, you can go faster for the same amount of effort.

“And so I think that was part of my little project to go faster – and it seems to have worked.”

 

Yep. And now what do you ride?

“Now, on the road, I ride 177.5mm cranks and on my TT bike I have actually gone super short to 172.5mm.”

 

Alright, because I know you’ve analysed the power and you’ve figured out a reason why: so explain it to me please…

“Okay. So to be honest, on the road, it’s more of a logistical problem.

“My overall consensus on crank length is that it doesn’t really matter – except for when it does.

“For longer cranks, they’re really good up until about a minute in length. So if you’re doing a hilltop finish, you want big cranks so you can get out of the saddle and go full-steam. Same if you’re doing a ‘kilo’ on the track, I reckon it’s knocked about two and three seconds off my standing kilo time.

“And then when we go short on the time trial bike, having the extra leverage is like… it’s outside that one-minute domain so it doesn’t really matter. And going short allows you to open up your hip angle more and get a bit more leverage and a bit more comfort that way.”

 

That’s the reason why there’s always experimentation isn’t it?

“Yeah. You’ve got to dare to be different.

“If you keep doing the same things you’re going to get the same result. So just test it, take the results with a grain of salt, and then test it again. And then work out the average and hopefully you find something interesting.”

 

And then get a coin and toss it – and heads you win and tails you win… and we’ll see what comes next.

“That’s it. That’s right. But never stop testing.”

 

 

– Interview by Rob Arnold

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