2023 Tour de France

Talking Torque With Israel-Premier Tech's Hammerhead Expert

Talking Torque With Israel-Premier Tech's Hammerhead Expert

Israel-Premier Tech coach Liam Holohan explains how the Hammerhead Karoo 2 helps the team take advantage of recent advances in physiological preparation.

Jun 23, 2023 by Peter Cossins
Talking Torque With Israel-Premier Tech's Hammerhead Expert

This article is sponsored by Hammerhead Karoo 2 - who builds technology to inspire and empower all people to unlock their athletic potential through cycling. Visit here to get the Karoo 2 today!

When I catch up with Israel-Premier Tech coach Liam Holohan, he’s in the process of finalising plans for one of the team’s pre-Tour de France altitude camps on the 2,408-metrer (7,900-foot) Envalira pass in Andorra, towards the eastern end of the Pyrenees. He’s concerned because, despite it being the last week of May, the latest weather reports are for freezing temperatures and snow at the high-altitude base where the likes of Chris Froome, Mike Woods, and Hugo Houle are set to be fine-tuning their Tour preparation. “We could be doing more valley riding than we planned,” says Holohan, laughing as he does so. “But that’s how it always is in the mountains. You never know quite what you’re going to get.”

The Israel-Premier Tech coach is on firmer ground when we switch to discussing the team’s use of the Hammerhead Karoo 2. He starts by explaining what he likes about the unit, beginning with the maps. “I think the maps work a lot better than the units I've used in the past,” he says. “The screen’s a lot nicer to look at, too; it’s easier to zoom in and out and explore the area you’re in. I love it for that. It’s a nice big screen, you can move about on it easily. In addition, the touchscreen works really well, which is something that’s traditionally not very good on these head units, if they have one at all.

“You get the best of both worlds, too, as it also has the buttons on the side for when it’s raining. You can lock the screen so that it doesn’t go crazy when it gets rainwater on it and you can still use the unit. Whereas if you have a touchscreen-only one and it gets wet, it’s absolutely useless.”

In addition to the features of the Karoo 2 that appeal to him personally, Holohan, who raced professionally for eight seasons before turning to coaching, particularly appreciates the unit’s ability to measure torque when paired with a power meter. “It shows the rider’s torque on the screen and not many units do this,” he says, torque being the twisting or turning force that causes rotation around an axis. In essence, the force that a rider’s legs are putting through the pedals.

Holohan goes on to explain why this is important. “There’s been quite a bit of research lately about the importance of torque in the scientific literature, so it’s something that we’ve been trying to look at more here within the Israel-Premier Tech team. It’s been difficult up until now, because as I said, not many units include this feature, but we can do it with the Karoo 2. It’s so useful because it helps with prescription to athletes from a coach’s point of view.

“What these papers found was that the fundamental difference between pro cyclists and amateur cyclists is the torque that they can produce,” Holohan continues. “Torque multiplied by cadence equals watts. Usually, it’s desirable for an athlete to have more watts, so torque plays a huge part in that. It’s one of two parameters that can be used to improve the wattage. Essentially, when it comes to professional racers, it’s not so much their cadence that’s significant with regard to performance, but the difference in torque. What’s more, if you can monitor and measure it, you can improve it. That’s why it’s become so useful for us when planning out the riders’ training sessions.”

There’s an obvious question that leads on from this: how do you improve or increase a rider’s torque? “It’s a complex inter-reaction in the neuromuscular system, but I won’t bore you with the science,” Holohan replies. “Essentially, though, we will do specific sessions where instead of the focus being on a wattage zone as might traditionally be the case – so you’d go out and ride at level three or ride at X number of watts – you will instead have a target torque for the riders to ride to. Ordinarily, you would have to kind of backwards work it out – the power is this figure, the cadence is this, therefore the torque is this. You’d do that retrospectively after the session. But the beauty of the Hammerhead is that you can do it in real time on the go.”

Israel-Premier Tech can take advantage of this by using e-bikes to ride with the team’s racers on training sorties. “One of the things that we do when we’re training with the riders in a really specific block is that we use the e-bike to simulate the peloton and specific race scenarios,” Holohan explains. “We can pair the Karoo 2 while we’re on the e-bike to the riders’ power meters, so that we can effectively see their real-time data. As a result of what we can see on the Hammerhead, and we can manipulate the training session.”

This is useful to Israel-Premier Tech’s coaching staff because it allows them to add an extra level of specificity to the riders’ training. “Ordinarily, you give a rider a session to do and they go out and complete it in a bit of self-determined way: they choose to set that power and focus on the Hammerhead to execute the session,” says Holohan. “Whereas, when you’re following an e-bike, it’s a lot more comparable to a competitive setting because in a race the pace that you have to ride at is often out of your control. You’re following whoever’s riding at the front, and this exercise enables us to add that layer of specificity.”

Holohan suggests that the impact of this is perhaps psychological as much as anything, but stresses how vital it can be as a preparatory exercise. “Look at it this way,” he adds. “If you have an interval to do, you know the wattage, you know how long you’ve got to do it for, and you know what’s in store for you for the next 10, 15, 20 minutes or whatever. Whereas when we use the ebike, tracking the torque through the Karoo 2 as we’re riding with the racers, it’s a lot more like a race. You don’t know what’s in store and you don’t know what any team’s going to do. It’s a lot more dynamic. That’s so useful to us as coaches and, subsequently, to the riders as well because a few extra watts can make such a significant difference at key moments of a race.”