In this week’s Performance Process, we talk to Mehdi Kordi, PhD and Head Coach (Track Sprint) at the Dutch National Cycling Federation. Kordi recently coached Jeffrey Hoogland to a new Kilo World Record, and having spoken with him for our optimising deep dive looking inside that new World Record, we knew we had to get Mehdi on the podcast.
In this episode, Mehdi talks us through his unique route into coaching, including a detour into researching CPR techniques for use in space on the one-way mission to Mars. He also breaks down the benefits of an inquisitive mindset and how to harness it. There’s a discussion on the importance of improvement-focused process goals and why everything ultimately hinges on binary results, and the challenges of coaching Olympic athletes from a different country.
Slightly worryingly, Mehdi explains why track cycling is so dependent on the Olympics and why its days at the Games might be coming to an end, and his take on the challenges the UCI faces in ensuring a level playing field.
The Performance Process is a members-only podcast from Escape Collective. If you’re not a member, you’ll need to become one (insider or supporter level both apply – monthly or annual both apply) to listen to the full show. There is, however, a preview of this episode right here …
If you are a member already, you can subscribe to your personal member-only podcast feed. All the details regarding the one-time subscription sign up are available on this page for signed-in members.
Time stamps for the episode:
4:37 – Career path from rowing athlete to cycling coach and researching CPR in space
10:04 – Research and its impact on athletes
22:37 – Maintaining a questioning mindset
25:50 – Dealing with budget constraints
29:47 – Setting process goals in sports and managing Olympic athletes
36:20 – Jeffrey Hoogland’s Kilo World Record power profile
43:56 – The UCI’s equipment regulations and the un-level playing field
50:55 – Technological doping
56:19 – The uncertain future of track cycling and the IOC’s plans
1:00:00 – Coaching philosophy and challenges
1:07:30 – Coach/athlete communication
1:10:11 – Researching the validity of aero meters
1:15:19 – Low bone density and the value of weight training
On breaking down performance and spotting opportunities
One thing I will say is that I’m not a clever person. I mean by that I don’t read a piece of information or a scientific journal article, and absorb it straightaway and digest it within minutes. It takes me like three or four weeks to read one paper, but actually understand it, whereas a lot of people can sort of intake it pretty quickly retain it and apply it. I’m just persistent. I just believe there always is a way.
How I broke that all down, I still don’t know to this day. I know it’s about working with what you have. And rather than complaining about it… just trying to figure a way out. With the Huub-Wattbike experiment, let’s call it an experiment, we had a gene pool of five people so we couldn’t be like, “Okay, this isn’t working, so I’m going to get the next fastest rider in.” It’s like, “This is what we have got, how are we going to get them around?”
Is there a method I use? Not really other than just like the stubbornness of there has to be a way to work with what we have and the resources we have. And the beauty of today, this world has a lot of stuff for free. [The] technology is out there.
On improvement mindset
I don’t like the term winning mindset, because it’s only associated with winning, rather than improving. Winning can be the consequence of improving, but, if you can bring that mindset will it always end up in victory? The answer is more than likely not, but all I just want to do is improve. And if you can always just nudge something a little bit forward, or just give someone an extra edge, or something so they’re thinking outside the box. For example, we can’t afford a motorbike so we made an e-bike with a 2,000 watt motor. And that was just from basically watching delivery drivers in Glasgow with absolutely amazing engines that we couldn’t keep up with. It costs virtually nothing compared to buying a motorbike or investing in something else. So yeah, we’re always looking to try and improve something, improve it for less money. And then and that’s what we can do. And so we have to do and I won’t call it a winning mindset to say just how can we make things better?
On measuring Hoogland’s power
To measure power, you have to measure some of the crank actually bending, you have to have a crank that bends to measure the force, and then do the angular velocity, which is cadence. Force times cadence gives you the power. Now, when you’re as strong as Jeff, who puts out over 550 Newton metres, he’s sheared off cranks, and in particular power [meter] cranks, because they’re designed to bend. The ISO standard is, I think, 250 Newton metres and he’s doing double that.
The [tests] we have done, he is in the region of 2,700 watts. However, he’s done that on race kit, quite far out from the race. If you do the back calculations and you measure his system mass and the time he’s getting and all the conditions and work it backwards on race day he’s going so much faster, with the same equipment, it must be going close to 3,000 watts.
On UCI equipment registers and technological “doping”
In principle, I think it’s a good idea that they do have them. The UCI is trying to make a level playing field and it’s no secret there are some nations closer to home that benefit a lot from technological equipment. To give you an insight before I go into the details, from an average skinsuit to the best skinsuit can be a 10% change in CdA or drag. These things are important: overshoes, all the equipment counts and that’s why they have to, I believe, regulate it to make a level playing field.
In the past, you can do a Google search, they made very clear that it’s not their job to police whether it’s commercial or not so certain federations close to home again, we’re just advertising on a website for three or four days, you know, without a proper [purchase] link, and it wasn’t being policed. And the rules were being bent to the point where there was no point even having them. Now, I know they get bashed a bit, but to the credit of UCI, they’ve tried to clamp down on this and take a bit more responsibility. And to be fair to them, they have taken it as far as they can with what the time and resources they’ve got. You have to register the equipment, it has to be ridden in an Olympic qualification event, at least one year prior to the Olympics, and has to be examined and scanned. And there are some stringent test checks to go through.
Now, you can be quite creative. So you can put a rubbish rider with a great skin suit on an event that no one cares, for example, a bunch race, that’s kind of hard (to measure). But in the Glasgow Worlds, you could see some riders who were average, all of a sudden pull out incredible results and incredible performances were, you know, if it was a Eastern Bloc nation, I think there’ll be a lot of eyebrows raised or suspicion. The word tech doping, I think is quite strong phrase, but it is quite fitting on how important that technological equipment can be.
On track cycling’s Olympic future
In track cycling, there’s only an existence for the Olympics. And the irony of it all is, there are very strong discussions about getting rid of track cycling, because they [IOC] don’t like the fact that it’s dominated by the same team or teams. But you know, Great Britain are investing so heavily and getting their Olympic return. And then there are the usual suspects winning it, so they don’t like the same people, same nations winning it every time. They don’t like the fact it’s an equipment sport, and basically, the more you invest, the more you get, and, and that sort of thing. It was getting to the point where this isn’t appealing to anyone anymore. No one wants to do it, let’s go into another avenue where is more appealing. E-sports is actually considered and probably going to be an Olympic sport by Brisbane and e-cycling to a certain extent. So it’s it’s pretty interesting, like how actually track cycling is at a kind of a fork in the road of its future, whether it will stick or go.
All that’s left to say is, go forth and aero test, dear reader. And don’t forget, we have much more over on the whole Escape Collective podcast network.
What did you think of this story?