Obree famously broke the world hour record twice as a self-coached bike shop owner and failed professional bike racer. Obree so little trusted the insights of others into how to go fast--including the entire cycling industry--that he built his own machines. This rogue approach, of disregarding common wisdom and of rethinking even the most basic elements of riding a bike, is the essence of his book.
If Obree represents the rogue, then Allen and Coggen, with their first edition of Racing and Training in 2006, and their long history in the development of power data analysis, are the establishment. Their Training Peaks software has dominant market share, and their concepts--functional threshold power (FTP), training stress score (TSS), critical power intervals (CPIs), and power profiling--are the concepts we use when we analyze our power data. Even Joel Friel, who wrote the title that asserted ultimate establishment cred, The Cyclist's Training Bible, defers to Allen and Coggan on the intricacies of Wattage and analyzing the data, stating, "Training and Racing with a Power Meter is the ultimate guide to training with power. Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan are, without a doubt, the most knowledgeable people on the planet when it comes to power meters."
Obree's chapters are titled thusly: Stretching, Breathing, Pedalling, and, if his publisher had allowed, I imagine he'd have added one others on Digestion, Heart-beating, and seemingly and stunningly involuntary actions. His most strident recommendations concern evacuating the bladder and the bowels before training and racing. Here is a man, clearly, who understands the very carnal nature of pushing one's body to the point where the energy expended to not lose one's shit is a marginal loss.
He can come off as a luddite, and would, if not for the fact that his training and ingenuity made him the fastest man in the world. He spurns carbon frames and expensive equipment, including, amazingly, the power meter. Obree won his records before the power meter entered mainstream, but even now he feels power meters lack the precision necessary for proper analysis of achievement. This is incredible, since the claim of power meter manufacturers (and analysts such as Allen and Coggan) is that power meters provide precisely what had previously been unattainable--a true, objective measure of effort regardless of terrain, weather, speed, cadence, and so forth. For Obree, for whom the world record required infintesimally small degrees of improvement, power meters, with their +-2% error rate, lacked the precision he needed to measure fractions of percentages in improvement.
Obree's solution, as almost all of his are, after the fact, was to train almost exclusively on a trainer. He spends an entire chapter explaining how to set up a trainer--only magnetic will do, and without a fan--and bike to attain a constant resistence and to measure improvement through gearing, cadence, and speed, against this constant. It may seem simple, but for Obree it involves barometric pressure, air temperature, and other extraordinary variables.
Generally, Obree is of the specificity tribe. That is, to become faster at time trials, practice time trials. One gets the impression that his plan simply involved, every third day, a time trial in which he attempted to match his previous best, then improved his speed in the last 5 minutes of the effort by .5%.
Where did Wiggins' "marginal gains" concept first appear in cycling? Well, Graeme Obree is about an extreme a practioner of that approach as anyone. His appears to have been quite simple in terms of training plan, but amazingly complex in terms of attention to preparation, equipment and technique--try reading his chapters on Pedalling and Breathing.
In contrast, Allen and Coggan weave a baroque web of training cycles, with relatively little attention to technique. Theirs is a statistical approach, and it has the tone of the coach rather than the practitioner. If Obree understands the pain and insides of the sport--that is, he is our subjective guide--Allen and Coggan understand the numbers of the sport--their book is our objective guide.
They argue--persuasively, in my opinion--for the measurement of every aspect of cycling performance. Not only do they recommend measuring power output at different durations (what they call critical power intervals), they also recommend coming up with a fatigue profile; that is, measuring how power output drops over time. They describe different energy systems, they prescribe workouts to improve these systems, they describe load and how to manage stress and rest, and they waste no ink on the optimal crank size or handlebar width, or the vital necessity of taking "the last pee" before events, as Obree does.
The specifics of Allen and Coggan's book make it more helpful, especially for those of us who love going out on our bikes rather than subjecting ourselves to the most tortuous efforts we can stand every third day in a Platonically uniform coal shed, as Obree did. Perhaps we cannot set such quantifiably precise increments of improvement as Obree did, and perhaps we lose something from it. But at least Allen and Coggan allow us some way to plan around our wanderings through the world.
Still, my heart is with Obree's approach. Obree understands the tragic nature of training--that going fast is mostly a challenge for the brain, acknowledging the immense and somewhat existentially purposeless suffering it requires. If I had the strenth, I would lock myself in a coal bin and struggle for that .5% increase every third day. That is surely as Sisyphusean as image as Sarthe every conceived. It is encouraging to read in his words that even a man capable of sustaining 400 Watts for an hour struggled to sleep before races, and how even he, after a life of battling depression, continues to have passion for simply going fast on a bike.