Photography by John Huet

A race can be won in milliseconds

The USA Cycling Women’s Team Pursuit turn to cognitive insights to find new levels of performance

By Nancy Pearson, VP Marketing, Cognitive Business

Track cycling started in early the 1900’s, and was the biggest spectator sport at that time. It was a classic example of (wo)man and machine vs. time. In the cognitive era things have changed. Connected devices and cognitive computing mean the thing that separates winners and losers now — is data, and insights delivered in real-time.

Just take a look at the USA Cycling Women’s Team Pursuit. Four women competing over 16 laps of a 250 meter track supported by their equipment, their coaches and now the insights that brings them together in the pursuit of excellence.

In Pursuit Cycling, the team competes as a single unit, yet the performance of each individual is critical. The team uses cognitive computing and advanced analytics to know in real-time how they are performing not only against their competitors but also with respect to each other. Cognitive solutions process and interpret complex data and know when to provide the right information.

Decisions have to be made. Is one teammate over-performing and negatively impacting the coordinated movement of the team? How was the lead rider exchange executed? Did the rider moving to the tail position leave too much gap? Will she burn a match she should have reserved for later in the race to catch the pack?

Instantaneous feedback directly from the system is provided on her eyewear so that she understands the impact of her performance during the effort and not the following day. Understanding changes and acting in real-time is translatable across sports, if not across industry. Neal Henderson, High Performance Consultant, describes the data inputs that come into play saying “By embracing mobile technology and an advanced IoT cloud solution, we’re bringing an edge to our training program through several critical touch points.”

Coach Andy Sparks, director of the track cycling program, USA Cycling, explains the narrow gauge with which cycling teammates can ‘up’ their performance in this environment is demanding. “If we are doing something like a 12-lap effort in key pursuits, that rider will have (only) three to four chances to improve their exchanges to exchange for more efficient riding closer to the wheel.” A race can be won in milliseconds.

Gaining Insights from data

During a training session, data is collected from multiple sources — the power meters, a heart rate monitor and a wearable BSX muscle oxygen sensor on the riders. IBM Watson IoT Platform and IBM Analytics services capture the data in the IBM cloud, and enable sophisticated real-time analysis.

Riders and coaches receive these inputs through dashboards provided by the IBM jStart Team, and importantly, they receive input customized to how they want to receive it to guide their training ride. Some prefer green, yellow, red stoplights; others want detailed stats even as they are riding.

Targeted expertise

Coaches can adjust each session in response to an analysis of each cyclist’s performance. Using cloud-based Watson APIs, Watson IoT, IBM Mobile and IBM Analytics services, the solution enables each cyclist in the team to have a fact-based understanding of their performance. They know the average power and the range of power they’ve generated; the balance of their pole position and the consistency of their power curves among many other things. By using data efficiently, and across the full training cycle through pre-ride planning, the ride, and all the way through recovery, the team is able to go out as a much more coherent unit when they are in a race.

Learning and adapting

Over time, the insights deepen and data from other sources can be applied to surface things never previously considered. This is the hallmark of a cognitive journey. In a sport where the smallest incremental change can spare milliseconds, the difference can result in medals or not. The team’s adoption path has proven this out.

Coach Andy Sparks sums up the synergistic power of team, coach and technology: “I think there is no doubt the technology applied to sports especially at the highest level…is going to be more and more impactful.”

Learn more about the USA team’s use of technology to improve performance