Sunday, October 17, 2021
HomeInterviewsRichard Davison - "Personalised coaching employing genomics is the coming thing"

Richard Davison – “Personalised coaching employing genomics is the coming thing”


Richard Davison
Richard Davison.

It’s not often we have a professor in the pages of VeloVeritas but that’s exactly what Richard Davison is; as well as Assistant Dean (International) at the University of the West of Scotland.

He was also instrumental in the setting up of British Cycling’s current coaching system and does ‘one on one’ coaching with riders.

Richard was also a successful rider on the Scottish scene a year or two back – and that’s where our interview starts:

Thank you for speaking to us, Richard please remind us of your Scottish results.

“I won the Scottish BAR twice, won the 12 hour twice and was second twice.

“I used to come up from England for two weeks and fit in a ‘100,’ a ’50,’ and the ‘12’ – that was my BAR bid for the year.”

How long have you been coaching?

“I got my first coaching qualification in 1989 not long after my first degree, I did a masseur’s course and part one of that incorporated the coaching course.

“In 1999 I interviewed for the post of BC head coach, it was John Mills who got the job – he’s now Director of coaching, education and development – but not long after that I received an email from him asking me if I’d like to be involved in setting up the new coaching system.

“I wrote some original material and I was involved from day one with the first coaching course within the new system in 2000.

“Teaching new coaches may not be in the limelight but it’s very satisfying and whilst it’s not recognised, there’s a whole army of people out there qualified to coach and it’s one of the reasons for British Cycling’s success.”

So you have three involvements?

“Yes, there’s my University post, British Cycling and my own coaching which goes back to 1994 when I coached the Riddle Brothers for the Commonwealth Games – I’ve coached riders ever since.

“I remember Brian Smith not being impressed by my ‘heart rate’ training programmes for the ’94 Commonwealth Games but then coming to me and asking me for one for the ’96 Olympics.

“I’ve coached four riders to British Championships but also get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing riders achieving goals – setting personal best times, for example.

“That side of things is quieter now because I spend so much time travelling with my job – that sounds glamorous but when you’ve seen one airport…”

Richard Davison
Richard coaches Mathias Barnet – British Youth RR Champion in 2014. Photo©supplied

So you coach at all levels?

“From club guys to internationals; really varied, one of my clients was Malcolm Whitehead who was top ten in the BBAR, a silver medallist in the 12 hour champs and 24 hour champion.

“In fact the data I gathered from coaching and helping Malcolm in his ‘12’s’ I used to train and race my first ‘12’ up at Aberdeen which I won.

“I also coach Matthias Barnet who won the British Under 16 Criterium Championship in 2014.”

The big change in coaching in our time has been the move from heart rate to power – Powertap or Power Cranks?

“I think now you should never train or race without monitoring your power – the problem with the Powertap hub is that you’re limited to that one wheel – the SRM system is much more flexible.

“I know Uli Schoberer, the inventor of the Power Crank well; I’ve been to the factory, and all the other systems on the market make things more competitive and lead to improvements – which can only be a good thing for the end user.

“Heart rate-based training is OK and ‘back in the day’ it was the best we had but it has limitations, for instance, if you’re training in cold conditions that affects heart rate straight away.”

What’s the biggest mistake riders make in their training?

“Not being specific enough, I mean general ‘riding a bike’ is OK but you need to look at what you’re going to be riding – MTB? Road? Track? Set realistic goals then work back from them with a programme which works back from them.

“When I won the ‘12’ I prepared for it but never rode anything like 12 hours in training.”

Richard Davison
As well as three jobs, Richard finds time to keep fit too. Photo©supplied

The glossy mags are full of different ‘training advice’, how do we avoid getting confused?

“My basic philosophy is that we’re all individuals – If I gave the same programme to 20 riders you’re guaranteed that they’d all react differently to that.

“If you’re a coach then you have to get to know your rider, see what works for them, understanding their life – do they have children? Do they work shifts? If they’re professional people then their time may well be restricted. What are their ambitions? What’s feasible within their lifestyle? How does their body react to training?

But the impact of improving technique and tactics can have a more significant impact upon performance than physical improvement – take a criterium rider, if you can improve his cornering abilities then that’s a ‘free’ improvement without any extra training.”

How many ‘peaks’ can a rider realistically achieve in a season?

“Two, perhaps three, depending on what the events are and where they’re placed within the season.

“I say to my riders to name their two priority events then their second most important two races then third most important – what you can do then is to use the second and third string goals as stepping stones to the main goals.”

Richard Davison
Brian Smith (r) sought training advice from Richard. Photo©Owen Phillipson

What’s next in coaching/training?

“In the last 15 years training has become much more scientific, time trials have become faster and faster – albeit a lot of that is due to equipment and position.

“Road racing has perhaps regressed because of the clampdown on doping – Armstrong’s performances were super-human.

“And of course there’s the team dynamic in road racing, especially at professional level where you can’t win if you don’t have support riders in place.

“Personalised coaching employing genomics is the coming thing – analysing your blood can tell you a lot about what you’re going to be capable of.

“It can guide what kind races you concentrate on and what sort of training you should be doing.

“There’s no point in you training to be a pursuiter if your make-up is that of a sprinter – it’s about your response to training.

“It’s similar in philosophy to precision medicine which is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.

“This approach will allow doctors and researchers to predict more accurately which treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease will work in which groups of people.

“It is in contrast to a “one-size-fits-all” approach, in which disease treatment and prevention strategies are developed for the average person, with less consideration for the differences between individuals.

“It’s a huge area.”

Plenty of food for thought there – with thanks to Richard for his time and insights.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Jody Warrington – How Riders Can Cope in a ‘Lockdown’

In the overall scheme of the world’s current predicament, guys not being able to race their bikes doesn’t even register but if you’ve been training all winter to realise goals you set yourself for the season and overnight they’re plucked from your grasp it’s not easy to handle. We spoke to one of the most respected coaches in the area, Jody Warrington about how riders can cope with ‘lockdown.’

Mark Stewart – “I realise AN Post is ‘the real deal'”

The last time we spoke to Scotland’s top endurance track rider, Mark Stewart he’d just added to his growing medal collection at the European Championships with bronze in the team pursuit and silver in the scratch. Some nice road results in the Ronde van Oost Vlaanderen followed where he made his breakthrough from riding as a domestique and/or ‘getting round’ to being a serious contender for stage and overall honours.

Ian Thomson – a Lifetime of Experience as a Rider and Manager

It’s taken a wee while to organise the meeting but as befits a man with a lifetime of experience in managing others; teaching and in cycling management, he walks in the door of Starbucks bang on time. Belying his 74 years, Ivy’s Ian Thomson could get away with saying he’s 10 years younger.

Chris Smart – *Not* the New Scottish 50 Mile TT Record Holder

The 2021 CTT Scottish ‘50’ title race took place on the fast dual carriageways north of Dundee with GTR Return To Life rider, Chris Smart winning in a stunning 1:40:36 with veteran team mate Dougie Watson a scant six seconds back in the silver medal position.

Andy McGhee – Scottish Star of the 60’s and 70’s

VeloVeritas is sitting down at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome with Mr. McGhee to apologise for pillaging the chicken in 1972 and to reminisce about his career, which included three National Road Race Championships, over a coffee.

“The Autobiography” by Chris Hoy

As the first Briton to win 3 Olympic golds at the same Games since 1908, Scotland's Chris Hoy has become a beacon for British sporting achievement. This autobiography charts his life from 7-year-old BMX fanatic, supported by a devoted dad and local cycling club, through paralysing self-doubt and a major career overhaul, to the sport's holy grail.

At Random

Martyn Roach – One of British Cycling’s True Legends

Martyn Roach was one of the strongest riders of his generation but despite offers to move to foreign shores he remained a ‘true blue’ GB amateur, working full time all through a beautiful career which lasted from the 60’s to the 80’s.

Tom Pidcock – Junior European Cyclo-Cross Champion 2016

The European Cyclo-Cross Championships were held in Pont Chateau, France last weekend. ‘A Flatlands Fest, no doubt’ I hear you say. Well, the Ladies’ race was won by Thalita De Jong of the Netherlands; the U23 Men’s went to Quinten Hermans of Belgium and in a tactical Elite race former past and present World Champions, Mathieu Van Der Poel (Netherlands) and Wout Van Aert (Belgium) finished second and third respectively behind Toon Aerts of - Belgium. But to break the Benelux monopoly, the junior race was won by an English rider, 17 years-old Thomas Pidcock from Leeds.

Tour Down Under – a little late starting, but it IS a start!

A quick recap on 2010 to date — Had the BIG Engagement party in early Jan (and thanks to all who came along — it was gratifying seeing so many of Mands and my family and friends there, many from a long way away). And then it was straight to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under.

Giro d’Italia 2013 – Stage 20: Silandro – Tre Cime di Lavaredo 203km. Nibali Confirms

It's one to bore the grandchildren with - the day you were right there when Nibali joined the Greats on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. 'Epic' doesn't do it justice; there was a full fledged blizzard raging for the finale - it was as if the Giro organisers had tee-ed it up. But it wasn't just Vincenzo who deserves the plaudits, every finisher down to last man home, Sacha Modolo deserves huge respect. We drove race route and the raging melt waters on the way up the valleys gave a clue as to what was coming.

Harry Tanfield – “Any further than a ’25’ gets a bit dull!”

Harry Tanfield has been prominent in a couple of stages at La Vuelta and rode well to finish last on the Angrilu on Sunday. To celebrate Harry's accomplishment on this hardest of stages and because it's interesting to see the mindset of aspiring riders making good, we present again our chat with him from six years ago when he was making a name for himself in Belgium's kermises.

Copenhagen Six Day 2010 – Day Six

Wednesday morning in the camper van, long straights of grey motorway tarmac through a flat, snow blanketed landscape, minus three, no sunshine, just more grey above us; in all the times I've worked at the Copenhagen Six Day 2010 Six, I don't think I've ever seen the sun.