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Following the Tour de France nowadays is a rich experience. For many years we have relied on TV commentators to guide us, but now we have live-tracking, tweets from riders, team videos, embedded photographers and even on-bike cameras. The pro peloton and the team hotel are no longer the secretive places they once were.
And then there’s Strava. As Dave Nash writes, the ubiquitous ride-tracking app is used by many pro riders, including several competing in this year’s Tour de France, and provides a portal into the world of the rider that its creators might never have envisaged.
Last Wednesday was a historic day for Strava, as Lars Boom became the first cyclist to record a Tour de France stage win on the app. His imperious performance on the cobbles of northern France was one of the greatest stage wins of the modern era. His ride description says it all: “Epic day on the bike. My first stage win in the Tour de France. So happy!!!”
The Belkin rider recorded an average speed of 45.7km/h over a distance of 152.4km – a moving time of 3:19:09. Not surprisingly, his win had his followers frantically posting comments and clicking the ‘kudos’ button.
By the following evening, Lars was not in such a happy place. Stage 6 was given the title “In the beginning good legs later on not so good anymore. But still happy and exciting [sic] about yesterday”. No small wonder — his stats from the previous day are arguably the most spectacular ever recorded by Strava. His power outputs throughout and his average speed earned him a KOM on the penultimate section of pavé, Wandige-Hamage a Horaing — quite astounding given the atrocious conditions. Only the Strava data recorded by Niki Terpstra, when he powered to solo victory in this year’s Paris-Roubaix, can rival those of Boom on Wednesday.
Niki Terpstra, incidentally, is at it again at this year’s Tour. The Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider was one of the few who recorded stats on the cobbles that rival those of Boom. With nearly 31,000 followers the Dutchman is definitely a popular figure amongst Strava aficionados.
Team Sky has had a miserable start to the Tour, losing both Chris Froome and Xabier Zandio to injury, but Zandio’s compatriot, David Lopez, labours on and is another rider recording his stats on a daily basis, clocking up a fair number of KOMs in the process.
The pick of the bunch has to be the official segment for the infamous Jenkins Road in Sheffield which included a section of 33% – the sharpest incline the riders will have to negotiate during the 2014 edition of the race. Lopez’s time of 2:35 was just enough to edge out the previous holder of the KOM, a certain “James A”, who, by his own admission, is a “Bloody keen cyclist. Half decent on hills”. And if we are in any doubt as to his abilities, he adds: “‘I’m an Ironman too I tell thee!”
James A does not look like the type of man to take defeat lightly and will no doubt rise to the challenge.
Spare a thought for poor Anthony Aken, though. On Monday morning he cycled to work the proud holder of the KOM for the QE (Queen Elizabeth) Cycle Path in west London. His time of 2.53 was a clear two seconds ahead of his nearest rival, Barry Watson. By teatime, Anthony had tumbled down to ninth place, another helpless victim of the rampaging, marauding TdF riders.
The Dutch rider Laurens ten Dam (Belkin), Marcus Burghardt of Germany (BMC) and David Lopez, with a time of 1:47. had claimed Anthony’s scalp, offered up with a whimper rather than defiance. Lars Boom and his Belkin team mate, Steven Kruijswijk, together with Terpstra, Ted King (Cannondale) and Frenchman Jérémy Roy (FDJ.fr) picked over Anthony’s broken corpse.
It is unlikely that Anthony Aken will ever claim back his KOM, but I guess if you are going to relinquish a KOM, then to lose it to a bunch of pro riders must help to soften the blow. I dropped Anthony a message of commiseration on Strava and he responded with a chirpy email giving a little more background to his KOM:
“Initially the KOM was a bit of a surprise really as I was just popping to the shops on my bike with panniers stuffed with a variety pack of Monstermunch. I was quite proud of my achievement, especially as I had to navigate plenty of traffic lights and pedestrian crossings on the 2km section!”.
And it’s not only poor amateurs like Anthony and James who are prey to the Tour riders. Take Russell Downing, for example, the Yorkshire-born professional who cut his teeth with the Linda McCartney Racing Team and currently rides for the UCI Continental team, NFTO Pro Cycling. Russell boasts an impressive palm?r?s dating back to the late 90s, the highlight of which was becoming the British national road race champion in 2005. Last Sunday, however, Russell received the email from Strava that no one wants to find in their inbox: “‘Uh oh! Jérémy Roy has just stolen your KOM! Now get out there, have fun and be safe”.
But that was not the end of it, for as the Tour de France riders uploaded their rides to Strava, Russ dropped ever further down the leaderboard. Marcus Burghardt edged Roy off the top spot, Ted King and David Lopez followed not far behind and finally Lars Boom shaved seven seconds off Russ’s best time. Currently languishing in sixth position, Downing accepted his demise with good humour, tweeting the news of his KOM loss to his followers, who comforted him with supportive messages. There were even suggestions that Roy had benefited from a tailwind and the help of his team car!
— Russell Downing (@RussDowning) July 6, 2014
The gifted young French climber, Thibaut Pinot, was obviously not overly impressed with the challenges offered by the hills of Yorkshire, waiting until the Vosges appeared on the horizon before uploading to Strava and effortlessly claiming over a dozen KOMs during Sunday’s stage from Gérardmer to Mulhouse. As the Tour heads towards the Alps, the Française des Jeux rider is definitely one to keep an eye on as he leaves countless (former) Kings of the Mountains spluttering helplessly in his wake.
Joking aside, the Strava stats of the professionals always makes for fascinating viewing. As a frequent visitor to Mallorca, for example, the segment for the official ascent of the infamous Sa Colabra boasts a whole host of professionals to compare oneself with. My own, just shy of 45 minutes, is a time I am proud of, but a glance to the top of the leaderboard shows David Lopez again, dancing up the hairpins in 25 minutes!
But that’s one of the attractions of Strava – the fact we can compete, in a virtual world at least, with the professionals and compare our own performance with theirs. What the data uploaded on Strava by the Tour de France riders so emphatically illustrates, however, is that we mere mortals can never be like them.
Take Ted King as an example. The American has ridden himself into the ground in the opening stages of the Tour as domestique to his Cannondale team leader, Peter Sagan (indeed King has since abandoned the race). In the opening stage from Leeds to Harrogate, King pulled his Slovak teammate over the second climb of the day, the Côte de Buttertubs, picking up a tasty little KOM in the process.
The fact that Sagan was able to contest the sprint in Harrogate was at least partially due to the efforts of his teammates. King’s maximum power output of 485 watts, again recorded on Strava, provided a clear indication of the massive contribution made by the American. There is no denying the stats: Ted King is one hell of a cyclist.
By Tuesday evening, however, King’s exertions were beginning to tell, a fact reflected in the title he gave for Stage 4 from Le Touquet to Lille: “Professional cycling: Tough tough sport. Stage 4 Tour de France. ONWARD!” Burghart was another rider who let the mask fall after stage 5: “Tkx god that this is behind us, if you average a flat 150k race with 350W than you can say for sure that was a hard one.”
The first serious climbs of the Tour on Sunday prompted Lars Boom to give his ride the title “Hard day in the saddle. In the beginning I was in the break in the end in the grupetto”, whilst his compatriot, Laurens Ten Dam, recorded with understatement “Hard day in the Vosges”, though his 15 KOMs may have helped to assuage his aching limbs.
It’s good to hear the professionals offering up such candid expressions of suffering – and these are meant to be the easier stages before the Alps and Pyrenees combine to sap the last few watts out of their legs! Strava is rather unique as it provide stats with a little humanity thrown in, all of which provides a broader picture of what it is really like to ride the Tour de France.
Burghart again, on Stage 3 from Cambridge to London, used his Strava feed to thank the UK for the phenomenal reception given to the Tour riders: “This last three days of racing were breathtaking and I will never forget, tkx UK cycling you were awesome. big kudos.” Laurens Ten Dam was equally appreciative: “England, you’ve been very nice to us! Amazing experience and will never forget!”
Russ Downing will never forget their fleeting visit to the UK either. Nor James A, nor Anthony Aken and the many other cyclists, professional and amateur, who received that dreaded email from Strava this week. Thankfully the Tour de France is now weaving its way deep into France and Niki Terpstra, Lars Boom, David Lopez and co will be dishing out the same cruel humiliation to many of our Gallic counterparts.
For them, as for us, it will be a brutal reminder that however hard we train, however hard we push ourselves, we can never, ever defeat them.
The feature image shows Lars Boom on his way to winning two Strava KOMs on stage 5 of the Tour de France … and the stage as a bonus.