By the numbers: Just how hard were the uphill finishes at the 2017 Tour Down Under?

by Stephen Gallagher


Two stages decided the general classification at the 2017 Santos Tour Down Under: stage 2 to Paracombe and stage 5 to Willunga Hill. Both were uphill finishes, and both were won in commanding fashion by Richie Porte (BMC).

So just how hard was the racing at the Tour Down Under and specifically on those two uphill finishes? Stephen Gallagher from Dig Deep Coaching has run the numbers, looking at the power data of some of the best riders in the race, to see what it took to be at the front when the road tilted up.


Stage 2

Stage 2 to Paracombe began with five demanding laps around Stirling with 207 metres of climbing per 21.3km lap. The riders then headed towards the uphill finish in Paracombe, taking in the technical descent of Norton Summit and a long climb on Gorge Road before the final ramp.

This last section of the race was a gradual 8km climb which ramped up over the duration, before a short fast descent, a tight left-hand turn and then a short, steep ramp to the finish line. The total elevation for the stage was around 2,500m.

The early part of the race was dominated by lone breakaway rider Jasha Sutterlin (Movistar) who attacked after 28km of racing. He took advantage of a stalling peloton to build his lead out to more than five minutes but was eventually back in the bunch after roughly 84km on his own.

Comparing the ride data of Sutterlin, who was out on his own, and Chris Hamilton (Sunweb), who was in the peloton, we can see just how much harder it is to maintain a solo breakaway on lumpy terrain. The table below shows the last three laps of the five-lap circuit, which both riders completed in a similar time, but with very different power outputs.

Jasha Sutterlin (79kg) Chris Hamilton (60kg)
3rd Lap 34:13 @ 334W (4.2 W/kg) 34:12 @ 190W (3.2 W/kg)
4th Lap 34:55 @ 322W (4.1 W/kg) 34:48 @ 182W (3 W/kg)
5th Lap 33:14 @ 343W (4.3 W/kg) 33:15 @ 197W (3.3 W/kg)

The final section of stage 2 was a big showdown for the main GC contenders. Orica-Scott and Cannondale-Drapac set a fast tempo on Gorge Road on approach to the final climb, seeing many of the lesser climbers drop out of the peloton.

Michael Woods was the protected rider for Cannondale-Drapac. In the hard section into the bottom of the climb, along the lower part of Gorge Road, Woods rode at 315W average (5 W/kg) for 12 minutes just to hold his position at the front of the peloton.

The stage ended with the steep Torrens Hill Road climb — 1.2km at an average of 9% with the gradient hitting nearly 15% in the early section of the climb. Woods produced 490W (7.7 W/kg) for 3:50 on this 1.2km climb with a peak of 866W (13.7 W/kg) as he powered his way to ninth on the stage, 19 seconds behind eventual winner Richie Porte.

Woods started the climb with over 600W (9.52 W/kg) for 1 minute which is an indication of the ferocity with which they attacked this climb. To maintain a consistent power between 450-500W after this initial one-minute burst shows the requirement of these top riders — to be able to produce a maximal effort but still maintain a high VO2max intensity afterwards.

Stage 5

After two days for the sprinters, the GC riders got their chance again on the slopes of Willunga Hill on stage 5. A flurry of attacks saw the main break of the day form inside the first 10km. The ever-aggressive Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) was in the move, fighting to take the King of the Mountains jersey.

This four-rider breakaway put in a massive effort to keep the gap to the chasing BMC riders until the final ascent of the Willunga climb. Here’s what Thomas De Gendt needed to produce over 3 hours and 19 minutes (and 138km) in order to stay in (and contribute to) the break:

Average Power: 303W (4.4 W/kg)
Average heartrate: 144bpm

Compare this to a rider such as Darryl Impey (Orica-Scott) who sat in the peloton throughout De Gendt’s effort:

Average power: 204W (2.91 W/kg)
Average heartrate: 123bpm

Despite the effort put in by De Gendt and his breakaway companions, they were caught with 5km to go, just at the foot of the last ascent up Willunga.

On the first ascent of Willunga Hill Chris Hamilton (Sunweb) attacked on the early slopes to attempt to bridge to the leading riders. He managed to gap the peloton and completed the climb in 7:25 at an average power of 415W (6.92 W/kg) and an average heartrate of 192bpm. Compare this to riders who were distanced from the peloton as a result of Chris’s acceleration, such as Julien Bérard from Ag2r La Mondiale who completed the first ascent of Willunga in 9:01 at an average power of 375W (5.36 W/kg) and 156bpm.

The aggressive run-in to the base of the final climb saw the lead group caught and any attacks neutralised by a fast-moving bunch. A fast tempo set by Team Sky on the early slopes saw a split at the front with a small group forging ahead and others being distanced.

One rider that was dropped was Australian rider Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe). McCarthy managed to finish the stage in fifth place and to do so he completed the final climb in 7:02 at 457W (7.03 W/kg). That’s an enormous effort to maintain his place near the front.

During McCarthy’s final ascent of the Willunga climb a slight touch of wheels with 3km to go left him stalling on the road for a number of seconds as he fought to keep balance and maintain momentum (see 4:30 in the video above). This incident caused McCarthy to lose some distance on the group, requiring a 13-second effort at an average of 700W (10.7 W/kg), and maxing out at close to 1,000W (15.4 W/kg), just to regain his place.

This again shows the ability of top riders, not just to maintain a consistent, hard effort, but to still have the punch to make a big acceleration to regain contact. I am sure we will see more of McCarthy performing well throughout the 2017 season.

A commanding performance by Richie Porte on the final climb saw him complete the Willunga ascent about 20 seconds quicker than his counterparts. So how much power was Porte putting out? With the availability of data from riders in the top placings, along with accurate analysis of gradients, weather conditions and other variables, we can attempt to make an approximate analysis of Richie Porte’s win and how it compared to previous finishes here.

From the data above you can see that a power-to-weight ratio of between ~6.5 W/kg to ~7 W/kg would have you placed anywhere from 30th to 5th on the stage and within ~40 seconds of the lead. Our calculations* give us an approximate power output of ~470W (~7.42 W/kg) for Porte’s 7:15 effort.

If you’ve ever trained with a power meter and analysed your power data you’ll have a fair idea of how these numbers stack up. But for context, check out this table from training guru Andy Coggan and Training Peaks showing were Porte fits in the grand scheme of things. In short: world class.

Graphics brought to you by VeloViewer and Philipp Diegner.

About the author

Dig Deep Coaching is a global coaching company using the most up-to-date training methods to help riders of all abilities to maximise their performances and results. For further information on Dig Deep Coaching and useful tips on all aspects of performance please head to their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Footnote

* Porte’s power output on Willunga Hill was estimated using a power model based on climbing speed VAM (m/h – elevation per hour), the characteristics of the climb and the rider’s aerodynamic drag (CdA). Environmental factors like wind conditions or temperature are also taken into account. Numbers can be validated if real power data from the same climb is available.

VAM allows us to compare climbing performances on different ascents. It has proven to be a solid base for power estimates in cycling. You can use the following formulas to calculate the power-to-weight ratio for most climbs:

VAM = Elevation (m) * (60 / climbing time (min))
Power Output (W/kg) = VAM / ((2 + (% Gradient/10)) x 100)

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