By the numbers: What it took to be competitive in the men’s Worlds road race
Bergen, Norway played host to the 2017 Road World Championships last week in a carnival that culminated with Sunday’s elite men’s road race. The race concluded with 12 laps of a 19.1km closing circuit around Bergen; a circuit that was defined by the ascent of Salmon Hill (1.5km at 6.4%).
In the following article, former pro and Dig Deep Coaching co-founder Stephen Gallagher crunches the numbers to see what it took to be competitive in this year’s elite men’s road race at the world championships.
The early move
With a long day in the saddle ahead, many of the strongest nations were content to see a break of 10 get away early. One rider that was part of this early move was America’s Alexey Vermeulen. Many of Vermeulen’s peak power efforts were produced in the opening kilometres as he jumped into the move and rode hard to help the break gain an advantage over the peloton.
Vermeulen’s peak one-minute power was in the first kilometre of racing where he hit 509W (8.38 W/kg) to jump into the break. The full acceleration lasted 1:33 at 464W (7.58 W/kg). The break’s pace remained high and they opened their maximum gap of 10 minutes in the first 20km.
South African Willie Smit, also part of the move, covered the first 20km in 27:54 at 306W. This is a stark contrast to the riders in the peloton — for example, Kazahkztan’s team captain Alexey Lutsenko rode at just 138W for nearly 37 minutes, to cover the same distance.
With 200km to go, the gap started to come down again, mainly due to the work of the Belgian team.
Vermeulen rode in the break for about 4:50 hours in which time he covered 190km (before getting caught by the bunch). His status during that time were:
Average power: 263W (4.30 W/kg)
Normalised power: 296W (4.85 W/kg)
Smit, the last survivor of the break, stayed out front a few minutes longer than his companions. He was swept up after 4:56 at 39.5km/h. Even after nearly 200km, he still tackled Salmon Hill at 396W for more than four minutes. Here are his stats from the breakaway:
Average power: 278W (3.66 W/kg)
Normalised power: 321W (4.22 W/kg)
When we compare this data to that of a protected rider who spent the first five hours in the peloton, the differences in work rate and energy expenditure become very apparent. Denmark’s Michael Valgren was one such protected rider and would be among the best in the final. His power numbers over the same distance were:
Average power: 220W (3.09 W/kg)
Normalised power: 263W (3.70 W/kg)
The riders in the break fought hard to stay in the lead for as long as possible, even after several hours in the saddle. Vermeulen produced his peak effort on Salmon Hill during Lap 7, putting out 427W for 3:26 – that’s 6.98 W/kg for the light American! A massive effort after nearly 150km in the break.
With the leading riders caught roughly 70km from the finish, it was the turn of the strongest nations to take control and launch their moves. With four and then three laps to go, there were several attacks, especially on Salmon Hill, with Chris Juul Jensen (Denmark), Warren Barguil (France) and Austrian Marco Haller trying to get clear. The attacking was enough to form a select group of eight riders around Jack Haig (Australia) and Tim Wellens (Belgium).
They got a maximum of 40 seconds clear and forced Poland and France to chase, both nations having missed the move. This high pace caused the first real splits.
One of the riders at the front of the main field was Austria’s Lukas Pöstlberger who went on to finish in 22nd place, attacking in the last lap. On the climb with three laps to go, Pöstlberger had to put in a full-gas effort of 443W (6.33 W/kg) for 3:23, fighting to maintain a good position.
Prolonged efforts of over 6 W/kg were too much for many after more than five hours of racing. To be at the top level of the sport, these sustained efforts of 6w/kg+ after a hard day are a requirement!
With the leading break of eight riders holding a 30-second advantage, the Polish team set a hard tempo and slowly reeled the break back in. The effort needed just to stay in the main group in the last two laps was very hard. Germany’s Simon Geschke, who went on to finish in the lead group, rode at 274W (4.35 W/kg) average and 325W normalised – about 5.15 W/kg for 50 minutes at 45.5km/h!
The penultimate time over Salmon Hill forced more riders to drop out, as the pace remained very high and Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) put in a blistering attack. The power required to hold on to the front group can be seen in the data of Simon Geschke, who had to pull out a huge effort to stay in contention. His stats for the penultimate climb of Salmon Hill, while chasing Dumoulin, were as follows:
Average speed: 28.1km/h (at 6% gradient)
Average power: 416W (6.6 W/kg)
Max power: 742W (11.77 W/kg)
Last Lap and Final Climb
Over the top of the penultimate ascent of Salmon Hill, the break was only six seconds ahead and the chase group brought them back in full flight. The reduced field consisted of approximately 50 riders going into the final lap.
A lot of pre-race favourites still had teammates to assist them, which meant the potential for a breakaway to succeed was slim. This did not stop Sebastian Langeveld (Netherlands) and Paul Martens (Germany) breaking clear, the pair able to hold a sizable lead until the lower slopes of Salmon Hill. It was here that Tony Gallopin (France) attacked and opened a small gap before the climb proper.
As soon as the pack hit the last climb of Salmon Hill everyone was giving it their best effort. Julian Alaphilippe (France) proved to be the strongest on the climb and attacked to gain a gap of five seconds to Gianni Moscon (Italy) and 10 seconds to the rest of the remaining contenders.
Most of the riders in the peloton hit their peak powers for the whole race here, after six hours of racing. The effort needed to be in contention on the last climb ranged from 6.7 W/kg for 3:02 (by Simon Geschke) to 7.66 W/kg for 2:58 by Michael Valgren, who was in the top 10 cresting the hill.
Once again the climb reduced the lead group significantly and the final selection included roughly 25-30 riders climbing in pursuit of the Alaphilippe. The Frenchman climbed Salmon Hill in a record time of 2:48 at an estimated power of 505W (8.15 W/kg). Stunning!
The pace was ferocious as the group fought to catch the leading duo of Alaphilippe and Moscon. Valgren did a lot of the work in support of his teammate Soren Kragh Andersen. On the descent towards the line, Valgren hit speeds of up to 77km/h on the sweeping bends and kicked at nearly 1,000W out of the corners on this fast downhill.
With 7.5km to go, Valgren was at the front of the chase group and put in some big turns to bring back the flying Alaphilippe. Valgren rode at 450W (6.33 W/kg) for just over two minutes and this effort was vital in catching the leader in the final 2km of the race.
A break in the live TV coverage in the closing 5km of the race made it hard to see exactly who played a key role in the closing kilometres. But it was certainly full-gas for everyone in the leading group.
Alexey Lutsenko (Kazakhstan) was in there and in the closing 3km he averaged 381W (5.37 W/kg)! With repeated 5-10 second efforts of above 700W, it is clear the final was very aggressive, something which can be seen from the post-race helicopter shots.
— CyclingHub (@CyclingHubTV) September 24, 2017
The final sprint began with about 300m to go, after the riders had negotiated two bends and fought for position. They took the corners at over 50km/h.
It was here that Norway’s Alexander Kristoff made his move to be world champion, putting in a huge effort to try to win the sprint. In the last 300m he averaged 60.9km/h, maxing out at 68km/h just before the line. Only Peter Sagan (Slovakia) could follow his move and overtook him in the last 100m.
A few meters behind the pair, Lutsenko jostled for a top-10 finish. The Kazakh averaged 830W for the last 14 seconds of the race and hit a peak power of 1,096W. His max speed of 68.4km/h was close to Kristoff and Sagan’s.
A phenomenal effort from the contenders after nearly 6.5 hours and 265km of racing.
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