Power analysis: Mathieu van der Poel’s insane Amstel Gold

by Zach Nehr


“Unbelievable.”

These were the words that Mathieu Van der Poel muffled breathlessly as he lay on the ground after crossing the finish line of the 2019 Amstel Gold Race. It was the most exciting race, the most improbable of finishes, and one of the most incredible displays of individual strength that we’ve ever seen.

With 10 kilometers to go, the gap between Van der Poel and the leaders – Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang – was over a minute. With 3.5 km to go, the gap was 35 seconds. With 1 km to go, the leaders were in sight, just a few seconds ahead of a driving Van der Poel. And with a few hundred meters to go, Van der Poel not only made the catch, but went flying by in full-sprint. Despite leading out for almost 10 km, no one could come around the Dutchman, and he became the first home winner of the Amstel Gold Race since Erik Dekker in 2001.

So how did he do it? Let’s take a look at the power data.

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How much time Mathieu van der Poel’s spent in various power ranges, broken into 25-watt increments. Image: Strava

Mathieu Van der Poel’s Amstel Gold stats

First up, the basic stats. Van der Poel is quite tall, a bit larger than the average pro cyclist. So his raw power is impressive, even before we look at watt per kilogram numbers. The big-picture figures from his Amstel ride are impressive on their own.

Height: 6 feet (1.84 meters)
Weight: 165 lbs. (75 kg)
Total Time: 6 hours 26 minutes
Distance: 161.6 miles (259.1 kilometers)
Average Speed: 25.1 mph (40.4 kph)
Elevation Gain: 11,444 feet (3488 meters)
Work: 6,440 kJs
Average Power: 278 W (3.7 W/kg)
Average Weighted Power: 337 W (4.5 W/kg)
Max Power: 1400 W
Average Heart Rate: 140 bpm
Max Heart Rate: 197 bpm

How it went down, by the numbers

First up was the fight for the Early Breakaway.

While Van der Poel himself wasn’t fighting to get in the early break (at least, I don’t think so), the pace in the peloton was still extremely high, and for the first 29 minutes of the race, Van der Poel averaged 319 W. Just ten minutes into the race, the peloton crested a short climb where Van der Poel averaged 494 W for 2 and a half minutes. Keep in mind, this is with six hours to go…

Then came the waiting game.

Over the next three and a half hours, Van der Poel was tucked into the field, letting the gap to the early break go out. The pace was “easy” for Van der Poel, whose average heart rate was just 129 bpm for this long portion in the middle of the race. Despite the relative cardiovascular ease, Van der Poel still averaged 252 W (normalized likely close to 300 W) during this section. It wasn’t all easy, however. As the peloton climbed the Schweiburg at close to 160 km to go, Van der Poel averaged 391 W for 5:47, with an average HR of only 156 bpm.

In the final third, things started heating up.

During the last two hours and 15 minutes of the race, the pace in the peloton saw a serious increase up, jumping from an early average of around 24 mph (38.5kph), to a staggering 26.7 mph (43kph), with climbs still littering the narrow roads all the way to the finish. In this final third of the race, Van der Poel averaged 316 W (normalized likely around 360 W). Working harder now, his average HR rose to an average of 160 bpm for these final two-and-a-quarter hours.

Van der Poel first showed his hand with his Gulperberg attack.

Going against his father’s advice (yes, seriously), Van der Poel attacked from the field on the Gulperberg climb with 45km to go. Van der Poel averaged 761 W for a minute on the climb, including a punch of 844 W for 40 seconds as he crests the climb solo ahead of the field. Over the next 6 km, he works well with Gorka Izagirre, averaging 444 W for 9:35, with a max of 1313 W to launch his attack. It’s even more interesting to break down this attack even further, as we can see how Van der Poel’s punchiness – likely from years of cyclocross – is one of his strongest assets.

Following that attack, he was on the ropes.

After attacking solo on the Gulperberg, Van der Poel is suddenly on the back foot. He gets caught by the field, and is immediately counter-attacked by Alaphilippe, Fuglsang, and Matteo Trentin, who quickly build up a lead as disarray plagues the chasers behind. For the next 26 minutes, Van der Poel averages 306 W with an average HR of 166 bpm and a Max HR of 192. The gap to the leaders continues to grow as Van der Poel is stuck in the third group on the road, now a minute down on two leaders, Alaphilippe and Fuglsang.

As alarm bells start ringing, Van der Poel tries pushing the pace in the chase group, riding the Eyserbosweg at an average of 528 W for 2:28. Just a few kilometers later, Van der Poel pushes the pace again on the Keutenberg, averaging 451 W for 2:54. (Side note, the Keutenberg averages 5% for just over a mile, and Van der Poel rode up it at an average of 20.1 mph/32kph). This is five hours and 45 minutes into the race.

Mathieu Van Der Poel (NED/Correndon-Circus) wins the 54th Amstel Gold Race 2019 (1.UWT) after an incredible race finale where he returned from a beaten position (chasing with 40 seconds down on the race leaders with 3km to go!), but ending up beating everybody in the sprint to the finish. Photo: Kramon

The finale approached.

On the final ascent of the Cauberg with 15 km to go, the gap between Van der Poel’s group and the two leaders is still 55 seconds. But Van der Poel refuses to give up; he attacks the Cauberg hard, averaging 478 W for 2:33 over the full ascent, including the first 90 seconds at 570 W.

Van der Poel rode the final 14.3 km (8.9 miles) at an average of 373 W and an average HR of 173 bpm. It’s all or nothing. Van der Poel needs to push as hard as he can to close the gap to the leaders, otherwise he’ll be sprinting for 4th, as Michal Kwiatkowski is closing in on the two leaders.

At 10 km to go, the (unreliable) GPS time gaps show that Van der Poel is over a minute behind the leaders. Win or lose, Van der Poel knows he needs to go, now. For this last section, Van der Poel barely stops pedaling; he averages 411 W for 14:04, pulling the chase group with him as he starts clawing back time on the leaders.
In the last 6 km, Van der Poel continues pulling at a steady 430-450 W, rarely dipping below 350 W even on the downhill sections where he is hammering along at over 38 mph (61.15kph).

And finally, an unbelievable finish.

Inside 4 km to go, Alaphilippe and Fuglsang are beginning to cat-and-mouse. Kwiatkowski is closing in from behind, but the GPS data still shows a gap of 35 seconds to Van der Poel’s group. From 2k to 1k to go, Van der Poel finally gets some help. He’s been pulling for the last 10 k, after all. In a brief bit of respite, Van der Poel ‘only’ averages 380 W for this 1:18 section. The leaders are now in sight, Van der Poel gets to the front, but no one else wants to pull. What will he do?

Lead out the sprint, of course.

At 800 meters to go, Van der Poel winds it up. He’s not sprinting yet, it’s too far to go. But no one will come around him, and if he stops pulling, they might never catch the leaders.

(If you were ever wondering what it’s like to lead yourself out for a sprint, here’s how it’s done.)

Lead-out: 27 seconds at 662 W (average speed: 35.5 mph/57kph)
Sprint: 16 seconds at 1,200 W (Max power: 1400 W, average speed: 39.7 mph/64kph)
800 m sprint: 43 seconds at 849 W

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The final minute of Amstel Gold.

In a breathless final minute, Van der Poel caught the three leaders, went flying past them, and hit the front with 100 meters to go. No one could come around the flying Dutchman, who crossed the line not with a celebration, but with a look of complete disbelief. He had done it – even he didn’t know how – Mathieu Van der Poel had won Amstel Gold.

Screenshots from Strava, where van der Poel posted his ride.

Missed it? Here are the final moments:

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