Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
It seems the winner of the Amgen Tour of California gets younger and younger every year. This year we were treated to the youngest-ever overall winner of a UCI WorldTour race – 20-year-old Tadej Pogacar.
Just like Mathieu van der Poel at Amstel Gold, Pogacar posted all his California race days on Strava, including power figures, so we can see exactly what it took to drop riders like Richie Porte and George Bennett, set a new record on Mt. Baldy, and win the Tour of California overall.
Note: This article discusses the power outputs and power-to-weight ratios of professional cyclists. Follow the link for more information on power outputs, and to see where you stack up. This article also deals with the concept of normalised power, a topic we’ve covered before.
Pogacar showed an impressive amount of patience, maturity, and brute strength throughout the week at the Tour of California. He marked dangerous moves, chased down critical attacks, and bridged across to the decisive counter by Sergio Higuita, before coming around him in the final hundred meters to take the win on the race’s queen stage to Mt. Baldy.
Throughout the entire week, Pogacar was clever; with the help of his UAE-Emirates teammates, he mostly stayed out of the wind and the commentator’s mouths. He only chased down the most dangerous attacks, keeping his powder dry until the slopes of Mt. Baldy. With freshness on his side, and a carrot to chase in Higuita, Pogacar flew up the 7.6-kilometre climb in record time.
From top-to-bottom, his unofficial time of 24:29 is the fastest of all-time, ahead of Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Julian Alaphilippe, Andrew Talansky, and Rafal Majka, the only other riders who have climbed Mt. Baldy in under 25 minutes during the Tour of California.
Perhaps most significantly, Pogacar’s Strava time is faster than that of Phil Gaimon’s, who took on the (slightly shorter) Mt. Baldy Strava segment during his “Worst Retirement Ever.” With full freshness, a custom skinsuit, and non-UCI legal bike (he cut most of the drop bars off, for example), Gaimon set a then-record time of 22:25 in early 2017. But now, there’s a new King of Mt. Baldy: Tadej Pogacar.
What does it take to beat some of the best climbers in the world, and take the Strava KOM on one of the most famous climbs in America? Let’s take a look.
The rider: Tadej Pogacar
Height: 1.76 m (5 ft. 8 in)
Weight: 66 kg (146 lbs.)
He is not a rail-thin climber as we are used to seeing, but more of a Van der Poel-type build. Instead of sticks for arms, their core and upper body muscles seem to help propel them up the hills rather than weigh them down.
The race: The Amgen Tour of California
This year was hyped up to be the hardest-ever edition of the Amgen Tour of California, and I think it’s safe to say the hype was right. With multiple stages over 200km, 3,000 meters of climbing, and six hours in the saddle, you would think the riders would want to take the first few days easy, save their energy for Mt. Baldy on Stage 6 perhaps …
After Peter Sagan won the bunch sprint on Stage 1, it seemed to be business as usual at the Tour of California: the early break went, filled with Americans on small pro teams vying for TV time. The Europeans chased them down inside the final 10km, and Sagan won the sprint.
But Stage 2 flipped the script. At 215km, and with over 4,500 meters of climbing, this was the opposite of an easy day in the saddle. Starting in Rancho Cordova and finishing in South Lake Tahoe, the profile made the race look almost entirely uphill. To give you an idea of this reality, the middle third of the race was composed of a 68km (42.3 mile) stretch of road that climbed 1,828 m (6000 ft.) an average grade of 2.7%. The racing among the GC favorites didn’t truly kick off until the final third of the race, however.
With 32km to go, the peloton – or at least what’s left of it – began the climb of South Luther Pass. Racing at over 2,100 m (7,000 feet), riders began to blow up as they went too deep into the red. On this 4.1km (2.4 mile) climb, Pogacar put out 345W (5.2 W/kg) for 8:27. From here, the race was thrown into chaos. With a fast, winding descent, and over five hours of racing in the riders’ legs, splits began to form on the fast and rolling roads to South Lake Tahoe.
Pogacar missed one of these splits – a decisive moment in the race – and had to bridge back on to the front group with a monster effort. Pogacar exploded up the 1km (0.6 mile) Apache Climb in a time of 1:58, producing 440 W (6.67 W/kg) for the duration of the effort that saw him regain contact with the front group.
The front of the race was now down to just 10 men, and Pogacar rotated at a steady 200-300W for the next few kilometres before the final climb. As attacks began to fly, Pogacar stayed in the draft, showing an impressive amount of patience and race craft for a 20-year-old neo-pro. At 1km to go, Pogacar put in an 800W (12 W/kg) dig as the gradients bounce between 5 and 15% all the way to the finish line.
In this final section, Pogacar averaged 432W (6.55 W/kg) for 2:55, including the first 1:12 at 501W (7.6 W/kg). The effort was enough to put the Slovenian in fourth place on the day, 10 seconds down on the winner, Kasper Asgreen, and an all-important 21 seconds ahead of eighth place Sergio Higuita.
Stages 3, 4, and 5 – Saving energy
Stage 3 was one for the breakaway, and Rémi Cavagna took the win nearly eight minutes ahead of a relaxed peloton which was probably happy to take it “easy” after Stage 2’s fireworks. Pogacar averaged 194W (2.9 W/kg) (244W or 3.7 W/kg weighted) for the near-six hour day, coming home safely in the peloton. It wasn’t all easy, however, as the peloton climbed Mt. Hamilton with 77km (48 miles) to go. While it was too far from the finish for the GC men to have a go, the pace was still high as Pogacar pushed an average of 351W (5.3 W/kg) up the 6.9km (4.3 mile) climb which averages 8%.
Before the bottom of the descent, the peloton punched it hard up Quimby Road, a 1.8km (1.1 mile) climb which averages 9%. Pogacar rode this 6:09 section at 355W (5.4 W/kg), proof again that there are no easy days at the Tour of California. And if that wasn’t enough, Pogacar decided to get up there for the field sprint as well, averaging 390W (5.9 W/kg) for the last 53 seconds of the stage to finish seventh in the field sprint and 10th on the stage.
Stage 4 was a long slog down the Pacific Coast Highway, into a roaring headwind, and at times into driving rain. It was an easy day to sit in and one of the hardest to be in the breakaway. Pogacar remained tucked in the field, averaging 227W (3.4 W/kg), weighted, for yet another six-hour stage. Each climb, he pushed an average of 260-300W (3.9-4.5 W/kg) – an easy pace for one of the best climbers in the world.
Inside the last 10km: drama. The race leader, Tejay Van Garderen, crashed, nearly flew off the road on his teammate’s bike, got held up by another crash, and ended up losing over a minute. The judges later announced that Van Garderen would keep the jersey, bending the rules a bit.
Amidst all the chaos, Pogacar sprinted to 19th on the stage, putting in a monster effort in the final few kilometres. The Slovenian averaged 434W (6.6 W/kg) for the last 2.8km (1.7 miles), which took just 3:22. He sprinted out of the corners in the chaotic finale, routinely hitting 900+ W (13.6 W/kg) before bombing through another corner at 50 kph (31 mph).
The final sprint was an uphill drag averaging over 5%, but Pogacar flew up it at an average speed of 48 kph (29.1 mph), averaging 686W (10.4 W/kg) for the final 35 seconds and hitting a max of 1,060W (16 W/kg).
Stage 5 was an odd one, expected to be a bunch sprint, but with an ‘intermediate sprint’ just a few kilometres from the climb. We’re not sure who designed this course, and who put a sprint point instead of a KOM at the top of a 1km, 10% climb, but at least it made for exciting racing. It was a harder day overall for the riders, who again tackled over 2,900m of climbing, this time in under five hours.
Pogacar rode at over 300W (4.5 W/kg) for nearly all of the day’s major climbs, including 366W (5.5 W/kg) for 9:40 on First Casitas Pass, and 368W (5.6 W/kg) for 5:00 on Second Casitas Pass. But the real sting came on Ferro Drive, the climb up to the intermediate sprint point with 8km (5 miles) to go. Pogacar averaged 526W (7.9 W/kg) for 2:26 here, with the first 52 seconds at 582W (8.8 W/kg).
After a harrowing descent down the Ventura city streets, Pogacar sat tight in the front group, ready to sprint for the win. He was boxed in, however, and couldn’t get a clear shot at the finish, despite pushing 608W (9.2 W/kg) for the last 25 seconds and hitting a max of 1,006W (15.2 W/kg).
Stage 6 – Queen Stage to Mt. Baldy, and a new record
It was the day everyone had been waiting for – riders, fans, and commentators alike – everyone was waiting for the showdown on Mt. Baldy. The race’s Queen Stage was just 125km, but with over 3,400m (11,500 feet) of climbing, it promised to be spectacular – and horribly hard.
An early break went in the first few kilometres, so the peloton’s pace was hard but steady up the first 9.2km (5.7 mile) climb. Pogacar averaged 301W (4.6 W/kg) for 27:47 in this section, before the peloton took on the winding descent to the bottom of Glendora Mountain Road. From here, it was almost all uphill to the finish, with the first part being steady, followed by a long false-flat climb along the ridge, and finally a steepening grade all the way to the top of Mt Baldy.
On the first section of the climb, Pogacar averaged 321 W for 28:58, the pace clearly picking up as the riders approached the final climb. As the gradients eased off, Pogacar’s power dropped to 240-250W (3.6-3.8 W/kg) during the undulating section along the ridge, which the peloton completed in just over ten minutes. There is one final kick up before the climb to Mt. Baldy, and Pogacar pushed an average of 313W (4.7 W/kg) for this 14:08 section. Just a couple of kilometres later, the peloton flew down the quick descent to Mt. Baldy Village – this is where the final climb began.
EF-Education First set an infernal pace at the bottom of the climb, shelling riders off the back in just the first few hundred meters. Pogacar’s pace was high but steady, pushing an average of 362W (5.5 W/kg) for the first 1.5km (0.95 miles) of the climb in 3:52. As the attacks began to fly, the peloton shattered into pieces, as did Van Garderen’s grip on the yellow jersey. The American rider cracked with around 5km to go, and the front group was down to less than ten riders.
George Bennett and Richie Porte traded attacks, but it was the counterattack from Higuita that proved to be decisive. The young Colombian got a gap but Bennett, Porte, and Pogacar were close behind.
With less than 3km to go, Pogacar left Bennett and Porte behind, putting in an incredible two-minute effort of 396W (6 W/kg), including a max of 865W (13.1 W/kg), to get across to the Colombian. This is one of the steepest sections of the climb, but Pogacar was still able to ride at 24 kph (15 mph) on the 14% grade. By now, the race was blown to pieces, and Pogacar had averaged 372W (5.6 W/kg) for the last 3.2km (1.9 miles) of climbing.
After a very short flat section, the road pitched up to 13% for the next 900 meters (0.5 miles). Pogacar pushed 364W (5.5 W/kg) for this section, he and Higuita riding in tandem as they tried to hold off the chasers behind. The last few hundred meters snaked through the Mt. Baldy parking lot before finishing with a bumpy U-turn as riders opened up their sprint – it is a weird summit finish.
The road flattened out here, and Pogacar’s power reflects that, riding at just 200-250W (3-3.8 W/kg) in the minute before the final sprint. Higuita attacked, trying to lead into the last corner. Pogacar did the same, hitting a max of 1,051W (15.9 W/kg). Higuita beat him to the corner, but botched his line, leaving the door open for Pogacar to take the stage win and the overall lead.
Pogacar’s time of 24:29 is unofficially the fastest time ever up Mt. Baldy, and his 22:02 is the current KOM on the Mt. Baldy Strava segment. (Sho-Air TWENTY20’s Emma Grant earned the QOM on this same segment after finishing eighth on Stage 2 of the 2019 Women’s Tour of California).
Stage 7 – Holding on to the lead
It’s not over till it’s over, and Pogacar’s GC rivals threw everything they had at him in this year’s final Tour of California stage. A large breakaway got away early, including Max Schachmann, who at just over a minute down, was sitting in the virtual yellow jersey for much of the stage.
The road steadily rose up the Aliso Canyon climb, and Pogacar produced an average of 340W (5.2 W/kg) for 16:30 in this middle section of the stage. EF-Education First drove the pace over the next, unclassified climb, and Pogacar averaged 374W (5.7 W/kg) for 3:19 here, including the first 1:37 at 434W (6.6 W/kg), as the peloton began to split. Over the top, Pogacar had to put in another effort – 408W (6.2 W/kg) for 1:16 – to neutralize attacks and stay in the front group.
After a fast descent down into Pasadena, the peloton began the first of three finishing circuits to decide the winner of the Tour of California. By now, the sprinter’s teams were on the front, and Pogacar could simply wait for the final sprint to seal up his overall victory. That was no easy feat, however — the peloton averaged 52.5 kph (32.4 mph) for these last 17.5km (10.9 miles).
Pogacar averaged 250W (3.8 W/kg) for this 20-minute section, including the final 1:36 at 380W (5.8 W/kg). And with that, Tadej Pogacar crossed the line as the 2019 Amgen Tour of California winner, the youngest-ever overall winner of a UCI WorldTour stage race.
Tour of California totals
Total Time: 33 hours 30 minutes
Distance: 1,247 kilometres (775 miles)
Average Speed: 37.2 kph (23.13 mph)
Elevation Gain: 18,907 meters (62,031 feet)
Work: 24,288 kJs
Stats from Pogacar’s Strava profile.