TDF power analysis: Neilson Powless’ breakaway lessons learned

by Giancarlo Bianchi


Alexey Lutsenko of Astana Pro Team won stage 6 at the Tour de France but today’s power analysis focuses on the birthday boy himself, Neilson Powless. His day started pretty early by getting into the breakaway 4.2 mi (6.8 km) into the race, thus spending the remaining 184 km of the race off the front.

Powless is in his first Tour de France, and that excitement was his undoing. It’s unlikely he could have bettered Lutsenko, but a few too many attacks up the day’s main climb left him unable to respond when he needed to. “I thought I had a decent shot with the guys that were in there and I think maybe I was a little bit too overzealous on the last 25 kilometers or so and maybe was just too much the aggressor on the second to last climb,” he said. “That kind of got the better of me.”

Let’s take a look at his impressive numbers and try, if we can, to pinpoint where he went wrong.

Neilson Powless’ Stage 6 stats

  • Height: 6 feet (1.84 meters)
  • Weight: 147.2 lbs. (66.8 kg)
  • Total Time: 4 hours 49 minutes
  • Distance: 120.76 miles (194.3 kilometers)
  • Average Speed: 25.1 mph (40.3 kph)
  • Elevation Gain: 10,161 feet (3097 meters)
  • Work: 5003 kJs
  • Average Power: 289 W (4.32 W/kg)
  • Average Weighted Power: 324 W (4.85 W/kg)
  • Max Power: 983 W
  • Average Heart Rate: 151 bpm
  • Max Heart Rate: 185 bpm

Power play by play

Bridging to the breakaway
Neilson got into the breakaway 14 minutes into the race. A move that took 1 minute 41 sec, averaging 562w (8.41 W/kg). A decent effort but nothing leg-breaking for him.

Riding the breakaway until the base of the Col de la lusette
Neilson spent 3h 34min in the breakaway, covering a distance of 100.6 mi (162 km) at an average speed of 28.1 mph (45.3 kph). In this time he averaged 280 w (4.26 W/kg). His Intensity Factor (IF) for this effort was .83, which would suggest he was riding within his tempo and sweet spot power zones. A IF of 1.0 is riding at threshold. In other words, slightly uncomfortable but not flat-out.

Col de la Lusette
This was the key point of the race. His break hit the slopes of Lusette and slowly lost riders.

Neilson unleashed a vicious attack with 11.1 mi (17.9 km) left in the race that dropped the likes of Greg Van Avermaet. An effort where he averaged 638w (9.71 W/kg) for 24 seconds.

Keep in mind, Neilson has been racing for over 4 hours by this point. The only rider left in the break that could match him, at least at first, was the eventual winner Alexey Lutsenko.

Unfortunately for Neilson, Lutsenko was able to counter and ride him off his wheel less than a kilometer later.

The effort before his attack offers an explanation. He spent the prior part of the climb riding at an IF of 1.11, so well into the red zone. That was followed up with his attack, pushing him deep into the red. He simply did not have enough left to match Lutsenko’s pace.

We have evidence of how cooked he was in the fact that the data shows he did not make any kind of acceleration to try and follow Lutsenko. Both his power and HR showed a downward trend following the attack, which would suggest Neilson probably recognized he could not sustain the effort he just put in and needed the rest of the climb to ‘recover’.

It was during this time of having to ease off the effort that Neilson was passed by a resurging Jesús Herrada. Greg van Avermaet was behind, but clawing his way back toward Powless, who was now riding at reduced power. At this point, there was still 4.84km left on the climb. Van Amermaet was chasing, but closing in on Powless’ reduced pace. Perhaps Neilson would have secured a podium position had he been a bit more patient.

  • Total Time: 29 minutes 31 seconds
  • Distance: 15 miles (9.38 kilometers)
  • Average Speed: 11.8 mph (19.1 kph)
  • Elevation Gain: 2277 feet (694 meters)
  • VAM: 1410 m/h
  • Average Power: 373 W (5.68 W/kg)
  • Average Weighted Power: 388 W (5.8 W/kg)
  • Max Power: 958 W
  • Average Heart Rate: 174 bpm
  • Max Heart Rate: 184 bpm

Mont Aigoual
Neilson was eventually caught by Greg Van Avermaet on the climb to Mont Aigoul. Neilson’s Varibility Index (VI), the ratio between your normalized power and average power, was 1.01, which would indicate Neilson rode a steady power to get to the top. Despite it being Neilson birthday, Greg was in no mood to give any gifts, and beat him for third. Neilson would roll in seconds later for 4th, his best ever performance in a tour stage. Below are this stats for the entire climb:

  • Total Time: 16 minutes 47 seconds
  • Distance: 5.09 miles (8.19 kilometers)
  • Average Speed: 18.2 mph (29.3 kph)
  • Elevation Gain: 1017 feet (310 meters)
  • VAM: 1107 m/h
  • Average Power: 356 W (5.32 W/kg)
  • Average Weighted Power: 359 W (5.37 W/kg)
  • Max Power: 596 W
  • Average Heart Rate: 169 bpm
  • Max Heart Rate: 177 bpm

All in all, it was a successful day for birthday boy Powless. He made the break on the right day, which is always difficult, and probably learned some lessons next time.

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