How do you win a bike race? Power, speed, technical ability, talent, coaching, teammates, a pinch of luck and a whole lot more goes into standing at the top of a podium. In the 21st century, data also plays a big part.
To the untrained eye, these charts and numbers may amount to a cure for insomnia, but when analyzed closely, they reveal exactly what goes into performing at the highest level of professional sport. It also can inform other areas of performance, such as fuel, mindset and recovery, which have all taken a giant leap forward since the days of purely riding on instinct.
“Heart rate measurement and then power measurement were the first two big biometric milestones,” says Ben Delaney from program partner FasCat Coaching. “Those were more than a decade ago but in recent years, being able to quantify the recovery component via wearables in HRV and sleep has been game changing.”
Data-driven insights are not just reserved for the elites either, with access to the same level of performance information increasing all the time.
“Data lets you know the specific physiological requirements of a race,” says Ben Delaney. “Typically what power (in watts) or power-to-weight ratio (w/kg) is required over a certain distance or a certain critical section like a climb. Once you know what is required, you can train to achieve or perhaps even supersede that.”
Human Powered Health athletes have been recording their rides with the ELEMNT BOLT or ELEMNT ROAM from Wahoo Fitness, our official movement partner. These computers, as well as their wearable tech, give you the awareness of your personal habits that can influence recovery, sleep, hydration and nutrition, as well as provide you with education in ride data and trends in your fitness over time. “I was riding above threshold for X amount of time,” for example, is a common phrase heard on the team bus post-race.
From Pier-André Coté’s maple jersey-securing victory in Edmonton to Antri Christoforou’s memorable Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift breakaway, this is what it takes to race like a pro.
Pier-André Coté | Canadian National Championships
Max power – 1,172W
Avg cadence – 89rpm
Avg heart rate – 155 bpm
Avg speed – 44.1km/h
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Pier-André Coté’s epic ride to the Canadian road title in Edmonton will live long in the memory. It was an emotional victory on what became a ‘Super Sunday’ for the team on 26 June with Kyle Murphy winning the US title only hours prior.
His stats from that day certainly reflect the importance of the race for him personally in Family Powered Health. Cote’s mother has been battling cancer and when he got the call, the Quebecan made sure to target the nationals for her. As the data shows, every sinew was working towards this goal with Coté hitting a high of 1,172 watts as he shook Guillaume Boivin off his wheel in the final sprint beside Victoria Park. That’s enough power to run four and a half domestic refrigerators.
Arvid de Kleijn | Four Days of Dunkirk, stage 1
Top speed – 76.4km/h
Avg speed final km – 60km/h
Calories – 2,653
Did the Commissaires make the right call? pic.twitter.com/GzgQIDHEqz
— GCN Racing (@GcnRacing) May 3, 2022
How fast do sprinters go in the finale of a race? Well, on the opening day of the Four Days of Dunkirk, Arvid de Kleijn hit over 45mp/h so would have probably triggered a cop’s speed trap.
He also held a consistent cadence of around 92rpm in the final kilometer even when having to weave his way around a crash that would eventually lead to the Dutchman taking stage 1 victory.
For comparison’s sake, de Kleijn would be able to outsprint a coyote, elk, fox, ostrich, zebra, gazelle, hyena and bluefin tuna, all of which have similar top speeds (that wasn’t the start of a really bad joke).
Nina Buijsman | Vuelta a Burgos stage 2
2ª etapa | #BurgosFem
🏁 Último kilómetro al sprint de las escapadas en #AguilardeCampoo
— Vuelta a Burgos (@VueltaBurgos) May 20, 2022
One of the tightest winning margins of the entire cycling season came on stage 2 of the Vuelta a Burgos where after a 90km breakaway, Nina Buijsman missed out on victory by mere inches as she lunged for the line.
Even with a whole day of racing in her legs, the Dutch rider saved the best until last, maxing out at 839 watts in the final sprint, only just running out of enough asphalt to make her staying power count.
Stephen Bassett | Tour of Britain, stage 1
Distance – 184km
Avg power – 316W
Calories – 5,291
38’26” above threshold
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As Stephen Bassett admits himself, his style might not be too pretty but it gets the job done. The rider who has been in 20 breakaways – more than any other team member – this season, has also racked plenty of days in KOM jerseys as well as the overall in the Arctic Race of Norway KOM competition.
But we’re going back to the opening stage of the Tour of Britain where Bassett and roommate Matt Gibson scored a double podium. A 161km breakaway, Bassett scored maximum points over all of the climbs including the one in the video above – Suie Hill – where he admits he went full “ogre mode,” to win.
Bassett was able to crank it up to a maximum of 1,361 watts when triggering the sprint before a momentary drop in power when he sat down in the saddle and then another acceleration up to 1,300 watts, coming over the line by keeping his power over 1,000 watts.
It was a similar story on the other three climbs with the data reflecting Bassett’s staying power and ability to put down more than one lung-busting acceleration. The break was only caught on the final climb of the day, and this effort is reflected in the fact Bassett spent 38 minutes and 26 seconds of the five-hour stage, over his threshold.
Delaney explains that, “threshold, or functional threshold, is broadly defined as the maximum power output a rider can sustain for about an hour. Think of it as your marathon pace. When you are sprinting, you are ‘above your threshold.’”
Bassett was rewarded with a fancy green jersey for his effort.
Antri Christoforou | Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift , stage 5
Breakaway – 141km
Attack – 693W
Avg heart rate – 165bpm
Max cadence – 117rpm
Avg speed – 38.5km/h
Total work – 3,104kj
— Le Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift (@LeTourFemmes) July 28, 2022
How do you make a Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift breakaway? Well according to Antri Christoforou’s data from her epic stage 5 breakaway, you need to be able to sustain above 600 watts during your attack.
The 141km breakaway meant the Cypriot champion put in 3,104kj of work in total (the sum of watts generated during the stage), expending 3,063 calories. When you factor in that the average American dinner is 500-700 calories in total, this shows why it is so important for athletes to keep eating food with high nutritional value in and around a bike race so that they have enough energy to convert into race power.
Nickolas Zukowsky | Maryland Cycling Classic p/b UnitedHealthcare
It was an EPIC finish w/ amazing crowds to the inaugural 2022 Maryland Cycling Classic s/b @UHC! @sepvanmarcke of @IsraelPremTech out sprints Powless of @EFprocycling and Zukowsky of @HumanPwrdHealth to take the VICTORY🏆🚴♂️🚴♂️🚴♂️! #MCCUHC22@BaltimoreMD @BaCoTourism @StateMaryland pic.twitter.com/AC4vy8UEd0
— Maryland Cycling Classic s/b UnitedHealthcare (@MarylandClassic) September 6, 2022
On the subject of calories, during his silver-lined race at the Maryland Cycling Classic p/b UnitedHealthcare, Canadian Nickolas Zukowsky burnt 4,084 of them thanks to the 60% humidity of the day making the conditions feel like 90 degrees.
In a fiercely fought race, Zukowsky averaged 250 watts throughout the day and with attacks and counter-attacks happening almost constantly on the roads of Maryland County, the 24-year-old spent 37 minutes at or above his VO2 max.
“VO2 max, roughly, is the maximum effort a rider can do for 6 to 10 minutes,” says Delaney. “So riding at or above this level means they’re going really, really hard.” It’s safe to say, to be a pro you need to be able to dig deep when the racing demands it, and then be willing to revisit that painful place time and again.
During the closing stages in Baltimore, Zukowsky was regularly putting down more than 1,000 watts to either follow or create his own move before topping out at 1,286W in the final sprint against Sep Vanmarcke. His aggressive style was of course rewarded with the combativity jersey.
Marit Raaijmakers | Koppenberg, Tour of Flanders WE
Time – 2:41
Avg power – 326W
Max power – 448W
Avg speed – 12.3km/h
Total work – 52kj
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Climbing the infamous Koppenberg cobbled climb with a clear line and fresh lungs is hard enough. Now imagine you’re at the head of the action in the breakaway, have already raced 115km of a Women’s WorldTour monument over four cobbled sectors, the Molenberg, four classified climbs, and it’s the first time ‘The Flemish Torture Chamber‘ has ever been used in the race.
That’s exactly what Marit Raaijmakers did.
With fierce cobbles, and a claustrophobic feel to the climb with the baying crowds looking down at you from the verge above, the 600m climb is particularly venomous. A stretch in the trees has a gradient of 22% which when slippy or when riders are packed in tightly, will force them from their bike and onto their feet. Raaijmakers had no such trouble, but her average power of 326 watts with a maximum of 448 watts on the aforementioned gradient, shows what goes into cresting the beast.
“Watts per kilogram is probably the most important measurement in cycling, says Delaney. “Time is a vital component here. It’s not just how many watts per kilogram a rider can generate; it’s how many watts per kilogram over a specified duration,” he explains.
Using Andrew Coggan’s widely used table of power outputs (see bottom of article) we can see that, unsurprisingly, Raaijmakers holding 5.72 W/kg up the Koppenberg puts her in the cat.1 “excellent” percentile. Next time you’re on a trainer, try and hold 5.72 W/kg for two and a half minutes to feel the comparable effort… then do it again 11 times, the Tour of Flanders really is that brutal.
Ben King | Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, stage 2
KOM wins – 4
Avg power – 282W
Max power – 1,258W
Calories – 4,404
Total work – 4,487kj
50’31” at threshold
Back to February and Ben King’s brilliant victory in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana KOM standings, and more specifically stage 2, the day he secured the classification. Just like Bassett, as well as help from a teammate in the breakaway, King’s ability to make repeated efforts over 1,100 watts and ride for 50 minutes at threshold, carried him to first place on all four climbs.
King’s watts topped out at 1,258 (enough to power 18 television) as he attacked the peloton on his way to climbing a total of 2,512m, expending 4,404 calories in the process. We hope he had a big dinner that night.
Lily Williams | Carrefour de l’Arbre, Paris Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift
Time – 3:39
Speed – 32.5km/h
Cadence – 87rpm
Avg power – 268W
Max power – 447W
The Olympic bronze medalist sustained average power output of 268W on the 2.1km stretch of cobbles with an 87rpm cadence. There’s a tight, tricky to navigate left-hand bend on the sector, so Williams’ watts and cadence dropped down momentarily before she exited the corner at a peak of 447 watts while she revved back up to top speed thundering across the pavé.
“It’s the epitome of a bike race because it’s about 50% skill and fitness and 50% luck and equipment,” Williams said of the ‘Hell of the North’ afterwards.
Joey Rosskopf | Volta a Portugal em Bicicleta, stage 10 (ITT)
Last but not least, is the race of truth. More specifically, on board with Joey Rosskopf during the final day time-trial at the Volta a Portugal em Bicicleta. The tricky, technical Porto course saw lots of the riders opt for road bikes over TT setups, but Rosskopf persevered with the aero gain from his Felt DA TT, finishing the stage in 14th.
With so many climbs and technical sections on the course, Rosskopf’s speed, power and cadence graphs fluctuate to an incredible degree but the two-time national TT champion managed to maintain an average pace of 41.3km/h.
His speed tops out descending the Avenida Dom João II at 50mph, which if we’re using the same animal kingdom reference points as earlier, means Rosskopf was travelling quicker than a galloping horse, charging lion or swimming marlin.
Having freewheeled around the final bend, Rosskopf’s power maxed out at 1,036 watts as he stamped on the pedals and brought it home.
How do I measure up?
Have you got your head around those numbers or is your brain just spinning with data? In 2023 we’ll be bringing even more analysis and insight into how our athletes compete at the sport’s top level. If you’ve learnt one thing from this though it’s probably that you should think about connecting your bike trainer to the power supply of your fridge.