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Power Analysis: Stages 1-3 at the Tour de France

  • By Shawn Heidgen
  • Published Jul. 5, 2013
Simon Clarke averaged 263 watts during the 145.5km third stage of the Tour de France. Photo: TrainingPeaks

The first few days of the Tour de France are always crazy. Riders are nervous and twitchy and everyone is fresh. This combination always leads to some unfortunate crashes and injuries.

This year, though, will forever be remembered for the stage 1 finale failure, where the finish line was moved numerous times in the final few minutes. Unfortunately, the bad luck also stretched to data collection as poor Internet service, coupled with tired and injured riders, led to few files being uploaded the first couple of days. Fortunately though, it seems as though the chaos has subsided, the riders have settled in, and the files are rolling in.

TrainingPeaks was able to analyze data from Juan Antonio Flecha of Vacansoleil-DCM on stage 1, where he kicked off the Tour with a long breakaway. Romain Sicard (Euskaltel-Euskadi) provided his data from stage 2, in which he raced conservatively to save his effort for the three weeks ahead. Simon Clarke (ORICA-GreenEdge) shared his data from stage 3, which was filled with fireworks.

Juan Antonio Flecha stage 1 summary

Result: 122nd
213 km
4:56:52
256 Average Watts (3.4 w/kg)
4594 kJ
256 TSS

View Flecha’s PowerTap data in TrainingPeaks.

Romain Sicard stage 2 summary
Result: 154th
156 km
4:00:56
204 Average Watts (3.3 w/kg)
2829 kJ
231 TSS

View Romain Sicard’s SRM data in TrainingPeaks.

Simon Clarke stage 3 summary
Result: 66th
145.5 km
3:41:24
263 Average watts (4.1 w/kg)
3417 kJ
296 TSS

View Simon Clarke’s SRM data in TrainingPeaks.

Interestingly, the physiological toll of riding in the break all day on stage 1 was only slightly harder for Flecha than for Sicard riding in the peloton on stage 2, despite stage 1 being a full hour longer than stage 1. Flecha’s Training Stress Score (TSS) of 256 was not that much higher than Sicard’s 231. TSS quantifies the workload performed by a rider based on the duration and intensity of the effort. A 1-hour, all-out time trial effort would result in 100 TSS points. In other words, Flecha did the equivalent of riding just over two and a half hours at threshold, while Sicard’s effort was only slightly less, doing the equivalent of about two hours and 20 minutes.

If you watched any of stage 1, you may have an idea as to why the efforts were so similar. Flecha is a long-time veteran of the pro ranks and immediately took charge of his breakaway companions, directing the riders, telling them how to pull and work together. Being the captain of the group, it is likely he was able to use his command to make the other riders work a little bit harder than him, thus conserving a bit more energy when he could.

Flecha was not content to just be in the breakaway though — he had visions of the green sprinter’s jersey in his head. He put in a huge attack about 1km out from the intermediate sprint, knowing a rider from break had a chance at taking the green jersey. He spared no energy in this explosive move, averaging an astonishing 832 watts (11.1 w/kg) for 36 seconds and hitting a maximum of 1193 watts! This is really impressive considering he was in the break for 150km already. Lars Boom (Belkin) reeled him in and took the sprint.

Compare Sicard and Flecha’s TSS scores with that of Clarke’s on stage 3, where he absolutely buried himself for the team. His effort paid off with teammate Simon Gerrans taking the win. Physiologically, Clarke’s effort cost him the most of the three files we analyzed, earning a TSS of nearly 300 (equivalent to doing three, back to back one-hour time trials in a day). He did this on the shortest of the three stages we analyzed, in only 145km and in less than four hours.

What is so impressive about Clarke’s race is the tenacity he raced with all the way to the line. During stage 3, Clarke went after and scored top King of the Mountain points on Col de San Bastiano, Col de San Martino, and Côte de Porto.

On the Col de San Bastiano, Clarke averaged 940 watts (14.6 w/kg) for 26 seconds and peaked out at 1186 watts. Clarke put out another impressive attack on the Col de San Martino, averaging 749 watts (11.6 w/kg) for 33 seconds. He was able to continue his winning streak on the third KOM, cranking out 828 watts (12.8 w/kg) for 16 seconds.

On the last climb, when it looked like he would be reeled in, he attacked one final time in a valiant effort to gain the KOM jersey but to also stay with the main field to further help out the team in the sprint. He came up just shy on the KOM but was able to crest the last climb with the main group.

In the final kilometers, Clarke went to the front of the hard-charging peloton to help bring back a dangerous move. Still not willing to call it a day, Clarke also guided the leadout train until two kilometers to go. During this 5-minute effort he averaged 380 watts, which is 5.9 w/kg!

Another way to compare the various efforts of the riders is to look at their Intensity Factor scores. TrainingPeaks uses Intensity Factor (IF) to give insight into just how intense a ride or race was for a rider. IF can be thought of as the percentage of a rider’s threshold power (max 1-hour sustainable power) that he rode at for the stage. For our three riders, Flecha actually came in with the lowest IF at .70, again not surprising as we know he ruled the breakaway and was likely able to give himself a bit of a rest when possible. Sicard had an IF of .77 and Clarke absolutely killed it with an IF of .91!

Typical IF values for various training sessions or races are as follows:
- Less than 0.75: recovery rides
- 0.75-0.85: endurance-paced training rides
- 0.85-0.95: tempo rides, aerobic and anaerobic interval workouts (work and rest periods combined), longer (>2.5 h) road races
- 0.95-1.05: lactate threshold intervals (work period only), shorter (<2.5 h) road races, criteriums, circuit races, longer (e.g., 40 km) TTs
- 1.05-1.15: shorter (e.g., 15 km) TTs, track points race
- Greater than 1.15: prologue TT, track pursuit, track miss-and-out

By comparing the first three stages of this year’s Tour, we can get a real feel for just what it takes to race at the highest level. Flecha is the most experienced of the three and this was reflected in his fairly conservative ride, despite being in the break all day. Clarke clearly had the hardest race and it paid off with a stage win for his team. In reviewing the data we also see that not only is it a battle of strength but also will and savvy. It definitely takes all three to make it through the Tour de France, let alone win it.

For more power data from the 100th Tour de France, visit TrainingPeaks.com/TDF.

Editor’s note: Thanks to TrainingPeaks.com, we are looking at power data from the 2013 Tour de France. Today, Shawn Heidgen, a USA Cycling certified coach, former professional cyclist, and Education Specialist at TrainingPeaks, recaps the data from the first three days of the three-week race. For more, follow Shawn on Twitter.

FILED UNDER: News / Pro Power Analysis / Road / Tour de France / Training Center TAGS: / / /

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