2015 Tour de France - Stage 16

Stage 16 was one of this year’s longest at 201KM, finishing in Gap. The stage had significant cumulative altitude gain, which allowed a breakaway of riders who were not threats to the general classification gain a large lead. Among them was Trek Factory Racing rider Markel Irizar (Spain). The 72.5kg, 180cm tall rider infiltrated the escape, which swelled to 24 riders in size, early in the stage. 

This stage preceded the second rest day of the Tour and thus was sure to be fiercely contested. Peter Sagan was seeking an elusive stage win and single handedly chased any rider who attempted to separate from the break, which meant the pace was consistently high all day. With only two categorized climbs (the Col de Cabre and the Col de Manse, both category two ascents), initially the profile looks relatively benign. However, the cumulative altitude gain for the day is nearly 3000 meters, as the day began in Bourg de Péage at 157m and finished in Gap at 745m. The course also includes the infamous descent off the Col de Manse that ended the racing career of Joseba Beloki at the 2009 Tour with a crash.

This file is a gem, as it is a textbook example of what a World Tour level rider can do when the pressure is on for the entire day. For the final four and a quarter hours of racing, Irizar averaged a massive 301w (4.15w/kg), which is a very high output for such a long period of time. His average speed for this block of riding was over 42km/hr, which gives us an idea of how truly fast a race at this level is, even when the riders are climbing. 

There are three separate segments of this file that have been blocked off. Each has a relatively high power output, and we can see the relative power and HR values as the stage progresses. The fact that Irizar has nearly the same power to HR ratio for the final climb of a stage of over 200 KM in length is a testament to his conditioning and that he stayed well fed and hydrated. Normally, on a long hot stage, there is a decoupling of power and heart rate due to rider fatigue and dehydration, in particular on a day in which the average temperature was 38 degrees. However, we can see from the numbers that Irizar has nearly the same ratio on the final climb as he does early in the stage.

Section 1 (flats):

48 minutes

KM 26.81-68.59

Power average: 322w (4.41 w/kg)

HR average: 134bpm

Power to HR ratio: 2.40

Section 2 (Col de Cabre):

24 minutes

KM 129.84-139.15

Power average: 320w

HR average: 133bpm

Power to HR ratio: 2.40

Section 3:

28 minutes

KM 189.39-199.34

Power average: 343w

HR average: 142bpm

Power to HR ratio: 2.415

Markel eventually finished 22nd, 7:09 down on the stage winner, as the breakaway disintegrated under the pressure of the climbs and the GC battle swept up the fragments of the group.  After over 5000 KJ’s of hard riding, Markel was certainly happy to see the finish line. This was a solid day of work before the second rest day gives the riders some reprieve. Next, the riders must negotiate the Alps on the way to their final destination: Paris. 

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