Tour de France 2015 - Stage 17

Over a distance of 161KM and with five categorized climbs, the 17th stage of the Tour de France is no easy day in the saddle.

Today we have the opportunity to look at the file of Thibaut Pinot (Francaise de Jeux), who finished fourth on the stage. To earn this result, Pinot averaged 291w for over four hours and twenty two minutes of racing (an average of 4.61w/kg based on a weight of 63kg).  This is an exceptional power output for such a long period of time.

In addition, we can break down the power Pinot made on three of the major ascents of the day:

Col des Léques:

Time: 15:44

Distance: 7.9KM

Power average: 376w

Cadence average: 93rpm

Ascent: 322m

Col de Toutes Aures:

Time: 30:19

Distance: 19KM

Power average: 315w

Cadence average: 92rpm

Ascent: 388m

Col de la Colle Saint – Michel:

Time: 39:43

Distance: 17.2KM

Power average: 293w

Cadence average: 89rpm

Ascent: 702

Col d’Allos:

Time: 57:19

Distance: 28.75KM

Power average: 331w

Cadence average: 91rpm

Ascent: 1043

Finish climb, Pra Loup:

Time: 14:19

Distance: 5.5KM

Power average: 362w

Cadence average: 89rpm

Ascent: 332m

What conclusions can we draw from this data? We don’t know Pinot’s Functional Threshold Power, but we do know that every rider has a limited time above this number on any given day. One of the biggest reasons to train with an accurate, reliable power meter is to precisely quantify efforts in training and racing, so that a rider knows where his or her output is at any given moment relative to FTP.

It’s a safe bet that the first and final climbs were ridden above Pinot’s FTP, and the Col d A’llos was ridden at very close to his FTP (perhaps plus or minus 20 watts, but this is speculation). Given these assumptions, we can estimate that Pinot spent 1.5 hours of the stage at or above his FTP. This is an extremely high workload, and it is difficult to match this in training without creating significant fatigue levels. Of course, this effort was made in the context of 16 days of previous racing, and on the day Pinot also made numerous accelerations, followed attacks, rode two other climbs at a high rate of ascent, and hit the deck once (unfortunately). All this work is why it takes months and years to prepare a cyclist to compete at the world level, and its also the reason why cyclists who win races have expressions of complete joy and reward on their faces: cycling is an extremely hard sport.

We can also see that Pinot’s preferred cadence is in the low 90’s for climbing. While this is more common in modern cycling, it has not always been the case. Watching old racing movies from the 70’s and 80’s, very often we see riders lumbering along at low RPM’s. While there are many explanations for the ever-increasing speeds of the peloton, the availability of far greater gear ranges has certainly allowed riders to ride faster on steeper ascents.

Stage 18 is a 186KM monster with seven categorized climbs, including one HC ascent. It will be a fantastic battle to watch.

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