Michi won this race in 2018 and really wanted to defend his title this year. It did not happen but he did post the fastest bike split of the day once again and managed to get 3rd place overall making that his third podium in 4 races so far in 2019. Let's take a look at his race in a little more detail.
The unique ‘2 lake’ swim at St.Polten is always a draw for the athletes as nowhere else do they get to swim in 2 lakes with a 200m bridge crossing in between them! Very unusual and a lot of fun for both athletes and spectators. The temperature of the lakes was usually cold at just 16.5C but for Michi it was business as usual and he exited the water after the 1.9km swim (and 200m run over the bridge!) in 27:47 which was just 3 minutes down on the lead swimmers and after that he proceeded to do what he does best: chase down the lead cyclists.
But while Michi did produce a very good bike performance, as he usually does, (indeed he has improved if anything over the years - see table), he only managed to get the gap down from approximately 3 minutes 20 seconds to Thomas Steger at the 25km mark to just 1 minute 50 seconds when exiting onto the run course. The main reason for this is that there are two significant climbs on this course – ‘Krustetten’ and ‘Gansbach’ which are approximately 3.5km and 8km long respectively and while on paper they average only 4% in gradient they do include sections which are closer to 10%.
Michi is prepared to burn matches on these climbs riding them at around 400W with a gearing ratio of 42/30 but even so, he will still be losing ground to the higher power-to-weight athletes like Steger. On the short climbs we encounter in most Ironman races this makes no difference but on an 8km climb minutes can be lost.
“This year I tried to ride smarter, by pushing harder on the climbs but then trying to recover more while getting into a really tight aerotuck on the descents.” Michi Weiss
“An average of 8-10W more than in previous years on the key climbs and new a PB of 90km/h for top speed on the descents. That is a faster way to cover the ground.” Garth Fox
Still, the aim has to be to minimize time lost on these significant climbs and so this year Michi attempted to ride harder on the climbs, going even deeper than usual and then then to take it easier on the descents in terms of power output, but compensate with a very tight aero position and just let his 81kg work for him. It was a good strategy and lead to around 8-10W more on the climbs than in previous years as well as a very scary top speed of almost 90km/h on the steepest descent!
Michi went on to post the fastest bike split of 2:09:34 on what was quite difficult day to ride fast due to the particularly windy conditions and it resulted in a reduced time deficit to the front guys of just 1 minute and 50 seconds. Which, I must admit, I fully expected Michi to eat up very quickly and win the race. The fact that he ‘only’ ran 1:13:25 for the half marathon and not his customary 1:09 when he is at his best, can be traced back to having raced one race too many in the early part of the year. At the elite level, fatigue can be quite subtle and just a little bit too much in the system that has not yet had the time to be fully absorbed can be just enough to make the difference between a strong performance and a peak performance. Michi had a strong performance this year – but now he needs more recovery. Peak performances are generally even more fun!
As always, I want to thank Michi for his power transparency – It is still a rare thing in the pro ranks. We look forward now to Kona 2019 which, at the time of writing, is just 19 weeks away and Michi will be showing up on the Big Island with his A-game – count on it!
May the Force X Velocity be with you,
Sports Scientist & High Performance Coach