Sprinting at the Tour de France
Posted by Matt Moran on Jul 13, 2011
The first week of the Tour de France is traditionally a sprinters paradise, long-wide boulevards drenched in glorious July sunshine but the 2011 edition of the race has seen a mix of narrow, uphill finishes with the odd cross-wind thrown in for good measure. We’ve been taking a look at some of the data generously made available by the pros from the first few days of the Tour.
Data from Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha shows that on Stage 4, won by Garmin-Cervelo’s Tyler Farrar, his average normalized power for 4hr 30mins was 263 Watts, ridden at an average speed of 25.9mph with average cadence of 82rpm. Importantly, given Flecha’s main role of supporting Bradley Wiggins at the Tour, he didn’t turn a pedal for an accumulated time of 47 mins during the stage which clearly benefits his recovery from the short intense efforts he needs to make to keep Wiggins out of trouble.
We know from our own research that world-class sprinters will be averaging well over 1000W in the last 30 seconds or so of a sprint, while reports in the media suggest that Mark Cavendish reached a peak power of over 1700W for his stage win in Cap Fréhel. Contrast this to the power outputs by Team Sky’s Greg Henderson to win a sprint in the Tour of California where his power peaked at around 1100W. This clearly illustrates the difference between what it takes to win a stage of the Tour de France and other races.
These figures are even more impressive when you consider at the Tour de France the lead-out trains to the finish line tend to pick up the pace at a much earlier stage than in most other races as riders and teams establish their position for the final sprint. These numbers also come on top of a good 4 or more hours of averaging over 250W with a final 30 minutes of around 400W+ depending on the terrain.
If we asked a rider from the Tour to sit on a Wattbike and replicate the stage (excluding the final sprint) we’d expect his Polar View for the last 45-60 minutes to produce something like this:-
This shows a rider pedalling both in and out of the saddle and reinforces the point that riding out of the saddle can produce a less effective pedalling technique than staying seated – note, it also has an effect on aerodynamics too. We can see that although the rider is maintaining power at the angle of peak force they are also finding it difficult to maintain the pedal momentum throughout the transition between legs.
It's these factors that can be the difference between 1st and 5th in a Tour de France sprint. World-class sprinters spend 95% of a Tour de France stage being protected by their team, not only to ensure immediate help is available if the rider has a mechanical problem but also to help the rider conserve energy throughout the day in readiness to produce the kind of power we’ve discussed here for victory in the final sprint.
cycling, elite, technique