March 08, 2021
In bicycle racing, there are pros, and then there are the rest of us. Everyone suffers; pros just go much faster while doing so. Faster is largely a function of power output. So how much more power do pros create? A lot, as it turns out.
We got a rare treat this week as Strade Bianche winner Mathieu van der Poel uploaded his ride to Strava. While some pros do upload all their rides to Strava, van der Poel has historically not been one of them - perhaps being reluctant to expose their power and heart rate data to competitors?
Van der Poel's Strava account lists only a single activity (this one) in the past 4 weeks, so we have a rare opportunity to take a peak under the hood. What does the data from his race-winning ride and attacks show us? Here's what we learned:
Mathieu van der Poel averaged 318 watts over the nearly 5 hour race, but what's most impressive was the finishing move that dispatched Julian Alaphilippe and Egan Bernal - 1,362 watts! For perspective, the very best pure sprinters produce 1,500 - 1,900 watts, and are often carefully protected by domestiques all day before reaching that peak.
For van der Poel to produce 1,362 watts after 5 hours of racing is unbelievable, given the lack of support riders in the Strade Bianche final kilometers.
MvdP's average heart rate at Strade Bianche was 148 beats per minute, and he maxed out at 189 beats. The combination of power output and heart rate earned Strava's "historic relative effort" label - although admittedly this probably isn't accurate because MvdP has uploaded so few rides to Strava overall.
In the run-up to Strade Bianche, van der Poel's flagship Canyon road bike suffered a broken handlebar, leaving the brake lever dangling. As a result, he rode a "second tier" backup bike that didn't use the affected part out of caution. That didn't seem to hurt his capabilities, though, as van der Poel used Wahoo's ELEMNT ROAM GPS cycle computer to capture his Strade Bianche ride without the top-tier Canyon.
It's interesting to focus on the winner, but worth noting that anyone who takes the start line as a pro can produce big power numbers, even if they don't match MvdP. Rival Wout van Aert has also shared his Strade Bianche numbers - but didn't include power and heart rate data. They do show one interesting tidbit - van Aert prefers a slightly higher cadence (94) compared to van der Poel's average cadence of 89 RPMs.
You can use Strava to explore similar files from teammates, support riders, and efforts on the same course and KOMs from previous editions of Strade Bianche. Happy hunting.
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