Let the body speak: It’s Tough at the Top – A comparison of three World Tour Events

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Natnael Berhane 4 TdF Stage 18 Grubers

What’s the hardest 9 days of training/racing you have ever done? How does that compare to a world tour event, like the Vuelta Espana 2016?

Trevor Court, Performance Coach at Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, and Dr Carol Austin, Head of Performance Support and Medical at Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, share some insights from Natnael Berhane’s dataset in this comparison of his:

  • First 9 days of the Vuelta Espana 2015 (VE15)
  • Complete Tour de Suisse 2016 (TDS16)
  • First 9 days of the Tour de France 2016 (TDF16)

Why this comparison? Well this is as tough as it gets in pro mens World Tour competition. All of the above “events” represent 9-days of high level consecutive competition; no rest days, no respite.

Time Spent Racing

Figure 1 shows a comparison of the duration in hh:mm:ss (including warmups and cool downs) of each stage and the total for each 9-day period. The Tour de France leads with a total of 46:07:56, compared to the VE15 at 36:47:09 (-28%) and TDS16 at 36:47:09 (-28%).

Figure1

Distance Raced

Figure 2 shows a comparison of the distance covered per stage and for the total for the 9-day period. The Tour de France leads with a total of 1756km (average of 195km per day), compared to the VE15 at 1430km (-19%)and TDS16 at 1184km (-33%).

Figure2

Meters Climbed

Figure 3 shows a comparison of the ascent or meters climbed per stage, and the total for the 9-day period. Once again, the Tour de France leads with a total of 23,571m (equivalent to climbing Mount Everest two and a half times), compared to the VE15 at 17,033m (-28%)and TDS16 at 16,504m (-30%).

Figure3

Training Load

The training load of a workout is defined by it’s intensity and duration. In cycling, we can accurately measure this load by-the-second using an on-bike powermeter like the Rotor 2IN powermeter used by Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka.

Over a decade ago, Andy Coggan and Hunter Allen at TrainingPeaks defined a new way of analysing power data that provides riders with a simple numerical expression of load, the Training Stress Score (TSS). What is TSS? TSS refers to the training stress score that is given for a ride. It takes into account the duration of the ride and the intensity of the ride. If a rider were to ride a one hour TT at his threshold he would get a score of 100.

Figure 4 shows a comparison of the TSS scores per stage, and the total for the 9-day period. For the Tour de France, Berhane had an average TSS of 279; equivalent of completing just under 3 one-hour time trials at threshold daily. In comparison the average TSS per day was, 211 (-24%) for the Vuelta Espana and 225 (-19%) for the Tour de Suisse. It is notable that the TDS16 had a Prologue and Individual Time Trial (short high intensity stages), and one stage was halved in duration due to bad weather. i.e. a lower average score should be expected.

Figure4

Energy Expenditure

Mechanical work on a bike can be accurately measured through a riders power data, as 1 watt = 1 joule/second. From this we can accurately estimate the physiological energy expenditure of the riders, which is expressed in calories.

Figure 5 shows a comparison of the energy expenditure (calories) per stage, and the total for the 9-day period. In the Tour de France, Berhane’s energy expenditure per day averaged at 3934 calories, compared to the VE15 at 2919cal (-26%) and TDS16 at 2977cal (-24%).

Figure5

Is this kind of data analysis useful to pro cyclists and their coaches?

Athletes train to meet the demands of their competive events. The data above informs the rider and their coach of the race demands of grand tour and week long world tour stage races.

  • For a young cyclist this type of the data informs their 3-5-year training plan. They know they need to gradually build their load over several years to position themselves for a start place in their “dream goal event”.
  • For grand tour rookies like Nicholas Dougall in our Vuelta Espana 2016 team, this data is useful to his physical and mental preparation. His training plan will position him to become a successful grand tour finisher, first time out.
  • For more seasoned pros like Berhane, this data informs their ongoing annual training plans and performance progression. With a couple of grand tours in his legs, he’ll be looking to progress his training for a stage win in his future events.

Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka trains and races with Rotor 2IN Powermeters. The data was analysed using TrainingPeaks the Official Training Software of Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka.