Power analysis of a hilly Sportive with TrainingPeaks

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In this article James Spragg of Dig Deep Coaching analyses a real ride file of one of his coaching clients from the Etape Caledonia to show how power can be used to pace the perfect course record beating sportive. Look here if you need to remind yourself of the key metrics used by TrainingPeaks 

So, you have trained well, your bike is clean, serviced and ready and you have even decided which socks to wear on the day! However without a plan on how to ride your next sportive you won’t be able to do the best ride possible.

The process of coming up with a plan starts by looking at the profile and distance of the event. The profile of the event will determine how you will need to ride, and where you will need to use your energy to ensure you get from start to finish as quickly as possible. Does for example the event consist of long climbs where you will need to ride up at your own pace, L’Etape du Tour or La Marmotte for example, or is the event a series of shorter sharp climbs where you will to ride as hard as possible just to get to the top such as the Tour of Flanders? The distance will determine how much you will need to keep in reserve for those last hard kilometres. Is the event the 300km Dragon ride or a much more manageable 80km?

For this example we are going to use something in between in terms of both distance and climbing, the Etape Caledonia.

As can be seen from the profile the Etape Caledonia consists of a few short sharp climbs at the start followed by a long plateau. This leads into one big climb and then another few short sharp climbs in the last few kilometres. The route is 132 km in total. The various sections of the course are highlighted on the profile below. We are going to use one of my clients Neill Kemp to illustrate how to ride a sportive.

What we will look at in the file is how Neill paced each section. He didn’t simply choose one pace to ride all day, he looked at the profile and where he needed to make his efforts, including where he would be able to recover. Going into the event Neill had a clear plan to make it into the front group on the first draggy climb, recovering in the wheels across the plateau, follow the moves on the big climb then giving it everything on the last kick before the finish. Let’s see how he did during the event and how he managed his effort using his power meter to ensure he was giving everything but didn’t blow up.

The first section consisted of a long draggy climb, in total this section is just short of 15km and climbs 122m, this gives an average percentage of only 1% but this does include a few small descents. So let’s have a look at how this section was ridden.

Neill’s average power for this section was 337w, this section took 24 minutes to complete and so he was working very hard to ensure that he got to the top of this long drag in the front group. His Normalized Power® was 362w, which is 109% of his Functional Threshold Power (FTP, and what he could sustain for one hour). His Intensity Factor® for this section was 1.09, showing the difficulty of this effort. Essentially what this shows is that he worked as hard as possible to ensure he came out of this section in the front group. Had Neill tried to ride this section any harder than this he would have blown up affecting the rest of his ride.

So having worked very hard for the first section of the sportive to ensure he was in the front group Neill then settled down into a much more comfortable tempo.

The section above is the flat middle section of the profile. Here Neill tried to save some energy and recover from the effort he just made. His average power was much lower for this section compared with the first climb, 252w and 277NP®. This gives a much lower IF® of 0.835 for 1 hour 6 minutes. Dropping down below FTP power and into zone 3 enabled Neill to recover from the effort he had put in on the first climb of the day.

What can be seen from this section of the file is the high number of bursts he made, he made around 15 bursts of over 500w (~150% FTP), these bursts represent when it was his turn to pull a turn at the front. His ability to complete repeated short bursts at 150% of FTP is something Neill has done a lot of work on. Having trained for this meant that he could continue to produce these sorts of efforts without fatiguing too much. This left him fresher than other riders for the big climb of the day. Because of the nature of group riding, i.e. a power burst when it is your turn at the front followed by a period of easier riding in the wheels, the VI is much higher for this section of the ride than any other, the VI represents the ratio of normalized to average power and shows how smooth or variable a rider’s power output was. For this section of the ride the VI was 1.10, much higher than for any other section of the event.

The file above shows Neill’s power output for the biggest climb of the event. The climb took just over 9mins and Neill climbed 162m in this time. The average gradient was around 4%. As can be seen from the file this was a big effort. The average power for the effort was 356w with a NP of 386! This is a zone 5 effort with an IF of 1.164. What this shows is Neill had recovered well from the first climb during the time he spent in the group across the plateau. If he had hit this climb tired then it wouldn’t have been possible to put out this kind of power. His VI has dropped when compared to the group riding across the plateau but as Neill explained to me later there were lots of hard riding on this climb and therefore the VI stayed high. It can be seen in the file that the climb was actually a series of zone 5 and 6 bursts followed by a short period of recovery.

The dotted line in the file above represents Neill’s FTP power, as can be seen the pace of the climb forced him to ride in zone 5 and 6 however each time that the intensity stalled and he could drop back below FTP power he was able to recover enough to follow the group. He actually crested this climb as the first rider.

Once over the top of the climb the last section of the course was a few small climbs in the last few kilometres. Once Neill crested the last big climb he was able to recover on the descent ready to give everything on the last climb of the day

Above is the power profile for the last climb of the day. This represents the biggest effort Neill made all day. For the final climb of 6mins 27s he averaged 370 with a NP of 398. This is 120% of his FTP power. The final climb was twisty and this can be seen in the variable nature of Neill’s power output – he needed to ease off slightly in the corners. As a result the VI is still reasonably high for this section, 1.08.

Neill’s effort on this climb was enough to whittle down the group to only him and 4 other riders. He was then strong enough to record a personal best time and a new course record. He went into the event with a clear plan of making it into the front group on the first draggy climb, recovering in the wheels across the plateau, following the moves on the big climb then giving it everything on the last kick before the finish. As can be seen from his power files he performed this perfectly, working as hard as possible in certain sections and recovering in others.  

In the next TrainingPeaks article we look inside a circuit race.

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