Tuesday, December 26, 2006

wattage and pros

One thing I didn't make clear in my "it's tactics, stupid" post is my thought on pro cyclist's wattage outputs.

I'm definitely NOT a pro. When I first got a wattage trainer, I found myself in difficulty trying to sustain a 190 watt average for an hour. I wasn't really sure what that meant in the realm of things but during a group ride I mentioned the wattage stats (190w average) to a very enthusiastic Cat 4 (he had a PowerTap wheel) and got the kind of pitiful look you give a sorry racer. To top it off, I got dropped shortly thereafter.

Anyway, my threshold is pretty low.

Pros, on the other hand, can sustain some incredible averages. I've read a few quotes where pros sustain a 300 watt average for 6 hours (!). Hincapie was one, another was a lesser known pro who said that the "300w x 6 hr" ride was a record for him. So they can do something like that.

Now the Flandis wattage stats, if they can be believed, seem reasonable. They don't break 425 watts by too much. In fact, they seem to sit below 400.

To put that in perspective to what I do, one of the standard "out of the box" workouts described in the little pamphlet that came with the trainer is doing all out one minute efforts. I set a countdown timer to 60 seconds, start rolling (since I get massive tire slip when I jump from a standstill), hit the start button, and go. I start moderately aggressively, typically at 450 watts or so, start to blow, drop into the 300's, then do a final sprint which might consist of a sustained 450-475 watts. The end result? 402 watts. For a minute. Multiply that enormous effort by, say, 50, and you get a nice climb in the Tour. Oh, and I'd have to be something like 30 lbs lighter.

Pros are just a different kind of creature.

It reminds me of a poster I had when I was a kid. National Geographic, one of the solar system and its place in the galaxy. Anyway, there is a little thumbnail of Earth, with an arrow pointing to where it belongs in a little sketch of the solar system. There is another arrow pointing from the solar system to it's place in a small cluster of "local" stars. There is yet another arrow, placing the star cluster into a larger star cluster. There are even more arrows placing the various exponentially larger bodies of matter until there is an arrow pointing to a spot in the middle of a bunch of galaxies with the note "known universe". It's mind boggling, and I struggle to get past the local star cluster arrow.

Pros are like that to us Cat 3's. At least to me. After all, you get some really good Cat 3 and he will get eaten alive in a regional 1/2/3 race (unless he's destined to be a pro, in which case he'll actually win the thing or something). The regional winners, when they get dunked into big national races, say, Philly, or Tour of Georgia, well, they are not even good enough to be pack fodder. They might make an impression at something "minor" like Superweek. The winners of those domestic pro events, they go to the Classics or the small European stage races and they are nowhere. I mean no where. Minutes and minutes down on GC or crossing the finish line when the Classics winner is already interviewing on TV. Those winners? They're the ones who are not favored in the "big" races, the Tour, the Giro, hence they aim for the dinky pro races like the Dauphine or Paris Nice. Or they'd show up "for training". Sort of like Bugno and Fignon showing up at Tour Du Pont to do some training miles. And chasing down some poor unsuspecting amateurs like Chann McRae when he tried to go off the front.

Anyway, at the peak of the sport is the Tour. Guys who are used to annihilating the top pros get annihilated. Or reduced to that of "get me some bottles". When you watch world champions drop out or drop back to the team car for bottles, you know the guys they're helping are pretty strong.
Makes me think about those galaxy arrows.

And how far away that Tour galaxy is from the Cat 3 solar system.


Anonymous said...

I like my little Cat 3 universe. Skilled and fast enough to be challenging, but slow enough to be attainable.
Another thing about the 3's is that that is where the real love of the sport lies. It always seemed like the hotshots on their way to Cat 1 and beyond were in it for other reasons. They chose teams based on what they would give them: bikes, gear, clothing... The 3's who pay their own way do so because of the enjoyment of the racing. There are tons of 3's with more experience and savvy (like Aki) than most pro's. Not as fast, obviously, but great tactically. Makes for great racing. And safer, since (most) have their day jobs and families to return to. The hotshot with somewhere to go will ride stupid and lay it all out when there's no need to for the win. I'll thread the needle and use my elbows to hold my place in the lead out on the last lap with the best of them, but I won't put mine or my opponents bodies at undue risk.

Anonymous said...

Nice post... Seems like there is room for improvement and a lot of nice training rides in 2007. :-)


Aki said...

heh thanks :)

My wattage hasn't gone up very much relative to "good" riders. Before my wattage trainer died (last year), I could barely hold 220-230 watts for an hour. Those efforts were a total struggle for me - a total time trial effort. Sprinting on the trainer (for wattage) seemed really inaccurate since the tire would slip and my wattage would never go above 900 watts. But knowing some of the outputs of racers when I've out-jumped or out-sprinted them, I figure my sprinting output is a lot higher than that.

I guess I'm like a little Fast and Furious engine - no sustainable power but when I hit my nitrous button, watch out! After my boost runs out (20 seconds), I'm back to a dinky 1.5 liter putt putt engine.