Have you ever been watching the Tour de France or any other pro cycling race and wondered how long you’d last in the pro peloton? We’ve all thought about it. Okay, I’ve thought about it. But really, how would you fare? Could you hold your own in the bunch? How do us everyday road riders really compare to the professionals?
Let’s take the (very extreme) example of comparing little old me to Egan Bernal. I’m certainly not saying I’m in any way fast on two wheels, but I’m no slouch either. I’m your fairly average recreational roadie.
(L) Egan Bernal, 24 years old — (R) Yours truly, 40 years young…
Egan and I are of a very similar build, we’re both 175cm tall and tip the scales at around 60kg, although he is a staggering 16 years younger than me! He’s the 2018 Colombian Time Trial Champ, has won the Tour de France, Tour de Suisse, Paris-Nice, Tour of California, to name a few. I’ve on the rare occasion taken a Strava KOM and “won” the town sign sprint on the club ride.
But what about holding his wheel in a race? Let’s start with an easy one. A super flat stage of the Giro d’Italia. As a protected GC rider, Egan would have been hiding in the bunch start to finish, surrounded by teammates. Over the course of four hours, 175km and only 400m of elevation gain, he averaged 42.9kph (26.7mph) with an average power output of 164 watts. For me, that power output and effort level over four hours would be achievable. Mixing it in a big bunch, jostling for position while doing so, that adds an extra layer of difficulty.
Not exactly “easy” but definitely doable. Check out the above section though, for the first two hours of that stage he only averaged a paltry 118 watts! That’s hardly breaking a sweat! There’s a couple of surges of power in there to maintain position or tackle a small climb, but overall it’s recovery spin effort. Oh, to be a protected GC rider surfing the draft of a hundred wheels…
What about his winning effort on Stage 9 of the 2021 Giro?
Across that 160km stage, Egan averaged 250 watts (4.0w/kg) for over four hours! To put that in perspective, I can hold 250 watts for around fifteen minutes, maybe. It gets worse, for the opening twenty minutes he had to put out 320 watts just to stick with the bunch! No time on the front, that’s 320 watts just to stay in the draft! To be blunt, without a doubt, I would be dropped in the opening ten kilometres of this one.
Now fast forward to the final climb. After four hours of racing (not to mention eight previous stages) Egan unleashed one hell of an attack to the finish line.
He holds a stonking FIVE WATTS PER KILOGRAM (around 300 watts) for twenty five minutes. Take your weight, multiply it by five and tell me how many minutes you can hold that power for. This attack put every one of his rivals into the hurt locker. Not content with that, he ramps up to 440 watts for the final three minutes to stamp his authority on the race and take the win. After four hours of brutal mountain racing, he whacks it in the big ring and pours on the power like a boss.
I can sustain a 440 watt (7.3 w/kg) attack for, oh, about 30 seconds…
Even if I hit the climb in top condition, fresh and prepared to race, and Egan turned up with 1500km of full-on racing already draining his legs, he’d still leave me for dead in a matter of minutes. Quite literally, like one minute.
Sure, comparing myself to the current Tour de France winner is a little unfair, but it just goes to show that these guys are simply on another level. It’s the sort of power that most of us can only dream of, coupled with the endurance to be able to produce it for hours on end, day after day, weeks at a time. Seriously impressive stuff.