In between my XCO racing for this year, I decided to give stage racing another go after my first attempt in 2012. Back then, I did the Trans Germany MTB stage race and failed miserably, grovelling through the majority of stages and vowing to never return unless I was fully prepared. It really was quite grim but the back-to-back style of racing did have its bonuses, such as exploring large amounts of an alpine area in a relatively short amount of time.
At the right time, stage racing can also serve as a great fitness booster and that is what I was hoping for when I signed up for this year’s Trans Schwarzwald stage race across Germany’s Black Forest. You can read how my race went HERE, but long story short, I got sick on the morning of Stage 1 and had to pull out midway through Stage 3. It was an unfortunate event in a year filled by a series of unfortunate events (Good book series on another note). But before I succumbed to my sickness, I managed to get some valuable data from my Stages power meter, which is what we will be looking at today!
For analysis, we will be looking at approximately the first 1:30 hours of each stage as I flatted on stage 2 around the 1:30 hour mark, which has skewed the averages. The initial sector will be good enough anyway as it allows us to understand the demands of the starts in a stage race.
Power analysis from Stage 1 of the Trans Schwarzwald
Stage 1 started with a fast undulating sector that lead to an 11min climb averaging 10%. The previous day I had scoped out this initial segment and had decided to employ an aggressively cautious approach as I really wasn’t sure where I would sit in the hierarchy of the race or how I would fair over multiple stages. Another thing that added to my decision to pace myself was the climbing nature of the sector immediately following the first climb. Going full gas from the gun would surely cost me on the 4% drag up to the top of the ridge line.
I held good position at the front through the undulating section, and as we made the left turn onto the steep first climb, I tried to settle into my rhythm and keep any crazy power surges to a minimum. The morning of the stage I had woken up with a sore throat, and with this in the back of my mind I probably paced myself a bit too much. But still, I averaged 385w Normalized Power for the first 5:30min of the climb. At the start of this 5:30min segment, I was passed by a lot of riders but kept cool, and by the end of this short section, I had started to reel those riders in.
In Figure 2 you can view the initial 5 minutes in a bit more detail and see the benefits of controlling large power surges. Keeping the first 48sec at only 470w (average) meant I could recover from the effort at a high level (368w) and get faster as the climb went on.
The climb was in two parts and the second 5-minute segment was where I made up the most ground and passed a lot of riders who had gone out way too hard. Averaging 353w Normalized Power for the second segment meant that I averaged 367w Normalized Power all up over the 11min climb, which was right where I wanted to be.
Now it was time for the 4% drag and you can see from my Normalized average that I got faster over the top. But in reality I didn’t get faster I just put out more power. I lost more time to the front because I underestimated the speed and the effect of riding in a bunch over the 4% gradient. I was in a group but I was the strongest and only 2 other guys were keen on pulling strong turns. It was like a road race! I could see a group ahead with riders I recognised, so on a short steep section I attacked the group and tried to bridge across, but fell agonisingly short. Over the top, it flattened out, and I was alone in no man’s land and had to do all the work by myself. Hence, the 345w Normalized Power.
Power Analysis from Stage 2
By Stage 2, my head cold was making life difficult and I was ready to pull out, but thought I’d do the first climb and see how I felt over the top. As I was prepared to pull out, I had nothing to lose so I planned to #Fullgas the first climb. Although, if I knew the first climb averaged 14% for close to 20 minutes, I probably would have paced myself as I had done on the first stage!
As you can see in Figure 3, the first 10 minutes of the first climb was tough and I was pushing hard. The first 5 minutes of that segment can be viewed in Figure 4 and is the polar opposite to Stage 1 with a fast first 30 seconds followed by another 1:34 minutes at 424w (average). This fast start meant I would only get slower as the climb continued. Looking back at Figure 3, you can see a big drop in power in the last 8min of the climb.
Funnily enough, over the top I was joined by guys with which I had ridden through the latter stages of Stage 1 and we formed our little group again to tackle the rest of the climbs. None of which were any easier than the first climb, with constant double digit gradients and loose conditions. The tough first climb seemed to hurt everyone and we all struggled doing whatever we could to make it up the climbs. As you can see (Figure 3), my power was all over the place and it became more about keeping upright than riding to any power numbers. My head cold wasn’t great at this point, but I seemed to be able to ride still, that was until I broke a spoke which meant I got a flat at the bottom of a 3km climb with the feed/tech zone on top! From there on it was a bit of a shambles until I pulled out on Stage 3, but the first two stages still went well considering my problems and were both great experiences.
Overall thoughts on power analysis from Trans Schwarzwald
On the bottom of Figures 1 and 3, you can see the Normalized Power for the entire selected part of the stage. It doesn’t tell you much just that I fatigued from Stage 1 to Stage 2, but it is good to compare when we look at the first 1:15hr of the 2015 Highland Fling. The ‘Fling’ is a bit different to the Trans Schwarzwald’s 2 stages as it is made up of small climbs all under or around 5 minutes as opposed to the longer, 5 minutes plus, climbs that were in the Trans Schwarzwald. This makes side-by-side comparisons of average power tough but Normalized Power can still be compared. Comparing the power allows us to ‘roughly’ compare how Australian competition stacks up against European competition. In the first 1:30hr of Stage 1 at the Trans Schwarzwald I was around the top 30 – just under 4 minutes down. At the first transition of the Highland Fling I was in the group from 3rd to 6th – 1 minute behind the lead.
(Due to the rolling average algorithm that works out Normalized Power it’s less accurate for times under 15min but the numbers are a little easier to compare so I used it anyway and it’s still a very useful guide)