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On Wednesday evening I sat myself down and started to write up a report on Tuesday's stage of the USA PRO Cycling Challenge. Whilst I was writing, I switched the TV on to watch stage 3...live.
I soon realised this had all the makings of an epic - it was a long stage with two big mountain passes; had a long breakaway of over 140km containing a GC favourite; a solo effort of 35km to take a very close victory and the yellow jersey changed hands on stage placings alone. I decided to wait and analyse this stage instead.
The stage started off in Gunnison and finished some 210km later in Aspen. Both the start and finish were at 2400m altitude but had two major climbs along the route; the summit of Cottonwood Pass 80km into the stage and Independence Pass at 175km - both over 3500m above sea level.
As a rough guide - at 2400m we need to subtract 12% from sea level threshold power and at 3400m roughly 20% is lost. However these figures do not take into account the level of acclimatisation of each athlete. Riders who live at altitude will have a major advantage over those coming straight from sea level.
Janez (Jani) Brajkovic was one European rider who travelled out to the race early and spent some time staying in Boulder at 1600m. Whilst this is still low compared to the actual altitude of the race, some degree of acclimatisation would likely have taken place compared to the riders who arrived there only a couple of days before the race. Although at least 10 days would have been better to fully acclimatise; but this is not something a European pro can factor in midway through a packed season.
The first two hours of the stage gradually climbed upwards toward the summit of Cottonwood pass. Jani recorded a NP (normalised power) of 250 watts in these first two hours - which works out at roughly 80% of his FTP (functional threshold power) after adjusting the numbers for the altitude.
Looking at the graph shows an 8 minute section where he averaged 310w at 3000m - this equates to about 110% of Jani's FTP at this height. In other words, a very hard effort around Zone 5 (Vo2 Max). After this he settled back into a solid but sustainable 250 watts for a further 35 minutes before reaching the summit.
This second hour produced the hardest one hour of the race with a NP of 270 watts.
The next 30 minutes were spent descending at an average speed of over 65kph while only producing 70 watts which gave the peloton a chance to recover before starting to gain altitude once more. The next hour after the climb he had a NP of 223 before the really hard work started on Independence Pass with the final part of this climb producing the highest 20 min power of the day - with 294 watts average. This was another hard effort around FTP for Jani which saw the peloton slimmed down to around 25 riders.
It was on this climb that Tom Danielson decided to go it alone attacking his breakaway partners to take a 2:30min advantage over the summit with 30km of mainly downhill remaining between himself and the finish in Aspen. Back in the chase group Jani had another 30 minutes descending at close to 70kph but this time he recorded a NP of 200 watts which shows the chase was on and they were really gunning it on the descent. The flatter roads inside the final 5km were almost Danielson's undoing with his lead dropping fast with every km passing. The chase group seemed happy to let BMC do all the chasing with Mathias Frank and the yellow jersey of Tejay Van Garderen himself taking long pulls at the front of the group. In these final 5km Jani was sitting nicely in the group, gaining maximum shelter behind the BMC riders while producing 260 watts NP. Jani recorded 697 watts for the final five seconds and a max power of 767 watts to finish fifth on the stage, just two seconds behind Danielson who took a great victory. But the narrow margin demonstrates just how deep the riders had gone over the course of the stage.
The race then took another twist when Christian Vande Velde was awarded the yellow jersey on count back from stage placing over previous leader Van Garderen.
As I said at the start - it was an epic stage.