Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tour of California: the work of a lead out man and getting cross-eyed...

New Zealand's Greg Henderson, last lead-out man for Team Sky's sprinter Ben Swift, has one of the hardest jobs in pro-cycling. He has to take the team's sprinter as close to the line as possible and in front of the rest of the galloping bunch of fast finishers.

To do that, he must ride all out for 20 or more seconds, starting at the right place, 200 or 300 m before the finishing line. Nearing the end of that effort, his body is so full of lactic acid and his heart rate so high that he just can't do it any more. He has gone ALL OUT. After that, his power output drops to zero and he gets outdone by ten or more sprinters who have been drafting behind him for the last 300 m.

Early this week, in California, and with the help of another three or four Team Sky riders, Greg did his job to perfection and delivered Ben Swift to the line ahead of everybody else. It was on a "criterium" type finish as the race stage ended in a circuit on the streets of Sacramento. That means, he rode more than 100 km before starting his duties for the team.

I said rode and not raced because for most of the 100 km he didn't do much. In fact, he didn't pedalled for near 19% of the time. His best 20' wattage output was only 349 W, and that's when things were already getting a bit fast, and the average for the whole stage was just 203 W.

It looks like I could do that stage, my best 20' is 311 W and my Mt Baw Baw Classic average was 215 W. OK, I am dreaming. I wouldn't even make it to the outer suburbs of Sacramento, that day. That's because through the stage, those guys in the peloton are doing efforts of up to 900 W (many times) just to get over little hills or to hang on when a rider or group of riders decide to attack.

But this is not about me, it is about Greg Henderson and how he did his job at the end of the race on the streets of Sacramento. The highlight of his performance being the last twenty seconds before he stopped "racing", when he averaged 806 W and 63.4 km/h. He maxed at 1210 W!!

Next day, he went to work again. He got on his bike, sucked wheels for most of the stage to Modesto, not pedalling for 14% of the time and getting ready for another criterium like finish. This time, he stepped up one more notch when he started to do what he is employed to do and finished it off himself...

He did that without planning (I think!). It was just his amazing power and huge amount of adrenaline that kept him going harder, and harder, until he crossed the finish line first, leaving his sprinter behind. Power analyses specialist, Mr Hunter Allen, attributes his win to a "fatigue resistance incredibly high" (here is his full analyses of Greg's file).

"It was pretty chaotic really. Jeremy Hunt brought up the pace and it was my job to take it from 500 meters out and I went Full gas for 300 meters and thought, oh, well they'll start coming around me now and I just couldn't feel anyone and so I thought, ‘I just keep going’ and I got to 150 meters and I was so lactic, so cross-eyed and just wanted to sit down, so blown that I thought I'd just keep my speed to the line and I was lucky that no one could catch me. I was so lactic that I couldn’t even do a victory salute.." Greg explained.

How did he do it? Well, he averaged 1026 W (1193 max) for his best 20" and more impressive than that, he kept going all out for another 7 seconds decreasing his average power by just 80 W (less than 8%)! That was a huge effort and with a bit of luck (sprinters always need a bit of luck) it resulted on Greg leaving everyone else behind and a fantastic win!

Luckily, we have this great media cover of the event, YouTube, CyclismoNews and the guys at Training Peaks to show us how complex and fascinating a bicycle race really is. Also, a big THANK YOU to Greg Henederson and Team Sky to let us see those files. I can't wait to see Simon Gerran's data as he climbs some of the mountain passes in Europe.

Keep racing!

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