Photos from Davey Wilson.
The Amgen Tour of California crisscrosses California each May. It attracts the world’s top cyclists and in 2015 its climbs, time trial and sprints delivered hard days of racing and one of the closest finishes ever. Many of Strava’s professional cyclists were riding in the Amgen Tour of California and their ride names mirrored their efforts. Pain. That hurt. Emptying the Tank. That is a big day of bike racing. Oh wow, one of the hardest stages I’ve ever done.
Together with Quarq, we followed Axeon Cycling Team during the event. We were seeking some unique insight into the race, the efforts of a team and its riders, and the way they use Strava. Axeon’s under-23 squad are savvy power meter users and have animated the race in years past. The team has a reputation for developing talent with 18 of its riders graduating to UCI WorldTeams since its inception.
Axeon’s James Oram diligently uploads his rides to Strava every night. It forms part of his rest and recovery ritual:
“You need to stop moving around. The more time you can spend lying down, the better. I go to my bed and put everything within arm’s reach – phone, food, water and a laptop to upload my rides.”
James was seeking a good result in the overall classification and his ride names reflected that. He went from Smooth sailing and Safe and Sound on Stages 1 and 2 to Emptying the Tank on Stage 7, the infamous climb up Mt. Baldy.
James rode for a total of 30 hours and 21 minutes over the race’s 8 stages. This is an average week of racing or training for him – except on his end of season break.
He amassed 12 KOMs and used up 24,523 calories of energy – the equivalent of 53 Big Macs. His SRAM RED 22 Quarq power meter tells him exactly how much he expended.
James does not eat Big Macs to refuel.
To make sure I am fueling and refueling I look at that day’s racing and the next.
“We eat mostly carbohydrates – rice, pasta, bread – plus a protein. For breakfast, I eat as much oatmeal as I can stomach. Sometimes I add eggs or bacon for a savory twist. After the stage we have a sandwich with lean meat and a protein recovery drink. Then at dinner time it’s more carbohydrate plus chicken or red meat.”
James’ biggest effort came on Stage 3, Taming the Tron. Climbing fast is about power to weight and he put out 6.27 watts-per-kilogram for 10 minutes to finish in 25th place. This is an astonishingly high 414 watt average at James’ weight of 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds).
This effort came early on and earned James 5th place on the Calaveras to Felter segment. He was in good company, surrounded by teammates Greg Daniel, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Ruben Guerreiro and Logan Owen. The same six placed equally well on the climb at the end of Stage 3, Mt Hamilton Backside.
On Stage 4, James’ teammate, Greg Daniel, made the breakaway and was the last one caught by the bunch, about 10 miles before the finish line.
Stage 4 was windy. James described riding in the peloton as “being in a washing machine”. He could not follow wheels and save energy like usual. Still, comparing the two riders’ efforts shows how much energy he saved being in a big group.
Greg rode for 4 hours at over 4 watts-per-kilogram. His ride had a Weighted Average Power of 280w. James, who was back in the bunch, rode at 2.8 watts-per-kilogram. The effort Greg expended to help sustain the breakaway was nearly 50% greater.
Stage 6 was an all-out, 6-mile time trial. James averaged 390 watts and 29.6 miles per hour. Looking at his power analysis you can clearly see some trends: A push at the start then quickly transition to steady power application – except for the corners where he slows down and then accelerates – and a big push at the end. Steady or consistent power application is less taxing on your body. By doing this, James can ride faster for longer.
James said, “Time trials, and especially this one, are much shorter than an average race day. It’s an all out 10-20 minute effort versus 4-5 hours with pulses of similar effort for lesser durations.”
On the final day in Los Angeles, teams and riders were battling for intermediate time bonuses to get on the podium, stay on the podium or take the overall win. James’ description of the first hour of racing: “It is the hardest I have ever gone for an hour.”
James’ average speed for the first hour was 44.1km/h (27.5mph). Contrast this ride with his time trial and you see how ragged the power application was. Plenty of power spikes above his threshold makes for a tough day’s racing and a big Suffer Score. You also see this reflected in the difference between James’ Average Power and Weighted Average Power. It is much bigger here.
The final standings saw James in 8th place in the SRAM Best Young Rider classification and 37th overall. Axeon Cycling Team’s highest-placed rider was Tao Geoghegan Hart in 13th overall. James, Tao and their teammates finished sixth in the Teams classification. The five teams in front of them? UCI WorldTeams Sky, Trek, BMC, Tinkoff-Saxo and Cannondale-Garmin.
Thank you to Axeon Cycling Team, Quarq and SRAM for this fascinating look into professional bike racing. Follow the team on Strava: