Bal Tab Road Race

Power like a vet?  Power is a relative term as what's a lot for one person may not necessarily be a lot for another.  To prove my point this is the first in a series of power factsheets that will give you some insight to the differences between mere mortals such as ourselves and the pros we watch on the telly.  I hope you find it interesting.

What's Bal Tab
For those reading this outside of Jersey, and there are quite a few, Bal Tab is a five mile long road race course at the North West of our island.  It's flat, although it has a few long false flats, is probably as dangerous as they come, and sits on top of the island where it's always windy.  For once, there was a tail wind down the finish straight, which had an impact, for me at least, at the end of the race.

This event was a handicap race.  With riders from Commonwealth standard across to vets and ladies, we have to try and cater for everyone's needs within our island's limited resources.  It's not an ideal situation but everyone deserves a race. 

The race
The race was an 8 lapper which worked out at just over 40 miles and took a time of one hour and forty five minutes.  The temperature was 20 degrees and the race started at 7:30 in the morning!  The first group away was the vets, the newer riders and the ladies.  Four minutes later the seniors and faster vets began to chase, then after that it's the Island Games and Commonwealth boys.  With a total of 34 riders starting, some groups were bigger than others.  As ever in a handicap race, some were more committed to staying away than others, while some took the option of waiting to be caught then jump and hang on as the fast boys come past.  Whatever floats your boat.

Flamme Rouge

The chart above is my race SRM output which has been smoothed to make it's visual representation easier on the eye.  If you look at the purple speed line it's really quite easy to see the patterns of each lap.  The big drop represents the braking and slowing in to a first corner hairpin. 

I also download data in to Cycling Peaks software to give me the analysis and charts I need at the touch of a button.  There are far too many to show here but you can look at the chart above or you can look at loads of informative stats and numbers!  Below are a selection of the corresponding numerics for the race.

As you can see from the Race Summary above the average race speed was 23.5 mph and we hit 37.9 mph in the sprint, although it could hardly be called that as you'll find later.   As ever my heart rate was at the higher end of the scale averaging 192 bpm and topping out at 220 which, believe it or not, is still 12 beats below my max.  So for me it was a comfortable race.  You'll notice it's very difficult to get this data directly from the chart above.  You can but it takes some time and a lot of zooming backwards and forwards.  Cycling Peaks software makes life so much easier.

The major move
I tried to pay attention, but as this was only my third race of the year things got a bit hazy.  But I think after six laps the big boys caught us and it all kicked off.  They caught and went past immediately.  As far as I was concerned, I'd ridden 50 miles the day before and was here to get some race speed in to my legs for as long as I could.  

When we were caught I'd met my objective for the day and was ready to cruise to the finish.  Then an opposing rider jumped out of our biggish group to close the gap to the leaders.  So for one last do-or-die effort I went after him.

My "jump" can clearly be seen from the big red and green spikes six eighths of the way along the SRM chart above.  There was no big increase in speed because it was on one of the long false flats, in to a headwind.  What's more difficult to see on the chart is the effort involved as he immediately opened a big gap and I had to unbox myself to give chase, then sprint for all I was worth to get across to him.

The summary to the right gives the Cycling Peaks numbers for the jump across the gap which shows detail unavailable from the SRM chart above.   The chase lasted five minutes and took place on one of the long false flats for two miles.  I hit 764 watts, around 200 below my peak, at the start of the jump but it quickly decayed down to an average of 222.  Obviously my threshold at this point!

I know I'm in trouble when my heart rate goes higher than my wattage! So I was right at my limit with 220bpm and 222 watts staring me in the face.  Which explains why I blew my nuts off and fell back to the chasers when only 10 metres from the group that would sprint for 7th place a lap and a half later.  Still, I tried.  I could now wait for the group I'd just left and wait for the sprint.  I've always loved a sprint.

The finale
Which brings me to the next anti-climax; the sprint for the line.  There were fourteen riders in our group heading for the line on the last lap.  I was fourth wheel in an ideal place being towed along by big Mike Keirghrey; who knocks out 350 watt tests for fun.  The Cycling Peaks chart below represents the one and a half minutes run-in to the line. 

You can see the first 30 seconds where I'm behind Mike.  Although I had been for about a kilometre before!  As we entered the last corner we eased off (all lines drop) then powered out of it to head for the line half a mile away.  I don't come through and the yellow power begins to drop as the blue speed builds.  This is due to the combination of a downward slope and the tail wind.  The cadence fidgets, as does the group, as nerves begin to shred.

Someone cracks and decides to jump so I leave Mike to cross for the other wheel, the green cadence drops and the yellow power spikes to a peak as I changed up a gear and jump after them.  The power settles and the cadence creeps upwards as I get ready to jump for the line.  Then I jumped, or rather I didn't, signified by the little power jump and slow rise in cadence to the end.

Flamme Rouge

The numbers on the right reflect the lines above.  Just to the right of the mid point, when the jumper took a flyer.  I changed gear and dived on their wheel the power peaked at 745 watts and the speed hit 34mph.   However, we're now on a slight downward slope, with a hefty tailwind.  As we get to 150 metres from the line I pull out from second wheel and "jump" with 559 watts, the second last yellow peak and 36mph. 

I then back off the power for a split-second as I go to change up a gear for a text-book sprint finish.  There, was no next gear!  Not anticipating to even be around for a sprint at the finish I'd left my 13 up block on the back and had a 52 front chain ring on the front.   

With my cadence topped out at 116 rpm and with no pedal resistance, all I could manage was 37.9 mph whereas I can normally hit around 43.  My heart rate (red line) averaged 201bpm for the final sprint, which is around 10 beats down on normal.  Also my cadence was down as there was no gear to get on top of and I had no resistance to fight against.  Normally I can hit 125-140 rpm for a sprint.

In the bunch I held my place but came in second.  My normal Mean Maximal Power for a minute and thirty seconds is 395 watts, here it was 272.  Which is still less than my vVO2max, 6 minute, power output.

What does all this mean?
This all looks, me, me, me but I'm the only one with an SRM and the graphs to place on this page.  So I'm afraid you'll have to accept it because we need this info as a comparator for the next factsheet. 

For all those that raced around me, you can see what you were also churning out for the duration of the race.  Those up the road know that they were clocking out more to get ahead and those behind know where they need to improve to stay with the pack.

The next factsheet will have our comparisons with the pros.  I have Jens Voigt's SRM files from Stage 3 of the Tour when he was on the 4 hour break to Valkenberg.  They give some remarkable numbers but not in the ways you may first think. 

Here you have a baseline for an average bloke, who tries his best but doesn't get the time to race train as he would like, so gets average results in races.  I concentrate on endurance and climbing for my sportives, so lack the jump and zip I used to have.  Also, I'm no spring chicken anymore.  I could be someone just like you. 

What's next?
Next time we'll look at the gap between Mr Average and the rider we probably all wish to be, Jens Voigt.  The areas I've highlighted in this factsheet I'll compare with those of a pro, then give you some more figures to make you glad you're not. 

Once you've read them you'll totally understand why we should be in awe of these giants of the road.  Ignore all the "bad stuff" surrounding pro cycling at the moment, it's not good but it'll soon be over.  We can have little input on the happenings within the top levels of our sport; for me cycling is still the best sport in the world and I wouldn't want to do anything else.  Except be an F1 or Moto GP pilot!