Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How to win the flats - Savannah

The Savannah Georgia Cup courses last weekend were flat - that was no surprise. The TTT course had a few rollers and some breeze, but the crit and the circuit were open, flat, and the wind effects were present but minimal. I assumed going in that I had virtually no chance to win or place high in races on flat stages where a sprint finish was very likely. I've been thinking about why I made that assumption beforehand and about why it was an accurate assumption.

Trey and I formed a 2-man team for the TTT. On a flat course with a couple of short, small grades (2-4%) and a light breeze, we averaged 24.3 mph over about 14 miles. That corresponds to something between 280 and 300 watts average power output over half and hour. That seems reasonable, because my FTP is about 270 and Trey's is probably somewhere in that range also. That means each of us was essentially doing 1-minute intervals at 280-300 watts with a one minute 'rest' at about 240 watts or so. Our TTT experience was virtually identical to what one would expect to face in a two-man break off the front of a circuit or crit (except for the less aero road bikes vs. TT bikes).

The average speeds for the competitive division (4/5) crit and circuit were just under 26 mph, and both races had fairly consistent speeds. That means that the riders at the front of the peloton at any given time were riding at about 325 watts on the flats with no wind. That number seems reasonable. In order for any rider or pair of riders to get off the front and sustain a gap, they would need maybe 30 seconds of 400 or 450 watts to get away, then a sustained 325-350 watts just to maintain the small gap. Unless I'm mistaken, there aren't many category 4 or 5 riders who can generate that kind of sustained power. I can sustain 385 watts for a couple of minutes or so, but would probably not be able to ride at a sustained 300 watts for any length of time afterward. That's why my assumption about not being competitive in Savannah held true. As a matter of fact, both the crit and the circuit ended in a bunch sprint. Evidently there were no riders in our races that had the kind of power I described above.

And it gets even tougher in the elite and pro, 1, 2 races, where I think the average speeds were at least 27 mph and 28 mph, respectively.

Thankfully for me, all that I have said above goes out the window on courses like Dahlonega, where pure wattage takes a back seat to watts/kg and top speed pretty much disappears from the equation. It doesn't mean I'll podium in Dahlonega, it just means I'm not almost mathematically eliminated before I start.