All images are copyright protected. ©Brian Hodes
By Adam Mills (Source Endurance)
The 2014 edition of the US Pro Road Championships were an interesting and intriguing display and execution of both general strategy and precision tactics by Team SmartStop. Throughout this article and the one to follow, I’ll explain how the race played out and talk a little about the strategies at work on that day.
To begin, we’ll talk about the setting of the race and what implications that can have on the race. First, 103.6miles/166.7km is a long race. Once the riders start to really define the outcome, they really only have around two hours of full throttle (remember, it’s relative, not absolute). The decision of when to use the throttle to best maximize its effectiveness becomes extremely important in a race approaching 4.5 hours. Any way you cut it, conserving the limited time at full throttle is incredibly important in a race this long.
In addition to race length, the other constant was the weather that day in Chattanooga, TN. 84°F at the start is warm, but not enough so to adversely affect performance. Factor in humidity, however, and you have a warm, muggy day. In this type of weather, riders have higher sweat rates as they dissipate heat due to their efforts, which increases the influence of dehydration. There are a multitude of studies out there that show a significant decline in performance with as little dehydration as 1% of body mass and professional athletes are no exception. Fatigue from heat and dehydration will affect every rider, whether they are up the road or in the peloton, a point that we will revisit this in the next article.
The final constant in the race is that the normal “favorites” do not typically have the full support of their respective teams. The favorites in a national championship are always Pro Tour riders. However, this is the US Pro Championships in which only US riders are allowed to enter. Thus, considering their multinational rosters, most Pro Tour teams that would normally control the race, such as BMC with Taylor Phinney and Cannondale with Edward King, are only able to enter a reduced squad or even just a single rider. In essence, domestic teams have number advantage but not the quality of the short-handed Pro Tour squads while the Pro Tour squads have the high quality riders but lack a complete team necessary to force the peloton to race on their terms. The advantage favors whichever group is best able to leverage their strategy and makes the US Pro Championship more wide-open than many realize.
USA Cycling organized the parcours into three tidy sets of circuits, which makes for an easily distinguishable beginning, middle and ending chapters to the race.
The beginning of a race the magnitude of the US Pro Championship, in this setting, with these circumstances, could very well be the most important part of the entire race. The beginning is when teams and riders try to place themselves into a strategically advantageous position to win the race later down the road. Conversely, the teams that are not well-represented or do not fancy their rider’s chances in the break will need to devise a strategy to keep any gap manageable, thus keeping the race winnable. Meanwhile, the riders without a team presence are relegated to sitting and waiting for something to happen that would offer an opportunity to impact the race. But let’s go back to Eric…
Figure 1, above, is a zoomed-in view of the beginning circuits, smoothed to 10 seconds to make it clearer to read and understand. For reference, the dotted yellow line is Eric’s functional threshold power (FTP). As expected, the opening salvos were fast and fierce. Starting with Eric’s first jump and lasting until the break was established, around 20 minutes into the race, Eric’s average speed was 28.9mph at a normalized power of 387W. Equally impressive is that Eric spent around 7 minutes and 30 seconds above 500W during this time. This leg crushing effort, while definitely burning some matches, ultimately put Eric in the defining move of the day and was a great investment for both Team SmartStop and Eric.
Figure 2 shows that, once the move was away and settled, the overall intensity of the effort became much more conservative. Again, using the yellow dotted line as his FTP, you can see that after the break was established, the ratio of time that Eric spent above versus below his FTP changed dramatically. Also, notice the general downward trend in his heart rate. This trend is important because it shows that Eric was able to contribute to a well working breakaway that was gaining time on the peloton while maintaining an output ~85% of his FTP.
Meanwhile, back in the peloton, the other teams were deciding how they wanted to best handle the situation. Based on how many professional events are managed by the directors and raced by the riders, one of the three outcomes were likely:
- The advantage gets out of hand. In this scenario, the break gains an unsurmountable advantage, the teams realize that the time gap is huge but, because of the conditions and the length of the race, there is insufficient horsepower to neutralize it. The peloton crumbles in the chase and no counter move ever materializes.
- The move is held to a short time gap and is caught at the end for some sort of field sprint. We see this scenario in most of the “sprinter” stages in the grand tours. The short leash results in the break having to ride flat out in order to maintain their lead. Meanwhile, the peloton behind churns along, burning some riders in the process but ultimately catching the escapees in the last few miles/kilometers of the race. When they do catch the break, the peloton finds the escapees completely exhausted from their efforts, effectively ending the race for them as the field sprint starts to wind up.
- The break is held to a moderate time gap and is caught late when the peloton explodes. In this scenario, the true contenders will come from the peloton in a late counter move and will be fresher because they had the luxury of conserving energy for the majority of the race. To me, this was the most likely scenario of the US Pro Championships because of the conditions and because there was no team willing to lock down the break while declaring they were the team to beat and they had the rider that will win.
In reality, I would say thats what transpired on the day was a blend between outcomes 1 and 3. In our next article, we will finish analyzing Eric’s power file as well as discuss the underlying strategy and tactics of the race.
Sixteen World-Class Professional Cycling Teams Confirmed to Participate in 2014 USA Pro Challenge
UCI ProTeams BMC Racing Team, Cannondale Pro Cycling, Team Garmin-Sharp, Tinkoff-Saxo
and Trek Factory Racing to Take on the Colorado Rockies in August
Denver (July 21, 2014) – Taking place August 18-24, 2014, the 2014 USA Pro Challenge will feature 16 of the world’s top professional cycling teams. Led by UCI ProTeams BMC Racing Team, Cannondale Pro Cycling, Team Garmin-Sharp, Tinkoff-Saxo and Trek Factory Racing, the race will include some of the top talent in the sport. Taking riders on a heart-pounding journey through the Colorado Rockies, the seven-day stage race will travel 550 miles from Aspen to Denver, making stops in cities known for their cycling culture and history such as Vail and Boulder.
“We consistently get such an overwhelmingly positive response from the teams that participate in the Pro Challenge each year,” said Rick Schaden, owner of the USA Pro Challenge. “The race continues to build momentum year after year and we’ll look to build on that in 2014 by welcoming back some veteran teams and introducing some new ones to the challenging terrain and beautiful scenery of Colorado.”
Featuring teams hailing from six countries, the USA Pro Challenge will test riders by taking them to unprecedented elevations.
“We’ve had huge success in the Pro Challenge the past three years and we’re looking forward to returning for a fourth,” said Jonathan Vaughters, CEO, Slipstream Sports and Team Garmin-Sharp. “As a Colorado-based team, this is a race we look forward to all year and the riders always bring their a-game. Last year Lachlan Morton won the Best Young Rider competition and Tom Danielson got third overall, so we have high goals for the race and we will give fans plenty of reasons to cheer.”
Following is the complete list of teams that will be competing in the 2014 USA Pro Challenge:
- BMC Racing Team (USA) @BMCProTeam
- Cannondale Pro Cycling (ITA) @cannondalePro
- Team Garmin-Sharp (USA) @Ride_Argyle
- Tinkoff-Saxo (RUS) @tinkoff_saxo
- Trek Factory Racing (USA) @TrekFactory
UCI Professional Continental Teams
- Drapac Professional Cycling (AUS) @DrapacCycling
- Team NetApp – Endura (GER) @NetAppEndura
- Team Novo Nordisk (USA) @TeamNovoNordisk
- UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team (USA) @UHCprocycling
UCI Continental Teams
- Bissell Development Team (USA) @BissellDT
- Hincapie Sportswear Development Team (USA) @HincapieDevo
- Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home (USA) @TeamJamisHB
- Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis (USA) @JellyBellyTeam
- Optum Presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies (USA) @OPTUMpbKBS
- Rapha Condor JLT (GBR) @raphacondorjlt
- Team SmartStop (USA) @TeamSmartStop
**Full team rosters will be announced closer to the race.
“The USA Pro Challenge has featured some of the best teams in the world over the last three years and 2014 will be no different,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the Pro Challenge. “We’re giving cycling fans in the United States the chance to see the teams they love up close and in person. Interest in the race continues to grow and this year’s diverse roster of teams is going to create seven intensely competitive days of racing in August.”
After a tough week of challenging racing over mountains at high altitudes, the 2013 race concluded with an exciting finish in Denver to the roar of cheering fans. This year’s race promises to be just as exciting with the first (BMC) and second place (Garmin-Sharp) teams from last year returning. Additionally the teams of last year’s jersey winners are confirmed to compete again – overall winner Tejay van Garderen’s BMC Racing Team; Sprint Jersey winner Peter Sagan’s team Cannondale Pro Cycling; King of the Mountains Jersey winner Matt Cooke’s team Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home; and Best Young Rider Jersey winner Lachlan David Morton’s team Garmin-Sharp.
“We’re really looking forward to racing in the USA Pro Challenge again this year,” said Cannondale Team Director Alberto Volpi. “With tough, competitive racing and amazing crowds, this is the kind of race we love. Last year the team rode really well and Peter Sagan took the sprint jersey. This year, we’re coming back to take stages and be again among the main contenders. We’ll certainly bring a strong team.”
The Pro Challenge is welcoming seven new teams for their first appearance in the race, including Trek Factory Racing, Drapac Professional Cycling, Team NetApp – Endura, Bissell Development Team, Hincapie Sportswear Development Team, Rapha Condor JLT and Team SmartStop. Additionally five veteran teams will be returning for a fourth time in 2014, having participated in every edition of the Pro Challenge – BMC Racing Team, Team Garmin-Sharp, Cannondale Pro Cycling (formerly Liquigas-Cannondale), Team Novo Nordisk (formerly Team Type 1) and UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team.
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Colorado Springs, Colo. (July 16, 2014) - USADA announced today that Logan Loader, of Pacific Grove, Calif., an athlete in the sport of cycling, has tested positive for a prohibited substance and accepted an eight-month suspension for his doping offense.
Loader, 25, tested positive for Methylhexaneamine, a stimulant, as the result of an in-competition urine sample collected at the Dana Point Grand Prix of Cycling on May 4, 2014. Certain stimulants are prohibited under the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing and the International Cycling Union (“UCI”) Anti-Doping Rules, both of which have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code (“Code”) and the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List. Methylhexaneamine is classified as a Specified Substance, and therefore the presence of that substance in an athlete’s sample can result in a reduced sanction.
Logan’s eight-month period of ineligibility began on May 4, 2014, the date his sample was collected. As a result of the violation, Loader has been disqualified from all competitive results achieved on and subsequent to May 4, 2014, including forfeiture of any medals, points, and prizes.