What Does it Take to Ride With the Pros?
by Sean Burke
Almost anyone who has thrown a leg over a bike has dreamed about being a pro rider and wondered what it takes to really race with the big boys. The Redlands Classic Stage race is one of the biggest pro-am races in the US, where some up-and-coming amateur racers get to live that dream and really test their mettle against the best pro riders in the country. Team Calimax rider and Crank Cycling coached athlete Eder Faryre is one of them. Luckily for us, he had an SRM on his bike for the whole race, so we’ll get to know exactly what it takes to race against the pros. And not just race against the pros, but get a real result. Eder was 8th place (top amateur) in the 120 mile Beaumont road race on Friday as well as 9th place in the grueling Sunset Loop Road Race on Sunday, so we’ll focus primarily on those stages.
Redlands has been Eder’s primary focus since the beginning of the season, and we consider two top 10 finishes in a race of this caliber to be a success. He has goals of being a European pro rider, and he has the talent, the supportive family, and the work ethic to get him there. He is definitely capable of getting results in your typical SoCal crit course, but where Eder excels, and where we have focused his training is the longer, more grueling races such as Beaumont and Sunset Loop. Basically, the longer and harder the race, the more Frayre will shine.
The Beaumont road race consists of 5 laps around the 24.1 mile course, with a little over 1000 feet of climbing per lap. Most of the action happens as the race approaches the KOM in Bogart Park, where a steep, 500-foot climb is followed by a short descent and then a 200 foot climb before a final descent back into town. The team plan was to keep Eder, along with Calimax riders Hector Rangel and Enrique Aldapa, on the front end of the race and be sure to make the split that inevitably happens the last time up that 1000 foot climb. A group of 4 (including eventual GC winner Mancebo) got away on that climb, while Hector and Eder were in the next group of 26 riders just 25 seconds behind. Eder was 4th in the chase group and 8th on the day, just behind proven pro riders JJ Haedo, Brad Huff, and Patrick Bevin.
Here is how it all went down from a power perspective:
Lap 1 was actually the lap with the highest average speed (a little over 27 MPH) and the highest average power of 250 watts (4.0 W/kg). It isn’t unusual for a pro race to start out this way, as the pack is excited and everyone is together. The pace tends to settle down just a little bit once everyone works out his nervous energy and a break of some sort is established. 250 watts may not sound like much to some of the amateur racers out there, but keep in mind that this is during the first hour of a 4.5-hour race, and that Eder only weighs about 62 kilos. The average power also fails to tell the whole story, as Eder was able to sit in on the flat sections and did less than 100 watts for the 4 miles before the climb–one of the smaller climbs–even though the pack was moving along at over 30 MPH. He would need that rest as he had to had to push 400 watts (6.4 W/kg) for around 2 minute over one of the smaller climbs before they even hit the big climb. In the lead up to the big climb, Eder averaged 280 watts for about 20 minutes, but then had to put in several 3-4 minute efforts of around 340 to 350 watts (5.5 w/kg) on the steep hill before the KOM. This was followed by around 10 minutes of descending and fast, flat riding back into town and the start finish/line at about 260 watts. This also doesn’t sound too tough, until you realize that there were over a dozen short surges over 600 watts where Eder had to punch it as the group sped into town at well over 30 MPH. By the end of lap 1, Eder had done almost 800 Kj worth of work, and done several efforts well over 300W (4.8 W/kg).
Laps 2, 3, and 4 were very similar to the first lap. The average speeds and average power were a little lower than that first lap, but those losses were mostly during the flatter and easier parts of the course and the hills were just as hard as ever. Going into the 5th lap, Eder had covered about 100 miles in 3 hours and 45 minutes, done about 3000 Kj of work, including dozens of surges over 600W and more than an hour over 300W. But lap 5 was the lap that really mattered.
The beginning of lap 5 was the calm before the storm. This part of the course is relatively flat, and Eder was able to average only 90 watts for 12 minutes as he prepared himself for the effort ahead. The breakaway had been caught and the lead riders seemed content to ride at a solid but relatively sane pace, and the approach to the steep part of the climb was similar to the other laps at around 20 minutes and 270 watts. But the real racing started to happen as they hit the steepest part of the climb. The efforts that had been 340 to 350 watts on the earlier laps were now closer to 400W. Riders that may have been able to make those efforts simply couldn’t muster that kind of strength over 4 hours into the race and the group split. The 4 leaders established a gap and were followed closely by Eder’s group of around 30 riders. The approach back into town was over 33 MPH, and Eder had to average 318 watts (5.1 W/Kg) for nearly 10 minutes, and 340 watts for the last 5. He finished it off with a 34 mph uphill sprint that required a max effort of a little over 1000W (16w/kg) and 900W+ for about 15 seconds to finish 4th in his group and 8th on the day.
Any of these numbers taken by themselves may not seem that impressive. I know plenty of masters or cat 3 riders that can do well over 1000 watts in a sprint, and can do 340 watts for 5 minutes, or 318W for much longer than that 10 minute approach into town. There are two things that make this effort impressive. 1) you have to look at watts per kilo. Eder weighs in at a relatively light 62 kilos, so for a 77kg ( 169 lb) rider to do the same effort he essentially has to do 25% more work. 2) you have to view this all in the context of a 4.5 hour race. When Eder did that 10 minutes at 340 watts and finished off with a 1000 Watts Sprint, he had already spent approximately 1 hour OVER 340 watts (5.5 watts/Kg) and done countless accelerations over 600W during the earlier portions of the race.
So what does it take to get a top 10 in a pro stage race? The answer is 4.5 hours at 3.7 watts per kilo, with over an hour at 5.5 watts per kilo, 3700 kilojoules worth of work, and countless accelerations requiring solid neuromuscular power. Compare these numbers to your body weight and see how close you can come!