Tour de France 2009

Fascinating inside look at the hardest bicycle race in the world

Top level sport at first hand. Browse through the power data from Mark Renshaw, Team Columbia HTC. The Australian is the lead-out man for the pro field's fastest sprinter, Mark Cavendish. Cavendish's sprint "express" is comprised of three men in the final: First Tony Martin leads, then at the 1,000 meter mark, George Hincapie takes over and between 600 and 550 meters to go, Renshaw takes the lead and launches the sprint for Cavendish, who completes the job over the last 200 meters.

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Review of the first week

This diagram shows the weekly view of Mark's training log. You can readily see the structure of each stage, from the detected intervals in the overview. The colour red dominates the intervals found. Red means Zone 5, the Power Zone. This is the level at which races are decided in professional racing. Then there are segments in orange - Zone 4, the Threshold Zone. The middle intensities have no relevance here. That's how his training looked too, under 2PEAK coach Benoit Nave before the Tour de France: Mark repeatedly performed high intensity intervals, to prepare for the Tour.

Stage 1 - A Time Trial as Kick-off

The individual time trial in Monaco: The power curve reflects the course. During the first half of the race, there were 260 meters to be climbed. On the steepest passages on the irregular climb, Mark was way into the red zone. He sprinted up the first ramp after the start with 616 watts for 46 seconds. Then the power settled into the 400 watt range. On the technically difficult descent, the power fell but after tight turns you can see a hard kick, as he picks up the speed. The average power over the whole race was 371 w. That was good enough to give Mark, who had no ambition to win this particular stage, position 140, 2'15" behind the winner, Fabian Cancellara.

Stage 2 - first win for the Columbia-Train

Business trip according to plan for Mark & Mark: Renshaw leads out the sprint, Cavendish wins. It was a peaceful stage for Mark Renshaw. Apart from a hill at the beginning - it shows up as an interval - there was no hard work to be done until the final. You can tell this by the low average power of 201 w and the average pulse of 136. There is such a strong slipstream in the field, that an average speed around 40kmh is possible without a great effort. The four escapees, who had been in the lead for a long time, had to expend much more energy. The hard part of the day began for Mark Renshaw very shortly before the finish line. His team was engaged in catching the break but Mark saved himself for the final.

Stage 2 in Detail - the last Kilometer

The sprint finish of the second stage in detail: The last minute of the race is ridden at an average speed of 61kmh and in so doing, Mark reached an average power output of 583w which was not evenly distribituted. Notice the typical power peaks, which occur when bringing yourself into position or defending your position in the sprint train. As soon as mark is out in front in the wind, the power at this enormous speed rises to over 800w. He reached a maximum power of 1323w in one of these manoeuvres. Around 500m from the line, Mark loses the cover of his teammate George Hincapie and launches the final sprint. To accellerate from an already tremendous 67 up to 68.4kmh, and to stay there, he has to sprint at an average power of 1029w for over 14 seconds. Cavendish then takes off from his back wheel and sprints to the win.
It isn't just their sheer sprinting power that is so impressive with the pro's. There are some all-comer riders who can reach a similar value. The trick is to put it into action while keeping in the picture at the end of a 200km long race. The concerted action, complete overview of the race situation and the positional battling in a really high class pro race is the real challenge.

Stage 3 – Scattered Peloton and Second Success for the Columbia-Express

The stage was quiet, until the Columbia team formed a fast leading echelon and broke open the field. The situation was made possible by a change of direction resulting in a strong sidewind. The Columbia team was in the lead and as a small gap opened to the field, they gave full power. This can be seen in Mark's power curve, which climbed in the last 40 minutes to just 300w average. The speed of 52kmh for the last 40km is pretty impressive too - considering the sidewind conditions! 27 people managed to stay in the leading group - the rest of the field never closed the gap, some favorites losing valuable time overall.

Stage 3 – Classic Sidewind Effect

The extract shows the Columbia team action. The riders ride through and off continuously. Mark Renshaw saves himself in this phase compared to some others in the team. The actual sprint phase, because of the small size of the group is very short.

Stage 3 – The Express Steams to a Win

On the last one and a half kilometers the Columbia express forms up. As Mark hits the front, the speed, at 58kmh isn't as high as on the previous day, with a 22 second sprint, the Australian winds the tempo up to 65kmh, keeps it there and Mark does the business as on the day before.

STage 4 – Team Time Trial

Probably the hardest 3/4 hour for Mark Renshaw in this Tour: In a team time trial, the sprinters have to do their bit too, although they don't lead for as long as the top TT specialists on the team. Phases lasting minutes at 450-500w average power, show why team time trials are said to be especially hard tests. When Mark was in the lead, he had to come up with 700w. His average power in the team time trial was however, "only" 378w - but this doesn't fairly reflect the great exertion, because it is all the peak efforts that really hurt. Still Mark repeatedly manages during the race, to recover a bit. his can be seen in his heart frequency, which doesn't constantly stay at max level but drops from time to time. Columbia finished the race 59" in arrears in 5th place.

Stage 5 – The Breakaways Make the Race

The fifth stage was hectic and was characterized by the successful break of some escapees including Thomas Voekler, who won solo. Columbia was one of the teams which actively gave chase. This can be seen in Marks power printout. After three hours' racing, Columbia cut the lead of the break with a surge of speed. Mark Cavendish won the bunch sprint from the field, following the usual preparative work by his team.

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