Tour de France 2010 vs 2009: Which is Harder So Far?
So far in the 2010 Tour de France, we have seen plenty of drama including crashes, cobbles, hills, and headbutts. Some of the favorites have left the race, and others have seen their dreams of a podium finish fade away.
So far in the 2010 Tour de France, we have seen plenty of drama including crashes, cobbles, hills, and headbutts. Some of the favorites have left the race, and others have seen their dreams of a podium finish fade away. As the second week of this epic event draws to a close and we look forward to a final showdown in the Pyrenees, the question arises: going into this last week of battle on the bikes, are the riders generally more or less exhausted than they were at this point in the race last year?
Of course, the story is different for each rider, but one good way to get a general idea of the overall toughness of this year's Tour compared to 2009 is to compare data from the same rider doing the same job on the same team in both years. We have been following "super domestique" Chris Anker Sorensen of Team Saxo Bank this year in the Tour de France and we had the chance to follow him last year as well. He is the right-hand man for Andy Schleck and is really the only guy on the Saxo Bank team that can ride in the high mountains with Andy. Chris is also a winner in his own right with a mountain stage win in the Giro D' Italia this year and the queen stage win in the Dauphine Libere last year, so getting the opportunity to review his power files and see how many watts he can put out is a true insight into one of the worlds' best cyclists.
So far in the 2010 Tour, Chris has had nearly the equivalent amount of training stress, or overall fatigue caused to his body by riding, as he did in 2009. This year Saxo Bank has had the yellow jersey longer than last year, first with Cancellara and now with Andy Schleck, and as a consequence Chris has had to ride near the front. However, with Chris being the main supporting mountain climber, he has been fortunate that he did not have to do too much work in the early stages of the Tour this year even though Saxo was defending the jersey. Once the mountains started though, Chris was always seen at the front.
An excellent example of how much power Chris can bring to the front of a climb was in Stage 9, when Chris played a large role in launching Andy Schleck off the front of the Col de la Madeleine climb from an elite group of 10 or so riders. Chris started setting a hard tempo at the bottom of the hour-plus-long climb and rode at an average of 410 watts, or 6.4 watts per kilogram, in the first ten minutes of the climb: an extremely impressive power output that essentially doubles what most Cat 4 recreational riders would be able to sustain.
After such a hard effort, Chris peeled off and rode at a slightly lower pace to recover, putting out 5.6 w/kg for the next ten minutes. This effort still kept him in the top 15 riders and he was then able to catch back up with Schleck and Contador briefly, when he went straight to the front again to set tempo just one more time before Schleck and Contador attacked and dropped the rest for good. This last pull was almost 3 minutes long and he averaged 432 watts or 6.75w/kg for that effort.
This 2010 Stage 9 effort from Chris actually compares very closely with his performance on Stage 9 last year, which saw the riders go over the Tourmalet and Andy Schleck suffer a very unfortunate flat with just 4 miles to go. Chris waited for Andy and paced him back in the final stretch of the race, averaging 400 watts during this 3.5 minute stretch which included several technical corners where he actually coasted at zero watts with 9 all-out efforts well above 600 watts.
One of the easiest days in the 2010 Tour so far was Stage 11 and although Chris did have to be attentive and help at the front a bit, he really had a mellow day along with most of the other riders in the peloton. Over 72% of the ride was done in his active recovery zone with his normalized watts for the entire day at only 224 and an average heart rate of 115bpm. In the last few miles, Chris did have to go to the front and ride right at his functional threshold power (390-395 watts) for about 12 minutes in order to help keep things together and Andy Schleck out of trouble. This was no different than the effort he did on the climb in Stage 9 and in this case, he ‘blew up' for good and rode in to the finish relatively easy without caring about any time losses.
Last year's Stage 11 was a similarly easy day for Chris, as Team Saxo Bank was able to focus all their attention on simply riding steady to keep team leader Andy Schleck safe and rested on a relatively flat course that saw Team HTC-Columbia do all the work for their sprinter Mark Cavendish. Chris did everything possible to make sure his team leader entered the Alps as fresh as possible. His SRM data shows he expended the most energy within the first 20 minutes of the stage where he averaged 297w, which is a very manageable effort for Chris. His average watts for the stage of 218w were also very low considering his threshold power in 2009 was near 380w.
Although there are of course many more details to discuss when it comes to comparing these first two weeks of riding with the 2009 lead-in to the final week, it is safe to say that in general so far this year's race has been almost exactly as hard as last year. When you look past all the excitement of crashes and headbutting, it becomes clear that the race organizers really do make a great effort every year to design a course that provides just enough challenge to keep the riders on the edge and the fans fascinated. For fans who want more analysis to get even greater insight into this year's race versus last year's Tour, view commentary from all of the stages of the 2009 Tour de France here and all of the stages of the 2010 Tour so far here.
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