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It can be easy to forget that Jasper Stuyven won Milan-Sanremo this year, that Kasper Asgreen won Around Flanders, and that Damiano Caruso won Italian hearts and almost the Giro by becoming number two in 2021. The road cycling season has come and gone in an instant , but there will always be a few highlights to remember this year. Mathieu Van Der Poel’s sprint at the Strade Bianche was one of the best attacks of the year, while Tadej Pogačar’s tumble in the Tour de France was a dominant statement.
In this article, we will dissect the three major cycling tours – the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España – to see how different they really are. They say everyone is trying to top the Tour, but do the numbers reflect that? The cold Giro mountain passes are very different from the melting Spanish sidewalk of the Vuelta, while Italy in May is very different from France in July.
From the hour-long ascents of the Giro to the punchy endings of France and the chaos of the Vuelta, this is what it takes to become a grand tour champion in 2021.
First we have to break down powerful endings, ranging from two to five minutes long. These are designed for stop: Julian Alaphilippe, Primoz Roglic and Dan Martin. But in the Giro, the hardest impactful finish to the entire race came on top of a climb.
Think back to May 2021, and you probably remember the Giro gravel top finish, which was hyped up by everyone in cycling. The tour had tried a similar tactic at Le Planche de Belles Filles with promising and explosive results. We were all expecting fireworks on stage 9 of this year’s Giro, and that’s exactly what we got.
Up against people like Remco Evenepoel, João Almeida and Dan Martin, Egan Bernal ruined them all as he took off with 1.5km to go on the gravel climb. The Colombian delivered huge numbers of power despite his small stature and rose to the stage victory and an early lead at GC.
Bernal – Giro d’Italia stage 9 finish Time: 3:55 Average power: 438w (7.4w / kg) Attacks on the steepest degree: 579w (9.8w / kg) for 46 seconds
What stands out here is Bernal’s huge shot with less than 500m left, attacking at 10 w / kg for almost a minute and putting a big hole on the rest of the field. This summit also occurred at 1,500 m above sea level and at temperatures below 10 ° C (50 ° F). In other words: it was far from ideal performance conditions.
In the Tour de France we had been waiting puncher winners of stages 1 and 2 held in the Brittany region of northwestern France. Both stages featured steep climbs lasting 1-2 km with average climbs near 7 percent.
Alaphilippe took the yellow jersey on stage 1 with an aggressive solo attack – one of the most impressive battles of the year. The world champion’s estimated figures are clearly at a different level compared to Bernal in the Giro, but there are many factors that come into play here. Alaphilippe’s victory was on stage 1 against Bernal on stage 9; The ascent of the tour was much shorter than the overall of the Giro, and Brittany is only at ~ 100 m above sea level.
Alaphilippe – Côte de la Fosse aux Loups Time: 5:48 Estimated average effect: ~ 470w (7.6w / kg) First 1.3 km: 2:53 at 558w (9w / kg)
On stage 2 of the Tour, in one of the most emotional cycling shows of the year, Mathieu Van Der Poel attacked both times up the Mur de Bretagne, first in the pursuit of bonus seconds and second in the pursuit of the stage victory. Not only did he achieve both feats, but he did so with a sufficient amount of time to take the yellow jersey off the back of Julian Alaphilippe. While Bernal’s Giro victory was mightily impressive, it’s hard to see him fit into the top five on these impactful finishes on the Tour.
Van der Poel – first ascent of Mûr-de-Bretagne: Time: 4:03 Estimated average effect: ~ 600w (~ 8w / kg)
Van der Poel – second ascent of Mûr-de-Bretagne: Time: 3:58 Estimated average effect: ~ 608w (~ 8.1w / kg)
The Vuelta is never without powerful and brutally steep finishes, and while most of la Vuelta’s climbs last 20 – 30 minutes, the final on stage 11 served an exciting final just like the other big rides. Valdepeñas de Jaén has an average climb of 10 percent, but it is the 24 percent ramps in the first half of the climb that any rider fears. Nevertheless, Primož Roglič and Sepp Kuss showed no signs of slowing down as they attacked at the bottom of that climb on stage 11 of the Vuelta.
Kuss took off with a peak of 15w / kg in the first 30 seconds of the climb before Roglič attacked and hit his shoulders with Enric Mas around a narrow right turn. The Slovenian-Spanish duel continued a few hundred meters before both riders sat up and the hunting group led by Jack Haig began to grab hold. But in classic Roglič style, the Slovenian kicked again with 350m left to take an emphatic stage victory and deliver one of the season’s most impressive finishes.
Haig: Valdepeñas de Jaén Time: 2:17 Average power: 558w (7.9w / kg) Maximum power in 1 min: 645w (9.2w / kg)
Roglič: climb to Valdepeñas de Jaén Time: 2:10 Estimated average effect: 552w (8.5w / kg) Maximum power in 1 min: > 650w (> 10w / kg)
Here it seems that the Tour could boast of the year’s most impressive numbers at punchy summits. Day-to-day fatigue should be taken into account, but the difference between the Tour and the others is still quite significant. In France we saw the best stop in the world, relatively fresh and in top shape, going all-out for 3 to 4 minutes with the added motivation of the yellow jersey. Perhaps it is no surprise that these numbers were the best.
Although the powerful stage finishes and uphill sprints are exciting to watch, they do not determine the winners of grand tours. That honor goes to high-altitude summits, epic mountain passes and the most famous hikes in cycling. There was no shortage of action this year between the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta, where we saw incredible performances and record-breaking increases in each Grand Tour.
On stage 14 of the Giro, Egan Bernal set a new record at Zoncolan as he climbed the pass in just over 40 minutes. Given the high altitude, fatigue and cold conditions – it was 7C ° (45F °) at the top of Zoncolan – this was a truly incredible achievement. Caruso, who posted all his Giro d’Italia data on Strava, would finish as number 10 on the stage, 39 seconds behind Bernal.
Caruso – Zoncolan: Time: 40:41 Average power: 402w (6w / kg)
Bernal – Zoncolan: Time: 40:02 Estimated average effect: 365w (6.2w / kg)
The Tour de France quickly became the Tadej Pogačar show as the defending champion took two commanding stage victories and cemented himself at the top of the GC standings. In his day, the Slovenian is the best climber in the world, but on stage 17 of the Tour we saw an epic battle unfold between Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz.
On it except category Col du Portet, Carapaz played all the tricks in the book to try to fool his competitors. He pretended to have pain faces like Fabio Aru and refused to take a pull almost the entire length of the climb. But with 1.3 km to go, everyone realized that Carapaz had bluffed because he attacked and immediately gaped at Vingegaard. The Dane fought back, but neither he nor Carapaz had anything left to challenge Pogačar, who sprinted to the stage victory with another incredible climbing performance.
Carapaz – Col du Portet: Time: 48:53 Average power: 364w (6.1w / kg) Normalized effect: 374w (6.2w / kg) Second half of the increase Normalized force: 386w (6.4w / kg) Last 2 km normalized force: 446w (7.4w / kg)
Pogačar – Col du Portet: Time: 48:49 Estimated average effect: 406w (6.15w / kg) Second half of the increase Normalized force: 429w (6.5w / kg)
While Bernal’s record in the Giro was impressive, it is Carapaz’s final kick that finally sets him apart from the Colombian. While Bernal drove at a relatively steady pace after distancing all his competitors, Carapaz put up a number of> 500w (8w / kg +) attacks after 45 minutes of climbing with 6.2w / kg on the Col de Portet.
One of the season’s best climbing performances came on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España, as Bernal attacked on the penultimate climb of the day and could only be followed by Roglič. In terms of pure watts-per-kilo, this was the most impressive increase of 20-30 minutes this year.
Bernal – La Collada Llomena: Time: 22:50 Estimated average effect: 6.4w / kg
Roglič – Lagos de Covadonga: Time: 26:37 Average power: 364w (6.1w / kg)
Roglič and Bernal drove full throttle in the valley between these two climbs, making Roglič’s second ascent even more impressive. Both riders pressed hard for over an hour and Roglič still had the strength to pull out> 6w / kg for 26 minutes on the last climb. Especially considering the fatigue of the 18th stage and rainy conditions, this climbing performance in the Vuelta is the best of the year.
In this limited dataset, I tried to find the most impressive and explosive performances from all three major hikes, from powerful three to five minute efforts, to longer 20- to 60-minute climbing efforts. Of course, there are a variety of factors to consider, including stage number, weather conditions, altitude and the lead to the climb; but as all these efforts came at the end of a grand tour stage, I can safely say that the introduction was always four to five hours of hard running under suboptimal conditions.
We can clearly see that puncher performance is a step above the race. No one can challenge Julian Alaphilippe or Mathieu Van Der Poel on a four-minute climb, especially with the yellow jersey on the line.
As we go into the mountains, the performance differences become smaller. All three grand tours presented incredible 20+ minutes of effort at 6w / kg, with attacks and strokes over 7w / kg. These efforts were repeated in the third week of the great trip, often in bad weather conditions. Between Bernal, Pogačar and Roglic, there is not much that separates them on their respective peaks.
Power Analysis data with permission from Broom and TrainingPeaks andDiet sauce browser extension.