Australian Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge) is just 22 years old and on Sunday finished what may have been the hardest single day of racing in his life. This was Hepburn’s first Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and it likely won’t be his last after he proved a valuable asset for his team.
Though this was a learning experience for Hepburn, he played an important role in the team, collecting bottles, delivering teammates Jens Keukeleire, Mathew Hayman, and Mitch Docker to the front of the race at critical moments, and providing support for others when they had mechanical issues or were stuck behind crashes.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
The hardest days don’t always show the highest power values. This may be counter-intuitive, but the spring classics are not races where riders tend to set peak power values. Though they may be in peak form, the major difficulty of the northern classics is more often overcoming the weather conditions and horrible road surfaces, and trying to avoid crashes. This gives the experienced riders a big advantage. Knowing the roads and having the skills and experience to be at the front to avoid crashes and make key selections is a must.
Result: 98th place, 12:38 behind the winner
Race time: 6:28
Average watts: 271
Normalized power: 320
Max power: 1154w
Peak 1-minute: 553w
Peak 5-minute: 421w
Peak 20-minute: 348w
Training Stress Score: 408
Body Weight: 76kg
As we take a look at Hepburn’s file, the first thing that should catch your eye is simply the duration. This was a 6.5-hour race for Hepburn (even longer if you include the neutral start). It’s doubtful he’s ridden longer than that more than a handful of times in his life. Unlike six-hour days in a stage race, the Tour of Flanders never allows a rider to relax. This was 160 miles of stressful riding with hundreds of turns, narrow roads, and 23 classified climbs and cobblestone sections of road.
After 4.5 hours of tense racing, Hepburn hit the Oude Kwaremont for the first time. He was able to average 401 watts for seven grueling minutes to keep Orica near the front. Hepburn followed that effort up quickly with a 446-watt, 1:47 effort up the Paterberg. There, he lost contact with the peloton.
Riding in the second chase group, Hepburn averaged 396 watts for just under three minutes on the Koppenburg. Not done yet, he again took on the Kwaremont and Paterberg, this time averaging 316 watts and 368 watts, respectively. While those numbers are lower than his first time up, they show what it takes just to ride in the pack after doing the job for the team.
Unfortunately, Hepburn had two wheel changes late in the race, which added extra load to the end of his race, and resulted in a loss of speed information for the final 25km.
The total duration of the ride, coupled with the high overall intensity (80 percent of his 400w threshold power) created a Training Stress Score of 408 TSS. This was in fact Hepburn’s highest TSS value for any single day this season — and maybe his entire life! His score is the equivalent to riding four consecutive one-hour time trials at full effort.