Take a deep dive into Lawson Craddock's physiological data from the Tour de France — recovery, sleep, and strain.
Lawson Craddock loves his data. He also loves to share it.
The EF Education First-Drapac rider wears a Whoop strap, a wearable device that continuously monitors his heart rate, heart-rate variability, and sleep performance, which helps him better understand the strain he places on his body, as well as how he is recovering from the tremendous efforts he’s generating in training and racing. Luckily for us, he’s also wearing his Whoop at the Tour de France and is happy to share his data from the event.
With the help of Kristen Holmes-Winn, Whoop’s vice president of performance optimization, we took a look at Craddock’s Whoop data for the month leading into the Tour, as well as the first four stages, including both stage 1 when he heavily crashed and fractured his scapula and his painful ride in the team time trial.
Before we dive in, it’s helpful to understand how the Whoop works. The “strain” score is a summary of cardiovascular load, or how hard the heart is working. It measures this by analyzing heart rates relative to your heart rate zones. The more time you spend in the upper reaches, the higher your strain score gets, on a scale from 0 to 21. It is a logarithmic metric, rather than linear, meaning the higher you get on the scale, the more difficult it is to build strain.
The “recovery” score is, simply, an athlete’s capacity to take on strain. In the morning, an athlete generates a recovery score (on a scale from 0 to 100; scores closer to 100 indicate an athlete has more capacity, both physically and mentally, to deal with strain). The metrics which comprise recovery are heart rate, heart rate variability, and sleep performance.
“We have an algorithm that massages those three variables and spits out your capacity for readiness,” Holmes-Winn said.
Let’s dive into the data.
Taking a look at the level of sleep on the first day of the Tour (see below), Holmes-Winn notices several things: He’s relatively stable in terms of how his sleep compares to baseline; his REM, wake, and light sleep quantities are, on average, similar to baseline; his slow-wave sleep is comparable to baseline.
“This indicates he’s able to adapt to different surroundings and maintain a pretty decent quality of sleep, despite the fact that his body is probably extraordinarily stressed, and the other data [we’ll talk about soon] definitely supports that,” Holmes-Winn said.
One thing that surprised Holmes-Winn was the lack of time Craddock spent in bed in the few days leading up to the start of the Tour.
“There doesn’t seem to be as much effort as I would think there would be in terms of time in bed. Usually, you try to extend sleep prior to competition. He was in bed for 9:17 the night prior to the start of the Tour, but previous nights it was more like seven hours, which is pretty short, relative to what he needed,” she noted.
On the other hand, prior to those two days, Holmes-Winn noticed that Craddock’s sleep consistency — the time he went to sleep and woke the next morning — was good.
“Consistency is one of the three pillars of sleep, along with duration and efficiency. Lawson is doing very well in the consistency, which will enable him to spend less time in bed,” she said.
Holmes-Winn noted that recent research has shown that sleep-wake consistency is just as important as duration and efficiency, and may even trump it when it comes to quality of sleep. Research has shown, in fact, a direct correlation between students’ GPA and time in bed. Athletes have always focused more on duration and efficiency, according to Holmes-Winn, but consistency is emerging as a crucial factor in optimizing sleep behavior.
According to Holmes-Winn, even on days when you can sleep in, it’s almost better to wake at a consistent time and then try to nap later in the day — prior to 3 p.m., mind you, as anything after that has a deleterious effect up to 15 percent if it occurs after that 3 p.m. mark.
“We see this problem with a lot of athletes, accumulating this sleep debt. You just don’t want to be in a situation where you’re three, four hours in the hole,” she said. “This is part of the education we need, not just for athletes, but for anyone interested in optimizing their potential as a human. You can’t ever make up a deficit in biological sleep. Sleeping more tomorrow doesn’t work; it’s gone forever.”
Turning to Craddock’s recovery scores (see below), we see that up until June 25, he was getting good (green and yellow) recovery scores. Then we see a block of red and yellow scores, indicating just prior to the Tour he was not recovering as well. Travel and acclimating to a new environment were the culprit. Several more days of good scores are followed by three days of very low scores. Right when you’d think Craddock would want to be most recovered, his scores indicated he was not.
It is interesting to note that Holmes-Winn’s observations fall in line with the rider’s on-the-ground experiences about his poor recoveries in the days leading up to the Tour.
“The few days running into the start of the Tour de France are unlike any other,” Craddock said. “The stress surrounding the race is almost worse than the actual stress during the race. We were built to race bikes at a competitive level, and not to be running around all day taking part in interviews and press conferences. This had a huge factor in my extremely poor recovery the three days before the race started. It was such a relief to finally wake up on race day. I paid attention the most to HRV and sleep in the few days before. With a rough travel schedule, doping control, and early race starts it was difficult to stay relaxed and energized. Being able to track my sleep was huge as I was able to see how I was lagging behind to be able and compensate sleep throughout the days with naps.”
It is also interesting to note that his lowest recovery score took place the day he crashed at the Tour. Miraculously, the next day his recovery shot up after stage 2.
“It was an encouraging sign to see my HRV and recovery bounce back today,” Craddock said of his score after stage 2. “Especially when I knew what I was in store for. One thing that I have noticed since tracking my HRV with Whoop is that I often have a delayed reaction in terms of recovery. I can finish a hard training block, take a day easy, and still have a poor recovery. It’s not usually until I jump back into training or racing that my recovery scores will jump up. This has been very useful info when it comes to planning my training with my coach, Jim Miller, heading into a big event.”
Holmes-Winn noted the volume of training and high strain scores in the month preceding the Tour (see below). It has brought him into the race well prepared for what has turned out to be the fight of his life just to stay in the race. Riding with a fractured scapula, Craddock has soldiered through pain and stiffness to try and contribute to the team’s efforts to keep its leader Rigoberto Urán in contention for the yellow jersey fight.
Craddock’s coach, Jim Miller, is able to add greater insight into his efforts to stay in the race. Regarding the team time trial, Miller was blown away by his athlete’s ride.
“Lawson did so much more than anyone expected of him today,” Miller said. “The thing about Lawson is he doesn’t like to let anyone down, so he clearly gave as much as he had to give. He ended up riding 32k [of the 35.5k] with the team, with a normalized power of 405 watts and had 14 peak powers above 700 watts. That’s solid without a fractured scapula, but even more impressive given what he was working with. He really should not have been able to do that, it was unbelievable.”
Regarding stage 4, Miller added that Lawson was able to make it to the final 36 kilometers before he started “yoyo-ing” off the back of the peloton. He came off for good at 22 kilometers to go, losing 3:48 on the day.
“Considering what he’s dealing with, it was a great ride. It really shows how well prepared he was coming into this Tour,” Miller said.