On a day when his EF Education First-Drapac team leader Rigoberto Urán abandoned the race, American Lawson Craddock continued to churn away stage after stage through the Alps, despite suffering a broken shoulder on stage 1.
Through Tour de France stage 11, Craddock had ridden for 49.5 hours, 1,156 miles, averaged 271 watts (normalized power), gained 70,900 feet in elevation, and averaged a heart rate of 137 beats per minute.
“Everyday has gotten a bit better for sure,” Craddock said after stage 12, which finished atop Alpe d’Huez. “Obviously the mountains are quite a bit different than the first nine stages. It’s just been a lot more torque on [the shoulder] than usual when I stand and get up. I was really happy just to make it through today’s stage. It was carnage out there.”
We first took a look at Craddock’s Whoop data after stage 4. As a reminder, it’s helpful to understand how the Whoop strap 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.
Let’s take another look at the Texan’s Whoop data to better understand the extreme physical demands of the Tour de France. Through stage 11, Craddock averaged a recovery score of 46 percent, a strain score of 19.6, and average sleep of seven hours and eight minutes, or 72 percent of what he needed.
Since the Tour began, Craddock has accumulated a string of incredibly high strain scores. He posted his highest, 20.7 (out of a possible 21), on stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez. His lowest score, 18.3, came during the team time trial, when he was able to sit up during the last portion of the stage after dropping behind his teammates. It’s worth reminding that Craddock has been posting such scores just to make the time cut, and is obviously not competing at the front of the race. While we can’t compare his figures to those of the GC contenders, it’s fair to say that everyone at the Tour is pushing himself to the limit day after day. In Craddock’s case, that has meant altering his riding technique in order to complete the stages.
“I’m definitely riding a lot differently,” he said. “It’s not ideal. You spend seven months riding in one position and then at the Tour you have to switch it around a bit. My body has been adjusting.
I’m having to pull up with the pedals a lot more, instead of using a fluid pedal motion. I’m using my hamstrings a lot more than I usually do. And I’m feeling it a bit. I’m still here, today was one of my better days.”
If we look at Craddock’s recovery scores during the past two weeks, we notice that he’s actually improving from the place he was at coming into the Tour. Ironically, Craddock noted how the few days prior to the Tour are not ideal preparation for one of the most demanding athletic competitions in the world.
“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.”
In the past week, Craddock has posted two good (green) recovery scores. The first followed the flat stage 8 into Amiens. Following a much-needed rest day on Monday, Craddock awoke with a 70 percent recovery.
“While I’ve made improvements in my recovery, I’m still quite sore from the Roubaix stage,” he said. “Today was a rough day for me. I felt better than expected on the first climb, but that feeling was short lived. I suffered over the second mountain pass, but once we hit Col de Romme I was cooked. I struggled mightily to maintain contact with the gruppetto, and forced myself to only look at the next kilometer.”
Despite the strenuous ride in stage 11 on July 18, Craddock still managed a yellow recovery, after getting nearly eight hours of sleep.
“Stage 11 was a nasty day,” his coach Jim Miller said. “The stage had 11,000 feet of climbing, over which Lawson posted a 261 TSS and a 308 Watts normalized power for 4 hours and 10 minutes. And with all that, he still finished 26 minutes behind the stage winner. It is hard to convey just how good these guys are.”
His sleep data reveals that over the past two weeks he’s averaging almost nine hours in bed per night, and sleeping more than the average athlete in Whoop’s database during this same time period. He’ll need to continue to rest and recover as hard as he rides to combat the high strains he’s posting.
“The last three days that have been extremely difficult,” Craddock said. “Straight out of the rest day they threw everything at us. A lot of the peloton was in pure survival mode today so yeah, I’m really happy just to make it through another day at the Tour.”