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By Dede Demet Barry
Vuelta Stage 7
The countryside today’s stage passed through had long somewhat-shallow grade hills with wide-open and windy terrain, much like the foothills of Colorado.
Michael said that the stage started at a quick pace and the field immediately splintered. The riders had to climb out of Teruel, which is situated in a valley. They raced over a four Category 3 climbs in the first 100km of the 200km stage, which some of the guys in the bunch said felt like more like Cat. 2’s, with some of the guys telling Michael that they felt like the Vuelta race organization was gypping them with the categorization. There is nothing worse than preparing yourself for a fairly easy day and then suffering like a dog over climbs for hours on end.
Discovery was elated with Max Van Heeswijk’s stage win today, especially considering that he had a flat tire with 15 kilometers to go and he started sprinting really early. Michael and Stijn Devolder dropped back to help Max back on when he flatted, but at 10 kilometers to go, when Paolo Bettini (Quickstep) launched his fierce attack they were still 150 guys back in the bunch and the chase after Paolo was splitting the peloton.
Max had super legs today, though, and he made it to the front and put himself in the wind early to sprint and still held off his rivals. It was impressive. The team came here to win stages and having one in their pocket will definitely take some of the pressure off.
The weather today was a little cooler than it has been all week. In fact, the peloton even rode through a 15- or 20-minute rain shower. It’s still warm, though. The minute the rain stopped, Michael said he felt like he was pedaling in a sauna, as it heated right up. Bike riders are never happy!
The first week of the Vuelta is now complete and the heat has taken its toll on the field. Today, I had an opportunity to catch up with Dr. Allen Lim, an exercise physiologist who has been analyzing power data of Floyd Landis and other Phonak Team members at the Tour de France and the Vuelta España this season.
Dr. Lim is an expert on the physiological demands of cycling, so I asked him to discuss the impact of the heat on the peloton in the first week of the Vuelta and compare the demands of this race to those of the Tour de France. Here’s what he said.
Dede Barry: After analyzing power files from first week of the Vuelta, how do you think the extreme heat has affected the riders in this race?
Allen Lim: Compared to a typical day of racing the average power outputs have been lower here, but the difference isn’t significant. Over the course of the races, however, the power has been significantly steadier and peak power outputs are nowhere near where they could be.
So from the power files, I would say that the heat has had a really oppressive effect on at least Floyd if not all the riders, especially with respect to their ability or desire to surge, accelerate and in general perform above threshold.
That said, it’s important to note that the heat, as an external environmental stressor, not only impairs a cyclist’s ability to produce power but also makes them feel terrible at any given power output. So in assessing the impact of the heat on the riders, examining how they feel – the signs and symptoms of heat stress – is perhaps more important than the power alone. But knowing both is optimal.
For example, we’ve got a good idea of how much sweat is required to keep Floyd cool on a normal day of racing (1 liter per hour for every 100 watt average) and in this last week, for the same power, he’s about 30 percent higher. For nine riders at the Tour, the soigneurs would typically prepare 200 to 250 bottles per day. This last week, we used between 350-400 bottles in a day.
DB: After analyzing Floyd Landis’ power files from the Tour de France and the beginning of the Vuelta Espana, do you see much difference in the demands of these two grand tours? Or are they even comparable because of the different environmental and tactical conditions?
AL: It’s not really possible to compare. Tactics, the course profile and the environment play such a big role in what a rider chooses to do. At both the Tour and the Vuelta, the choice was to conserve in the first week. In terms of the strain on the riders, my observation is that the first few days of racing here in Spain have been much harder due to the heat than the first week of the Tour de France. On the flip side, this race isn’t the media circus that the Tour de France is and so the psychological stress level has been lower.
DB: Stage 6 was the first big mountain day, finishing at the Valdelinares ski station. Do you think there was any difference in power necessary to win on the final climb versus on Courchevel, the first mountain top finish in the Tour de France?
AL: I haven’t taken a close look at what Roberto’s rate of ascent on Valdelinares was, so I can’t really say. With the absence of many of the top Tour de France contenders – all of whom were peaking at the Tour – my guess is that you’d need more power to win on Courchevel at the Tour de France. I could be wrong, but Courchevel was longer, steeper and it came at the end of a harder day of racing. Plus the time differentials on Courchevel were a lot larger. In the end, it’s not so much about the course or race, it’s more about who’s there, how fit they are, and how motivated they are to put the hurt on themselves and each other.
DB: Was Floyd less powerful here at the Vuelta than he was in the Tour or is the competition better?
AL: Unfortunately, he’s less powerful than at the Tour. It’s been a long season. It’s time for some rest.
Tomorrow should be another day for the sprinters to battle it out, as they pedal from Tarragona north to Lloret de Mar. I’ll be there, too, pushing the pram with my little buddy Liam, waiting for Michael to arrive.