By Dirk Friel
Stage 15 was the first major test of the Alpine stages and included a mountain top finish, the second of three in this year’s Tour. The finish in Verbier, Switzerland, has never hosted the Tour de France before, but many of the riders know the finish quite well since the Tour of Switzerland has finished in Verbier several times.
The Swiss showdown loomed at the end of a tough 200 kilometers and the Tour’s stars knew the finish would play a vital role in the final classification. Those with hopes of winning the Tour jockeyed for position leading into the base of the final climb with the help of devoted teammates.
Saxo Bank displayed just how strong it is by setting the pace right from the start of the climb. The first pace setter was the German Jens Voigt, then Nicki Sorensen and Chris Anker Sorensen took over as the Schleck brothers stayed protected near the front. Once the domestiques had finished their jobs, the peloton exploded on the lower slopes and only a handful of men were left to fight the battle.
Alberto Contador once again put in an unmatched attack, the second of this year’s Tour, and the only person who could respond was Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck. Andy maintained a 45 second gap to Contador and finished second on the stage which moved him up to fifth place in the overall classification. Andy’s brother, Frank, also rode well and finished fourth on the stage.
Verbier’s maximum effort
Chris Anker Sorensen rode a very good stage considering this is only his second ever mountain-top finish in a Tour de France. Chris finished four minutes behind the stage winner, right along with American George Hincapie.
The beginning of the climb is where Chris’s power readings show just how hard it is to be a teammate to the stars. The first four minutes of the climb Chris’s SRM recorded a whopping 451 average watts, and his heart rate averaged 178 beats per minute. The bottom of the climb to Verbier was also Chris’s maximum five-minute value of the Tour de France so far at 433 watts.
However, the day wasn’t finished for Chris and he pedaled on at a very respectable pace and only lost four minutes to the leaders. It certainly didn’t help that he had to set such a vicious pace at the bottom, but that is what he’s paid to do.
The final climb took Chris 25 minutes and he averaged 355 watts and 174 beats per minute heart rate. In terms of his maximum 20-minute power output of the Tour, the final climb up to Verbier ranked sixth (not including the two time trial stages) as compared to his highest mean maximum 20 value of 388w on stage 9.
Stage 15 ranked second of this year’s Tour in terms of Training Stress Score (TSS) points at 324. Stage 7 was the highest so far at 403 TSS points based on a threshold wattage of 380w. A score of 100 points equals one hour at threshold pace, so as you can see most stages in the Tour de France are very stressful on the body and recovery from day to day is the major obstacle to overcome.
Monday’s rest day will be a welcome day off for Chris but he will most likely ride about 90 minutes at an easy pace to keep his body loose and fine tuned for the upcoming week of the Tour.
Dirk Friel raced professionally on the roads of Europe, Asia and the Americas and is a co-founder of TrainingPeaks.com. You can follow Dirk at twitter.com/dirkfriel.