Tour de France 2020

Power analysis: Neilson Powless on stage 6 of the Tour de France

In this column, we dive into the power numbers of Neilson Powless from Stage 6 of this year’s Tour de France.

On the sixth stage of his first-ever Tour de France, Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling) rode himself into the strongest breakaway of the race. The 191-kilometer route would take riders to the top of Mont Aigoual, and with three categorized climbs preceding, everyone knew that there was a strong chance of breakaway success. At the end of the day, a muted chase ensured the win went up the road, and it was Astana’s Alexey Lutsenko who crossed the line first, celebrating his first-ever stage win in the Tour de France.

Just down the road was 24-year-old Native-American Powless, who had the ride of his life to not only make the breakaway, but also to attack on the final climb and put riders like Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) and Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) straight out the back. Fourth place wasn’t quite the end result that Powless was hoping for, but it was an incredible ride nonetheless, in one of the most powerful Tour de France breakaways we have ever seen.

Powless power while making the breakaway

Powless – making the breakaway:
Time: 19:36
Average Power: 392w (5.9w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 174bpm
Max Heart Rate: 185bpm
Peak 4min Power: 492w (7.5w/kg)

Attack near the crest of first uncategorized climb:
Time: 1:49
Average Power: 549w (8.3w/kg)

As the breakaway descended out of Villeneuve-de-Berg at kilometer 20, the peloton sat up, and the breakaway extended their gap to over five minutes after 40km of racing. For the next 125km, Powless traded pulls with Olympic Champion Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), Roche, Cavagna, Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT), Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Lutsenko.

The group worked well together, extending their leading to six and a half minutes by Kilometer 80. While holding an incredible average speed of over 48kph, the group stayed together all the way until the mountainous finale – four, stair-stepping climbs with one giant leap in the middle, packed into the final 50km: the Cat 3 Cap de Coste, Cat 3 Col des Mourèzes, Cat 1 Col de la Lusette, and the final gradual climb up to the Mont Aigoual.

Powless power during the middle portion of stage

Powless – middle portion of stage in the breakaway:
Time: 2:37:14
Average Power: 262w (4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 278w (4.2w/kg)
Average Speed: 47.5kph (29.5mph)
Average Heart Rate: 141bpm
Max Heart Rate: 161bpm

The breakaway stayed together on the Cap de Coste, despite riding at a 5.5+w/kg tempo that would drop almost any amateur – and this is after three hours of racing and nearly 3000kJ of work. Powless’s heart rate doesn’t even reach threshold as the lead group glides up and over the climb.

Powless – Cap de Coste:
Time: 5:24
Average Power: 368w (5.6w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 163bpm
Max Heart Rate: 167bpm

After a quick descent and less than 10km of flat valley roads, Powless and his break-mates began the Col des Mourèzes, a 6.1km climb with an average of 5 percent. The group rode up the climb just a little bit harder than the Cap de Coste – the fatigue was beginning to show, as small gaps began to open and little surges began to put riders like Oss and Cavagna in difficulty. Powless crested the Col des Mourèzes comfortably with the lead group, and still with over a three and a half minute gap to the peloton that was more apathetic than urgent.

Neilson Powless power from Col des Mour

Powless – Col des Mourèzes:
Time: 13:33
Average Power: 373w (5.7w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 168bpm
Max Heart Rate: 174bpm

After the shortest of descents, the breakaway began the final climb and crux of the course: the Col de la Lusette, an 11.8km climb with an average of 7.8 percent, including a 2km section that averaged nearly 11 percent. In his first Tour de France, Powless showed no fear and was immediately attacking and surging out of the switchbacks of the lower slopes of the Col de la Lusette. Boasson Hagen and Roche were quickly distanced, with only Lutsenko able to fly across the gap. Van Avermaet made a move of his own and joined the leading group, while Herrada lagged behind but with his foot firmly on the gas.

Powless power on Col de la Lusette

Powless – Col de la Lusette (first attack):
Time: 1:13
Average Power: 476w (7.2w/kg)

Powless and Lutsenko drove the pace while Van Avermaet hung on to both the wheels and his incredible climbing form. After the littlest of lulls, Herrada rejoined the leading trio; and Powless immediately attacked.

Powless – Col de la Lusette (second attack):
Time: 0:39
Average Power: 636w (9.6w/kg)

Powless and Lutsenko quickly distanced the rest of the group, with Powless putting in a massive ten-minute effort to extend the gap – not only are the duo climbing faster than their former break-mates, but they are climbing faster than the entire peloton led by Team Ineos Grenadiers a few minutes down the road.

Powless – Col de la Lusette (second attack):
Time: 10:38
Average Power: 404w (6.1w/kg)

As the road pitches up to over 12 percent, Powless begins to crack. He just can’t quite hold the pace of Lutsenko who powers away at over 6w/kg. For the next twenty minutes, Powless is ever-so-slowly drifting backward, first getting caught and passed by Herrada, and then linking up with Van Avermaet over the top of the climb.

Powless – Col de la Lusette (second half):
Time: 18:47
Average Power: 357w (5.4w/kg)

You can see how Powless’s power and heart rate begin to gradually drop off halfway through the climb. The difference is subtle, but by the top of the Col de la Lusette, Lutsenko already has a minute-plus gap over Powless and Van Avermaet.

Powless – Col de la Lusette (full climb):
Time: 35:21
Average Power: 374w (5.7w/kg)
Normalized Power: 392w (5.9w/kg)
Max Power: 958w (14.6w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 174bpm
Max Heart Rate: 184bpm

It’s not quite over yet, and after a quick ride along the ridgeline, Powless and Van Avermaet begin the final climb from L’Esperou to Mont Aigoual. The breakaway is in ones and twos as they wind along the quiet mountain road. After more than 180km and nearly four and a half hours in the saddle, Powless is still able to produce a strong effort at over 5.4w/kg on the final climb to comfortably hold off the peloton.

Powless – Final climb to Mont Aigoual:
Time: 16:55
Average Power: 355w (5.4w/kg)

There’s few riders in the world that can beat Greg Van Avermaet in a sprint, and in the final few hundred meters, the Olympic champion kicks to third on the day. Moments later, 24-year-old Tour de France debutant Powless crosses the line to finish fourth on the stage, a day in the breakaway at the Tour de France, and what will surely be one of the most memorable birthdays of his life.

Neilson Powless Tour de France stage 6 power

Powless – Tour de France stage 6:
Time: 35:21
Average Power: 296w (4.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 320w (4.9w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 152bpm
Max Heart Rate: 185bpm

Peak 5min Power: 465w (7.1w/kg)
Peak 30min Power: 381w (5.8w/kg)
Peak 1hour Power: 353w (5.4w/kg)

Neilson Powless Tour de France stage 6

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/4005844904

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