Editor’s Note: This is a condensed version of a comprehensive analysis of Eric Marcotte’s national criterium championship data by his coach, Adam Mills, MSEd, the owner and senior coach at Source Endurance.
The pro criterium championships offer a unique combination of a relatively small field, a short race (by professional road standards) at two hours, and a stars and stripes jersey on the line. This creates an exciting showcase of cycling strategy and tactics with the backdrop of aggressive racing, the essence of the American criterium.
Put simply, every team’s strategy was to create a small split or break with both the numbers in their favor and the fastest finisher. These are fairly simple to qualify but exponentially more difficult when executed at 45kph among a peloton of your peers. Tactically, Eric Marcotte (Team SmartStop) did a superb job investing his energy early to cover splits and never engaging in any prolonged chases. This enabled him to go on the offensive, instead of chasing back threatening moves.
The entire USA Cycling professional criterium national championships is available on-demand, but for the sake of learning more about Marcotte’s race-winning effort you can view the final six laps here>>.
To begin with, the first 32 minutes are incredibly manic with speed (blue) and power (yellow) both elevated. Marcotte produced a six- to 12-second effort greater than 1,000W about once every 65 seconds. All this was accomplished at a speed of 28mph (45kph), which saw him burn 620kJ at a normalized power of 377W. This is a hefty 10 percent more demanding than your typical National Criterium Calendar (NCC) race, partly because of the all-professional peloton and because it is the national championships.
SmartStop, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, Hincapie Racing, Astellas, and UnitedHealthcare all put multiple riders, including their fastest finishers, into the final selection. Then, the dynamics shifted in the next 58 minutes. Speed and power output dropped significantly. Not to say that this part of the race was uneventful; each team made plenty of jabs and attempts to escape.
Marcotte burned 958kJ at just 43kph during this time, with a normalized power output of 347W. Also notable is that the number of 1,000W-plus efforts dropped to about once every 105 seconds of racing.
Eighty-five minutes into the race, there was more activity in the lead group as attacks, splits, regrouping, and re-splitting were prevalent. Power was higher with more jumps and prolonged efforts, speed was incredibly variable, and Marcotte’s normalized power escalated to 361W.
Then, following one last dig, an interesting, but expected, strategy shift unfolded. UnitedHealthcare put its riders on the front in an effort to make the finale a group sprint.
The ensuing laps were the ‘easiest’ 18 minutes of the race, but the speed remained relatively steady at 43kph — still very fast. Marcotte’s output dropped to an average of 214W, 260W normalized. The result of this unofficial ‘time out’ was an unexpected and prolonged rest for Marcotte as well as every other rider behind the UHC escort. The speed gradually increased as UHC set up for the sprint with the push into the final lap averaging nearly 47kph (29mph).
The final lap of a criterium is never easy, and this finale was nothing short of incredible. Marcotte’s effort really began after turn two into the small, but significant, hill. From this point on, it was only 46 seconds to the finish line. Marcotte came out of the uphill corner and went from zero to 1,275W in two seconds, easing off the pedals at 787W for the descent. Even though it appeared that Marcotte was soft-pedaling, he was nearly at full-throttle before opening it up again, one more time, to be the first into corner three. This output accelerated Marcotte from the base of the hill all the way to the next corner where his speed peaked at 63kph before braking to make the turn.
Once he began his setup for turn four, Marcotte got 10 of the next 12 seconds to coast as he was at maximum speed for turns three and four. The two seconds that he did pedal were at 850W. After the final corner, Marcotte saw the line and rode the final 10 seconds averaging 1014W to claim his second stars and stripes jersey in as many years.
By the numbers
Norm./Avg. power: 358W/ 286W
Max speed: 75kph
Time spent below 20W: 36min, 30%
Time spent below FTP: 49min, 54.7%
Time at >125% of FTP: 25:34
Time above 1000W: 4:43
Longest time spent pedaling without rest: 94 seconds @294W