Pro Power: Five lessons from Jens Voigt’s solo Pro Challenge attack

Jens Voigt has made a career out of long-range attacks. See how he does it, by the numbers

In 2012, Jens Voigt won stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge from Aspen to Beaver Creek with a bold, long-range attack from Independence Pass. On Wednesday, he took that same mindset into stage 3 of the race’s 2013 edition, and came up just three kilometers short.

In both instances, Voigt shared his SRM power data with TrainingPeaks. While it ultimately didn’t work out this year, there are many similarities between his rides from the two stages. If you want to be the “hard man” of your local peloton, have a look at how Voigt does it — by the numbers.

View Voigt’s SRM power data from stage 4 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge >>
View Voigt’s SRM power data from stage 3 of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge >>

Step 1: Break away early

In 2012, Voigt attacked from the gun. He hit over 800 watts four times in the early minutes to get away with a 15-rider group. Flash forward to 2013 and he was once again attacking early. Just 20 minutes into the stage, Voigt hammered out over 900 watts, twice, while riding up Swan Mountain Road. The breakaway was on.

This can be the hardest part of the day, just getting away. Consider that during his 2012 ride, Voigt’s peak power for the entire stage was 994 watts and in 2013 he came within 22 watts of that in the first 30 minutes of racing. It takes a tremendous hit of power, either for an extended time or repeated again and again, to finally make the breakaway stick.

Mentally, this can be the hardest part. To convince the mind to go that hard early on, while still having so many miles left, is an art that Voigt has mastered.

Step 2: Shed your companions

In 2012 Voigt was in an early breakaway group from the start. Just 15 minutes in, he attacked the group with an 889-watt spike, a whopping 11.5 watts/kg! He then held 521 watts (6.9 watts/kg), for one minute to get clear.

On Wednesday, he had four companions with him for just over two hours. To finally fly solo, Voigt hit them with a 731-watt spike at the 104-kilometer mark and then held 336 watts, or 4.41 watts/kg for a minute to get clear. While the effort was smaller than in 2012, it was, of course, much later in the stage and fatigue likely played a role.

So, if you go early, you’ll have to go harder, but you may have a better chance of getting free, as many riders will think twice about going so hard so far from the finish. If you wait until later, it won’t take as much power, but you’ll be more fatigued. Pick your poison — Voigt apparently likes the taste of both.

Step 3: Stay on the gas

When breaking away, there is no rest period. A rider has to be able to sustain a strong tempo pace even after the big initial effort. In 2012 Voigt was heading out of Aspen and up Independence Pass, a long and steady climb. He managed to crank out an amazing 371 watts, or 4.8 watts/kg for an hour to grow his lead over the peloton.

The terrain was a bit different for Wednesday’s escapade. Voigt was climbing the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass when he went alone, but the climb was lower elevation and less gradient that Independence Pass, and led to a long downhill and mostly flat final run-in to the finish.

After his big effort to go clear, Voigt did what he does best: fly solo. Once on his own, he averaged 304 watts (4.0 watts/kg) for 1:20:00, including his climb over Rabbit Ears. These lower numbers are more due to the nature of the terrain than to the effort itself and we should take into account the flatter sections high up on the climb and the descent, where Voigt could not push as much power steadily as he could on the 2012 climbs.

Step 4: Conserve energy

During his ride in 2012, Voigt continued to gain time on the chasers and finished with minutes in hand. The makeup of the race’s GC picture allowed the German a long leash en route to Beaver Creek. Wednesday was different, however, and the peloton finally organized a chase.

Voigt had to calculate his effort a bit more in his attempt to pull off the victory. Of course, he couldn’t conserve too much out on his own, but the descent to the Yampa Valley helped.

During his 1:20:00 solo effort at 304 watts, Jens burned over 1,100 calories. At the top of Rabbit Ears Pass, he took down some calories and prepared for the fast, 12km descent. Voigt tucked onto the top tube and on the way down, his cadence data shows that he didn’t pedal for a full six minutes — nearly the whole descent. Topping out at 84 kph, Voigt was able to give his legs a little respite. At an average speed of 47 mph for those six minutes, he was flying.

Step 5: Don’t give up

This one seems obvious, but it is worth repeating. Once you’re away, you may be fortunate enough to be left clear, or you may be fending off an impending chase. Either way, belief is what matters and Voigt has that in spades. Even when the peloton was taking out huge chunks of time, he continued to fight. From the base of the descent until he was caught, 3km from the line, Voigt averaged roughly 270 watts. In those 7km, the peloton cut his lead down from one minute to nothing. He was fighting through a solid headwind and had two motivated teams chasing him, yet he never backed off until the peloton swept him up just outside downtown Steamboat Springs. The result is in the books now, but had there been a mishap in the bunch, Voigt’s persistent effort could have paid. As it were, he took the most courageous rider jersey to his hotel room.

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