What it takes to ride with the pros: Wattage numbers from Redlands

How much power does it take to hang with the pros in a big American stage race? For the Redlands Bicycle Classic, we put an SRM power meter on the bike of Eric Marcotte, a 30-year-old chiropractor who races as a Cat. 1.

By Sean Burke and Chris Daggs

How much power does it take to hang with the pros in a big American stage race? For the Redlands Bicycle Classic, we put an SRM power meter on the bike of Eric Marcotte, a 30-year-old chiropractor who races as a Cat. 1.

Marcotte's power decreased each time up the climb on stage 3. (Wattage is yellow, elevation is red.)

Marcotte lives in Arizona and races with the California-based Pista Palace squad. This year he won stage 2 of the Valley of the Sun and placed fifth in the GC. He then won stage 3 at the Tucson Bicycle Classic from a break. At Redlands, Marcotte was racing in a 190-man peloton that featured 13 pro teams. Here is what the numbers revealed.

Prologue TT, 3.1 miles: Marcotte powered over the course in 10:59.8 with an average power of 389 watts (w) to place 137th. Marcotte weighs about 72.7 kilograms (kg) so his watts per kg (w/kg) for the TT were around 5.4w/kg. Doing some rough calculations, we can estimate that Fly V’s Ben Day (68kg) probably averaged over 6.6 w/kg (or better!) to win the prologue.

Marcotte in the Redlands prologue
Marcotte averaged 389 watts in the Redlands prologue.

Stage 1 Beaumont RR, 105.7 miles: Marcotte finished 22nd, 19th in the field sprint, but what was most interesting were the efforts required to get to the finish. The riders did six loops, each with a significant climb. The first climb had a KOM and Marcotte averaged 337w for the 12-minute ascent, and then 380w for the last three minutes as riders battled for those KOM points. More than few riders were dropped here, just 20 minutes into the race, and never caught back on. On the following five climbs the intensity was lower (about 280w) and the field stayed intact as Fly V allowed a break to stay up the road. On the final ascent Marcotte averaged 330w for almost 15 minutes, and his hardest five minutes came at mile 100 where he did 380w over the final portion of the climb, followed up by a 1,200w sprint.

The climb was hardest the last two times on stage 1. (Wattage is yellow, elevation is red.)

Many Cat. 1/2 riders can produce a 1,200w sprint in isolation, but doing it after four hard hours is not easy. Before Marcotte uncorked that sprint he spent a total of 90 minutes climbing over 280w; of which 30 minutes was spent over 330w. This effort required 3,500 kilojoules (kJ) of work over 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Stage 2 Redlands Crit 90 minutes: Marcotte’s average power for the race was 306w and his normalized power was 360w. What’s more impressive is that he did dozens of 5-second-plus efforts at 600w or greater, and topped 1,000w more than 10 times. Marcotte attacked at 1,000+w to escape the field for a two-lap solo effort of 400w. Intensity was very high and Marcotte did 1,647kJs of work — almost half the work of the Beaumont RR in much less than half the time.

Stage 3 Sunset Loop RR 94 miles: With three days of racing in his legs already, Marcotte’s fatigue was high and it showed in the efforts he was able to produce. He did the first climb from downtown to the peak at 330w for about eight minutes. Marcotte fights valiantly but his efforts drop off each successive time. After the eighth time up the climb, he is pulled and given a pro-rated time. At this point we can really see the difference between an excellent regional rider such as Marcotte and a well-trained domestic pro. The professional has most likely engaged in numerous training blocks building his endurance and ability to recover on a daily basis; 38 of the 44 riders in the front group were domestic pros. Marcotte finished 105th.

Marcotte winning a stage at the Tucson Bicycle Classic

The takeaway: What can we learn from all this data? First and foremost, the domestic pro peloton is full of exceptional athletes. Marcotte is an excellent rider and frequently wins regional races, yet his best result at Redlands was 22nd. Looking at stages 1 and 2, we can see that any racer must have peak fitness to maintain this workload and they must also properly refuel during and after each stage. The data from the stage 1 road race shows how pro races actually get more difficult as the finish line nears, and the biggest efforts are made after several hours of racing.

The data from the criterium shows how average power doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. There are Cat. 3 riders out there who can hold 300w for 90 minutes, but the relentless attacks and accelerations would leave most riders quickly off the back. Marcotte did around 8,000kJ of work in this race, with 7,800 of it being on three days, and the toll began to show on the last day. Such a huge workload requires ample recovery. For pros, Monday means a rest day, or even a day on the couch for recovery. For Marcotte, however, Monday means back to the day job, which makes his performance at Redlands that much more impressive.

Sean Burke and Chris Daggs are cycling coaches living in San Diego.