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I’d lost count of how many times I’d seen Robin Carpenter (Rally Cycling) be the last man caught from a breakaway. The 29-year-old American is the embodiment of a never-say-die attitude, and never was that more apparent than stage 2 of the 2021 Tour of Britain.
Besides being the Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) show, the Tour of Britain was also a rare opportunity for lower-level pro teams to battle against WorldTour giants. Rally Cycling, Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling, and Canyon dhb SunGod, for example, didn’t just survive the race, but they made it.
Carpenter was one of those riders who shocked the peloton this year by winning the second stage with a 25km solo attack. Matteo Jorgenson (Team Movistar) animated the race and nearly won a couple of stages himself, while MTB cross-country short track world champion Christopher Blevins (Trinity Racing) took his chances in a few powerful breakaways.
Here’s how the Americans found the podium at the 2021 Tour of Britain.
After van Aert cleaned up on a tough uphill sprint on stage 1, the peloton departed Sherford on stage 2 for the toughest day of climbing with over 3,000 meters of ascent. Carpenter made his way into the breakaway alongside four other riders; and as always, making the breakaway was no easy task.
Carpenter: stage 2 – making the breakaway
Average Power: 371w (5.2w/kg)
Normalized Power: 404w (5.7w/kg)
Big attack: 504w (7w/kg) for 2:32
There were three sprints and three KOM climbs throughout the day, and Carpenter went for nearly all of them. This makes it even more impressive that, after spending so much energy throughout the stage, Carpenter was able to go solo with 25km to go. What does it take to win an intermediate sprint at the Tour of Britain? About 1,300w.
Carpenter: stage 2 – intermediate sprint in Kingsbridge
Average Power: 1214w (16.9w/kg)
Max Power: 1,447w (20.4w/kg)
When Carpenter went solo, it was after two tough KOM climbs — Rundlestone and Warren House Inn. Both climbs were quite undulating, and the American pushed around 5.5w/kg up the steep sections while his breakmates struggled. Carpenter’s winning move came on an uncategorized climb where he upped the pace to nearly 6w/kg for five minutes. There was no snap attack or sharp acceleration, but considering the fatigue of the day, Carpenter’s pace was enough to dislodge the last of his rivals.
Carpenter: stage 2 – uncategorized climb with 25km to go
Average Power: 416w (5.8w/kg)
Carpenter’s solo victory was one born out of timing, tactics, and power. Unlike Tadej Pogačar’s smashing solo romps, Carpenter doesn’t need to hold 6.5w/kg for 30 minutes to win. Instead, he made it into a seemingly non-threatening breakaway, got a big leash from the peloton, paced his efforts throughout the day, and went solo at the end of a stage whose final 25km were mostly downhill and technical. Not even Jumbo-Visma could pull back the American before he belted across the line, threw his sunglasses to the side, and celebrated the biggest win of his career.
Carpenter: stage 2 – Soloing to victory
Average Power: 313w (4.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 337w (4.8w/kg)
Peak 5-min Power: 383w (5.3w/kg)
Stage 3’s team time trial reshuffled the GC, but we need to take a closer look at stage 4. Finishing atop the Great Orme climb in Llandudno, stage 4 featured some of the most insane power numbers I’ve ever seen. Everyone was talking about the bike throw finish between van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), but few are talking about the first half of the final climb.
With 800 meters at 14.1 percent, a a maximum gradient of 22 percent, three of the best puncheurs in the world separated themselves from the peloton in a matter of seconds. Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) pushed over 8w/kg as he clung to Alaphilippe’s wheel. The road flattened out until a few hundred meters to go where Alaphilippe took off again. This time, Woods couldn’t quite hold the wheel, and it was van Aert who beat the Frenchman on the line, both riders collapsing on the grass after the finish. They produced were Mur du Huy-style numbers, with another two minutes thrown on top.
Woods: stage 4 – Great Orme
Average Power: 445w (7.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 471w (7.5w/kg)
First 800m at 14 percent: 504w (8w/kg) for 2:47
Race-leader Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) took the bunch sprint on stage 5, and then it was back into the hills for stage 6. I will preface this part of the analysis with the fact that, when I was looking through the power numbers from this stage, I wasn’t sure they were correct. I’ve rarely seen numbers this high, especially in the context of a race. But after checking numbers, and then re-checking them the following day, and then cross-checking with other riders’ power data, the power data is verifiable.
On an uncategorized climb with 15km to go, Matteo Jorgenson lit the race on fire. James Shaw (Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling) followed — pushing over 500w in the draft — and then came the strongest riders in the race: van Aert, Alaphilippe, Woods, Hayter, and just a handful of others. The term “thermonuclear” seems to get thrown around a lot these days, but this attack deserves the label.
Jorgenson: stage 6 – thermonuclear attack with 15km to go
Average Power: 518w (7.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 530w (7.6w/kg)
First 1.1km at 8.3 percent: 565w (8.1w/kg) for 2:41
Shaw: stage 6 – sitting on Jorgenson’s wheel
Average Power: 462w (7.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 507w (7.8w/kg)
First 1.1km at 8.3 percent: 513w (7.9w/kg) for 2:41
For context, Gavin Mannion (Rally Cycling) averaged 6.9w/kg for six and a half minutes on this climb, and went over the crest 30 seconds behind the lead group.
With still 12km to go, counterattacks flew from Woods and Alaphilippe, but the lead group was all back together for the final gradual climb to the finish. Even after his efforts on the final climb, Jorgenson helped drive the group to the finish, pushing over 450w again for the final 3km. In the end, Jorgenson didn’t have much of a sprint left, and the American finished 9th on the stage. Here’s a look at Jorgenson’s numbers from the explosive finale of stage 6.
Jorgenson: stage 6 – stage 6 finale
Average Power: 397w (5.7w/kg)
Normalized Power: 452w (6.5w/kg)
I must leave you with one last note from the Tour of Britain: the flat parcours of Stage 8 made it destined for a bunch sprint, and we almost saw a holy duel between Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation). But in the end, van Aert came through to take his fourth stage win from eight, and win the GC at the Tour of Britain. Here’s a look at the stratospheric power numbers of Andre “The Gorilla” Greipel – I’m surprised he didn’t snap his bike in half.
Imagine doing 1,700w and Wout van Aert still passes you with 50 meters to go.
Greipel: stage 8 – final 5km
Average Power: 455w (5.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 564w (6.7w/kg)
Final sprint: 1,569w (18.6w/kg) for 11 seconds
Max Power: 1,775w (21w/kg)