Power analysis: Ashton Lambie’s worlds-winning individual pursuit

We dive into Ashton Lambie's power data from his winning Individual Pursuit ride at the 2021 world track championships.

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Just a few weeks after becoming the first rider to ever break the four-minute barrier in the Individual Pursuit, Ashton Lambie (HUUB Wattbike) pulled on the rainbow jersey for the first time in his career. The native Nebraskan is known for his mustache, camper van, and doing erg-mode workouts on a trainer somewhere in Montana. He also happens to be one of the best track cyclists in the world.

I spoke to Lambie as he began his off-season, back in the United States, and we talked through his numbers, his mindset, and his preparation for what he said is ‘the biggest achievement of his career.’

This is what it takes to become a world champion.

On August 18th, Lambie was in Aguascalientes, Mexico vying for the Individual Pursuit world record. No one had ever broken the four-minute barrier in the Individual Pursuit —  which requires an average speed of over 62kph (38.5mph) — from a standing start. Lambie went for the record twice in two days. On his first attempt, he fell significantly short of the mark needed to set the record. But with the help and support of the people around him, he went at it again the following day, and clocked a time of 3:59.93, breaking the previous IP world record by two full seconds.

After months of preparation in the gym, on the trainer, and at the track, Lambie wasn’t done. Just a few months later, he competed at the 2021 UCI Track World Championships and targeted the rainbow jersey. At the Velodrome Couvert Regional Jean-Stablinski in Roubaix, France (not the outdoor velodrome which hosts the finish of Paris-Roubaix), Lambie arrived at the world championships in different condition than when he was in Mexico.

Due to altered training and racing goals, Lambie had dropped about 4kg of weight (from 80kg to 76kg)  since Mexico, and came into the world championships training on a mix of Zwift racing and threshold intervals. To prepare for his IP world record attempt, Lambie had been doing anaerobic intervals at altitude in Montana. When he was feeling a bit burnt out, he started racing more team time trials in Zwift with his team, NeXT eSport p/b Enshored. And it just so happened that his target wattage for the Individual Pursuit was nearly identical to the target wattage while taking a pull during a Zwift team time trial. In case you’re wondering how many watts he pushed, it was around 530w (7w/kg) for 30-45 seconds.

Lambie rode faster in the final, with more power, than he did in the qualification round.
Lambie rode faster in the final, with more power, than he did in the qualification round. (Photo: DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images)

The Individual Pursuit world championship is not like a road time trial. Instead of just one ride, competitors have two — the qualifier and the final. The qualifiers seed each rider into a pairing for the finals. So the fastest two riders in the qualifiers will compete in the finals for first and second, while the next two riders will compete in the finals for third and fourth. This places huge importance on the qualification round – which takes place just four hours before the finals. If you are not the fastest or second-fastest rider in the qualifiers, then you have no chance of winning the rainbow jersey, even if you’re the fastest rider overall in the finals.

Lambie began his warm-up for the qualifiers with a massive 65×15 gear and SRM chainring. That is a couple of inches bigger than the gear that he used in Mexico and put him at 110-120rpm for his entire IP effort. Lambie uses the same warm-up routine for every one of his races: five minutes easy, then two-minute cadence builds from 90 to 105rpm, two minutes recovery, and then a few reps of 20 seconds on / 40 seconds off at a little over IP target wattage (>530w).

The Individual Pursuit is a fascinating event because it can be ridden in different ways: go out hard and hold on for dear life, or go out in a more controlled fashion, and keep building your speed all the way to the finish. Lambie’s style is the former, whereas road world time trial champion Filippo Ganna’s is the latter. The six-foot-four Italian already has a palmarès full of impressive victories including stages at the Giro d’Italia, a gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics, and four times in the IP world championships. Ganna only placed third in the qualifiers at this year’s track worlds, while Lambie topped the leaderboards with a time of 4:03.237.

This is how you ride an Individual Pursuit:

Ashton Lambie's power data from the qualification round of the Individual Pursuit at the 2021 UCI track world championships.
Ashton Lambie’s power data from the qualification round of the Individual Pursuit at the 2021 UCI track world championships.

Lambie – Individual Pursuit qualification round
Time: 4:03.237
Average Power: 523w (7w/kg)
Max Power: 1,115w (14.7w/kg)
First kilometer: 627w
Second kilometer: 507w
Third kilometer: 488w
Final kilometer: 446w

Peaking at over 1,100w out of the gate, Lambie’s goal was to get up to speed as fast as possible. He averaged over 600w (8w/kg) for the first minute and a half, by which time he was fully up to speed at over 60kph. That ride put Lambie into the finals where he would be up against Jonathon Milan (Italy) for the rainbow jersey.

With four hours in between the qualifiers and the finals, there wasn’t much time for Lambie to rest and reset before another maximal four-minute effort. Shortly after the qualifiers, Lambie ate some gummy bears and a small energy bar before riding back to the hotel to relax. But before he returned to the Roubaix Velodrome, the American stopped at a café where he had a baguette sandwich, some juice, and an almond cookie.

A couple of hours and a lot of caffeine later, Lambie was warming up for the IP final round. With the opportunity of a lifetime, Lambie set out at the same exact pace, hitting 1,118w out of the gate and ramping up to 65kph. Lambie’s pacing was right on target, and he was actually able to push a few watts more in the second half of the finals compared to the qualifiers. With an official time of 4:05.060, Ashton Lambie became the 2021 UCI Men’s Individual Pursuit world champion.

Ashton Lambie's power data from the final round of the Individual Pursuit at the 2021 UCI track world championships.
Ashton Lambie’s power data from the final round of the Individual Pursuit at the 2021 UCI track world championships.

Lambie – Individual Pursuit final round
Time: 4:05.060
Average Power: 530w (7w/kg)
Max Power: 1118w (14.7w/kg)
First kilometer: 620w (-7 from Qualifiers)
Second kilometer: 508w (+1 from Qualifiers)
Third kilometer: 496w (+8 from Qualifiers)
Final kilometer: 472w (+26 from Qualifiers)

It is absolutely incredible that Lambie was able to not only repeat his effort from four hours previous but to improve on this effort. The times are somewhat misleading, as Lambie had what he called a “juicy catch” in the qualifiers where he was close enough to his competitor that he may have benefitted from his draft.

Even Lambie’s maximum power in the final round was within 3w of what he did in the qualifier. After months of strength work, erg-mode workouts, Zwift TTTs, and intense gym sessions, that consistency in training all paid off in a wonderfully-executed ride that put Lambie on the top step of the UCI track world championships.

Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava, TrainingPeaks, and Strava sauce extension.

Riders: Ashton Lambie