Mark Cavendish looked miserable sitting in a folding chair minutes before the start of Giro d’Italia Stage 17. The Manxman was hanging around for one more day, at least, for the sprinter’s last chance in Treviso. But before then, he had 168 kilometers and 4000 meters of climbing to cover.
On top of that, it was 12°C (53.6°F) and raining at the start in Ponte di Legno.
And on top of that, it was an uphill start. And not just any ‘ol hill, but an unclassified 8.6km climb at 6.2 percent. The fight for the breakaway was immediate, and Cavendish was out the back – the remainder of his day would be spent riding to make the time cut.
Up front, a massive breakaway formed with nearly 30 riders and 18 teams represented.
Among them was Mathieu van der Poel, who many assumed was just in the breakaway for fun. There was also Jan Hirt, Guillame Martin, Koen Bouwman, and the 22 year-old pair of Gijs Leemreize and Santiago Buitrago .
Straight out of the neutral zone, Buitrago was pushing over 6w/kg. This was a serious breakaway, and they were flying up the climb in the rain.
Buitrago – Fight for the breakaway from Kilometer 0
- Time: 30:47
- Average Power: 312w (5.3w/kg)
- Peak 5 min Power: 376w (6.4w/kg)
- Peak 20 min Power: 355w (6w/kg)
Those are ‘mountain goat’ numbers – 6w/kg for 20 minutes and much more for 5 minutes – but Mathieu van der Poel was in the group. And not only that, but he was looking to be one of the strongest riders too.
The Dutchman accidentally went solo with 132km to go, when he pulled through the breakaway’s paceline and everyone let his wheel go. Though Van der Poel didn’t post his power from this stage, he did post his Strava file, and so we can see exactly how quickly he was climbing.
After a long stretch of swapping turns, the breakaway began the Giovo climb (5.9m at 6.8 percent) with about 90km to go.
The break rode very steadily up the climb, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. Both Van der Poel and Buitrago stayed tucked in the group that was doing nearly 6w/kg for 20 minutes (again) on the Giovo.
Buitrago – Giovo
- Time: 18:12
- Average Power: 316w (5.4w/kg)
- Peak 6 min Power: 325w (5.6w/kg)
Van der Poel – Giovo
- Time: 18:10
- Estimated Average Power: 405w (5.4w/kg)
It wasn’t raining anymore as the breakaway descended the Giovo, but the roads were still wet and dangerous.
On a tricky right-hand corner, Buitrago slid out, crashing heavily on his shoulder. Yet, the Colombian remounted a spare bike moments later, and it wasn’t long before he was back in the breakaway. Unfortunately for us, Buitrago lost power when he switched bikes, though he did grab his head unit, so we do know his times up all the remaining climbs.
Speaking of, Stage 17 finished with two back-to-back Category 1 ascents, first in the Valico del Vetriolo (11.8km at 7.7 percent) and then the Monterovere (8km at 9.6 percent).
To nearly everyone’s surprise, Van der Poel helped split the breakaway on the Valico del Vetriolo, leading the way alongside Guillaume Martin, Felix Gall, and Alessandro Covi.
Doing some reverse engineering, we can estimate Van der Poel’s power on these final two climbs, comparing his times to other riders’ who were using a power meter.
On gradients this steep – anything over 8 percent – the effects of drafting are minimal, and so the differences in power output are also minimal between riders, regardless of whether they are solo or in a group. When you look at the climbing speeds, these riders are only going 15-20kph (9-12mph).
Mathieu van der Poel rode up the Valico del Vetriolo in 35 minutes and 56 seconds, losing less than two minutes to the peloton that was being driven by Ineos Grenadiers.
Felix Gall was riding alongside the Dutchman in the breakaway, and he was pushing nearly 6w/kg for the entire ascent.
Gall – Valico del Vetriolo
- Time: 35:56
- Average Power: 360w (5.4w/kg)
- Peak 20 min Power: 370w (5.6w/kg)
Van der Poel – Valico del Vetriolo
- Time: 35:56
- Estimated Average Power: 405w (5.4w/kg)
On the descent from the Valico del Vetriolo, Van der Poel broke away from the lead group and was joined by the young Dutchman, Gijs Leemreize.
The Jumbo-Visma rider even took over for the majority of the descent, putting Van der Poel under pressure after both riders skidded through a tight left-hand corner. At the base of the Monterovere, the Dutch duo had a 90-second lead on the chasers, which included Hugh Carthy, Jan Hirt, and Buitrago among others.
Van der Poel pushed on as soon as they began the final climb, and it looked as though we were about to witness “MVDP” winning a mountain stage in a grand tour.
Indeed, Van der Poel’s pace was rapid, as he only lost a handful of seconds to the chasers, and the same to the featherweight climbers like Juan Pedro Lopez and Joe Dombrowski who were doing their best to stay with the best GC riders in the peloton.
Pedro Lopez – First 3km of Monterovere
- Time: 10:47
- Average Power: 338w (6.1w/kg)
Van der Poel – First 3km of Monterovere
- Time: 10:56
- Estimated Average Power: 450w (6w/kg)
It was all looking good for Van der Poel until 12km to go when Leemreize started reeling him back in. Soon, the Dutchman was dropped, and it was the other Dutchman going up the road.
To many people’s surprise, Van der Poel had cracked, and Leemreize looked set for stage glory. But there was one problem in the form of Santiago Buitrago.
The Colombian flew up the final climb, and dispatched of Leemreize just before the top. In terms of pure climbing performance, Buitrago’s ascent of the Monterovere is one of the best performances of the entire Giro – and keep in mind, he was in the breakaway all day, AND he crashed with 85km to go.
Using speed data and comparisons between riders, here are the estimated power numbers from a thrilling ascent of the Monterovere.
The GC group was (unsurprisingly) the fastest of the day, but they were barely 25 seconds faster than Buitrago. When you consider the Ineos leadout at the bottom of the climb, the small drafting effect and attacks on shallower sections, Buitrago hardly lost any time at all.
Buitrago – Monterovere
- Time: 26:30
- Estimated Average Power: 360w (6.1w/kg)
Van der Poel – Monterovere
- Time: 30:26
- Estimated Average Power: 383w (5.1w/kg)
GC group (Carapaz, Hindley, and Landa) – Monterovere
- Estimated Time (not on Strava): 26:06
- Estimated Average Power: 6.2w/kg
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava
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