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Power Analysis: Tour de la Provence

Nairo Quintana won the Tour de la Provence on the back of a record-setting performance on Mont Ventoux, making the famous ascent faster than any cyclist in history.

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Editor’s note: this is part of a new column by coach Zach Nehr, who in 2019 did a Power Analysis column on pro road racing. In 2020, he’ll regularly check in with power analysis from gravel and road races.

Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) won the Tour de la Provence this past weekend on the back of a record-setting performance on Mont Ventoux. The Colombian climbed the 9.5 km to Chalet Reynard faster than any cyclist in history – faster than Marco Pantani, Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong, Chris Froome, and Alberto Contador, just to name a few. Lead out by French Champion Warren Barguil, Quintana attacked with over 7 km to go and never looked back. American Sepp Kuss (Team Jumbo-Visma) was the only rider to stay with the diminutive Colombian, but even Kuss could only last a few seconds. The American climber would end up 6th on the day, but an incredible 2 minutes and 12 seconds behind Quintana.

After Kuss published his power data on Strava, the calculators came out. More on that in a minute.

Kuss wasn’t the only American who found success at the Tour de la Provence – last year’s Junior World Champion Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) found the Top 10 on multiple occasions, and US Pro National Time Trial Champion Ian Garrison (Deceuninck-Quickstep) earned a stage podium by sticking the final day’s breakaway.

Here is what it took for these Americans to break into the Top 10 at the Tour de la Provence, and how Quintana managed to break a 25 year-old record on Mont Ventoux:

Stage 1 – Châteaurenard to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (149.5 km)

Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic) won the first stage in a bunch sprint in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, while Simmons earned his first-ever professional Top 10 result. The run-in to the line was far from easy, with Simmons averaging 364 W for the final 14 and a half minutes. At nearly 35 mph, the peloton ripped along the French pavement with riders jostling for position all the way to the line. Simmons hit a peak 1284 W in the sprint and topped out at 40 mph, good enough for 10th on the day, just fractions of a second behind the winner, Bouhanni.

Quinn Simmons's Strava File.
Quinn Simmons’s Strava File.

Final 13 km (Simmons):
Time: 14:24
Avg Power: 364 W (5.05 W/kg)
Avg Speed: 54.4 kph (33.8 mph)

Final sprint (Simmons):
Time: 0:19
Avg Power: 896 W
Max Power: 1284 W
Avg Speed: 63.1 kph (38.1 mph)

[Simmons’s Strava]

Stage 2 – Aubagne to La Ciotat (174.9 km)

Russian Champion Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) soloed to an impressive victory atop the final climb to La Ciotat on Stage 2. A large group of favorites trailed in 24 seconds behind, including Thibaut Pinot, Nairo Quintana, Wilco Kelderman, and Pavel Sivakov. Sepp Kuss finished 18th on the stage, 28 seconds behind Vlasov. At just 64 kg (141 lbs.), Kuss is a lean climber with a talent for going uphill – evidenced by his stage win at last year’s Vuelta a España. But it’s still only February, and with many riders coming off of high-volume training camps, peak performance is all but guaranteed at this time of year.

Kuss averaged 413 W for over 10 minutes on the climb to La Ciotat, but could only manage the second group on the road by the time they hit the finish. Nevertheless, Kuss’s climbing performance was impressive, but not as much as the day’s to come.

Final climb to La Ciotat (Kuss):
Time: 10:55
Avg gradient: 8.0%
Avg Power: 413 W (6.45 W/kg)
Avg heart rate: 193 bpm
Max heart rate: 200 bpm

Full stage (Kuss):
Time: 4:41:55
Elevation Gain: 2845 meters (9,334 feet)
Weighted Avg Power: 284 W (4.4 W/kg)
Work: 4101 kJ

[Kuss’ Strava]

Stage 3 – Mont Ventoux/Chalet Reynard (140.2 km)

Nairo Quintana set the cycling world on fire when he exploded away from the remnants of the peloton and flew to the stage win at Chalet Reynard, on Mont Ventoux. After a long and relatively easy run-in to the base of the climb, Quintana’s Arkea-Samsic team lined out the peloton as if Quintana was their Cavendish. With over 7 km to go, Quintana launched off his last teammate’s wheel with only Kuss in tow. The American lasted about 20 seconds before deciding that the pace was too unsustainable – indeed, Quintana was about to climb faster than any cyclist ever has to Chalet Reynard.

Sepp Kuss ascent on Mount Ventoux/
Sepp Kuss’s Strava file recording the ascent on Mount Ventoux.

The 9.5 kilometers to Chalet Reynard averages 9.2%, and during this climb Kuss averaged 374 W, yet lost over two minutes to Quintana. While we don’t know Quintana’s exact power numbers, we do know the climb, its gradient, the weather conditions, Quintana’s speed, and his estimated weight. After careful observation, note-taking, and punching numbers into calculators, myself and other “professional cycling data analysts” give a best estimate of 6.8 W/kg for Quintana’s time of 28:05 up to Chalet Reynard. Indeed, Kuss averaged ~6.5 W/kg while on the wheel of Quintana and his Arkea-Samsic leadout train, and that was before the Colombian attacked.

Sepp Kuss Strava file.

Sepp Kuss’s Strava file.

Final climb to Chalet Reynard (Kuss):
Time: 30:17
Avg Power: 374 W (5.85 W/kg)
Avg heart rate: 186 bpm
Max heart rate: 197 bpm

First 2.25 km before Quintana’s attack (Kuss):
Time: 6:44
Avg Power: 414 W (6.47 W/kg)

Stage 4 – Avignon to Aix-en-Provence (170.5 km)

After a hilly four hours of racing in the south of France, two Americans found their way into the Top 10 at the end of the day. US National Time Trial Champion Ian Garrison – in his first race for WorldTour outfit Deceuninck-Quickstep – made the break of the day along with Owain Doull (Team Ineos), Matthias Brändle (Israel Start-Up Nation), and Romain Combaud (Nippo Delko One Provence). In the end, Doull would prevail in the sprint, while Garrison would finish third ahead of the hard-charging peloton. Just a few seconds behind, Quinn Simmons sprinted across the line in 10th place and earning the second Top 10 of his neo-pro season. And it’s only February.

Both riders had incredibly hard days in the saddle, with Garrison’s being a bit smoother in the breakaway. Nevertheless, one look at their numbers reminds us of the gap between mere mortals and WorldTour riders.

In the breakaway (Garrison):
Time: 3:17:14
Avg heart rate: 156 bpm
Max heart rate: 185 bpm
Avg Power: 313 W (4.23 W/kg)
Work: 3889 kJ
[Garrison’s Strava]

Unfortunately, Garrison’s power cut out after this section, but based on his heart rate data (average of 165 bpm for the final hour) and the fact that the quartet held off the peloton, I think it’s safe to say that his power was the same, if not higher, than his average up to this point of 313 W.

Quinn Simmons's Stage 4 sprint.
Quinn Simmons’s Stage 4 sprint.

Full stage (Simmons):
Time: 4:35:34
Weighted Avg Power: 328 W (4.56 W/kg)
Work: 4301 kJ
(Simmons’s Strava)

Last climb with 15.6 km to go (Simmons):
Time: 5:08
Avg power: 510 W (7.08 W/kg)

Final sprint (Simmons):
Time: 0:17
Avg power: 1118 W
Max power: 1413 W
Max speed: 68.7 kph (42.7 mph)

The Tour de la Provence put Nairo Quintana back on center stage as one of the best climbers in the world, but it also gave a platform to three young Americans to show that they can be among the best in the world, too. Watch for Quinn Simmons and Ian Garrison in the upcoming Classics season, and for Sepp Kuss anytime the road goes uphill.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.