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Power analysis: What does Tadej Pogačar’s training data mean?

We examine Tadej Pogačar’s Strava KOMs and why everyone’s talking about them.

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On January 9th, cycling news outlets everywhere broke the story that Tadej Pogačar took the Coll de Rates Strava KOM. I was excited until I dove into the details. This effort was hardly a challenge for Pogačar whose Strava FTP is set at 415w (6.32w/kg). And based on his race history, that’s probably quite accurate.

Also read: Power analysis – Comparing cycling’s three grand tours

Pogačar hides his power data (much to our dismay), but thanks to fancy algorithms which take into account time, speed, average gradient, and VAM (roughly translated to English as “velocity ascent mean”), we know the watts-per-kilo that Pogačar was pushing within a few percentage points of accuracy.

But this column is not going to focus on Pogačar’s recent Coll de Rates KOM because, frankly, it was unimpressive. Instead, we’re going to talk about the effort that the 23-year-old did a few days later, what these pre-season rides mean — if anything — and the crazy numbers that he has done in the past. These are the power files of Tadej Pogačar’s training.

Pogačar – Coll de Rates:
Time: 24:50
Estimated Average Power: ~384w (5.8w/kg)

In the context of professional cycling, 5.8w/kg for 20-something minutes is nothing remarkable. But what the cycling world missed was Pogačar’s training effort just a few days later, on the Val de Ebo. Ahead of names like Thomas de Gendt, Tim Wellens, and Tejay van Garderen, Pogačar took the Strava KOM by 12 seconds on the 7.9km climb. Based on our calculations, that puts Pogačar at ~6.5w/kg for this effort, which is much more impressive than the Coll de Rates.

Pogačar – Val de Ebo:
Time: 36:06
Estimated Average Power: ~415w (6.3w/kg)

In fact, De Gendt and Wellens did 6.7w/kg and 6.6w/kg, respectively, according to their Strava files. So depending on the weather conditions and calibrations, Pogačar might’ve actually done more than 6.5w/kg for over 16 minutes.

But here’s the real question: do these numbers actually mean anything? Well, we can see from Pogačar’s race data that he is more than capable of putting out these power numbers. In fact, the race efforts are even more impressive once you consider the fatigue that Pogačar is carrying into each of his efforts.

At the 2021 Tirreno-Adriatico, Pogačar absolutely lit the fuse on the summit finish to Prati di Tivo. This was a rare effort from Pogačar in that we are almost certain he went full gas for the entire climb. Traditionally, these summit finishes get tactical when riders attack, counterattack, and then pause to look at their rivals before attacking again. But Wout van Aert was challenging for the GC, and Pogačar needed to put as much time as possible into the Belgian on this mountaintop finish.

Pogačar – Prati di Tivo:
Time: 36:06
Estimated Average Power: ~415w (6.3w/kg)

Later, at the 2021 Tour de France, Pogačar showed that he is more than capable of holding 6w/kg for nearly an hour. Stage 17 of the Tour finished up the Col du Portet, and halfway up the climb, there were only three riders left: Jonas Vingegaard, Richard Carapaz, and Pogačar. The Ecuadorian famously bluffed his way to finishing second on the stage after Pogačar closed each of his attacks with ease.

The overall climb was completed at an average of ~6w/kg, with Carapaz pushing even more, shown in his own power files. In the final 2km, Carapaz and Pogačar were flying up the mountain at over 7w/kg, which showed that even after 45 minutes at 6w/kg, they had plenty left in the tank.

Carapaz – final 2km of Col du Portet
Time: 5:53
Average Power: 402w (6.7w/kg)
Normalized Power: 446w (7.4w/kg)

Pogačar – Col du Portet
Time: 49:00
Estimated Average Power: ~393w (~6w/kg)

While these numbers are reflective of Pogačar’s peak racing form, perhaps these January training efforts are more indicative of Pogačar’s pre-season form. While many of us are still recovering from the holidays, Pogačar will begin his 2022 season at the UAE Tour which is just over one month away. The 10.6km climb to Jebel Hafeet is said to be the first real test of WorldTour climbing legs, and last year Pogačar came out on top. If there was ever a more perfect test of pre-season form, it is a 20-minute climb with an average of nearly 8 percent.

In 2021, Pogačar climbed the slopes of Jebel Hafeet in 25 minutes and 57 seconds. Though he didn’t post his power data, we have a few different points of reference, as well as a calculated estimate of his average power which comes out to 6.4w/kg for nearly half an hour. Pogačar tied the time of Alejandro Valverde on the Jebel Hafeet Strava segment when the Spaniard averaged 396w (6.3w/kg) in 2018.

Alejandro Valverde’s power data from the Jebel Hafeet climb in 2018.

A certain Neilson Powless had an excellent ride at the 2021 UAE Tour, finishing 5th overall and well ahead of names like Damiano Caruso, Emanuel Buchmann, Sepp Kuss, and Vincenzo Nibali. Powless finished eight on the stage, a full 54 seconds down on Pogačar despite averaging 6.2w/kg for over 20 minutes.

As we look ahead to 2022, it’s easy to be impressed by these one-off Strava KOMs, but in reality, they don’t tell us much about Pogačar’s potential this season. Professional cycling is not a fresh FTP test; it is a sport that rewards resilience and consistency more than sustained power output.

I would be willing to bet there are a thousand cyclists in the world can do 6.2w/kg for 20 minutes on a training ride. But how many of them could do two of those efforts, back to back, in the pouring rain, four hours into a Tour de France stage? That’s how Tadej Pogačar won the 2021 Tour de France. He wasn’t suddenly better on those days. But no one else was at this level.

This year, don’t expect to see Tadej Pogačar riding up a mountain at 7w/kg for 30 minutes. Instead, watch for him to make a move at 6.5w/kg twenty minutes into a climb in the third week of a Grand Tour, when everyone has been on their limit for more than two weeks.


Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava and Strava Sauce.

Riders:

Tadej Pogačar

Richard Carapaz

Neilson Powless

Alejandro Valverde