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Power analysis: What it takes to finish top-10 at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

A look at the power data from Neilson Powless and others at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

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Remco Evenepoel wasn’t the only rider who arguably saved their team’s classics season with a top result at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The six-hour monument was the final race in a long string of Italian, Belgian, and French races that traditionally open the cycling season – and up until Sunday, neither Evenepoel, Neilson Powless, or their respective teams had much to show for it.

Ineos Grenadiers had taken the reins from Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team as the dominant force in the classics, while EF Education-EasyPost had gone missing from the finales of most major races in early 2022. But that all changed on Sunday when Evenepoel launched like a rocket on La Redoute with Powless on his wheel.

The American couldn’t quite follow, but neither could the rest of the peloton. Powless survived an onslaught of attacks over the next 15 kilometers and netted his best result of the season with a Top 10 at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Here’s a look at the power it takes to finish Top 10 in a cycling monument.

It can be easy to forget how hard Liège-Bastogne-Liège is. We see the leaders of the peloton seemingly climbing with their mouths closed, ticking off the kilometers whilst reeling in the breakaway. Only in the final 30km, that’s where the action begins, it seemed.

But Liège-Bastogne-Liège is actually one of the hilliest races of the entire year. Somehow, there isn’t a single mountain on the entire route, and the longest classified climb was 4.4km long. Nevertheless, it all added up to 4,342m (14,245 feet) of climbing in 257.2km. By comparison, the “hilly” Tour of Flanders had hardly half that, at 2,289m (7,509 feet) of climbing in 272km. This added a significant amount of fatigue to the riders’ legs before they entered the finale — which Evenepoel promptly destroyed the peloton.

In the lead-up to the penultimate climb at La Redoute, Powless had a normalized power of nearly 300w for five-and-a-half hours and burned over 4,500 calories along the way. That’s over 800 calories per hour, and this is supposed to be the “easy” portion of the race.

Neilson Powless’ power data from the first 225km of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Powless – First 225km of Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Time: 5:30:37
Average Power: 229w (3.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 296w (4.2w/kg)
Energy: 4538 kJs (825 kJs per hour)

A breakaway had gone up the road in the opening hours of the race, and from that point on the teams of the favorites controlled proceedings – Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, Bahrain-Victorious, and Jumbo-Visma. As in most professional bike races, the pace became progressively faster, and the climbs progressively harder. Inside the final 100km, the peloton was already pushing 5-7w/kg up every single climb.

Neilson Powless’ power data from the final 100km prior to La Redoute at the 2022 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Powless – 100km before Le Redoute
Time: 2:31:57
Average Power: 253w (3.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 319w (4.8w/kg)
Côte de Saint Roche: 397w (6w/kg) for 3:01
Côte de Wanne: 365w (5.5w/kg) for 8:29
Côte de Stockeu: 426w (6.5w/kg) for 4:00
Côte de Haute Levee: 333w (5w/kg) for 9:55
Le Rosier: 356w (5.4w/kg) for 10:50
Côte de Desnie: 442w (6.7w/kg) for 4:24

Before La Redoute, a massive high-speed crash took down over 50 riders, including World Champion Julian Alaphilippe who went out of the race with some serious injuries. Nevertheless, the race continued on, and Evenepoel was free to fly without his team’s co-leader, Alaphilippe.

Perhaps it was always the plan, or perhaps it was something new, but when Evenepoel attacked on the upper slopes of La Redoute, there was no doubt about his intentions. Powless did a full-on sprint to try and grab the Belgian’s wheel, but he never quite made it. Evenepoel dropped the rest of the peloton after 15 seconds, but Powless sat behind Evenepoel on a 3-meter gap, then a 5-meter gap, and then a 10-meter gap, and this lasted just a few dozen seconds.

Evenepoel was gone, and it was all over in less than a minute. The 22-year-old earned a Strava KOM on this top portion of the climb – and not only that, but he absolutely destroyed it.

Remco Evenepoel’s power data from the La Redoute climb at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Powless and others were doing about 7w/kg and Evenepoel beat them all by a significant margin. By my calculations – considering Powless’ numbers, the draft, and Evenepoel’s speed – Remco must have been pushing close to 10w/kg for a minute after just doing 7w/kg for five minutes.

Nielson Powless’ power data from the La Redoute climb at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Powless – La Redoute 
Time: 5:40
Average Power: 469w (7.1w/kg)
Trying to following Evenepoel: 727w (11w/kg) for 24 seconds

While the numbers are impressive, they are not off the charts. Instead, Evenepoel’s successful attack was more the result of tactics and timing than it was about pure strength. Judging from the numbers, there are plenty of riders in the front group at Liège-Bastogne-Liège that could’ve followed Evenepoel.

If Wout van Aert or Dylan Teuns had been on Evenepoel’s wheel and gone full gas to stay with him, they could of – in my opinion. These riders have proven time and time again that they can do in excess of 7w/kg for five minutes after six hours of racing, and then attack after that. Why they chose not to follow is unknown to me.

Evenepoel quickly caught the remaining breakaway riders, and in most cases, went flying past them. Only Bruno Armirail of Groupama-FDJ could stay with Evenepoel for a few kilometers, but he was gone as soon as they hit the 13 percent slopes of the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons.

On the Roche aux Faucons, the peloton curiously stalled in the first half of the climb. Once the favorites started their attacks in the final few hundred meters, they brought back 15 seconds of Evenepoel’s 30-second gap, but who knows what they could have done had they attacked from the bottom.

In fact, 2022 was the slowest climbing of the Roche aux Faucons in the most recent four years. From 2019-2021, the leading group climbed the Roche aux Faucons in a time ranging from 3:37-4:42. In 2022, the peloton went up at a time of 3:54 while Evenepoel did 3:58 riding solo.

According to the riders, there was a bit of headwind, but it mustn’t have been too significant. In the women’s race, the peloton climbed the Roche aux Faucons faster than ever, and there were gobs of Strava KOMs and QOMs set throughout the day, regardless of direction. In other words, it was a super-fast edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Neilson Powless’ power data from Roche aux Faucons climb at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Powless – Côte de la Roche aux Faucons
Time: 3:58
Average Power: 491w (7.4w/kg)

Annemiek van Vleuten – Côte de la Roche aux Faucons
Time: 4:27
Average Power: 393w (6.7w/kg)

Powless stayed tucked in the wheels and did everything he could to stay with the front group. When Teuns jumped away off the back of a Vlasov counterattack, the American drifted into the second group on the road alongside Daniel Felipe Martínez, Enric Mas, and Alejandro Valverde. With a plateau, rollers, and downhill sections to come, the groups stalled and Evenepoel’s gapped once again eclipsed the 30-second mark.

The chase group was now racing for second, and Powless saved what he had left for the sprint, especially since Bahrain-Victorious, Movistar, and Israel-Premier Tech each had two riders in the front group. Just 48 seconds after Evenepoel took the win, Powless crossed the line in 8th place, sealing a top-10 result at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in one of its fastest editions ever.

In case those sprint numbers look familiar, that’s because Powless produced almost the exact same numbers in the final sprint as when he was trying to follow Evenepoel’s attack on La Redoute.

Neilson Powless’ power data from the final 3km of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Powless – final 3km
Time: 3:17
Average Power: 318w (4.8w/kg)
Final sprint: 738w (11.1w/kg) for 25 seconds

Evenepoel’s strength is a story in and of itself, but Powless’ ride could be a sign of good things to come. The American lines up for the Tour de Romandie on April 26th, before making a run at the Tour de France. With a hilly Wollongong world championships parcours on tap this fall, Powless could be one to watch as he chases the rainbow stripes.

Neilson Powless’ summary power data from the 2022 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava and Strava sauce browser extension.

Riders: 

Neilson Powless

Remco Evenepoel

Annemiek van Vleuten