Earlier this year — when racing was still happening outside — Nairo Quintana (Team Arkéa Samsic) set a record up Mont Ventoux. This weekend, both men and women raced up a virtual Mont Ventoux as part of the Virtual Tour de France. In this column, we take a look at the incredible power numbers from stages 5 and 6 of the Virtual Tour de France, but first let’s look back at Quintana’s ride.
It was at the Tour de la Provence where Quintana won stage 3 and the general classification. The climb to Chalet Reynard on Mont Ventoux is 9.5km long, making it just over half of the full Ventoux ascent, and Quintana’s time of 28:05 was faster than any other cyclist in the climb’s recorded history – 15 seconds faster than Il Pirata, Marco Pantani, and nearly a minute quicker than a certain Miguel Indurain. By my calculations, Quintana averaged about 6.8 watts per kilogram for this record-setting effort.
In July 2020, Zwift unveiled a total of eight new routes in France and Paris, including the 20.8km “Ven-Top” route which climbs 1,480 meters (4,857ft) to the top of a virtual Mont Ventoux, and the 6.6km “Champs-Élysées” route which loops around a virtual Place de la Concorde and Arc de Triomphe.
This past weekend, the world’s best took to Zwift for the final two stages of the Virtual Tour de France, with Sarah Gigante holding the women’s yellow jersey for her TIBCO-SVB team, and Louis Meintjes in the men’s yellow jersey, representing NTT Pro Cycling.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Mike Woods crush on virtual Ventoux
Stage 5 presented a glimpse into a cycling world as if tactics didn’t exist. The 23km (14.3mi) course climbed over 1,100m (3,600ft) in its second half, up to the same finish at Chalet Reynard as Quintana’s real-life triumph. At an average gradient of 9.3 percent, and countless slopes topping double digits, stage 5 was as close to a power-to-weight test as we will ever see in professional cycling.
On the lower slopes of the virtual Ventoux, the women’s field blew to pieces after a series of attacks from CCC Team and TIBCO-SVB. Eventually, two riders broke clear with around 5km to go: Gigante in the yellow jersey, and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv).
“I had done a recon of the course the day before, and knew there was a 12 percent sector with about 5km to go. The numbers in our group were dwindling and I was feeling strong, so I took a chance and attacked there,” Gigante said after the race. The pair quickly carved over a 60-second gap to the chasers, but with 2km to go, Moolman-Pasio still wasn’t satisfied. The South African Champion attacked from the front and dropped Gigante who still had a comfortable gap to the group behind.
Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) – Stage 5 breakaway with Moolman-Pasio
Average Power: 271w (5.6w/kg)
Recounting the final attack, Gigante said, “With about 1.5km to go, when the road sloped upwards even more, Ashleigh dropped a featherweight power-up and powered away. I used my aero power-up to try to follow, but it wasn’t enough, and from then on, we both time trialed the last five minutes to the finish. I was thinking of the finish to the 2018 La Course, when Annemiek [Van Vleuten] caught Anna [van der Breggen] right on the line, so I didn’t give in, hoping there was still a chance, but Ashleigh had such a strong ride and was uncatchable!”
Moolman-Pasio took the stage win, with the 19-year-old Gigante coming in 23 seconds behind, and Lauren Stephens, Leah Dixon, and Kristen Faulkner (TIBCO-SVB) finished third through fifth to all but cement the overall classification in the women’s Virtual Tour de France with still one stage to go.
Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) – Stage 5
Average Power: 255w (5.2w/kg)
Peak 20min Power: 277w (5.7w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 312w (6.4w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 174bpm
Max Heart Rate: 188bpm
Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) – Stage 5
Average Power: 253w (5.2w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 290w (6w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 162bpm
Max Heart Rate: 178bpm
Stage 5 of the men’s Virtual Tour de France was a much steadier affair, with Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling) attacking as the road tipped up and bounding away to victory. You could hardly tell that the 33-year-old Canadian and new father had broken his femur in a career-threatening crash at Paris-Nice earlier this year; it seemed that every time the video feed cut to Woods he was out of the saddle pushing 430w.
Domenico Pozzovivo and Meintjes (NTT) stayed with Woods the longest, but with 4km to go, the South African was distanced, and at 3.5km to go, the Italian popped too. Woods’ avatar bounced out of the saddle just as in real-life, and he cruised to the win 18 seconds clear of Pozzovivo and nearly a minute ahead of Meintjes.
A quick look at Woods’ power data, and we can see just how much time he spent out of the saddle – over two-thirds of the climb! Not only that, but we can see that his power seems to drop when he’s in the saddle and spinning at a more usual 90-100rpm.
Woods (EF Pro Cycling) – Stage 5 final climb
Average Power: 419w (7.0w/kg)
Average Cadence: 71rpm
In such a unique race setting – isolated from tactics, weather, aerodynamics, and distractions – we can see the unbelievable strength of professional cyclists in their purest from.
Woods (EF Pro Cycling) – Stage 5
Average Power: 390w (6.5w/kg)
Peak 10min Power: 430w (7.2w/kg)
Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling) – Stage 5
Average Power: 364w (6.5w/kg)
Peak 20min Power: 386w (6.9w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 406w (7.2w/kg)
Lauren Stephens and Will Clarke win on virtual Champs
Stage 6 of the Virtual Tour de France would finish on the traditional Paris loop, with riders completing seven laps around the Arc de Triomphe, down and back around the famous Place de la Concord, and finishing on the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
TIBO-SVB began the stage with a commanding lead in the overall classification and American Lauren Stephens wearing the yellow jersey. Six sprints were on offer in the battle for the points classification, making for a fast start that saw over half the field dropped mid-way through the 42.8km stage.
Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) – First half of stage 6
Average Power: 243w (4.4w/kg)
With one lap to go in Paris, Stephens was among the favorites, as well as stage 1 winner April Tacey (Drops), Chloe Dygert (Twenty20), Kirsten Wild (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling), and Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo Women). After passing under the flamme rouge, riders pedaled with one finger on the space bar as they readied their aero power-up for the final sprint. Dygert was the first to go, kicking at over 11w/kg with still 300m to go. Van Dijk took the lead next, but then it was Stephens – coming from over ten virtual wheels back with 200m to go – who came barreling towards the front with enough speed, power, and momentum to take the win on the Champs-Élysées resplendent in the yellow jersey.
Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) – Stage 6 final sprint
Peak 30s Power: 536w (9.7w/kg)
Peak 15s Power: 671w (12.2w/kg)
Max Heart Rate: 189bpm
Tacey (Drops) – Stage 6 final sprint:
Peak 30s Power: 557w (9.3w/kg)
Peak 15s Power: 680w (11.3w/kg)
Max Heart Rate: 214bpm
They say timing is everything when it comes to sprinting on Zwift, but even then, Stephens had the strongest kick of all, which we can see in her extraordinary power numbers.
The early stages of the men’s race saw four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Ineos) going out the back along with tens of others. However, like many fellow professionals, Froome is at a high-altitude training camp, at Mount Teide preparing for the real Tour de France.
Riding stage 6 for Trek-Segafredo was 35-year-old Australian rider Will Clarke, who had finished fourth in stage 4 around Zwift’s Casse-Pattes loop. After the final stage, Clarke said, “It is really hard. Basically, I had to do 400w for an hour and then sprint at the end. There are a lot of spikes and surges – sometimes you’re pushing over 500 or 600w to try and not get dropped.”
Clarke (Trek-Segafredo) – First half of stage 6
Average Power: 398w (5.0w/kg)
Peak 90s Power: 498w (6.2w/kg)
NTT Pro Cycling was another constant force at the front, along with powerhouses Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott) and Filippo Ganna (Ineos), and as the kilometers ticked down, it was clear the winner would come from a reduced group sprint. A surprise attack at 1.5km from Groupama-FDJ may have ruffled a few feathers, but the nitid Norseman Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT) swiftly closed the gap.
Boasson Hagen rounded the final right-hander in the lead, and kicked at over 12w/kg while his teammate, Ryan Gibbons, came flying through the field behind. Gibbons’ 1,200-plus-watt kick looked to be enough, but in the last 50 meters, Will Clarke of Trek-Segafredo found just enough speed to overhaul the South African and take a surprise win on the Champs-Élysées.
Gibbons (NTT) – Stage 6 final sprint
Average Power: 952w (13.4w/kg)
Max Power: 1207w (17w/kg)
Clarke (Trek-Segafredo) – Stage 6 final sprint
Average Power: 922w (11.5w/kg)
Max Power: 1226w (15.3w/kg)
“Last week I went too early in the sprint and I figured out how early I went and made sure this week I timed it right. It was still hard to pass everyone, I came from a long way back,” Clarke said after the race. In the end, he timed it perfectly. Ganna beat Gibbons by a virtual tire width for second, but NTT stacked the results again, placing four riders in the top ten, and doing more than enough to secure the overall classification at the inaugural Virtual Tour de France ahead of American outfit Rally Cycling.