What it Takes to Win: Power Analysis from the Elite Women's and Men's Races

Steph WetzelAs a preview for 2016’s Purgatory Road Race, we’re going to take a look at 2015’s winning ride by Stephanie Wetzel. It takes a truly well rounded rider to succeed on such a difficult course. Let’s see how it’s done.

Before we look at Stephanie’s data, let’s get familiar with the course. You will first roll out neutral from the Sutton Middle School for about two miles. Don’t attack here; that’s not cool. Your second turn is onto the feed zone climb and the loop of the race. Once the entire field crests the climb, you’ll be racing. A few step-like hills will change to flatter, more rural roads after the right-hand turn onto Uxbridge Road, followed by a 2.5-mile descent that I’ve seen riders dropped on because they weren’t up for the speed and handling required. At the bottom racers will turn right onto Barnett Road and right again on Whitins Road for mostly flat to rolling terrain. Enjoy Manchaug Road as it gives the racers a reprieve before the demanding 1km climb up Lackey Road to the straight, crosswind filled false-flat of the finish.

The first thing that jumps out of Stephanie’s data is that she hid really well for the first one hour and nine minutes of the race. She burned very few matches and kept a close eye on her competitors. In a flat race, she probably wouldn’t have burned any matches, but because the course is so demanding, Stephanie had to dig deep a few times to maintain position in the peloton.

On the second trip up Lackey Road, someone lit the fuse that would become the winning break of three people. The first two minutes and sixteen seconds of that break were full gas, with Stephanie spending that time in zone 7 (neuromuscular). There is no higher zone. You’re burning ATP faster than you can make it there. From that moment on, Stephanie spent the next thirty one minutes in zone 4 (threshold) as the break established itself. She threw caution to the wind and set nearly her entire matchbook ablaze. Sometimes it’s necessary to make such a big effort to ensure you’re at the front of the race.

Once the break was established, things got easier and Stephanie was able to recover a bit. It was by no means easy, but she did get some opportunities to spend time below her critical power. With the most decisive moment of the race behind her, Stephanie could focus on the end game, which was rapidly approaching.

The third trip up Lackey Road was the most difficult moment of this intermediate portion of the race, but it was by far the easiest trip up. Everyone in the break must have known it would come down to the last ascent into the crosswind finish. On the final lap, everyone tried to conserve for the final battle. Stephanie’s final attack up Lackey Road wasn’t quite as powerful as the initial attack, but it was still firmly in zone 6 (anaerobic) and quite impressive with two hours and forty minutes of hard racing in her legs.

When you toe the line, it’s very difficult to predict how the race will play out. You have to be able to adjust on the fly. In 2014 we saw a race of attrition, with the decisive attack come in the last five minutes. In 2015 the race was defined by a monster attack that was still over an hour and a half from the finish. What will 2016 bring?

 


 

The Purgatory Road Race is the most unrelenting course in New England bike racing and the crown jewel of the calendar. It has all the elements of a classic - stiff climbs, technical descents, crosswinds and places to get out of sight. Let’s see what it takes to win such a demanding race.

First, we’ll get familiar with the course. You’ll roll out neutral from the Sutton Middle School. Don’t attack here; that’s not cool. Your second turn is onto the feed zone climb and the loop of the race. Once the entire field crests the climb, you’ll be racing. A few step-like hills will change to flatter, more rural roads after the right hand turn onto Uxbridge Road, a 2.5 mile descent that I’ve seen riders dropped on because they weren’t up for the speed and handling required. At the bottom racers will turn right onto Barnett Road and right again on Whitins Road for mostly flat to rolling terrain. Enjoy Manchaug Road as it gives the racers a reprieve before the demanding 1km climb up Lackey Road to the straight false-flat of the finish.

Brian Fuller at Purgatory RRBrian Fuller, winner in the men’s elite field of the 2014 edition, was gracious enough to let us analyze his winning ride. Brian managed to be the guy that pedaled the least, but when he did, he pedaled the hardest. It’s often the formula to win races. He was in Zone 1 (recovery) for 40% of the race. That means he was resting every moment he could. He also spent a full 6% of the race in Zone 7 (neuromuscular) - this is where you go when you want to affect the outcome of the race.

The big selections happened in the middle of the race. Everyone starts to get tired, but the smart riders push the pace to drop the tired riders. The field gets shredded, and Brian’s effort shows that he wanted to do the shredding instead of being shredded. His peak sixty minutes of power on the day starts one hour and nineteen minutes into the race. The contenders came to the front and start throwing punches to see who would still be standing at the end. By my count, there were fourteen separate attacks here.

Once the selection was made, Brian was able to recover a bit and roll at a relatively mellow effort compared to the previous sixty minutes, preparing for the finale. He had some loyal teammates to help him stay out of the wind and in contact with the front group. The critical point of every lap isn’t the climb up Lackey Rd,  but the finishing stretch that comes after. Most riders think the climb is over and they can relax, but once you’re out of the trees and in the crosswind, fields get torn apart. Everyone is already gassed, but Brian once again was smart enough to hold good position and keep his own foot on the gas for a little longer to stay tucked in the group.Purgatory Race Winner

The finale of a race is often the decisive moment, unless you manage to get away solo. Brian managed to save his 5 minutes of best effort for the last 5 minutes of the race. It’s a very disciplined and savvy thing to do. Go back in your files and see how often you did that. Brian also had Anthony Clark give him a cracking lead-out to seal the win. Anthony made sure Brian didn’t have to see any wind leading into the finale until the last possible moment.

Now that you know what it takes to win, look out for a workout tailored to the demands of the race.

 

Purgatory RR