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Tour Coach: An Exercise in Power
Insight St. 15 When the attacks start flying on the slopes of big mountain climbs, the performance gap between leading and falling off the pace is razor-thin. As expected, the summit finish to Verbier led to a showdown between the major yellow jersey contenders in the 2009 Tour de France, but after all was said and done, there was only one surprising performance: Bradley Wiggins.

– By Chris Carmichael –

It was not surprising that Astana’s Alberto Contador proved to be the strongest climber in the race. Nor was it a huge surprise that Contador fared better on the Verbier than Lance Armstrong. Talking with Lance last night, he felt very good, but he knew it was difficult to predict exactly how today would go. The climbs in the Pyrenees, even the summit finish to Arcalis, weren’t as difficult as Verbier, and within the context of the race it was clear that the racing would be much more aggressive today. This afternoon, he rode well, but the others were stronger. The difference wasn’t huge, but it was enough, and he was wise enough to ride sensibly and conserve as much of his lead as possible over riders like Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, and Carlos Sastre.

Bradley Wiggins rocked today – a transformed GT rider.

Contador’s performance was obviously very impressive, and Andy Schleck had a strong performance as well. But it was really great to see Bradley Wiggins up there in the front too. Coming from a track and time trial background, a lot of people underestimated his ability to be a contender in a Grand Tour. In reality, the only thing really standing in his way was some bodyweight. As an Olympic champion, he’s no stranger to the pressure of being in a position to win, and he has the confidence and intelligence to know when it’s the right time to use his strength.

Wiggins worked hard to lose at least 5 kilograms since the Beijing Olympics, and when you lose that kind of weight while retaining a high power output, your power-to-weight ratio changes significantly. I don’t know his specific power outputs, so let’s use a theoretical athlete for the sake of an illustration, and we’ll use 400 watts as a nice round number. If a rider can hold 400 watts for a 20-minute climb and he weighs 75 kilograms, his power-to-weight ratio for 20 minutes would be 400/75 or 5.33 watts/kilogram. If that same rider loses 5 kilograms of bodyweight and retains the ability to ride at 400 watts on that same climb, his power-to-weight ratio increase to 400/70 or 5.71 watts/kilogram.

Lance stayed out of the red-zone, limited his losses, and now sits 2nd on GC.

At 75 kilograms, our rider would have to produce 428 watts to achieve a power-to-weight ratio of 5.71. Although it sounds easy enough to increase a rider’s sustainable climbing power by 28 watts, you’re actually talking about a 6.5% increase in power output. At the highest levels of professional cycling, that’s a huge improvement in performance. In fact, for yellow jersey contenders, it takes an enormous amount of work just to achieve a 2-3% increase in performance. Losing 5 kilograms of bodyweight isn’t easy either, but for elite athletes who are already extremely close to the upper limits of their physical potential, weight loss can be the path to the most significant improvements in climbing performance.

Bradley Wiggins is currently sitting in third place overall, 1:46 behind Alberto Contador and just 9 seconds behind Lance Armstrong. With an individual time trial and more mountains making up the majority of the remaining stages in the 2009 Tour de France, Wiggins has a great chance of finishing on the podium in Paris, which would be just desserts for skipping all those desserts in the months following the 2008 Olympics.

Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong’s coach for 20 years and is the founder of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). Chris’s newest book, “The Time Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast, and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week” has just been released and signed copies are available at There you can also get information on CTS’ Create Your Own Comeback program, the free Do the Tour…Stay at Home™ training program, and the free CTS Tour de France Newsletter. You should also follow Chris on Twitter.


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