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Tour de France final week. ‘how do they do that?’

-By: Tomas Swift-Metcalfe

Last modified: July 22, 2013

The final week of this years tour was also, by far the hardest week… We one hard TT, one flat stage with a significant climb at the end (Gap) three tough alpine stages and a final sprint to the line in Paris.

Rui Costa's win at Gap Costa’s first victory in the Alps

Chris Froome proved the just winner of the Tour, showing his only moment of weakness in this entire Tour de France on the Alp d’Huez stage, where he apparently bonked, with Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez gaining nibbling into his massive time advantage. Contador, after trying and trying many times to unease Froome suffered the consequences and dropped to 4th from 2nd.

The TT was a very strange event, I found the bike changes annoying. I’m against TT bikes full stop and was hoping to see the Tour rider just using their road bike. Also one thing I noted was they get a big push to get going again from the mechanic, guys who don’t change bike are penalized by having worse aerodynamics and not having that push. It looked sloppy.

How do they know whether it’s worth changing bikes in the TT?

I don’t know how each rider and team comes to this decision. I’d imagine 99% of riders and teams go with their gut instinct, while I’d imagine Team Sky and their sport scientists were able to calculate quantitatively whether it was worth changing bikes.

bike comparison
Contador chose not to change bikes and came very close to defeating Chris Froome

Things that effect this decision are, how good is the rider at using each type of bike, how much ‘aerodynamic’ advantage that can be gained from the TT bike. As we saw by the mixed results at the finish. It was much of a muchness whether rider opted to change bikes or not. I’d say given the technical nature of the descent would do away with any potential benefits of using a TT bike.

The stage to gap was a pleasure to watch, as Rui Costa is a guy I used to race with. In fact I came second to Rui in my first ever race en ligne (that’s a road race, as opposed to a circuit race or TT in French). So seeing him sore to those height is a pleasure. Obviously I’d like to be racing in the pro tour too, but I haven’t done badly.
Costa makes it two in the Alps
When not defending GC, Costa is let free to go stage hunting!

How does Rui Costa know which breakaway to choose, all the time?

When choosing breakaways there are a number of factors to look for: Is the race going flat out or hard? Breakaways are generally only successful when everyone is ‘on the rivet’ (cycling slang for on the limit). Does it meet the interests of most of the teams in the race? Generally a team seeks some sort of representation in the breakaway and the team controlling GC (general classification) wont let any that will a.) make their job of controlling the race harder than it need be b.) Is a threat to they’re classification. After this you’ve got to see the terrain, is the terrain good to get away? Generally speak attacking on a descent, or into a headwind is futile. But technical terrain, with curves and lots of up/down bits is usually the best to get away on because a peloton doesn’t go so easily (stretches out) and the work for a controlling team is more difficult.

Rui is a very clever and very good racer… He’s quick in a sprint, has awesome ‘lactic power’ and gets better and better at long aerobic efforts.

What’s ‘bonking’ and how did chris Froome do that?

low fuel warning light
When fuel runs out
Bonking, in a cycling sense has nothing to do with the colloquial British meaning of the term, but rather it means running out of fuel. It’s when glycogen (sugar) stored in the muscles and liver becomes completely depleted and the body proceeds to get most of it’s energy from fat. Fat does provide energy at the same rate, nor can it ‘fuel’ the brain, so cyclists when they reach this state generally go a lot slower, feel odd (kind of like drunkenness) and it’s only fixed by stopping, eating and recovering. You cannot recover mid race from this state. So Froome should have hung tight and he would have not lost 20′ from the illegal feed he received 4km from the finish line.

The only way to not bonk is to make sure your glycogen reserves are ‘full’ before the race and consuming 280-300 Kcal of sugar per hour in a race, which is the maximum your digestive system can absorb without upset. Obviously you might still bonk, so riding at a sustainable pace is important, check out this article on the metabolic mix.

The penultimate alpine stage also went to Costa, a stage I didn’t watch, but what I could gather was won much like the first one, except it was raining. It’s worth noting Costa is exceptional technically (on the descent into Gap he was putting time into the chasing quartet).

Finally on the last day of proper racing Quintana gets a stage. I can only say that Quintana seems to get stronger and stronger as the race rolls on. Hopefully he’s here to stay and will become a regular contender on cycling’s big stage.

Quintana, the pure climber

Quintana is a pure climber and we haven’t seen pure climbers do very in the in many years. Generally a pure climber will be able to produce incredible power to weight (higher that ‘GC’ riders) but will be relatively light, so that gross power output wont be as great as a roulleur, a time trialist or a GC rider. What climbers do best is changes of rhythm on steep climbs, something most heavier rider find impossible. Generally heavier rider can keep up with climbers if it wasn’t for these changes of rhythm that put them into the red. Obviously Froome is an exception being head and shoulders above the rest.

How to become a pure climber

Really you need to be under 60kg to be a pure climber, so getting to that weight is important. Then you need an incredibly high power output, which is limited by training and ability. So training well is essential! You might not be a Quintana, but you can go a whole lot faster. There are some tricks too, drafting and equipment and team tactics play a huge role in being successful on climbs.

The Tour finished on the Champs-Élysées was spectacular, with Kittel putting his name down as the number one sprinter in the Tour, a fitting end to the 100th edition of the Tour de France and one of the best Tours in recent decades. Team Sky event took the privilege of loosing 53 seconds on the final stage.
final sprint

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