By PCG Founder & Coach Hunter Allen
This is the fourth year of power data that I have had the opportunity to analyze from Chris Anker Sorensen of Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank.
The data each year has come courtesy of the kind folks at SRM power meters, Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and of course TrainingPeaks software which is a sponsor for the team. This amount of complete power meter data on one rider for multiple TdF’s that has been shared publicly is unprecedented and really quite exciting to analyze over the long haul.
While Chris had an incredibly active 2012 TdF, this was largely due to the fact that he no longer was working for a team captain and he was free to race for himself.
In the past three years, this has really framed his data set in that he never was really allowed to open up the “big guns” and give it a shot for himself, as he has toiled along as the “super-domestique” for either Cancellara, Contador or the Schlecks. 2012 was different though and he got to take some shots at winning stages, pushing himself with attacks and really making the race for himself.
Chris featured in four major mountain stages where he placed second in one (16th stage), seventh in another (24th stage), and 24th in stage 11. Chris was also awarded the most combative riders jersey in stage seven, after being in the breakaway from 20km into the stage and was awarded the most combative jersey for the whole 2012 at the final stage. He was 14th overall in the GC and third overall in the mountains jersey competition. Needless to say, give Chris some freedom and get out of his way!!!! Impressive TdF Chris!!!!!!
So, what is the difference between being able to ride for yourself in a grand tour and having to be a domestique for a super hero? Let’s look at three critical charts that show his data over the four years to see if we can gain some insight into the differences between these two different roles.
In figure one, we see the differences between his Training Stress Score and Intensity Factor for each year. In 2009, Chris rode the hardest of all the past four years (TSS 5637) as he had to help defend the yellow jersey for Fabian Cancellara and then the Schleck’s as Team Saxo Bank had an outstanding year, largely because of Chris’ faithful support!
In 2010, Chris did not have to defend quite so aggressively even though Cancellara had the yellow jersey as the team recognized they need to save him for the mountains, where he would be able to ride for the Schlecks again, and as a consequence his TSS dropped down to 4604.
In 2011, Chris was now in charge of getting Alberto Contador to the yellow jersey and in this year, Chris had a little more leeway to attack on his own and did so on a couple of occasions. Chris ended up working very hard in the last week and half of the Tour, and this jacked his TSS back up to 5043 for the entire three weeks.
This year, 2012, Chris was able to sit in the peloton, rest, eat, drink and relax for the first week and that was a huge difference in energy savings than in the previous years. That energy savings allowed him to go on attack after attack after attack in the mountains, in which he deservedly won the most combative jersey award for the Tour. His TSS would have been even lower had he just sat in the peloton and rolled along, but this aggressiveness moved his TSS up to 4617 for the Tour, which still was below 2009 and 2011.
The next chart that is significant is the Performance Manager chart. This chart shows just how tired a rider is getting throughout the Tour and how quickly they recover during the rest days and also in the easier stages. The yellow bar in Figure 2 is the Training Stress Balance or TSB, and when this is positive a rider is said to be ‘fresh’. When it is negative, then a rider is fatigued. The higher the positive the number the fresher they are and the lower the negative number the more fatigued they are. If we just look at the TSB for all four years, we see how quickly in 2009, Chris fatigued to a very deep level (-70 to -90) and stayed there for much of the Tour.
In 2010, Chris had a more gradual rate of fatigue and only reached the -90 level on Stage 18 and then began to rebound. This reflects his role in 2010 as a super domestique in the mountains where he was saving his energy for those later stages, whereas in 2009 he was just a plan domestique.
In 2011, Chris fatigued quickly, not as quick as 2009, and reached his deepest level of fatigue on Stage 14, but then recovered quickly during rest days and easier days, so that he actually showed improvement in his FTP by the end of the Tour.
In 2012, he never reached the same level of fatigue in the previous three years, and his TSB only reached -77.5 on Stage 19 in the time trial. He more slowly fatigued this year than previous years, and that allowed him to be so aggressive in the last 10 stages of the tour.
Stage racing has been and always will be a game of energy conservation and with Chris’ freedom to ride for stage wins and for his own glory, he did a great job in preserving energy this year.
Now, the question remains: Was Chris better, the same or worse in terms of fitness over previous years? Chris’ FTP has been very consistent over the past three years right around 380-390 watts and I expected this year would be similar.
In figure 3, I plotted his Mean Maximal Power curve (Peak power across all time durations) in his athlete home page of the TrainingPeaks WKO+ software. I plotted this year’s data against all previous three years to see if this year was better or worse in one time period or another.
What was interesting was that Chris’ neuromuscular (sprinting) and anaerobic capacity (short efforts from 30 seconds to 1 minute) was markedly lower in 2012 than in previous years. Maybe he just didn’t train this that much this year, or quite possibly he didn’t do really hard short efforts in this year’s TdF.
When I examined the time from one minute thirty nine second to 30 minutes, Chris’ power was equal to or better than his previous years as in Figure 3, you can see that the ‘dash’ line and the ‘yellow’ line are on top of each other or within three watts of each other. This shows that Chris was able to do higher watts in the areas that really matter for bike racing.
The next time period from 31 minutes to hour and 33 minutes, shows a small reduction in power from previous years and this is something to consider because he spent so much time off the front of the peloton, he did a lot of time in this area. One could say that he actually was not as fit as previous years in this critical time range and only because he had the ability to ride for himself was he able to get the results. He most likely would have been able to get those same results in previous years had been able to ride aggressively.
In the final time period, Chris matched all his previous peak wattages and this certainly was because he was off the front for such a long period of time in those stages. Pushing the pace on the climbs and trying for a stage win, upped his wattages in the time ranges longer than one hour and thirty four minutes.
Chris Anker Sorensen has had an incredible ride for four years in the TdF, been part of yellow jersey holding teams, stage winning teams, and helped his leaders to podium finishes in Paris.
2012 was a great opportunity for Chris to give his best, ride for himself and go for a stage win. Unfortunately, he was beaten by Thomas Voeckler on Stage 16 and placed a fine second place but certainly he turned lots of heads and impressed many thousands of fans, including the race commissaries which awarded him the most combative jersey for the entire race, quite an honor.
By understanding the story behind each year of his data, one can see how with the same level of overall fitness and even reduced fitness in certain physiological systems, but given a different role in the race, the same athlete can really impact his ability to shape the race and his own personal results. Chris helped his team in the previous three years and certainly shaped the race, but this year, I would argue that he made even more of an impact in shaping the race by his aggressive racing style. Congrats Chris!
Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.