The numbers to back up the rant - Is the NRS weaker now?
I wonder what Chris is going to rant about now? Probably something about people using fabric softener on their lycra ... wait what … he’s having a go at people being negative about the NRS … you go Chris, good call … “and we have the power data to prove it!” … we do?!?!
Oh Great! So Chris sits down in his kitchen and talks about how hard the NRS is now (mainly because he’s old and slow) … Enter the evidence!
Step forward Patrick Sharpe from St George Continental Cycling Team (Legend!) who has been kind enough to share with us some of his riding data from back in 2014 when he was racing for Sydney Uni Race Team as a solid mid NRS team.
I believe the argument was that the middle and bottom rungs of the NRS are now weaker, and the top few are still as strong. No one is arguing with the strength of the elite end of the NRS, as riders still transitioning from NRS to pro tour teams quite seamlessly. For example, Ben O’Connor went from Avanti to Dimension Data this year, and even won a stage of a pro tour race last month (Stage 6 of the tour of Austria).
2014 was a particularly strong year for the NRS. You had a lot of strong teams and a full calendar of racing. There were a number of teams at a good level, including Avanti (Now Isowhey Sports Swisswellness), Drapac (Now merged to form pro-tour team Cannondale-Drapac), CharterMason (A feeder team for Drapac, now equivalent of Drapac-Pat’s Veg), Budget Forklifts (now disbanded), Search2retain (who raced on occasion in Asia), Data#3 Symantec (also raced in Asia) and African Wildlife Safaris (Also raced in Asia). As well as a number of middle of the field teams, like Pat’s SUVelo. Basically, there was a good depth to the field and there were lots of races.
What Do Numbers Show?
2014 Adelaide Tour Stage 1
The first race we'll going to look at is Stage 1 of the 2014 Adelaide Tour - a bumpy road race. In this race Pat got in the day long breakaway, and was there most the day before finishing a respectable 17th. Pat was around 65kg for the 2014 season.
84.3km – 800m ascent – 1h55min – 43.7km/h – 290Wavg – 325NP – 5NPW/kg
This was a very good ride from Pat, who rode out of his skin to mix it with the best riders in the field. The race was hard from the start, with a number of riders wanting to get in the break. To get in the breakaway, Pat averaged 370W for 5min (5.7w/kg) with a few short bursts over 700W to get there. The break rode very hard for the first 20min, with Pat averaging 332W (5.1w/kg) for this period as the gap from the peloton to the break grew. From the moment he got in the break to the finish, he rode for 1h33min at 301W (4.6w/kg).
After spending all day in the break, he came to the base of a 10min climb 11km from the finish. Pat put out an impressive 355W (5.46W/kg) up the final 10 minute climb in an attempt to get to the finish in a good position. Unfortunately he wasn't able to hold on to the fastest guys in the break who stayed away to win by less than 40sec with Pat 1min14sec down.
2014 Battle on the Border Stage 1
This stage was a mostly flat stage, finishing up Mount Warning. Mark O’Brien won the race solo from his Avanti team mate Jack Haig (Now Orica-Scott) after attacking on the final climb. Pat again finished a respectable 26th place, 2:56 down. THis time was all lost when he could not go with the moves on the final climb.
146km – 1989m Ascent – 4h02min – 36.5km/h – 203Wavg – 274WNP – 4.2NPW/kg
Until the riders started the race for position into the base of the final climb, the race for Pat was not too difficult as he just floated in the bunch. For the first 140km (3h45min) Pat averaged just 194W (3W/kg). However, this did include a few hard periods when the riders went up hills - there were most notably 5 shorter solid climbs during the race
1. 5min -320W – 4.9w/kg
2. 5min – 380W – 5.8W/kg
3. 3min – 380W – 5.8w/kg
4. 5min – 280W – 4.3W/kg
5. 3min30s – 350W – 5.4W/kg.
These were solid enough to hurt the legs, but not really tough enough or long enough to break up the group. Up the final 15min climb with a lot of racing in the legs, Pat couldn’t go with the big attacks but rode at a good tempo of 323W (5W/kg) to finish the race in the top 20% of the field.
2014 Battle on the Border Stage 2
This stage was a lumpy stage, up and down all day and eventually ending in a reduced bunch sprint (80 out of the 150 starters making it to the end). Pat had another good day to finish 11th on the stage, rubbing shoulders with the fast guys.
129km – 620m Ascent – 3h12min – 40.5km/h – 213Wavg – 272WNP – 4.2NPW/kg
This stage (like the previous days) was very much characterised by a few short climbs that proved to be pinch points in the race.
The first section of rolling terrain about 40min into the race had Pat working hard. For an 11min section, he did 346W (5.3W/kg). A little later came a duo of back to back small climbs, the first being 4min20s @ 380W with a short downhill (3min) and then another 3min30s at 330W.
The most selective section came towards the end of the stage, with a 20min solid period including a few little climbs.For the 20min, Pat averaged 296W (350NP). This effort was made up of 4 major bursts - 5min at 380W, 2min at 440w, 1m30s at 420W and 4min at 375W. This ensured he made the front group.
Towards the end Pat was very smart with his positioning, managing to save some energy. His last 5min was only 300W as he held position towards the front of the bunch. The last minute was a big effort for him, averaging 522W (8W/kg) in the uphill push to the line - his kick of 950W came towards the start of this minute with him having no legs at the end for a second kick.
2014 Tour of Murray River Stage 6
Today was another breakaway day for Pat. It was a very flat stage with little more than a pimple to go over (don't let the picture of the profile below fool you!). To make up for that it was fast. It took a long time for the break to go, and when it did it stayed away with a group of 10 coming to the finish roughly together with the Avanti led peloton 1min16s behind. Pat picked up 9th place after a tough day out.
104km – 58m Ascent – 2h17min – 46.2km/h – 288Wavg – 320WNP – 4.9NPW/kg
As you can see the race was never easy. With that sort of pace, what else would you expect? The first 1h23min before the break had a slightly lower average power of 270W. Despite this, the normalised power of 317W for this section was high due to the attacking nature of the race before the break got away.
For his time in the breakaway (53min) Pat averaged 316W, but it was much more consistent with his NP being 326W. The last 5km of the race the front group knew they had it won and started attacking each other. Pat marked moves, but missed the one that had a few riders sneak off the front and win by just 6 seconds. For this last few minutes, he averaged 363W with many bursts up over 500W marking moves. In the end with a few riders up the road he didn’t sprint, being happy with a top 10 finish.
Tour of Bright Stage 2
The last stage we'll look at is the second stage of the 2014 Tour of Bright. Pat rode amazingly on this stage to finish in 13th, just 1min35sec off a flying Brendan Canty of Drapac Professional Cycling (Now Cannondale-Drapac) in an uphill finish. Today was a hilly stage, ending up the 20min climb to Tawonga Gap.
129km – 1900m Ascent – 3h:25m – 37.7km/h – 233W – 290NP – 4.5NPW/kg
As you can see there were multiple little climbs in the lead into the final big climb just to dampen everyone’s legs for the last effort. Pat did a great job of handling these well and still having some energy left in the tank for the last climb. There were 2 back to back sets of climbs over roughly 20km. On the first set Pat did 320W for 10min, then 280W for 5min and 350W for 9min. On the second set he again did 290W for 5min then 300W for 10min and 320W for 7min. This would have been enough to really hurt anyone legs.
After a decent descent (20min) he started jostling for position for the climb. Including the run into the berg and climb itself, Pat did 338W for 25min. For the actual climb, Pat managed 20min40s at 349W or 5.4W/kg. By comparison, Brendan Canty won the stage with 365W (5.9W/kg @62kg) for 19:11, and Matt Clarke did 349W (5.8W/kg @ 60kg) for 19min18s to finish third, just 10s down. Note: we've estimated their weights at around 62 kg for this.
So now let’s have a look back to the NRS now, with Chris at the Tour of the Great South Coast and compare the numbers.
It is worth noting while looking through all of Pat’s good rides that they all had similar 3-6min numbers (when not in a breakaway). When push comes to shove, having that high VO2 is helpful when it comes to getting a result. The breakaway stages had very similar 20-60min numbers. The 20min max powers on the breakaway days were similar to each other, and slightly lower than the 20min climbs.
Given the nature of the course, it's unsurprising that it was the sub 5min numbers that are highest for Chris. The lack of a breakaway or long consistent climb explains why Chris’ numbers for the longer efforts are less than Pat’s. This is just from one NRS race where Chris didn’t achieve any major results himself, and he was working for another rider to try and keep him in the sprinters jersey. It certainly doesn’t look like the NRS is necessarily any weaker. As you can see, Chris's efforts are on par with Pat’s 2014 numbers when he was getting good results in a strong NRS field.
"But this is just best numbers - it doesn’t explain the whole stage…".
Ok let’s look at it a different way.
If we compare these, we can see that Pat’s were on average longer (not surprising giving the lack of crits). For the races where Pat was not in a breakaway, we can see the normalised power in W/kg is on par with Chris’ (again I understand his were slightly longer races). For the crits, Chris's numbers were similar to when Pat was in a breakaway (given the nature of a crit and a breakaway, that isn’t too surprising).
Again, looking at this it doesn’t seem that the NRS is any easier these days. This is just one tour and the fitness required to be a mid-pack guy seems quite similar.
The point of this post is not to take anything away from those that have rode in the NRS in the past. As I was analysing Pat’s files I was in awe at his rides - they were truly great efforts and he deserved the results that he got. What we've showed however, is that it isn’t a soft little race these days where just about anyone can get a result.
It's still hard. People are still busting their guts. It’s still good racing.
Massive thanks to Pat and his team for allowing us access! If you haven't already, check out his team mate Marcus Culey's blog post on their recent trip to the UCI event in China.
As always, if you're keen to learn more about racing and training, flick us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org