Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski wins the 2014 world road cycling title. Photo courtesy Omega Pharma-Quick Step Pro Cycling Team / Tim de Waele
The notion that pro bike racers are fast is nothing novel. We all have those genetically gifted friends that can dance up steep hills or blaze across windswept flats faster than the rest of us. Pros are just like those friends, but faster. A lot faster.
What is unique is the chance to take a proverbial look under the hood of one of these fast men, to see exactly how talented they really are. Following the recently completed UCI world road cycling championships in Spain, men’s road race winner Michal Kwiatkowski provided such an opportunity when he loaded the data from his Quarq for Specialized power meter onto Strava and Training Peaks, a web-based training software service for athletes and coaches.
Kwiatkowski won the race by launching a brazen attack out of the peloton with 7 kilometers to go, bridging to a three-man breakaway, then after catching his breath, attacking solo again and holding off a fast-closing group that included most of the day’s pre-race favorites.
All told the race lasted 6 hours, 29 minutes, covered 157 miles, and included nearly 17,000 feet of climbing. The gap between first and second place was a single second, with Australian Simon Gerrans and Spain’s Alejandro Valverde completing the podium in Ponferrada. But diving deeper into Kwiatkowski’s data gives you a true sense of just how talented the 24-year-old is — and how hard he worked to bring home the coveted rainbow jersey to his native Poland.
First some of the basics. According to the file loaded to Training Peaks, Kwiatkowski did 5670 kilojoules worth of work last Sunday. Kilojoules to calories is roughly 1-to-1, meaning the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider burned the equivalent of 10 Big Macs while pedaling his bike toward glory.
We also see that Kwiatkowski earned a training stress score (TSS) of 387.5. TSS is a rating score developed by Training Peaks that allows athletes to quantify workouts based on intensity, duration and frequency. There is lots of nuance to this metric, but generally speaking a rider earns 100 TSS points for an all-out 60-minute workout, meaning Kwiatkowski did the equivalent of nearly 3.9 of these 100-percent hour long sessions. In one day.
What’s really impressive, though, is to see what the Pole did in those final kilometers when he made his winning move on the 18.2-kilometer circuit that was circled 14 times during the race. Kwiatkowski spent most of the race protected by his fellow Team Poland riders. His average normalized power for the first six hours was a reasonable 306 watts.
But with the race’s outcome still in the balance, he burst from the bunch and bridged to the breakaway. Here, according to the Training Peaks file, Kwiatkowski averaged 436 watts for 34 seconds, which is a huge number when you consider the guy measures all of 5-foot-9, 150 pounds according to his bio on the OPQS team’s website. Peak power during that effort was an equally impressive 928 watts, while average heart rate was 161 beats per minute and he was spinning 83 rpm. And remember this all happened after he’d been in the saddle pushing hard for 6-plus hours. Think about how you feel after a 6-hour ride. Not like pushing 928 watts, that’s for sure.
The end game in Spain came moments later. After merging into the breakaway, Kwiatkowski took a short break at the back, then went hard again, leaving his three short-lived companions behind. Attack No. 2, the winning move, lasted about 3 minutes with an average of 501 watts and a peak output of 706 watts. Hammer meet nail. World meet your new champion — Michal Kwiatkowski.