Côte de Pike
We can start at the beginning of stage 1 of the 2023 Tour de France. It included 5 categorised climbs but it all came down to the last one, Côte de Pike, which is 2,1 km long with an average gradient of 9,4% stretching up to 15% in the second half. This climb offered a unique opportunity to see the world’s best trying their hardest for about 5 minutes with relatively fresh legs at the beginning of the Tour.
As expected, the attack came from Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard as they separated from the group with 500 meters to go. The only rider who managed to keep up was Victor Lafay. Thanks to Lafay leaving his Strava data open to the public, we can see the numbers for this climb in detail. His peak 3-minute power came on the second half of the Côte de Pike where he maintained a power-to-weight ratio of 8,7W/kg, which is truly incredible.
Côte de Pike climb (2,1 km at 9,4%)
Lafay: time 5:34; average power 501W (7,7W/kg)
Col du Grand Colombier
Grand Colombier, a mythical climb spanning 17,8 km at a gradient of 7%, was the scene of another display of superb climbing during stage 13 at the Tour. A 20-man breakaway formed shortly after the start and managed to hold off the peloton until the final climb. Michał Kwiatkowski saved enough energy in the breakaway to try and go for the stage win. He was dropped in the first 5 km of the climb by others from the breakaway but he paced himself amazingly and won stage 1 ahead of the pursuing GC rider group.
Grand Colombier (17,8 km at 7%)
Kwiatkowski: time: 46:43; average power 386W (5,9W/kg)
Kwiatkowski’s achievement is all the more impressive considering that UAE Team Emirates planned for Tadej Pogačar to win the stage. UAE riders were pushing hard at the front of the peloton and reeled in most of the riders from the breakaway during the Grand Colombier climb. Pogačar exploded into a huge attack with about 500 meters left in the stage. Even Vingegaard was unable to hold his wheel, losing 4 seconds to him at the finish line. Pogačar was able to catch all but two riders from the breakaway during his final sprint. He completed the climb almost 3 minutes faster than Kwiatkowski but he had help from his teammates during most of the gruelling 17,8 km of climbing whereas Kwiatkowski had to do it all alone. Here are the estimates of his power numbers.
Pogačar: time 44:01, average power: ~410w (~6.2w/kg)
It’s worth taking a closer look at the last 500 meters where Pogačar attacked. Kwiatkowski was going 18 km/h, maintaining about 6,4W/kg over that distance. Pogačar somehow managed to fly at 36 km/h despite going up a 10% gradient. Based on these numbers, we can estimate that Pogačar was pushing something between 700-850W for about 50 seconds at the top of Grand Colombier. He truly had no equal there.
Grand Colombier (last 500 meters)
Kwiatkowski: average speed 18,2 km/h; average power 423W (6,4W/kg)
Pogačar: average speed 35,9 km/h; average power ~700-850W (~10,6-12,9W/kg)
Strava KOMs are flooded by the Tour de France peloton
Perhaps the most notable thing about the 2023 edition is that it wasn’t just a few GC contenders that did amazingly. Most of the riders from the peloton did really well on the most important climbs. How do we know this? Despite most of the riders keeping their data private, maybe a third of the peloton still uploads every ride to Strava. If you take a look at the King of the Mountains Strava segments for climbs such as Col de Marie Blanque, Col du Tourmalet, Cote de Cauterets, Puy de Dôme, Col du Grand Colombier, or Col de Joux Plane you’ll see that the whole leaderboard is flooded with this year’s performances.
In the next article of this series, we will take a look at the power numbers riders need in a successful breakaway that starts at the very beginning of the stage.