After the madness of the last few days, which have been action packed to say the least with lots of bad crashes, today was bound to be calmer. If it hadn't been then the Tour would likely lose more GC contenders in more crashes.
Thankfully, there were few crashes, and while it's been unfortunate to lose two GC contenders so far (Christian VandeVelde and Franck Schleck) cycling is a combination of man, machinery, fitness, and skill. And sometimes, whether it's your fault or not, you can be taken out in a bad crash. It just depends whether Lady Luck favours you.
With such a flat route, and such a brutal start to the Tour, today's stage was tailor made for a sprint finish. And it was. There was a great sprint at the end. It was also the shortest road stage of the Tour this year, and that means that as well as it being a sprinters day, it would also be an easy one today.
Of course easy is relative and we will get to some data shortly. But yes, for the Tour riders it would be an easy day. The flat route and the fact that the break didn't get too far ahead meant that the chasing teams were riding fairly easy to keep things in check. At least until the last 45-minutes to 1-hour or so, where they would have started to work harder.
I'd estimate for today's stage that your average 70kg pro would have been putting out about 150 to 200 W for the most part. Possibly, their average would be less than 200W. This would be way into their recovery zone, and would allow them to recover, eat and get over the last few days. You can't race flat out every day for 21 days.
Of course though, there is data from a Rabobank rider a few years ago who averaged *just* 98 W for a Tour Stage… That's pretty impressive, and shows that with the skill of riding very closely to the wheel in front you can get away with very little power.
This is one important reason why it's crucial to ride in groups or race on regular basis – so that you can learn to relax and not expend all your energy in turbulent air. You need to be up close to the person in front, but also skilful enough to dodge around them should they crash, or start to crack.
Into the last part of the stage, say the final 30 to 60 minutes, the pace will have picked up, and so will the rider's power. Still, for the majority it would be reasonably easy as only a few riders off each sprinters team were working.
Once into the final kilometre and things will have dramatically increased. Leadout trains will be going full bore and into the last few hundred metres and flat out. It's likely that peak 5-second power for the top sprinters will be about 1500 to 1800 W depending on their size and mass. That's a fair bit down on what top track sprinters can generate, which is around 2400 W.
How would Joe Average 3rd cat have faired? Well today, probably quite well. Providing Joe wasn't going back to the team car for water bottles and food for his team leader or chasing back after any punctures, etc, it's potentially possible that Joe could have hung in today. However, it's also highly likely that Joe would have been pretty exhausted after the last few days and this accumulated fatigue would have prevented him from finishing in the main peloton. But if he just rode today, it's possible he may have hung in.
Ric Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is a full time British ABCC coach. During this year's Tour de France, he will be providing a physiological insight into the challenges that face the riders in each stage.