Reaching the Podium in UCI Races: An Easy Way to Increase Your Odds as a U23 Rider

Pro cyclist Filippo Gann guides his captain Adam Yates to race success. Both riders achieved their dream of transitioning from a U23 cyclist to a professional cyclist.

If you’re an ambitious U23 cyclist and want to become a pro, the best way to do so is by finishing on the podium in UCI Races. Good results will raise the attention of World Tour teams1.

Now, to become a successful racer many variables have to come together. Therefore, scientists tried to answer what kind of performance matters most for a good race result. This kind of research will help coaches focus on more important things in training and racing.

A recent study by Peter Leo and colleagues2 gives insights into what translates into race success for U23 cyclists. 

Let’s dive right in…

Predicting Race Performance on Differing Terrain

Predicting race performance allows you to assess if you are ready for UCI one-day races. Scientists, however, only focused on hill scenarios to estimate power outputs. For example, Van Erp and colleagues determined that 5.9 w/kg for 30 minutes is required as a pro cyclist3 to earn a top 10 result on the final climb of a Grand Tour stage. 

The problem with power requirements for climbs is that you can’t translate them to other race scenarios. In flat races, for example, the power-to-weight ratio is redundant, while absolute power and aerodynamics are crucial. Furthermore, there are races with short climbs, windy races, or cobbled climbs, among others.

Fortunately, research recently focused a lot on durability. Durability or fatigue resistance describes that power outputs in key race moments rather than maximal values in a fresh state predict race success. Correspondingly, studies have shown that power output in U23 cyclists drops significantly after 2000 kJ of work done. Remember Kilojoules are the result of power multiplied by time. For example, riding 200 watts for five hours equals 3.600 kJ of work.  Given the circumstances, performance in varied terrain requires measuring relative and absolute power outputs in a fresh and fatigued state. 

U23 Cyclists and Their Performance Level

The study by Leo and colleagues analyzed the race season of thirty U23 road cyclists who were all part of a UCI continental team during the measured period. 

The mean data of the subjects was as follows: 

  • Mean age – 20 years old
  • Mean body weight – 69 kg 
  • Mean height – 182 cm
  • Mean rel. VO2max – 73.8 ml/min/kg 

Most notably,  the authors didn’t provide any mean data about Critical Power or FTP. While FTP might not seem very important in races of differing terrain, studies have shown that FTP is an important factor for a high repeatability of power and hence might contribute to higher power output in later stages of racing. 

Anyway, researchers took the subjects into the lab for a peak power test and a 5-minute max power test 10 days before the season started. By analyzing performance data scientists also collected the 5-minute peak power after 2000 kJ of accumulated work. Remember 2000 kJ is a critical fatigue threshold for U23 cyclists.

You may wonder why researchers worry so much about the 5-minute power. 5-minute power is associated with your maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max). Researchers such as Ronnestad addressed that with your 5-6 minute peak power, you get a good approximation of your maximum aerobic power or power at VO2max.

As we went through the basics of the study, let’s look at the compound score now. 

The Compound Score as a Benchmark in U23 Road Cyclists

The compound score provides an easy-to-use performance tool for coaches. Just a reliable power meter, a scale, and simple math are necessary to calculate it. The compound score results from your absolute power multiplied by your relative power for a given effort. 

But let’s look at the mean 5-minute best power efforts from the U23 riders first: 

  1. Lab Test PP: 458 Watts
  2. 5-minute field test: 449 Watts
  3. 5-minute best power ever: 454 Watts
  4. 5-minute best power after 2000 kJ: 431 Watts

Now that we have the 5-minute peak power for each effort we just need to divide it by body weight to get the relative power and then multiply it by absolute power. So for the mean 2000 kJ power, you get a mean compound score of 2667. 

Researchers then went a step further and calculated a race score. The race score resulted from the athlete’s best performance on a one-day race proportional to the race category (i.e. 1.1, 1.2, or 1.2U). 

The compound scores, peak performances, and race scores all provide a base for further analysis. Further analysis led to certain performance thresholds that you have to meet to increase your odds of a podium spot.  As a result, Leo and colleagues calculated positive, negative, and average predictivity for the performance variables for the likelihood of a podium performance in a UCI one-day race during the season. 

Let’s clarify these terms one by one. Positive predictivity looks at all U23 riders who met a performance threshold and also earned a podium spot. On the other hand, negative predictivity looks at all U23 riders missing the performance threshold that also missed a podium spot. Now, average predictivity puts both variables in relation. The higher the average predictivity the higher the likelihood of a podium finish when a performance threshold is met.

The Performance Requirements to Land a Podium Finish

The results of the study indicate that you need a peak 5-minute power of more than 448 watts and a compound score of 2876 at 5min-2000 kJ power to have a better chance for a podium finish. 2876 equals 446 Watts at a mean body weight of 69 kg. With an average predictivity of 78% out of a possible 100%, the comp score of the 5min-2000kj power achieved the highest likelihood across all power variables.

Let’s recap what this all means for your training and performance as a U23 cyclist. On the one hand, 5-minute power is a great performance marker, so working on your VO2max is necessary. On the other hand, 2000 kJ is a crucial fatigue threshold. Hence, the higher your 5-minute power after 2000 kJ the bigger your odds of a successful UCI race. Fatigue resistance or durability gained a lot of attention in professional cycling. Studies have shown that elite male riders have better fatigue resistance than U234 cyclists. Therefore, it is logical that if you pursue a career as a pro cyclist, you have to work on your fatigue resistance. Put simply, your fatigued 5-minute power should be close to your fresh 5-minute power.

A Word on Limitations

There’s a saying that states “No effect without side-effect.” I think this quote fits well for this study. On the one hand, we must remember that the predictions are made for different race terrains altogether.

Different terrains can result in different predictors of performance. The issue is, however, that you would need a large size of specialized cyclists and take aerodynamics into account. Also, you should be careful if you’re not a U23 cyclist and try to transfer the results to your category. Additionally, while the compound score is a better predictor than absolute and relative power alone, include traditional metrics like absolute power on mixed terrain to maximize prediction.

I think with that in mind, you are well-prepared to increase your odds of earning a podium spot in UCI races.

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Footnotes

  1. What Does It Take to Become a Professional Cyclist? A Laboratory-Based Longitudinal Analysis in Competitive Young Riders ↩︎
  2. Predictors of cycling performance success: Traditional approaches and a novel method to assess performance capacity in U23 road cyclists ↩︎
  3. Maintaining Power Output with Accumulating Levels of Work Done Is a Key Determinant for Success in Professional Cycling ↩︎
  4. Power Profiling, Workload Characteristics, and Race Performance of U23 and Professional Cyclists During the Multistage Race Tour of the Alps ↩︎

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