Big numbers: Mathieu van der Poel’s Strava file, with power

What does it take to win Flanders?

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Experience, experience, bike handling, power, and a bit more experience. Ever wondered what it takes to win Flanders?

They say you need experience to win Flanders. You also need power, bike handling skills, a bit more experience, some positioning skills, and lastly, even more experience. Tadej Pogačar came oh so close to wiping all that experience off the list of requirements. Mathieu van der Poel on the other hand has added a new requirement to the list: upload the ride to Strava. After all, “if it’s not on Strava, did it even happen?”

Hours after sprinting to his second victory in the Tour of Flanders, Van der Poel has shared his ride on Strava, power data and all. His 6.5-hour ride totals 280 km for a whopping average speed of 42.5 km/h, with a max of 84.9 km/h. Even more impressively than riding at 84.9 km/h in a peloton of riders all riding within inches of each other, that average speed includes the somewhat slower neutral section before the race’s official start. 

That’s a tough day in the saddle.

In great news for wattage fans globally, MVDP has even uploaded his power data. You might want to take a seat before reading this next section. Van der Poel averaged a stunning 285 watts for the 6.5 hours with a peak power of 1,406 W. That’s 1,406 watts in the final seconds of a six-hour-and-thirty-four-minute-long race. Most of us could barely say “1,406 watts” at the end of a 280 km ride, let alone hit such a figure. MVDP’s heart rate monitor also had a tough day at the office. With an average heart rate of 141 bpm and a max of 189 bpm, the Dutch superstar’s heart rate was the only thing faster than his speedo. 

Having burned a huge 6,778 calories, Van der Poel certainly earned an extra serving of poffertjes and stroopwafels tonight. Riders and coaches typically look at the “kJ Total Work” figure when assessing overall output and energy expenditure for a ride. Because humans are approximately only 25% efficient (every 1 kJ delivered to the pedals requires 4 kJ of energy) the kJ figure is widely regarded as the most accurate measure of energy expenditure we currently have. At 6,753 kJ this is further confirmation Van der Poel had a tough day in the saddle and will be one hungry rider tonight. 

KOMs and PRs

Now for the important stuff. Forget all those WorldTour points, contractual bonuses, and even the champagne. What we all want to know is which KOMs Van der Poel managed mid-race.

He took two today, in fact. As much as I’d give my broken left leg for a Tour of Flanders Strava file of my own with a KOM on the 1.3 km “Ledebann richting Lede” segment, it’s safe to say this KOM is not Van der Poel’s most impressive achievement.

That honour is reserved for the  Koppenberg – Steenbeekdries – Taaienberg (lang) crown he ripped from Wout van Aert’s achievements list by a full four seconds. Coming within the final 45 km of the race and spanning three climbs, including the Koppenberg climb where Pogacar decided to explode the race, the segment gives an indication of just how difficult this section of the race was. Van der Poel already had 5.5 hours on the clock when the race hit the Koppenberg yet was still able to unleash 436 W average for over 13 mintues to take the KOM on the segment. Those figures hide the 514 W average for more than three minutes and 850 W max VDP unleashed on the Koppenberg climb alone. Again, this is all after already racing for more than five and a half hours! 

The Kwaremont, chasing Pogačar.

Van der Poel’s ride is not without blemish, though. As stunning as his victory and KOM were, Jan Tratnik hadn’t read the script and robbed Mathieu of a KOM on the first Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg segment. Pogacar made his first attack on the Oude Kwaremont decimating the peloton. While both riders are perhaps lucky Pogačar had lost his head unit earlier in the race (later found), Van der Poel’s data gives another insight into just how hard it is to a) follow Pogačar and b) make the decisive splits in De Ronde.

Van der Poel covered the double ascent segment in just under nine minutes, with an average power of 451 watts and hitting 1,072 watts and 187 bpm in the process. On the Oude Kwaremont itself, Van der Poel averaged 500 watts for five minutes and quickly followed that up with 679 watts for a minute to crest the Paterberg. It is phenomenal stuff, doubly so given how fatigued the riders are hitting this section of the race. 

It’s the repeatability that is perhaps most impressive. Think back to that KOM on the Koppenberg to Taainenberg segment. That 13-minute, 436 W effort came immediately after that Kwaremont-Paterberg segment. These are the kind of efforts 99% of the population can never even dream of achieving once, yet the best 1% of the remaining 1% of the population can hit these efforts repeatedly 240 km deep into one of the hardest races of the year. 

Add to that the 500 watts for a minute on Steenbeekdries, 564 watts for 90 seconds on Taaienberg, 532 watts for over a minute on the Kruisberg, before a repeat of the fabled Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg double. Then there’s the mental stress, the tactical battle, and of course the final sprint to the line. These riders aren’t athletes; they are animals.

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