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After cracking Tadej Pogačar on Stage 11 of the Tour de France, Jonas Vingegaard carried the yellow jersey of GC leader into the Tour’s final week. Up next was a series of Pyrenean tests back-to-back-to-back. Stages 16, 17, and 18 were filled with category 1 and category 2 climbs, plus multiple hors categorie climbs including the infamous Hautacam.
Of course, Pogačar was going to try. The two-time Tour de France winner never goes down without a fight — most of the time, he comes out on top. Pogačar would try everything in the final week of the Tour including daring long-range attacks, harrowing descents, and even contesting the bunch sprints. Plus, he had Brandon McNulty by his side, and the American did the ride of his career on Stage 17 of the Tour de France.
Stage 17 featured four major mountain passes in just 129.7km, including an opening 50km that was completely flat. The climbs were the Col d’Aspin, Hourquette d’Ancizan, Col de Val Louron-Azet, and finally the Peyragudes. The peloton would finish atop the Peyragudes which contained a steep final ramp of 15% for 400 meters.
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When the peloton reached the Col d’Aspin with 76km to go, the break of the day still had not formed. That made the pace incredibly hot as even Pogačar tried to slip into a breakaway. While we often focus on the final climb as the crucial moment in a bike race, it’s easy to forget the amount of fatigue these riders are building up over the course of the stage. On top of that, this is the seventeenth day of the Tour.
With UAE Team Emirates losing riders left and right to COVID positives, illness, and injury, Pogačar began leaning on McNulty as his super domestique. The American rode in the wheels over the first two climbs of the day, trying to save as much energy as possible. Still, we can see how ridiculous the pace is at the Tour de France.
McNulty – Col d’Aspin and Hourquette d’Ancizan
Average Power: 340w (5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 373w (5.5w/kg)
Col d’Aspin: 380w (5.6w/kg) for 30:32
Hourquette d’Ancizan Part I: 404w (6w/kg) for 9:41
Hourquette d’Ancizan Part II: 390w (5.8w/kg) for 6:48
When comparing McNulty’s power data to others, we can estimate that his weight is around 68-69kg which is slightly lower than what is posted on his Strava account.
There were less than 30 riders left after the descent off the Hourquette d’Ancizan and only 10km of flat in the valley before the next Category 1 climb. With 8km left on the climb, McNulty came to the front and set the pace for Pogačar.
This was one of the most insane pulls that we have ever seen in the Tour de France, and the American dropped everyone but Pogačar and Vingegaard on the Col de Val Louron-Azet. While there has been some debate over the accuracy of power numbers from this ascent, we can directly compare McNulty’s numbers to Sepp Kuss who sat just a few wheels behind McNulty.
Kuss made it nearly halfway up the Col de Val Louron-Azet before getting dropped out of the draft. At nearly 25kph, the draft is significant on these gradients, and McNulty was probably adding 0.1-0.2w/kg by pulling in the wind.
McNulty – Col de Val Louron-Azet
Average Power: 428w (6.4w/kg)
Average Power for the first 10 min: 448w (6.6w/kg)
Kuss – Col de Val Louron-Azet
Average Power: 361w (5.9w/kg)
Average Power before getting dropped: 391w (6.4w/kg) for 10:17
Pogačar attacked over the crest of the climb, but once he realized there was no gap to Vingegaard, the Slovenian sat up and waited for McNulty. The American pulled all the way through the valley and led the way on the final climb up the Peyragudes.
McNulty made it look easy pulling through the valley with 15km to go, but he was still plugging along at 330-400w. The American averaged nearly 350w for 10 minutes heading into the Peyragudes, and I guess that was just an easy warm-up.
While many expected Pogačar to attack on the final climb, the Slovenian let McNulty lead all the way until 500m to go. Pogačar might even have been suffering on his teammate’s wheel, and he could hardly accelerate as the trio entered the steep final wall.
However, Pogačar must have been bluffing because when Vingegaard attacked him with 250m to go, Pogačar was immediately on his wheel. The white jersey came around Vingegaard in the final few hundred meters, taking an unexpected stage win after a monstrous performance from McNulty.
While we don’t have Vingegaard’s or Pogačar’s power data, we can compare their efforts to McNulty in the final 400m. The American never slowed down, still tapping out 400+w, but he still lost 32 seconds in just a few hundred meters.
McNulty – Peyragudes
Average Power: 400w (5.9w/kg)
Final 400m: 415w (6.2w/kg) for 1:37
Pogačar and Vingegaard – Peyragudes
Estimated Average Power: ~6.1w/kg
Final 400m: ~9w/kg for 1:05
The following day was Stage 18 of the Tour, and the final opportunity to take back time in the mountains with only two sprint stages and an individual time trial remaining. It was another short mountain stage with three major mountains packed into 144km. First up was the Col d’Aubisque, then the Col de Spandelles, and finally the infamous Hautacam.
Once again, the break of the day didn’t form ahead of the first climb. But on this day, the pace was a bit calmer, and soon a large breakaway went including Wout van Aert. His Jumbo-Visma teammates paced the peloton behind, setting a 5-5.5w/kg tempo that was neither too hard nor too easy.
After a chaotic descent down the Col d’Aubisque, the road went straight back up onto the Col de Spandelles. Pogačar attacked just 4km into the climb, taking only Vingegaard with him.
On Stage 18, it was time for a different American to shine, and this time it was Sepp Kuss who rode his way back up to the leading duo of Pogačar and Vingegaard. Kuss kept rolling to the front to set the pace for Vingegaard, but that didn’t stop Pogačar from attacking at least five times on the climb.
Pogačar finally got rid of Kuss over the crest of the climb, but the American kept on going and it wouldn’t be long before he rejoined the front group.
Kuss – Col de Spandelles
Average Power: 365w (6w/kg)
First 4.5km: 395w (6.5w/kg) for 13:18
Pogačar attacked Vingegaard on the Col de Spandelles descent, and it nearly worked. The yellow jersey clipped a pedal in a corner and nearly high-sided, which would have ended his Tour de France with just a few days to go. But Vingegaard made it back, and it wasn’t long before Pogačar would make his own mistake.
After going wide into a left-hand corner, Pogačar slid out as he tried to get back on the road. He didn’t seem too injured, but there was blood on his elbow and knee as he made his way back to Vingegaard. The yellow jersey waited for Pogačar, and both were joined by Kuss a few kilometers later. All that was left was the 13.5km Hautacam climb, and Pogačar’s last chance to drop Vingegaard before the Dane sealed up the Tour de France.
Kuss took the reins with over 8km to go, setting a furious pace that began putting Pogačar under pressure. With 5.5km to go, Wout van Aert was finally caught from the early break, and he immediately took over from Kuss in setting the pace.
Just 1km later, Pogačar fell off the wheel and it was just Van Aert and Vingegaard left up front. The Dane wasn’t just content with the victory as he wanted to pad his lead over Pogačar heading into the final ITT. Vingegaard did some of his best numbers of the Tour on Hautacam, winning 1 minute and 4 seconds ahead of Pogačar, with the green jersey of Wout van Aert finishing in third.
Using Kuss’ power data, we can estimate Vingegaard’s and Pogačar’s power data based on their climbing speeds. Kuss finished three minutes and 27 seconds behind Vingegaard, and all of that loss occurred in the final 5.5km.
The Coloradan still averaged 5.2/kg for 15 minutes during this segment, which is not bad by any means. It is amazing to think that Vingegaard went over three minutes faster while Kuss was pushing a watts-per-kilo number that most amateur cyclists would be happy to hold for five minutes.
Kuss – Hautacam
Average Power: 347w (5.7w/kg)
Pull until 5.5km to go: 375w (6.1w/kg) for 22:24
Final 5.5km: 319w (5.2w/kg) for 15:18
Vingegaard – Hautacam
Estimated Average Power: ~6.2w/kg
Estimated Average Power for the final 5.5km: ~6.6w/kg for 11:51
Pogačar – Hautacam
Estimated Average Power: ~6w/kg
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava
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