Power Analysis: Men’s Virtual Tour de France

We take a look at the incredible power numbers put up by WorldTour racers in stage 1 of the Virtual Tour de France.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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It was the shortest mass-start stage in Tour de France history, and the first time that less than 100 riders sprinted off the start line with unchanging expressions. Few fans lined the side of the road – only a handful were present at the sprint, KOM, and finish banners, not unlike the 2016 World Championships, in Doha. There was no caravan — just a blob of avatars speeding along the virtual tarmac.

This is not the Tour de France – this is the Virtual Tour de France on Zwift.

Stage 1 consisted of four laps of Watopia’s Hilly Route Reverse course — for a total of 37.5 kilometers with 400 meters of climbing — with both sprint points and KOM points up for grabs each lap. The maillot jaune would go to the team with the most accumulated points between these competitions, rather than the sole general classification leader. In the end, a group of fewer than 30 riders came barreling towards the final sprint, and it was South African champion Ryan Gibbons (NTT Pro Cycling) who came out ahead of Pier-André Côté (Rally Cycling) and Freddy Ovett (Israel Start-Up Nation).

On the first climb of the day, Rafael Valls (Bahrain-McLaren) launched a solo move, but was caught quickly on the upper slopes of the Watopia KOM Reverse climb. Just before the banner, Philipp Walsleben (Bora-Hansgrohe) shot out of the field to secure the first KOM points of the Virtual Tour de France.

Walsleben (Bora-Hansgrohe) – lap 1 KOM
Time: 3:33
Average Power: 419w (6.3w/kg)
Peak 20s: 714w (10.8w/kg)
Max Power: 936w (14.2w/kg)

By the top of the KOM, half the field was gone – and in the virtual world of Zwift, there is no coming back. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) was a constant force at the front, rarely touching the wind, but always there or thereabouts. The Dutchman had a flying first lap, and with a quick look at the numbers, it is easy to see why over half of the field was already dropped.

MVDP Stage 1 Start to Lap 1 KOM
Mathieu van der Poel stage 1 start to lap 1 KOM. Graph: Zach Nehr

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) – start to lap 1 KOM
Time: 9:29
Average Power: 432w (5.8w/kg)

Also tucked in the field was 23-year-old Pier-André Coté, getting a unique opportunity to ride the Virtual Tour de France with the Pro Continental outfit, Rally Cycling. The second time up the KOM was hardly slower, and the Canadian stayed well in the front group as Walsleben (Bora-Hansgrohe) again took the KOM points.

Coté (Rally Cycling) – lap 2 KOM
Time: 3:39
Average Power: 431w (5.8w/kg)

On lap 3, Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) won the intermediate sprint, while Freddy Ovett (Israel Start-Up Nation) jumped Walsleben at the top of the KOM, and with one lap to go, it was all back together. Only thirty-some riders were left as Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (NTT Pro Cycling) put in a big early attack in search of the final intermediate sprint points. But with just a few hundred meters to go, 21-year-old Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal U23) bridged across and came around van Rensburg just on the line.

Sweeny (Lotto–Soudal U23) – lap 4 sprint
Time: 0:46
Average Power: 623w (8.4w/kg)
Max Power: 869w (12.7w/kg)

With the final KOM topping out just 1.8km before the finish, attacks began flying as soon as the peloton hit the steepest slopes. It took nearly 600 watts for the first minute for van der Poel to stay in contact, but the Dutchman hung on as the group splintered behind. Ryan Gibbons (NTT Pro Cycling) went even better, powering up the climb at the front of the group at an average of 6.3w/kg.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) – lap 4 KOM
Time: 3:29
Average Power: 454w (6.1w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 190bpm
Max Heart Rate: 195bpm

Gibbons (NTT Pro Cycling) – lap 4 KOM
Time: 3:29
Average Power: 445w (6.3w/kg)
Peak 60-second Power: 533w (7.4w/kg)

Only 27 riders remained by the time the peloton crested the final KOM, with the 1km to go banner already in sight. Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Ineos) was the first to lead out, but the former world champion was quickly overtaken by Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (CCC Team) and then Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT Pro Cycling) who was leading the charge for his South African teammate.

Timing is everything when it comes to sprinting on Zwift, and Gibbons nailed it. The NTT rider opened up his sprint with 300m to go, and with the help of the draft and an aero power-up, Gibbons flew to the front with a clear gap to Coté in second place, while Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott) just beat van der Poel on the line to take third.

Gibbons, stage 1 final kilometer.
Gibbons, stage 1 final kilometer. Graph: Zach Nehr

Gibbons (NTT Pro Cycling) – final kilometer
Time: 0:57
Average Power: 648w (9.1w/kg)
Peak 30-second Power: 874w (12.3w/kg)
Max Power: 1,095w (15.4w/kg)

Cote, stage 1 final kilometer
Coté, stage 1 final kilometer. Graph: Zach Nehr

Coté (Rally Cycling) – final kilometer
Time: 0:59
Average Power: 633w (8.4w/kg)
Max Power: 1,165w (15.5w/kg)

Schultz stage 1 final km
Schultz stage 1 final kilometer. Graph: Zach Nehr

Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott) – final kilometer
Time: 1:00
Average Power: 566w (5.8w/kg)

MVDP Stage 1 Final KOM
Mathieu van der Poel stage 1 final KOM. Graph: Zach Nehr

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) – final kilometer
Time: 0:59
Average Power: 642w (8.6w/kg)
Max Power: 1,100w (14.7w/kg)

In the end, it was a deserving win for Gibbons who brought the maillot jaune to NTT Pro Cycling for Stage 2 of the Virtual Tour de France, a brutal 29.5km on Watopia’s Mountain Route.

Gibbons (NTT Pro Cycling) – stage 1 full
Time: 45:17
Average Power: 387w (5.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 406w (5.7w/kg)

Mathieu Van Der Poel
Mathieu van der Poel stage 1. Graph: Zach Nehr

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) – stage 1 full
Time: 45:18
Average Power: 391w (5.2w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 178bpm
Max Heart Rate: 200bpm

Louis Meintjes (NTT Pro Cycling) started Stage 2 in the maillot jaune, holding it for his teammate and fellow countryman Ryan Gibbons. Just under 30km of racing would set the stage for fitting fireworks on the 9.5km-long Epic KOM, with the brutally-steep Radio Tower climb coming just a couple hundred meters after. From there it was a fast descent back towards downtown Watopia, with a reduced bunch sprint expected to crown the winner of stage 2 of the Virtual Tour de France.

Stage 2 began as any other Zwift race does: hard. The peloton was already strung out in the first 5km, and it was there that they hit the lower slopes of the Epic KOM. The long climb had several sections of flat and downhill, but the majority hovered around six to seven percent, and it was 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) who first came to the front at over 6w/kg.

The Welshman’s reign didn’t last long, and it was Mike Woods (EF Pro Cycling) – recently recovered from a broken femur in March’s Paris-Nice – who pushed the pace next before the road flattened out through the castle section.

Michael Woods stage 2 first half Epic KOM ascent. Graph: Zach Nehr

Woods (EF Pro Cycling) – stage 2 first half of the Epic KOM
Time: 9:10
Average Power: 364w (5.8w/kg)

The peloton was thinning by the minute as the leaders approached the Epic KOM banner, where Guillaume Martin (Cofidis, Solutions Crédits) and James Piccoli (Israel Start-Up Nation) sprinted for the mountain points.

Piccoli (Israel Start-Up Nation) – stage 2 going for the KOM points
Time: 1:35
Average Power: 478w (7.1w/kg)

After just a moment to catch their breath, riders turned onto the Radio Tower climb, a horrible 1km stretch with an average grade in excess of 11 percent. Woods put in a massive attack as the slope maxed out at 16 percent, and crested the climb alone with a few seconds gap to the riders behind.

Woods (EF Pro Cycling) – stage 2 the Radio Tower climb
Time: 3:26
Average Power: 447w (7.1w/kg)

The long and lumpy descent saw a number of riders claw their way back into contention, and with 5km to go the front group had swelled to 13 riders including Woods, Meintjes, Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), and Freddy Ovett (Israel Start-Up Nation).

In the final kick to the line, Ovett led with just a few hundred meters to go and Woods on his tail. But it was the Frenchman, Julian Bernard, who timed his effort to perfection, kicking at over 17w/kg and crossing the line just ahead of Ovett in a photo finish.

Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) – stage 2 final sprint
Peak 30s Power: 704w (11.5w/kg)
Peak 15s Power: 950w (15.6w/kg)

Ovett (Israel Start-Up Nation) – stage 2 final sprint
Peak 30s Power: 876w (13.3w/kg)
Peak 15s Power: 980w (14.8w/kg)

Stage 2 of the Virtual Tour de France turned out to be one of the most intense races we have ever seen on Zwift – just take a look at the Stage 2 totals from some of the top riders:

1st, Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) – stage 2 full
Time: 41:12
Average Power: 329w (5.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 362w (5.9w/kg)
Peak 5-minute Power: 374w (6.1w/kg)
Peak 20-minute Power: 418w (6.9w/kg)

3rd, Edet (Cofidis) – stage 2 full
Time: 41:12
Average Power: 358w (6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 386w (6.4w/kg)
Peak 5-minute Power: 441w (7.3w/kg)
Peak 20-minute Power: 382w (6.4w/kg)

Woods stage 2 full
Michael Woods stage 2 full. Graph: Zach Nehr

4th, Woods (EF Pro Cycling) – stage 2 full
Time: 41:12
Average Power: 350w (5.6w/kg)
Peak 5-minute Power: 434w (6.9w/kg)
Peak 20-minute Power: 383w (6.1w/kg)

Racing continues on Saturday, July 11th, with stage 3 on the new 48km R.G.V. route in France, and on Sunday, July 12th, with two laps of the Casse-Pattes — including the Petit KOM — for a total of 45.8km on stage 4.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.