ASK COACH FRED

Am I a ‘Fit Amateur Cyclist’?

Question: 

I was reading an article about a recent stage of the Tour and it said that the pros' average speed for much of the way was 20.5 mph, "about what a fit amateur cyclist could average, but far short of the speeds Tour racers are capable of."

Well, 20.5 mph may be slow for a Tour stage but I would be thrilled to achieve that on even a short ride. I consider myself a "fit amateur cyclist," but I go at a consistent 17-18 mph average on both short and long rides. Am I a poser, woefully undertrained, or just plain slow? -- Steve

Coach Fred Matheny Replies: 

It isn't a good idea to compare yourself to Tour riders on the basis of speed or power. Those guys are the best cyclists on Earth!

However, looked at one way, you're nearly as fast as the pros were that day. While you're averaging 17-18 mph by yourself or with a few buddies, the Tour was moving just 3-4 mph faster with a pack of 180 riders. It's far easier to average 20.5 mph if you're protected in a big bunch.

Here's something really interesting when it comes to numbers:  Power meter data shows that the winner of a pro race often has the lowest average wattage of all the riders. Why? Because he hides in the pack most of the race, protected by his teammates and good positioning. And he has the most time spent not pedaling for the same reason.

But that same rider wins because he produces the highest spike of power in the sprint or on the decisive climb.

So while we fit recreational riders can come close to the average wattage or speed of pros in races, our short-term power outputs are much less. When the crunch comes in a pro race, we'd get gapped instantly.

Coach Fred Matheny has decades of experience as a competitive racer and cycling coach. He is the author of 13 RBR eBooks and eArticles.

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