Question: Our local weekend ride attracts several racers and a couple of strong recreational riders. Last Sunday we did 60 miles in rolling terrain at an average speed of 19 mph. It was hard, and here’s the problem: 19 mph sounds so puny compared to the 25+ mph average for pro races of up to six hours. Are we really that bad? Or are pros that good? — Bill P.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Yeah, the pros are really good. Power numbers show just how superior those guys are.
For example, I did a solo 35 miles the other day on my bike with a PowerTap. I averaged 19 mph and 185 watts on a course with some short hills. Pros often report an average of 200-215 watts for their races. But remember, they ride in large packs where it takes just 100 watts to roll along at 25 mph.
Great, so we need only an extra 15-30 watts and we’ll be ready for the Tour, right?
Wrong! The difference is that when the crunch comes in pro races, wattage jumps dramatically. Two minutes at over 600 watts on hills, or 10-20 minutes over 400, is commonplace. This makes average wattage misleading. Power output when it counts is extremely high. I couldn’t hang. Neither could most riders.
The pros’ superiority is hard to visualize because their muscle size isn’t so different from many good recreational riders. But if you think of world-class athletes in other sports, the gap between recreational athletes (even accomplished ones) and the pros is easier to see.
For instance, how much does the 250-pound strong guy at your local gym bench press? 300 pounds? 400? In powerlifting meets, it’s not unusual for the winner to top 500 pounds — and that’s in the 165-pound class.
How about the best basketball player in your city league? Pretty good, until you put his moves and hops up against any NBA forward.
So we aren’t nearly as good as the pros. But so what? Our inability to come remotely close to doing that isn’t as important as having fun on rides, staying healthy and fit, and sticking with cycling all our lives.