In cycling (and any other endurance sport) there are three primary types of fuel that athletes rely upon to get to the finish line. However, not every athlete excels at using all three. In fact, because of each rider’s own natural abilities, there tend to be three different types of professionals - there are the Sprinters, the All-Arounders, and the Climbers (aka stage race riders).
We can think of the different energy sources as being like different types of fuel in a car, and the riders as having different types of car engines. There are riders who are like nitro-burning dragsters, unleaded cruisers and fuel-efficient diesel engines.
Riders who can win massive field sprints and out-duel other riders to the finish line at speeds approaching 50 mph are similar to nitrous-burning dragsters. Fast-twitch muscles, coupled with an engine that can supply quick-burning energy, make this cyclist a rare and exciting to watch breed. Look for these riders to excel on “flat and fast” stages.
Also sometimes referred to as roleurs and domestiques, All-Arounders can race for a long time at near-maximum effort. However, since they burn primarily unleaded fuel and have slightly bigger body types, they are not that efficient when the course tilts uphill. If an all-rounder isn’t careful, they can burn through all of their unleaded fuel too early, coming up empty well before the finish line. Even with the risk of burning out, you will see the roleurs attack early in a stage to try and form a breakaway and take their chances at possible glory. Most of the time, they will come up short as the overall contenders pick up the pace in the final hour of each day’s stage.
The all-rounders also make perfect domestiques. “Domestique” is a French word for “servant,” meaning these guys are literally at the beck and call of their team leaders. If the boss says “go to the front” to set the pace, you will see the domestiques working towards the front of the large group of racers (known as “the peloton” in cycling).
Because unleaded fuel engines are not as efficient these riders tend to not perform as well on the final finishing climbs, such as those into Crested Butte and Boulder during the USA Pro Challenge. But sometimes, due to tactics of luck, the unleaded guys do survive to the finish to take a valuable stage victory. You can never quite know what will happen at the end - that’s part of what makes pro cycling so exciting.
This category encompasses Climbers and Stage Racers; riders who fall in this bucket are usually referred to as General Classification (“GC”) riders because their team is counting on them to place high in the overall race classifications. Climbers will excel on the mountainous USA Pro Cycling Challenge route, and only those who can ride fast uphill will have a chance at being the overall champion at the end of the week.
Since the USA Pro Challenge is a multi-day stage race, successful GC riders will have to be very efficient at burning energy and recovering day to day. The most efficient cyclists are similar to diesel engines and can go farther per gallon than unleaded and nitrous-burning engines. Each rider more or less starts with the same amount of fuel on board, but due to their genetic characteristics and training history, burn different types of fuel at different rates.
In addition to efficient use of fuel, Climbers also have small and lightweight (slender) body types which means they have less to carry uphill. This type of rider almost always weighs between 2-2.3 lbs per inch of height. So for example, a 5’10” professional rider who can climb well will only weigh between 140-161 pounds. Every extra pound of body weight counts and finishing times reflect these differences. It’s estimated that every pound of excess body weight on a moderate grade has a cost of about 1.5 seconds per km on the bike. So 10 excess pounds on a 10-km climb theoretically costs two and a half minutes. Now, consider the fact that Independence Pass is nearly 25-km long, so just 3 extra pounds of body weight can cost a rider nearly 2 minutes of lost time. Now you see why Climbers must not only be efficient diesel engines, but come in the right “make and model” too.
Predicting the USA Pro Challenge
Now that you have an understanding of how the different rider types will play their strengths during the USA Pro Challenge, come check out TrainingPeaks’ pre-race predictions for each stage, as well as our daily race analyses based on power, heart rate, and GPS data from the pros. Can’t make odds or ends of power data? No problem – stay tuned tomorrow for our “Power Analysis 101” article breaking it all down!
View pre-race predictions, course profiles, and daily stage analyses at trainingpeaks.com/usapcc.