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PRO INSIGHTS: Conor Dunne’s TdY power data, analysed

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Aqua Blue Sport’s Carrick-on-Suir giant Conor Dunne is well known as The World’s Tallest Cyclist, but in his first few months with the team has also developed something of a reputation as a breakaway specialist. In race after race Conor has featured in the early action, joining forces with competitors to forge a lead on the peloton. His irrepressible urge to get ‘up the road’ has delivered some results too, with Dunne taking the Subaru King of the Mountain jersey in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, a top 10 finish in stage 2 of Dreidaagse De Panne and most recently, the combativity jersey on stage 1 of the Tour de Yorkshire.

Conor Dunne powering up the road. Picture: Getty Images via Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

In (almost) every race he enters, the sight of Dunne’s 6’8” frame powering up the road with the day’s escapees has almost become commonplace, but have you ever wondered what kind of effort it takes to build that kind of a gap on the 40-45kph peloton, and stay out there? We fell to wondering, so we asked Aqua Blue Sport Performance Director Stephen Barrett to tell us more.

 “These days, it’s actually pretty easy to see what it takes to be a pro rider,” Barrett said. “Riders and teams take a very data-driven approach to their training and racing, using power meters to record their power output and uploading their data files to specialised software packages for post-race analysis. Looking at riders’ power files – and most riders are more than happy to have this information public – and comparing it to the race profile, we can match the raw information with the race situation and paint a really detailed picture of what it took on the day. For example when a rider puts in a big effort – attacking from the front of the bunch, beasting up a climb or going full gas to the finish line – you can see it as a noticeable peak on his or her power file. So looking at Conor’s data from the first day of the TdY has a really interesting symmetry with what actually happened in the race.”

Conor Dunne (at the back) with seven fellow stage 1 escapees, including Perrig Quéméneur (Direct Energie) and Etienne Van Empel (Roompot). Picture: SWpix/Tour de Yorkshire

So let’s do that - first things first, we’ll look at Dunne’s overall power output for the race, as recorded by his SRM power meter and logged using TrainingPeaks, the software platform employed by Aqua Blue Sport riders and coaches to record and analyse data, and to plan training. We can see that his Normalized Power (NP) output for the day was 390w in total. On the graphic below, the power output is in pink, while the grey peaks represent the stage profile, with the climbs easily visible.

But what, exactly, is Normalised Power?

“When we want to analyse an athlete’s power files for a given period of time, the simplest metric is, of course, average power,” Barrett explains, “meaning we divide the output by the time to offer up an average. But in many ways this is too simple – average power, especially when expressed over a longer period of time, doesn’t take into account lots of other variables which may affect output, including the race profile and the efforts of switching intensities."

Normalized Power is calculated using an algorithm, and takes into account the variance between a steady workout and a fluctuating workout. The resulting value is an attempt to better quantify the physiological “cost” of the harder “feel” of the variable efforts.

Per TrainingPeaks, Normalised Power is “An estimate of the power that you could have maintained for the same physiological "cost" if your power had been perfectly constant, such as on an ergometer, instead of variable power output.”

Ok, now back to Conor Dunne.

“The average rider would do well to be able to hold 390w for five minutes,” he adds. “For Conor to be able to sustain that for over four and a half hours in this bike race shows you how much you have to have in the tank to compete at this level.”

As we break down the file into smaller chunks other interesting tidbits emerge. In this stage we saw a lot of teams wanting to get into the early break so there was a very fast pace out of Bridlington initially, and it wasn’t until around the 15km mark that Dunne managed to get into a group, with seven others, that created a gap and made it stick. This is highlighted in the image below showing that his 10min peak (the 10 minutes of the race during which he recorded his highest power output) came early doors, as the big man was among lots of riders striving to get off the front of the peloton.

“Conor’s peak 10mins of 461w came near the beginning of the race when he was establishing the breakaway,” Barrett agrees. It took a while for the peloton to let a group go, but with Direct Energie, the team of defending champion Thomas Voeckler, represented in the break by Perrig Quéméneur, the eight (Dunne included) eventually cut the cord. In the graph, we can see Dunne’s power output still high up until after the three-hour mark, but steady as the group paced themselves – bar the classified climbs, on which the break needed to keep going full gas as the bunch hadn’t let the gap grow beyond three minutes. His peak 5 mins at 539w, for example, came on the ascent of the Côte de Garrowby Hill (1.6km @ 8.9%) at 55km.

However we can see that towards the latter stages of the race, as riders went on the attack, Dunne’s power shot up. Luckily experience had taught him to keep some fuel in the tank, so when the race began to break up, he was ready.

Looking at the race profile we can see that when Etienne Van Empel (Roompot) attacked on the Goathland climb with 53km to go in an effort to secure the KOM jersey, it was a new phase of racing for Dunne after the (relative) calm of the previous 70-80km. When Quéméneur put on the gas to follow Van Empel our man was on his wheel, with the two eventually dropping the Roompot rider on the final climb at Robin Hood’s Bay. Dunne too lost the wheel on the slope before putting in a mighty effort to claw back to the Direct Energie rider, the duo then turning on the afterburners in a valiant effort to stay clear to the line, before however being caught with around 8km left to race.

For the fans, Dunne’s early efforts in establishing the break, his spirited chase of Quéméneur down into Robin Hood’s Bay and the duo’s sporting handshake as the peloton bore down were standout moments of a great stage. Having refused to give up until the very last, The Lange was voted the day’s most aggressive rider by Tour de Yorkshire Twitter followers, and awarded the grey combativity jersey. For coach Barrett, the fact that Dunne had held matches in reserve for the closing stages of the race showed tactical nous, experience… and strength.

 A tired Lange makes his way to the podium after the efforts of the day. Picture: Aqua Blue Sport

“Conor’s peak 20min, 30min and 1hr power all came towards the end of the race which shows he has a good ability to pace himself during a break,” the Cork man said. “One of the biggest issues you see with riders is they go way too hard at the start of a breakaway because they are fresh and full of adrenaline.”

Witness, for example, the whittling down of an eight-man breakaway to just Quéméneur and The Lange. Experience tells its own story.

“One of the key things Conor has learned this year is maximising how he distributes his power over the course of the day. He’s obviously learned something from all his breakaway kms so far this season!”

Interested in training with power? Check out our Buyers Guide to Power Meters or see the full range of power meters available to buy via www.aquabluesport.com. For training and nutrition plans for the performance team behind Aqua Blue Sport, click here to learn more.

Note:

For those interested in more metrics, Conor burned 5,341KJs of energy during the race and recorded a Training Stress Score (TSS) of 361. History does not record how many bowls of porridge it took him to refuel, but we bet it was well into double figures…

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