With heavy rain, cold temperatures, and white gravel roads that had turned to quagmires, the 2018 edition of Strade Bianche will surely stand out as one of the toughest races of the year.
But if you want the difficulty of a race to be judged by cold hard numbers rather than the muddy faces of shivering riders, then Wout van Aert’s Strava activity of his third place finish shows just how hard he had to work for his third place finish.
More used the racing over one hour rather than five, the cyclocross world champion put in a stunning performance in just his second road race of the year, finishing in third place after attacking with 42.5km to go alongside Frenchman Romain Bardet.
For the duration of that effort Van Aert averaged 351 watts at a heart rate of 171bpm, but with numerous peaks and troughs in his power output on the winding, undulating roads meaning that his normalised power would have been much higher.
Unsurprisingly, the Verandas Willems-Crelan rider hit his peak heart rate of 196bpm on the final climb up into Siena, putting in a huge effort as he tried to stay on Bardet’s wheel. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for the Belgian, as cramp got the better of him on the steep gradient, meaning that he fell over and had to put in a tired cyclocross-style remount at the top of the climb.
Watch: Strade Bianche highlights 2018
After seeing this on TV, it might come as a surprise to some that Van Aert’s biggest period of work – albeit completed while he was not fatigued – was during the first 45 minutes of the race as the pace was high and the early break fought to establish itself.
For the three quarters of an hour from the flag drop, Van Aert had an average power of 369 watts and an average heart rate of 179bpm, with there being less deviation from these numbers than in the final period of the race.
But it’s looking at the race as a whole where the scale of Van Aert’s ride, and the rides of every other rider in the race, is really shown.
Over the course of a race of more than five hours, Van Aert had a weighted average power of 363 watts, the sort of power that most amateurs could only dream of holding for five minutes, let alone five hours. And all that was completed in terrible conditions with an average temperature of just 4ºC.
To Wout, and every other rider at Strade Bianche: kudos.