With a convincing victory in the 2015 Tour of Flanders, Alexander Kristoff secured his position as one of cycling’s most promising Classics riders. The 99th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen followed a similar route to previous years with the addition of two short, steep hills: the Tiegemberg and Berendries. The final 90km were a carbon copy of 2014, including the famous Flandrian bergs which feature in many of the region’s races.
Only the most resilient riders can survive such a brutal parcours and victory. Powerful sprints at the end of long and arduous races have become something of a speciality for Kristoff: an impressive pedigree that gained him the status of pre-race favourite. Stein Orn, Kristoff’s stepfather, mentor, and coach has often spoken about his protege’s potent combination of endurance and speed, which he suggests has been evident since his early years and is clearly a capacity that he continues to develop.
Analysis of Strava files and rider reports reveals that the final kilometres of the Ronde may be viewed as a closely grouped collection of sprint efforts. Approaching the narrow hills, riders reach incredible speeds as they fight for position before surging up the steep gradients in efforts that echo a finishing sprint.
With a number of contenders sidelined by injury before the start, the 264.2km course, featuring 19 punishing bergs, was characterised by uncertainty even into the final kilometre. While Kristoff took the win, many players contributed to the race’s exciting narrative. The finale began in the closing 40km of the race. Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick-Step) made a move on the Taaienberg, a 600m climb with an average grade of seven per cent. On reaching the summit, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) launched an attack that would ultimately place him third.
Shortly after the finish, Van Avermaet’s team-mate, Marcus Burghardt, uploaded his ride to Strava. Burghardt finished 16th, a very respectable result given that the German is likely to have spent the race riding in support of Van Avermaet. Burghardt recorded an estimated average power of 365 watts over 6hr50min of racing. The combination of Strava data and the fact that the Flanders climbs feature in a number of races means that we can take the opportunity to compare Burghardt’s performance with those he delivered in earlier, perhaps less demanding events.
The cobbled climb of the Paterberg rises 48 meters over 0.3km at an average gradient of 12 per cent. The current Strava KOM holder is Dries Devenyns who made the ascent in 54 seconds, presumably with fresh legs, during an 86km ride on the February 19, 2014. Burghardt’s personal record on the Paterberg is 1min11sec, established on March 25, 2015 during the Dwars door Vlaanderen: a 177km, one-day race. In this instance, the Paterberg featured after 166km of racing and Burghardt produced a 490 watt average power on the climb. In comparison, during this year’s Ronde, Burghardt reached the Paterberg after 258km of racing. The accumulated kilometres took their toll as Burghardt reached the top in 1min27sec with an average power of 396 watts – 16 seconds slower and with 19 per cent less power than his Dwars door Vlaanderen performance.
While tactics and the movements of the peloton make direct comparison unreliable, the stark contrast between Burghardt’s times and power outputs highlight the exceptional demands of the Flanders route and the effect of cumulative fatigue. It also reinforces the importance of the endurance and power combination that is required to be a contender for the win in a Classic monument.
202 is a performance coach at HINTSA Performance, Geneva