Alison Jackson Paris-Roubaix Femmes ©ASO Thomas Maheux

Behind the Victory: The Power File and Training Behind Alison Jackson’s Paris-Roubaix Femmes Win

When Alison Jackson decided to make the 2023 Paris-Roubaix Femmes her “A race” for the spring, I was all for it. The Olympian who rides for EF-Education-TIBCO-SVB is well suited to the “Hell of the North”. She has a big aerobic engine and great tactical savvy from 8 years racing as a professional, plus a ton of grit, and a tenaciously positive attitude. Yet, even with that, a lot of things need go right to reach the final 10 kilometers of Paris-Roubaix in contention to win. I’ve always believed superior fitness gives athletes more options to work with, and therefore more opportunities to shape the race and put themselves in a position to win. And taking control of the race and her own destiny was exactly what Alison Jackson did. Here’s an inside look (with Alison’s permission) at Alison’s training leading into the 2023 Paris-Roubaix Femmes.

Alison Jackson’s Paris-Roubaix Femmes Power File

The most interesting thing about Alison Jackson’s power file from Paris-Roubaix is how ordinary it appears. In fact, it’s a little boring. But the race… oh man, one of the best races I’ve seen in a long time! And this illustrates an important difference between training and racing: training is often about producing a lot of big efforts; racing is about avoiding them until it’s time to make a few winning moves.

In training, you try to create fatigue quickly and/or specifically to stimulate adaptations for the bike race. When you do so, you’re purposely inefficient with your time and effort. You’re going hard to get tired in a specific way. In bike racing, you’re trying to go as fast as possible while trying to be as efficient as possible. You’re playing a tactical match against other riders, guarding your limited anaerobic capacities, and waiting for the right moment to attack.

The goal of training is to make sure an athlete has sufficient fitness and power that they can focus on racing rather than surviving. This is an important distinction, at all levels of racing. Confidence in your preparation is the thing that flips the switch from riding-to-finish to racing-to-win. To help athletes cultivate that confidence, we break down the peak power outputs and durations that will be necessary for a specific event, then hit those metrics in training well before race day, rest up, and go race.

When you know you have the right tools, you can just focus on doing the job, which is the story of Alison’s power file.

Inside Alison Jackson’s Paris-Roubaix Power File

The summary graph for Alison’s Paris-Roubaix performance is extremely noisy, as you would expect from a race with varied terrain, lots of corners, and a highly competitive field. What stands out in the data here, though, was her ability to stay under her Functional Threshold Power. Even though she contributed major efforts at the front of the breakaway, her Peak 20 Minute Power for the race was only 81% of her FTP, and her Peak 60 Minute Power was only 76% of FTP.

Alison Jackson Peaks

Having the aerobic fitness to stay under threshold means Alison tapped into her glycolytic capacity less frequently and for shorter periods of time. Anaerobic capacity is limited, so you want to be frugal with efforts over FTP so you have more of your anaerobic capacity to access when it really matters. Notice the difference between Alison’s peak powers below and above FTP. Twenty and 60 minute peak powers are well below FTP. Even her 5 Minute Peak Power was only 95% of FTP, but her 1 Minute Peak Power was 135% of FTP and her final sprint was 193% of FTP.

Color Coding Alison’s Power File

Another way to illustrate the distribution of efforts during Paris-Roubaix Femmes is through color coding. The “cooler” colors (blue to green) indicate more aerobic the efforts. The “hotter” the colors (like yellow, orange, and red), the more anaerobic the efforts were. As you would normally see with long races, Alison spent a lot of time in aerobic zones. However, you can also see lots of short, hard red spikes. Classics with cobbles require lots of punchy efforts over and over and over. As the race progressed, she accumulated significant time and pedal strokes in that anaerobic zone. Specifically, these efforts are a combination of Functional Reserve Capacity (anaerobic capacity) and Functional Threshold Power (lactate threshold).

Alison Jackson power file color coded

Anaerobic Efforts

Anaerobic efforts are like draining a battery that can only be partially recharged, which is why it’s so important for athletes to be frugal about digging deep. In the graph below, big anaerobic efforts are signified by dramatic dips in the purple line. That relatively flat area from 30 minutes to 90 minutes into the race was a very aerobic period. Then the hard efforts really start, and you’ll notice the line dips less and less as the number of and frequency of hard efforts increase. Time spent at aerobic intensity recharges the anaerobic battery, but with frequent hard efforts and limited recovery, the battery cannot fully recharge.

The amount of energy Alison could produce above FTP was steadily diminishing in the final 90 minutes of the race. That’s normal. What makes the difference in a race is how well you can hold on to your anaerobic capacity compared to the riders around you. In particular, Alison had enough ‘charge’ left in her anaerobic battery to dig deep in the final kilometer. And there was more to the finale than just reaching an average power of 589 Watts for the final 10 seconds. It was a long sprint that required strength, especially after 3,000 kilojoules of work just to reach the velodrome. She held over 400 watts for 40 seconds BEFORE launching the final acceleration that netted the 589 Watt 10-second power output.

Alison Jackson FRC  

Zone Distribution

So, what does smart riding look like in terms of power zone distribution? Well, Alison spent 55% of the race in Recovery and Endurance zones, a little less than 30% of the race in the ‘middle’ zones of Tempo, Sweetspot and FTP, and those hard efforts above threshold constitutes only about 16% of the race. Of course, that doesn’t mean 55% of the race was spent just noodling along. In race situations, time in a recovery power zone typically comes from descents (not many of those in Paris-Roubaix) or from drafting and maintaining good tactical positioning within the peloton.

Alison Jackson zone distribution

The Training Story Behind Alison Jackson’s Paris-Roubaix Performance

The lack of drama in Alison’s race file from Paris-Roubaix belies the work she did to get ready for that performance. Yes, the power file is anticlimactic. It doesn’t have any massive, super-human numbers in it because the superhuman part happened in training.

Building to a Big Chronic Training Load (CTL)

In the Performance Manager Chart below, you can see that Alison rode pretty steadily through November and December of 2022, took a short break around the Holidays, and then ramped up training load in January and February. The goal was to retain a significant amount of her CTL from last season, to give her an elevated starting point for 2023. Then, it was to accumulate time in Zones 1-4 to increase CTL as high as possible by the beginning of March. And yes, although there was a lot of time in Zones 1 and 2, she did utilize Zones 3 and 4 during this buildup. This included some long sprint days to maintain and develop Functional Reserve Capacity early in season.

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Alison’s CTL reached around 160 in early March, and then we purposely brought it down to about 120. With great CTL comes great ATL (Acute Training Load, or fatigue). To access high performance, Alison needed to reduce the fatigue, but just because CTL comes down, that doesn’t mean fitness is lost. It’s still in the system, even when the color coding within the graph warns you’re ‘losing fitness.

Alison Jackson PMC  

Timing of Peak Power Outputs

By retaining a lot of fitness from the previous season and committing to a two-month block of consistent work early in the year, Alison Jackson accomplished something that’s rare for an athlete who is already 8 years into her professional career. She set new peak power numbers – as in ALL TIME peak power numbers – in February of 2023. Her 20-minute power in February 2023 reached 322 Watts, an all time high and up from 302 Watts for all of 2022. And there were new peaks in aerobic power from 60 minutes up to 4 hour durations as well.

Why set these peak power outputs in early March instead of closer to her A-race in mid-April? Because the Classics season starts in March, so it was important to incorporate rest and freshen up for racing. Getting peak power durations established before a targeted period of racing is key, as it means the athlete is equipped with all the power they need to play the game of racing.

Races are also a great training stimulus, so we absolutely used the early races in Alison’s Classics campaign to add race-specific training stress. As a case in point, Alison hit a peak 3.5-4hr power at the Tour of Flanders 6 days before Paris-Roubaix. That confirmed she was going well. She needed to freshen up after Flanders, but aerobically the stage was set!

Alison Jackson Power Duration  

The really important stuff

It’s easy to analyze power files and review training history, but the nuts-and-bolts of training are only one component of preparing to perform at your best. The really important stuff happens outside of workouts. Consistency and commitment were the only ways Alison could build her CTL to 160, and that meant staying healthy, focusing on sleep, consuming enough energy to support her training, and managing stress for a prolonged period of time. This was where her 8 years of experience as a professional cyclist paid off, and it’s often the difference between what experienced pros can accomplish compared to younger, more exuberant but less disciplined riders.

Alison is one of the most recognizable athletes in professional cycling, due in large part to her dance videos on TikTok and Instagram. But those videos offer an insight into her personality. She has a tremendous outlook on life and a tenacious positivity that shines through everything she does. That outlook keeps her spirits high through long and tough training blocks. And it’s not like she was training and racing in sunny, warm environments. She endured cold and wet weather, crashes that necessitated stitches, and some miserable racing conditions. She did it because she had the attitude and fortitude to reap the benefits of normalizing crappy conditions and pre-riding key portions of courses.

Key Takeaways for Your Training and Racing

Alison Jackson’s training information and race file from Paris-Roubaix should be more relatable to amateur athletes than similar data from Tadej Pogačar, Wout van Aert, or Mathieu van der Poel. The model for what Alison did is achievable! There are no extreme hero workouts or superhuman training blocks.

Alison’s performance at Paris-Roubaix was a metered effort that leveraged well-established parameters of her fitness. She used the same tools you have at your disposal to achieve an extraordinary outcome. Her performance on the day was determined, opportunistic, and aggressive. She pushed on even when it looked like the breakaway was going to get caught. And Alison did not shy away from working at the front of the breakaway within the final 10 kilometers, despite knowing she was using valuable energy.

These are all relatable circumstances for amateur racers. You may not have Alison’s engine, but you can match her consistency and execution, which is exactly the superpower you can access for your own success.

By Adam Pulford,
CTS Premier Coach

Adam Pulford is Alison Jackson’s coach. He has been a CTS Coach for more than 13 years, is the host of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist Podcast”, and a member of the CTS Coaches Advisory Board. 

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Comments 5

  1. Really interesting! Thanks for sharing Adam.

    I don’t race but am a bit of a data and workout junkie. This was really eye-opening. Particularly how she managed to win a huge race without putting out huge overall numbers.

    Congrats to you and Alison.

  2. One of the best articles I have seen yet! Not because of the fancy charts and profiles but due to the training concepts that anyone can use. As a former track cyclist, I often made the mistake of spending too much time at high thresholds instead of sitting in when I could and parsing out my energy at the right times.

  3. I was so happy for Alison Jackson’s win at Paris Roubaix Femmes! As if being part of a break that succeeded in holding off the star-studded chase group wasn’t enough, she wasn’t satisfied until she crossed that finish line first. Thank you for this thoughtful and informative insight into Alison’s performance and training! It is especially valuable to note that she conserved her efforts early in the race and managed to save some energy for the final sprint. Too many riders go too hard early in races without realizing the toll it takes on them later when they need the extra firepower.
    Probably due to Alison’s experience, it also appeared she timed her sprint perfectly. Knowing your own capacity in a sprint & having the ability to read the race are qualities a rider needs to develop for themselves. That requires sharp self-awareness and being in the moment when it counts.
    Congratulations to Alison on a truly Monumental performance! (No pun intended!)

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