Tour of California Race Experience: Pros vs. Joes, as seen through power files!

Editor’s Note: Carmichael Training Systems does not coach Radioshack-Nissan-Trek rider and US Pro Champion Matthew Busche, nor do we have any business or endorsement relationship with him. Mathew graciously provided us with some of his power files from the 2012 Amgen Tour of California so we could compare the workloads of a top-level pro and the riders in the CTS ATOC Race Experience.

It is relatively rare that we get a chance to compare multiple days of data from pro and amateur riders covering the same courses in roughly the same conditions, but with the CTS Amgen Tour of California Race Experience, we have that chance! We’re going to compare power data from CTS Premier Coach Jim Lehman (peak 20min power between 4.5-4.6 watts/kilogram or about 280-290 watts) and reigning US Pro Champion and Radioshack-Nissan-Trek pro Matthew Busche. Since we don’t have training history or much in the way of personal information about Matthew, we’ve made a few assumptions: we’ve used his weight as listed on the team website (68 kilograms) and historical data from CTS Pro-Tour level cyclists with roughly the same team roles that Matthew has (meaning we’re considering his peak 20 minute power to be roughly 6 W/kg or approximately 390-400 watts). Fortunately, even if our assumptions are a bit off, as you’ll see the differences between “pros” and “joes” in this case is so significant that a slight change in Matthew’s performance markers wouldn’t really change the meaning we can derive from the comparison.

In all the power files below, we’ve drawn in a horizontal dotted line across the screen that reference each athlete’s 20minute power. On long stage races, we should see pacing below this point for the majority of the day, but as you’ll see for Busche, when it’s time to open the throttle he has to produce whatever power is necessary to get the job done.

In all files, you’ll see a bunch of squiggly lines. Here’s a little help in what each means:

  • Yellow = Power (in Watts)
  • Red = Heart Rate (in beats per minute. Busche’s files only)
  • Green = pedal cadence (in revolutions per minute)
  • Orange = elevation (in feet)
  • Blue = Speed (in miles per hour)
  • Pink = Temperature (in Fahrenheit)

Stage One:

Busche’s Stats:
Duration: 4:52:18
Average Power: 214W
Normalized Power: 279W
Energy: 3,754kJ
Approx. TSS:
Elevation Gain: 5,827ft
Distance: 117.1mi
Avg Speed: 24.0mph
Avg Cadence: 89rpms
Lehman’s Stat’s:
Duration: 6:24:12
Average Power: 160W
Normalized Power: 214W
Energy: 3,681 kJ
Approx. TSS: 362.7
Elevation Gain: 5813ft
Distance: 117mi
Avg Speed: 16.6mph
Avg Cadence: 74rpms
Matthew Busche’s Stage 1 SRM Power File: Jim Lehman’s Stage 1 SRM Power File:

Big things that stand out between the files today:

Overall speed: The pro peloton completed the 117-mile stage about 90 minutes faster than Team CTS, and this is the only day when we can get a picture of their performances without the impact of fatigue. Both Team CTS and the pro peloton rode Stage 1 with fresh legs. It’s no surprise that more than 100 pros racing for the first yellow jersey of the ATOC went a lot faster than 20 amateurs, especially on a day with 6,000 feet of climbing.

Energy Output: When you look at the kilojoules of work completed during the day, however, the difference is less than 100 kilojoules. Jim and Matthew did almost the same amount of absolute work to cover the distance, but how they did the work was very different. The yellow lines on the two power files tell the story. In Jim’s file, you’ll notice several surges above his peak 20minute power in the first three hours of the stage, but then he maintained a lower and steadier power output on the big climbs near the end of the stage. In contrast, Matthew Busche was able to conserve some energy during the first portion of the stage but had to punch in for some serious work over the two climbs near the end of the stage. Both riders did about 3700 kilojoules of work, but with a combination of a bigger peloton and some aggressive racing at the end of the stage, Matthew Busche did that work in 90 fewer minutes than Jim.

Stage Two:

Stage 2 of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California featured significant climbing but not climbs that separated the climbers from the sprinters, and Peter Sagan took his second consecutive stage win with a blistering sprint. Today we looked at the power files for Matthew Busche and Jim Lehman using the Quadrant Analysis tool in TrainingPeaks. The red and blue points represent data from the climbs and all the points are plotted based on force (Y axis) and foot speed (X axis). Think of it as power vs. cadence. The four quadrants break down like this:

  • Quadrant I – High Cadence, High Power
  • Quadrant II – Low Cadence, High Power
  • Quadrant III – Low Cadence, Low Power
  • Quadrant IV – High Cadence, Low Power

When you look at the two images, you’re seeing the difference between a race (Busche) and a controlled ride (Lehman). Matthew’s file features more points at very high power outputs (natural for a race with accelerations) and general trend of a more vertical distribution (typical of an on/off type of ride, either you’re on the gas or softpedaling).You can also see that Matthew’s performances on the two climbs (red and blue points) are very similar. In contrast, Jim’s file shows more diagonal distribution of points, hugging the curved lines – which are the athletes’ peak 20-minute power outputs in this case. What that means is that Jim maintained a steadier effort level even as he changed his cadence, sticking close the power output he knew he could sustain for prolonged periods. A more diagonal distribution like this is indicative of a more tempo-paced ride, and you can see that Jim maintained a lower cadence than Matthew overall for the stage (somewhat a result of the difference in speeds), and that Jim’s cadence changed more significantly between the two climbs than Matthew’s did.

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Busche’s Stats:
Duration: 5:06:25
Average Power: 205W
Normalized Power: 273W
Energy: 3765kJ
Elevation Gain: 8,133ft
Distance: 116.2mi
Avg Speed: 22.7mph
Avg Cadence: 89rpms
Lehman’s Stats:
Duration: 5:55:05
Average Power: 166W
Normalized Power: 210W
Energy: 3,534kJ
Elevation Gain: 8,133ft
Distance: 116.2mi
Avg Speed: 17.1mph
Avg Cadence: 77rpms


Matthew Busche’s Stage 2 SRM Power File: Jim Lehman’s Stage 2 SRM Power File:

Stage Three:

As more riders get power meters and more pros let the public view their data, we hear from a lot of athletes who think they can become pros because their output on a given climb rivals the output in a pro’s power file on the same climb. And on a single day, in a fully rested condition, there are a lot of amateurs who can rival the performance markers set by pros. Just look at Strava leaderboards for multiple examples. But as we see in the power files from Stage 3, it’s the consistency of a pro’s performances day after day that separates the Pros and Joes.

Busche’s Stats:
Duration: 4:56:02
Average Power: 205W
Normalized Power: 273W
Energy: 3,409kJ
Elevation Gain: 6,637ft
Distance: 116.1mi
Avg Speed: 23.5mph
Avg Cadence: 88rpms
Lehman’s Stats:
Duration: 6:43:26
Average Power: 155W
Normalized Power: 201W
Energy: 3,741kJ
Elevation Gain: 6,637ft
Distance: 116.1mi
Avg Speed: 17.4mph
Avg Cadence: 79rpms


Matthew Busche’s Stage 3 SRM Power File: Jim Lehman’s Stage 3 SRM Power File:

When you look at the stats columns, the differences between Matthew’s data and Jim’s are pretty consistent from previous days. But when you look at the power to weight ratios and elapsed times for the stage’s three big climbs, you start to get a picture of the demands of the race and the first signs of fatigue for the Race Experience team.

  • Matthew Busche did these climbs at (assuming 68 kilograms):
  • 5.36w/kg for 11min
  • 4.27w/kg for 21min
  • 4.7w/kg for 24min
  • Lehman did these climbs with the Race Experience team at:
  • 3.5w/kg for 17min
  • 3.77w/kg for 28min
  • 3.3w/kg for 38min

Matthew’s hard effort on the first climb was due to the fact that the racing was full-throttle at the beginning of the stage as riders were trying to establish the day’s long breakaway. In contrast, the Race Experience was under no pressure to ride anything more than a steady tempo. At the other end of the stage, the final climb reveals a different scenario. Over the first two climbs, the gaps between the pro peloton and the Race Experience team were pretty consistent (6 minutes on climb one, 7 minutes on climb two). On the third climb of the day that gap ballooned to 14 minutes! The peloton was racing aggressively while the Race Experience just had to ride steady, but three stages into an 8-stage race we’re starting to see the two groups diverge. Up until now the amateurs have been slower and steadier than the pros, which is to be expected, but the differences between the two groups have been consistent. From the end of Stage 3, however, we’ll start to see the pros continue with only a small decline in their performance numbers, while the amateurs will begin to struggle more significantly. This is what happened last year as well, and it’s why the Amgen Tour of California Race Experience is such a monumental challenge. It’s not the first three days that are the real test, it’s the final three!

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Comments 8

  1. Pingback: Chris Carmichael Blog: Weekend Reading with Pros vs. Joes power analysis from the Tour of California - CTS

  2. Is it really apples-to-apples? Jim Lehman told me that he sandbagged quite a bit to let Carmichael sit on his wheel. If unleashed, Lehman thought he could maintain 4.5w/kg for significant periods of time.

  3. Very interesting and educational! I’m 82 years of age and feel that with my 150-160w FTP, I still have some hope!
    Keep pedaling hard!

  4. I am a novice with no power meter. What I found helpful from the pro data is heart rate and cadence from the professional rider. 125 BPM. 90 RPM. Using those as ride target averages may serve well for where I am.

  5. @ rob reddington Great Q. Since no one has responded I’ll take a shot at it. W/kg can be increased two ways, either by increasing functional threshold power (FTP) at lactate threshold (LT) or by decreasing body mass. Sub, at and above LT intervals as part of a thorough power meter training program will improve FTP, in fact, I’m a rank amateurish novice and in 8 months of training have increased FTP by >15%. A new book you might’ve already read, but, if not would be worth your time: “Cutting Edge Cycling” by Allen & Cheung.

  6. Great information! Never really had a clear idea of what it took to do this on an amature level. After riding W/ Jim in Santa Ynez a few years ago…he is not what I would call an amature though. Great job, thanks for sharing Matthew!

  7. This is quite interesting and motivating. I am preparing for the USA Pro Challenge Race Experience in August and this gives me some inspiring and daunting numbers to work with in my preparation. Question: how will riding at altitude change the equation and how much time at altitude and when would improve performance?

  8. Outstanding article and research. I’ve been looking for data like this for years. Really outstanding. Overall the bottom line seems the power to weight ratio for Matthew is the difference. Barring the natural talent he has vs. the CTS rider, how does a rider, any rider increase their power to weight ratio? Is it as simple as, if I want huge biceps I will do countless arm curls increasing the weight periodically? Please reply if you can. I would really like to solve this decade old problem of mine. Sincerely, rob reddington

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