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Original Issue

Power Play

What cyclists teach us about energy efficiency

A ROAD BIKE race is about one thing: energy. Pro and elite-amateur riders obsess about their power output, which is recorded by sensors on their bikes, but total energy—power multiplied by time—is what really counts. Whoever can expend the most energy over the duration of the race or stage will finish first.

Take stage 3 of the 2016 Tour of California on May 17. The route opened with a 96.7-mile ride up the coast from Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara, interspersed with a couple of short climbs, and ended with a 7.4-mile rise up an average 8% gradient. The long prologue required endurance, while the steep final climb called for raw strength. The rider who had best conserved his energy would be positioned to barge up that final climb.

"It all comes down to the power-to-weight ratio," says former pro cyclist Jens Voigt of ending inclines. "It's just survival of the fittest."

For a competitive racer, holding on to that power depends on support from the rider's team. "Whatever needs to be done, you'll do," says Cannondale rider Andrew Talansky, who tried to set up teammate Lawson Craddock at the TOC. For example, a rider might be called on to take the lead, allowing teammates to hide in the slipstream behind him, or to ferry bottles and energy bars from the cars at the back of the peloton, allowing the featured rider to conserve energy.

But races don't always go according to plan. Cannondale's Patrick Bevin crashed midway through stage 3, and teammate Ben King was taken out by a jammed chain, stunting the team's energy conservation plan and opening the door for the competition. ETIXX--Quick-Step rider Julian Alaphilippe climbed the final hill faster, snatching the yellow jersey. That wasn't the last of Alaphilippe's energy: He remained in the lead for the final five days of the race.


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Spin Cycle

"I travel a lot, but I can always find a Soul Cycle in any city I travel to. It provides you with such a good sweat, but even more, it gives you solid group camaraderie and you leave pumped up and excited about the day. I often go with a friend, and we make a class and a coffee our hangout."

Kate Bock

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Pep Talk

Creating, conserving and expending energy are keys to success on the road. Here are a few tips from Team Cannondale that might serve you well on the bike and off.

No carbs

Carbo loading is not a thing. Prerace, riders eat gluten-free, low-dairy meals. Even chocolate cake has almond meal instead of flour.

Eat real food

Energy bars might pack a punch, but they can become unsatisfying. Mix in homemade treats such as mini--pecan pies, rice cakes and bananas.

Take a load off

Ride the lightest bike you can afford. At the bottom of big hills pro riders dump extra bottles and spare food; 16 ounces of water weighs about a pound.

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