Energy and cycling are inseparable. During a race like the Tour de Suisse, cyclists put enormous amounts of power on the pedals and they have to absorb huge amounts of energy themselves.
Participation in a race like the Tour de Suisse requires meticulous preparation involving specific developmental training. This is the only way to achieve top-class performances. But how can this be measured and compared? The key power value in cycling is the wattage. “That is a little like the horsepower in a car,” says David Loosli, the Sports Director of the Tour de Suisse, who previously participated in numerous Grand Tours as a professional cyclist himself. “Everybody knows how many watts he manages in top form.” While an amateur cyclist who trains for an average amount of time produces 3 to 4 watts per kilogramme of bodyweight during one hour, professional cyclists produce 5 to 6 watts per kilogramme.
Top riders guard their precise figures like state secrets. Just like a car that drives faster than another thanks to more horsepower, the formula can also be transferred to cycling: Anybody who exerts more power on the pedal has better chances of arriving first at the destination. A top sprinter may exert up to 1,900 W on the pedals but only for a few seconds. Calculated over an entire race, the average power generated by a professional cyclist amounts to between 250 and 300 W.
To allow comparative figures, professionals calculate their power values in relation to bodyweight, which is known as the weight-related or specific power. This is measured by sensors in the pedals over a specific duration. If, for example, a cyclist weighing 75 kilogrammes generates power of 300 watts over sixty minutes, the specific figure over this period is 300/75 = 4 watts/kilogramme.
The supply of energy is also crucial to providing the power needed. While there is a balanced nutritional plan during the development phase, calories must be consumed continuously during the race. “You never stop eating during a race,” confirms David Loosli. It’s not surprising, as the body needs between 8,000 and 10,000 calories in a major race.
A sophisticated nutritional plan determines when and how much the athlete must eat and drink. However, eating on a bike is no pleasure according to Loosli. “The physical strain is so great that you hardly feel hungry.” On top of this, cyclists mostly choke down nutrition in the form of not particularly tasty energy gels. David Loosli is now very happy that he no longer has to do this drudgery himself. Of course, he still cycles a lot but without bothering with wattages, energy gels and cold baths.