What a difference the little things can make. Or, in my case, the big things.
Like the massive amount of weight I manage to gain every winter. Last year I came within spitting distance of my first double century, cracking the scale at 199.5 pounds. I’m 50 now, and those extra pounds were much harder to lose this past year. The weight also caused me immeasurable mental and physical suffering, as I got dropped on almost every ride last summer.
Every cyclist knows that to be fast, you have to be light. We spend thousands of dollars shaving grams off our bikes, wheels and clothing. But what does weight actually mean for your speed? In other words, how much faster can you get with each pound you lose?
I figured that if anyone would know this, it’s our own local pro, Tejay van Garderen. His job is to ride a bike fast — really fast. He agreed to meet me for lunch and go over the numbers with me.
We met at the Market Street Grill in Willits, and the Nutella crepe was like a siren call for me. Tejay, on the other hand, had something with a lot of colors, including green. I immediately started to feel heavy. Nutella is gluten free, so I thought I could eat it with impunity, but I guess this is not correct.
The rule of thumb is that each pound you lose is the equivalent of 3 watts of power. That sounded great, but what I really wanted to know is what does 3 watts of power mean in terms of speed. In other words, if I get an extra 3 watts because I’ve lost a pound, how much faster can I climb?
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The numbers are more complicated than you’d think, and depend on a variety of factors, including wattage, length of the climb and gradient.
Fortunately, Tejay was able to dumb it down for me. If a rider can maintain 250w, on a 20-minute climb, with an average gradient of 7 percent, then each pound should equate to a net time gain of around 10 seconds. At an average of 300w, the gain drops to 7 seconds, and at 350w, it drops to 6 seconds.
As luck would have it, we have a local climb that almost exactly matches these parameters, and oddly enough, on Strava it’s named the “20 Minute Test.” It’s just north of Carbondale off Crystal River Road, on County Road 108. The climb is 4.47 miles long, with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet at an average gradient of 6 percent.
Whoever named this Strava section the “20 Minute Test” has a sick sense of humor; only four athletes have ever managed to break 20 minutes. When Tejay and I rode it this past fall, we were just over 27 minutes. I had an average power output of 300 watts. He weighs a good two stone less than I do, so using our math of 3 watts per pound, he must have been around 215 watts that day. At that power output, if I can lose 10 pounds, then I should improve my time by just over a minute.
Tejay has the record for this climb: 18:59! This was in August 2016, just after the Tour. He averaged 380 watts of power. So, for me to challenge his KOM, I need about 480 seconds. That means that I’ll have to lose about 160 pounds!
The rider sitting in fourth place, however, may have a legitimate chance of challenging Tejay’s record. Aspen’s John Gaston has posted a 19:54 on this section. He’s also the only rider to have averaged over 400 watts of power. At this power output, he can gain about 5 seconds per pound. I wouldn’t call John fat, but for him to get the 56 seconds he needs, he’ll have to shed about 11 pounds.
The Holy Grail, of course, is to gain power and lose weight. In my next column, I’ll have some training tips to help increase your power. But for now, Happy New Year, and skip the Nutella.
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a financial advisor in Aspen and can be reached at [email protected].