Last Saturday Greg Van Avermaet sprinted to victory in the Olympic road race in Rio de Janeiro. Because of the roles that teamwork and tactics play, it can be hard to grasp just what Van Avermaet accomplished. Fortunately for us, the Belgian racer posted his SRM data file from the Olympic road race on Strava. Now we can see what it took to win cycling gold in Rio.
The Olympic road race course featured two sections of circuits. The riders started in Fort Copacabana and raced just over 23 miles along the coast to a 15.4-mile loop around Grumari Natural Park. The men raced four times through Grumari’s short climbs, which according to Strava climbed 344 feet and hit gradients close to 13 percent.
Then, after a trip back along the 23-mile coastal route, the riders turned to a 16-mile circuit. This second circuit through Canoas and Vista Chinesa included a 5.5-mile climb. Van Avermaet’s Strava recorded a peak elevation of 1,444 feet and gradients from 8 percent to a leg-breaking 13 on the climb. The fast, technical descent was the scene of multiple crashes during the Olympic Games, and Van Avermaet’s Strava shows a section of dizzying 16 percent. A mostly flat 7.5 miles finished off the race.
Speed and Distance
Van Avermaet raced 143 miles on the Rio course in just over six hours. His moving time was 6:09:21 — a minute short of his official time — and he held an average speed of 23.3 miles per hour for the duration of the six-hour race (try holding that pace for 10 minutes). During the race, Van Avermaet hit a maximum speed of 67.1 miles per hour.
Until the Olympics, Van Avermaet was best known for his talent in the Belgian classics, which are held in the cold conditions of Northern Europe’s early spring. Summer in Rio di Janeiro is nothing like the spring rain of Belgium. The maximum temperature during the road race hit 100 degrees. On average, the temperature was 89.
Cadence measures the speed a rider turns the pedals, and it’s measured in revolutions per minute (rpm). It takes practice to turn over a fast cadence smoothly. Van Avermaet’s maximum cadence hit 173 rpm. There are also multiple points during the race when he was coasting in the field and his cadence dropped to zero. A smart rider will try to coast as much as possible to save his legs to cover attacks to sprint for victory. On average, Van Avermaet was turning the pedals at 85 rpm. During his race-winning sprint, Van Avermaet hit 110 rpm.
King of the Mountain
Though he won Olympic Gold, Van Avermaet did not win any Strava KOM’s on the course. Mike Woods, a rider from Canada, won the KOM on the circuit in Grumari, but was 55th at the finish. Sometimes the strongest rider wins in road racing. But more often, it’s the rider who measures out his efforts wisely and saves his peak efforts for key moments in the race. Van Avermaet did not upload his power numbers, so it’s difficult to see exactly where he put out his biggest efforts. The obvious exception is the final sprint, where Van Avermaet’s 110 rpm cadence points to an all-out burst to the finish line with a Gold medal in sight.