As Elevate- KHS Pro Cycling comes off of a great couple of weeks at the Tour of Utah and the Colorado Classic, we wanted to take a few minutes and review the winning performance of Cory Williams at the 2017 SoCal season finale, the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix (MBGP). Cory was able to take the win as well as secure the SoCal Cup victory all in the final 35 minutes of the race. Source Endurance has worked with Cory since October 2016 and this is an impressive win.
Many spectators and colleagues regard sprinters as one dimensional. Often times, the truth is far from that perception. The label of a specialist does not mean that an athlete is incapable; they are athletes and are great at what they do! An example is from the 2015 Tour of California Stage 6 where Peter Sagan finished 6th at 47 seconds on top of Mount Baldy, scorching the likes of Rob Britton (2017 Tour of Utah Winner) and Phil Gaimon (celebrated climber/ author). And equally impressive was the performance of Julian Alaphilippe, 4th in Sprint Classification and 12th on the final stage, besting decorated sprinters like John Murphy (Stage winner, 2017 Tour of Utah) and Danny van Poppel.
I always appreciate the ability of sprinters to come out of their shell and do something that no one expects or hasn’t considered possible from them. So how did Cory’s victory come to be?
The first half
First and foremost, Cory Williams needs to be able to understand some simple requirements and apply that knowledge as he correctly reads and reacts to the race situation.
When you’re racing alone or with a small “hitman” squad, in order to be effective, the squad must understand general strategies, and have a fluid gameplan for how to address the challenges of a race. Cory was able to check both of these boxes to perfection. But what were some things he was paying attention to?
First, Cory rarely looks at his head unit in races. Computers and power meters are primarily to gather valuable data for the coach and, ultimately, a rider can either make the needed effort or not and we don’t need a power meter to measure that outcome. When he does glance down, it’s for simple things like racetime, time checks (small gaps) and maybe his heart rate. On the rare occasion he glances at the power number, it’s mostly to make sure he’s not overdoing it. This brings me to the next point. Cory is probably one of the best at feeling the race. I’m going to quantify some things here and discuss the implications but these are all things that a professional or elite racer should know.
Some general stats:
- Normalized Power: 284 nW
- Avg speed: 27.9 mph
- Time >30 mph 11:50
- Time >34 mph; 5:45.
Cory’s low average power of 284 nW is indicative of him “floating” in the peloton. When engaged, this number will nearly always be north of 300 nW and given the history of MBGP, the crowd is usually treated to a fast and furious field sprint. As I write this I also realize that 2 of the last 3 years have been won out of small break away groups.
But what can we infer from the speed data? For starters, the average speed of 27.9 mph greatly suppresses the odds of any escapees. Of the first 42 minutes of the race, 10:30 was spent above 30 mph and 5:40 was spent above 34 mph. MBGP was not on the Professional Racing Tour (PRT) in 2017 and therefore many national level riders were not in attendance this year. Because ~25% of the first half of the race was so fast, there was no single rider capable of escaping. Even with the peloton missing most of the top level riders capable of sustaining the speed necessary to achieve a lasting escape, a break was still a distinct possibility. However, it was going to take a group of riders and a little help from their teammates. Cory recognized this and acted accordingly by not committing too early to any of the moves even if they had the right mix of capable riders.
That’s not to say the peloton didn’t and shouldn’t try to create and establish a break-away. Indeed they did and Cory was forced to cover a major move early (circled above).
The peloton begins to fatigue.
All endurance sports have a common theme: be more fit and fatigue slower than your opponent. This race was no different. Beginning at the 45 minute mark, gaps started opening a little quicker, and were being closed a little slower as riders started looking around a little more for someone else to cover a split. All those are telltale signs of fatigue. Given that the average speed was so high, it means that bridging even a small, 4-6 second gap, at >30 mph is extremely taxing. Also, it means that a 20 second gap is virtually uncrossable. This is where Cory begins to engage, as you can see by the closer grouping of high power outputs beginning around the 45 minute mark (circled).
Cory engaging late in the race has some important implications. First, it effectively shortens the race for him. By not participating until the business end, Cory sacrificed his ability to tag many early moves but was significantly more fresh in the second half. Second, it enabled him to watch who the primary protagonists of the race were to that point. And finally, with the early hedging working, it gave Cory more confidence.
Second half general stats:
- Average power: 320 nW
- Average speed: 27.7 mph
- Time >30 mph: 11:45
- Time >34 mph: 4:10.
In the second half of the race, we immediately notice a loss of average speed but an exchange of a little over a minute of >34 mph for >30 mph. That meant the speed was still fast, but the blistering speeds were not as frequent or prolonged. Also, we should point out that as the peloton was succumbing to its own vicious opening half, a break-away had vanished up the road by about 16-18 seconds. Owing to what I said earlier, “20 seconds is uncrossable,” I’m going to qualify it by stating that only the best riders can make that bridge and only the gutsiest riders will try.
As a coach and athlete (*ish*) I’ve always been fascinated with the maximal efforts of cycling. The type of efforts that, if they work are dubbed “brilliant” and, if they fail arelabeled “foolish.” Cory’s bridge effort was no different. To help understand it, here’s a training zone Heat Map of the 1:23 bridge effort. It works the same as a weather radar map but any color more dark than yellow draws from supra aerobic energy systems.
In short, this was hard. Epically hard. But what made the difference? How was Cory able to snap the elastic from the front of the peloton? The answer… on the downhill.
You’ll see on the highlighted section the grey being elevation. Cory was able to keep the throttle wide open at over 440W even after he crested the rise. That’s what made the difference and that’s when he was free to reach across the gap. In the next 1:22, Cory crossed an 18 second gap and placed himself in the winning move.
Riding the Break Away
After the bridge… now comes the hard part. Cory has bridged to a small group of the toughest bike riders in the race who are/ were motivated and cooperating to make the move work. How will this be affected by the arrival of Cory and what can he do to help the move succeed and help himself?
If Cory sits on the move, the passenger of such sprinting prowess will likely be the end of the successful move. If the move does not work, all of Cory’s efforts will be wasted. So, Cory needs to ride. The final 37 minutes saw the highest race output for Cory in all of the 2017 season at 5.0 w/kg, which is brutally high for a flat, hot dog-shaped criterium.
At some point in any successful race, the athlete must simply put their head down, grit his/ her teeth and decide to make an amazing play. Cory Williams already did this once, but one exceptional effort only put him in a position to win. Now comes the hardest part of the day. Cory needs to grit his teeth one last time and win the race. This is the last lap of the MBGP and there’s no way to make this seem glamorous. This was a very hard lap consisting two big jumps and some fantastic riding in between. Cory was able to come out ahead on this one and it saw him win the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix.
With his win, Cory became the first athlete to win from every male category. Below are the jerseys: Category 4, 2, 3, and Pro1. Congratulations to you Cory and well raced!
Thanks for reading.
Action shots courtesy of DMunson Photography.
About Adam Mills, MSEd, RCEP: Adam is currently the Performance Director of the Elevate- KHS Pro Cycling Team. He has raced at the elite level since 2002 and graduated with a Masters in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kansas in 2005. His true talent comes with his ability to combine his vast experience with his knowledge of sport. He is indeed a student of science, sport, athletic performance, strategy, and tactics. He continuously educates himself by keeping up to date with current trends and methods in sport and his clients have reaped the benefits from this work with over 13 national championships in 8 disciplines on two continents. Adam is able to incorporate these attributes on a daily basis to help his clients reach and exceed their goals whether they are a beginner or a seasoned professional. Learn more about Adam and Source Endurance here.