Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gazzetta dello Sport on Bola Del Mundo and Vuelta a España

After I'd reached Madonna del Ghisallo and visited the absolutely incredible church and museum, I saw some riders emerging from another building. Ah, that must be the bar and cafe, I realized, which was soon confirmed. What a difference between the US and Italy, that in any local snack bar you can get something as sublime as a delicious panini made with fresh bread, formaggio, lattuga, pomodori, and with Gazzetta dello Sport as a side:

lunch
Let's take a closer look at what Gazzetta highlighted in that article, on Mosquera's dramatic stage win at Bola Del Mundo in stage 19 of the Vuelta a España:

data!
Wow -- a VAM of 1800 meters/hour for the final 3 km of a brutal climb three weeks into a stage race. But the roundness of that number immediately rang suspicious...

Consider first the quoted stats: 12% average for 3 km. That's 360 meters. So how long does it take to climb 360 meters at a VAM of 1800? Simple: 1/5 of an hour = 12 minutes. But it says it took 12:53, not 12:00. That's some really sloppy rounding, partner! 12:53 corresponds to a VAM of 1677 m/hr, well shy of 1800, and much closer to the stated average for the full climb of 1460 m/hr.

But maybe the problem is with the 12%, not the VAM itself. So I checked Climb by Bike, a fantastic resource for these things. It says the final 3 km, the steepest of the climb, interpolated from the plot, average 11.4%. Then I checked the profile from the Vuelta (see CyclingNews) which shows the final 3.3 km average 11.5%. I'll take the Vuelta number. Then we have 345 meters gained in that 12:53, a VAM of "only" 1609 m/hr. So the 12% is also a problem (but consistent with listed precision), but the problem is it's too high, not too low. Gazzetta is even further off.

Now a VAM of 1609 is simply amazing. But it's a long, long way from the 1800 number the article quoted. There's been a lot of discussion (see, for example, Science by Sport, along with their earlier post on Contador) on how VAMs in the climbs in grand tours have dropped with the recently increased scrutiny against blood boosting. So the data at the Vuelta, despite what the Gazzetta nominally shows, are consistent with this claim, especially considering how VAM tends to increase on steeper roads due to the decreased influence of rolling and wind resistance.

Still, lets not fret too much over the details. Here's a daily paper which even tries to provide VAM, every savvy climbing fan's favorite statistic. Panini and Gazzetta is rivaled only by fresh espresso and Gazzetta. Life was good in Italy.

As an aside, the article notes that Vuelta champion Nibali had a 36/29 for this climb, further evidence that even on steep stuff, the best way to be fast is to keep the legs spinning, rather than "power through" with a big gear. Another salvo against the bias that 110 mm BCD "compact" cranks are only for "recreational" riders.

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