Are Rider's Truly Getting Faster? Unpacking Tao Geoghegan Hart's Claim That He Is One of the Fastest Riders in Ineos History
Breaking down power data and climbing speeds to see if Tao Geoghegan Hart is actually faster than peak Chris Froome
I’ve been working over a theory for the past few months that the young riders emerging during the 2020 season are faster than the “older” established stars from the last decade. If true, this theory would mean that a 35-year-old rider like Chris Froome would have to return from his life-threatening crash stronger than he was at the peak of his powers. This crackpot theory was given life and partly supported by Vincenzo Nibali at the 2020 Giro d’Italia. Nibali produced performances on par with those that saw him win two editions of the Italian grand tour in 2020, yet finished in a lowly seventh position.
However, the biggest break for this theory came earlier this week when Tao Geoghegan Hart revealed his power numbers from his ride up Piancavallo at Stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia in an interview. He also confirmed that it was one of the best performances in the history of Team Ineos/Sky. This backs up my theory that peak Chris Froome would just be able to hang with Tadej Pogacar, Primoz Roglic, Jai Hindley at his best and certainly wouldn’t be able to dominate on mountain-top finishes as he did early in his Tour de France reign. This reveal by Geoghegan Hart is a massive hurdle for Froome’s pursuit of a 5th Tour de France and means you can likely skip Velonews’ monthly “Can Chris Froome Win a Fifth Tour de France?” piece.
But, just to further investigate this, let’s take a look at some of the best climbing/power performances from riders in 2020 compared to Froome in his prime. To do this, we have to use both verifiable power numbers as well as estimates generated by the French website ChronoWatts. I know their estimates aren’t perfect, but they are pretty darn accurate and in the absence of real, verifiable numbers, I think we can still glean decent insights using their calculations.
Please keep in mind that this is truly an absurd exercise. It pulls both real and estimated power data, fails to account for differences like altitude, drafting, and the difficulty of the stage prior to the climbs. I fully realize this but still think that if we take enough data points, we can draw at least a decent picture of how climbing speeds have increased since the years of Froome dominance.
*I have put asterisks next to performances at altitudes above 5,000 feet, which will significantly lower power outputs.
Best Career Power Performances on Climbs
Best All-Time Power Performance: 2012 La Planche des Belles Filles: 16:23 @ 460 watts, 6.62 w/kg (Watts per Kilogram)
Best 20+minute Power Performance: 2013-Ax 3 Domaines - Bonascre: 23 minutes @ 446 watts, 6.41 w/kg
Best 30+minute Power Performance: 2016 Emosson: 30:27 @ 435 watts, 6.24 w/kg
Best 40+minute Power Performance: 2015 Pierre-Saint-Martin: 40:57 @ 419 watts, 6.03 w/kg
2020 La Planche des Belles Filles: 16:10 @ 478 Watts, 6.9 w/kg
Best 20+Minute Power: 2020 Peyresourde: 24:35 @ 462 watts, 6.66 w/kg
*Best 40+Minute Power: 2020 Grand Colombier: 46:26 @ 418 watts, 6.02 w/kg (performance at high altitude)
*Best 60+Minute Power: 2020 Col de la Loze: 61:20 @ 403 watts, 5.8 w/kg (performance at high altitude)
2020-Piancavallo: 37'52s-390 watts, 6.55w/kg
We can clearly see from this data that the level has risen considerably from 2013 when Chris Froome won atop La Planche de la Belle Filles. Tadej Pogacar beat Froome’s time by 13-seconds and remember, had to come to a full stop during that performance to change bikes, which cost him at around 20-seconds, as well receiving no advantage from drafting on the climb and riding the 40-minutes prior at around threshold power (aka as hard as you can ride). Pogacar’s estimated power for La Blanche shows that, if true, this is the highest power output he has ever recorded, and the output of that performance would certainly support that theory.
Saying Tadej Pogacar is actually stronger/faster than Chris Froome at his peak is certainly a bold claim, but it is by no means a mind-blowing assertion. Pogacar, winner of the Tour at only 21-years-old, appears to be one of the most talented cyclists in the sport’s history. The real revelation here is the fact that Hindley and Geoghegan Hart, both seen as run-of-the-mill support riders prior to the 2020 Giro, are putting out sustained watts per kilo numbers that eclipsed Froome in his prime.
The 2020 Giro d’Italia might be viewed as a diluted competition, but these performances prove that it was one of the most competitive grand tours in the 2010s. This isn’t even factoring in climbing performances from Rohan Dennis, who set a record time on the massive ascent of the Stelvio by producing close to 400 watts or 6 watts per kilo, for roughly 67 minutes at an extremely high altitude of close to 10,000 feet.
The fact that riders like Geoghegan Hart and Dennis are actually outperforming Chris Froome in his prime shows that riders are indeed stronger in 2020 than they were just a few seasons ago. Richie Porte was riding climbs at a faster rate than he was while he was dropping the entire peloton back in 2013 just to hang on to the lead group at the 2020 Tour. This raises a lot of questions. For example, how and why is this happening?
Before we jump to any conclusions, it is possible this increase in performances is a factor of simply being in the midst of a rise of generational talents. Significant ebbs and flows are common in cycling. For example, Lance Armstrong dominated the Tour de France for the seven years between 1999-2005 without any real risk of being beaten outside of a single edition, 2003. But by 2009, a new generation led by Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck were climbing at similar speeds to Armstrong in his prime, when nobody in the field just a few years earlier could get within minutes of the Texan. To put things into perspective, Contador has verified his ability to climb at 7.2 w/kg (458 watts) over 20-minute periods during his winning Tour de France campaigns. This is higher than any of the riders listed above, which shows us how competitive the Tour’s between 2007-2011 were.
It would be a fruitless exercise to dig into why exactly young riders are faster than the aging stars of the sport, but the trend that it is happening is undeniable. We can clearly see that the level has risen in the past few years and we have verified information directly from Team Ineos/Sky, the home of most impressive grand tour TT and climbing performances of the last 10 years, that they have a rider who can compete with, if not top those past markers, and who isn’t even a guaranteed a leadership position going forward.
This last point is the most shocking part of this entire phenomenon. Tao Geoghegan Hart produced a top-three performance in the history of the team, Jai Hindley produced one of the most impressive climbing performances of the season on Stage 15 of the Giro, and Dennis, a world-class time trialist, set a record time on one of the hardest climbs in pro cycling. Yet none of them are assured a grand tour win, or even a leadership role in the case of Dennis and Geoghegan Hart, in 2021. This is truly absurd and speaks to the historic depth in the current peloton.
Note: while Geoghegan Hart or Ineos hasn’t announced that they have come to an agreement and signed a contract for 2021, the BTP premium transfer newsletter has him going back to Ineos 2021.
The short of this long story is that grand tour winners in their mid-30s like Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana, and Richie Porte simply won’t be able to compete for grand tours win in 2021 and beyond unless they start performing well above the levels of their physical prime. Since this is unlikely to happen, it seems like it is time to stop wondering if Froome will win a fifth Tour de France and start wondering who in this young crop will.
Programming Note: In observance of the Thanksgiving Holiday in the US, I won’t be sending out a Friday newsletter for premium subscribers. Instead, I will be resuming on Monday with the next transfer analysis.
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