Fabian Cancellara has a little extra wattage at Ronde van Vlaanderen

As expected, the closing stages of Ronde van Vlaanderen did indeed give us the latest chapter in the rivalry between Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan. It was an unambiguous chapter written in very plain English.

What happened?

The penultimate climb of Ronde van Vlaanderen is the Oude Kwaremont, which is a cobbled climb 2.2km long at an average gradient of 4.2%. It was here that Fabian Cancellara came to the front of the peloton and set a pace which would be termed either ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘impossible’ depending on who you were. If you were Peter Sagan, it was uncomfortable. If you were anyone else, it was impossible.

So we then had a situation where the two favourites were riding together, bearing down on Jurgen Roelandts at the head of the field. They were also approaching the Paterberg, a 400m cobbled climb averaging 12% and with a section at 20%. The equation was simple. If Sagan could stay with Cancellara, he would probably win. Cancellara therefore needed to shed his lurid green shadow.

Did Sagan manage to stay with Cancellara?

No, he did not. He really, really did not. He did for a bit, but then he very much didn’t.

Could you maybe explain that a little better?

If you cycle yourself, you could probably empathise with Sagan. Sometimes you can be riding at the exact same speed as someone else, only you’re at 90 per cent effort and they’re at 60 per cent. In that situation, you know that sooner or later the discrepancy will become apparent.

A duel on a hill is pretty straightforward. If you can sustain more power relative to your weight than the other guy, you will climb the hill faster. It’s fascinating to see this play out though and it must be positively delightful to be the one with wattage in the bank. That’s where you keep wattage, right? In the bank? In some sort of account which you can easily access from your bicycle?

Halfway up the Paterberg, Sagan was, on the face of it, matching Cancellara. However, body language indicated that he was dipping into his overdraft in search of the wattage necessary to stay in touch. In contrast, Cancellara was wealthy enough to make further investments. He increased the power, pedal stroke by pedal stroke and when the Power Bank informed Sagan they wouldn’t stand further debt, Cancellara simply carried on spending. It was at this point that the two riders dramatically parted company.

Then what?

By the top of the climb, Cancellara had plenty left in his budget and promptly departed from sight. In the final 15km, he gained about a kilometre on what you would call his ‘pursuers’ if that word didn’t imply they were chasing him, rather than just riding along the same roads, quite some way behind.