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In 2017, Seamus Powell dominated the US Enduro Nationals Championships. The course in Snowshoe, WV was highly technical and very physical—just like any good mountain bike race should be!
Traditionally, Seamus has relied on his power meter for important feedback throughout his training regime. It is very true that performing well in enduro is down to one’s technical ability and speed, but power data is very insightful.
How we use power meters in enduro
Seamus does regular field-testing to assess his pedaling ability at both short and long durations. He needs a good sprint to be able to pedal hard when it counts but also needs to maintain high aerobic conditioning so that he can repeat his sprints over and over. We test things like 20 minute, 1 minute and 5-second power (among others!).
The other reason power data is helpful is that it gives a good indicator of pacing strategy when analyzed after races. One obvious point is pacing on liaisons, but we also look at power output within a stage to make sure that Seamus is managing his energy appropriately and avoiding getting sloppy with his handling skills.
Ever gone so hard you go cross-eyed? Yeah, we kind of want to manage that while blasting down hills.
National Champion by the numbers
Seamus is a big, strong guy. And while he may not be the svelte XC rider he once was, his threshold power is well above 400 W.
On the first liaison on each day, Seamus’ normalized power was ~330W for 15 minutes on each. While this is within his tempo zone, his aim was to try to get into his own rhythm and mental space and to get a warmup without going over the limit. It’s easy to get a bit excited on race day, so the power meter was a good guide. All the other liaisons were more casual at 240 W for 15-30 minutes.
The first liaison was nothing too crazy but was a solid tempo. Seamus rested only a few minutes before dropping into Stage 1, and he stayed in his own headspace the whole time.
Seamus went on to win the first stage by 19 seconds. This stage lost 141 meters at an average gradient of -6.2%. His peak power was 1,500W and NP was 274 W. It was pedally, but he didn’t go too hard and kept most efforts at ~500W. This is a standard physical enduro stage, and we were happy to see that his efforts did not fade.
Stage 1 was hard!
Stage 2 was the steepest (15.5%) and probably could have been ridden chainless! That being said, his peak power was still over 1300W. Seamus posted the second fastest time of the day riding smooth and fast, 6 seconds back.
Stage 2 was one of those downhill stages for sure–in true WV style!
We know that it’s important to get off the line quickly to get up to speed from the standing start. But in times like this, it’s really important to remember how you usually feel after an all-out sprint in your training: tired. So one thing we paid attention to was the starting sprint on stage 2—it was powerful, but not max effort. There’s a fine line.
To put it in perspective, Seamus can hold ~2,000 W for 5 seconds.
There ended up being another pedal liaison and two lift access, along with another two stages like stage 1 and 2.
After the first day Seamus sat in first place with a 5-second lead.
The tricky part about multi-day enduro races is that you can’t blow it all on the first day—there is another full day of racing to go!
Go into the second day too tired, and you might not be able to hold on or ride smoothly. This could end up in a crash or in too many mistakes on each stage. On the other hand, you don’t want to hold too much back on the first day and lose precious time.
This is where it is especially handy to be fit. (And bear in mind that there might have been a few days of practice to get through as well!)
Stages 5 and 6 were very physical, and this is where Seamus took control of the race. With a peak power output over 1600 W, he started relatively smooth but finished the stages pedalling where it mattered most. These stages lost 138 and 92 meters, respectively. Seamus hit his highest 1-minute power of the day on stage 6 at 497W.
At this point he had gained almost 1 minute on second place.
Day 2 (Stage 5) started off hard…
Stage 6 was probably the most physical of the weekend…with more to come!
The final two stages of the race were ones for the downhillers. It’s funny actually because racers with XC backgrounds in enduro are still considered XC racers and downhillers considered downhillers.
But a real champion has to be able to do it all.
With average gradients of -13%, there wasn’t much pedaling to be done—it was all about that bike handling!
Stages 7 and 8 looked similar–steep and not very pedally.
In this case, things could have easily fallen apart.
A mistake due to fatigue could have cost the race.
Lack of confidence on full-on DH stages could have caused problems.
However, on stages 7 and 8, Seamus took 2nd and 3rd overall, losing 1 second on stage 7 and 17 seconds on stage 8.
The end result was first place in the 2017 USAC Enduro National Championships.
Reflecting on the race
We’re always collecting and analyzing power output in enduro races to help guide training. It might not always tell you when the race was won, but more often than not it can give a good idea of where the race was lost.
We always have a good discussion post-race to see what we can work on in training. Feeling for the bike, mental aspects and feelings in the body always are part of those discussions.
And if we’re collecting power output we have just that little bit more information.
Written by Matt Miller
Dr Matt Miller is a leading sports scientist focused on studying performance aspects of mountain biking. Find out more on mtbphd.com