The data behind Marcus Culey’s big ride: numbers from Roadnats

Marcus Culey (Team Sapura) shocked many within Australian cycling with his performance at the Australian road nationals, establishing the break early, driving the pace, then managing to hold with the WorldTour professionals when they caught up and attacking late to snatch the final position on the podium.

Culey was gracious enough to provide the data from his ride for analysis, and Australian Cycling Insider sat down with commentator, coach and former elite rider Pat Shaw to break down the numbers.

There was a slight miscommunication in some of the numbers, Culey in fact has a Functional Threshold Power of 390 and Shaw’s analysis goes off the assumption that his FTP is 365.

General observations

“It’s actually quite a remarkable ride really, on paper as well as in the flesh,” said Shaw. “He actually mirrors his power output every lap, which is weird because in a race situation you shouldn’t be able to do that.”

“For a rider to be able to do the 10 minute effort he’s done on lap three and then be able to turn it down to a semi-moderate pace, which is 300W for him on this day – which is still above what you expect for a person of 365W threshold (Ed: 390W threshold) – that’s the big thing.

“A normal rider who has that sort of effort early in the race wouldn’t finish, plain and simple. He’s probably lucky that he made the break at that stage so he could go steady state, if he’d got caught, he’d have a much different result.”

“But looking at that reset, he’s obviously handled it well as his cadence doesn’t drop. To be able to respond when he was caught with three laps is massive as well, normally you expect a breakaway rider to be dropped pretty quick, but he hung with them for three laps.”

A figure which jumps out for Shaw is Culey’s high cadence, which averaged at 87 throughout the whole race, with remarkably little difference between sections where he’s attacking and riding tempo.

“His cadence is probably what surprises me,” said Shaw. “In that final lap he averages over 90, he probably could have gone more laps, remarkable given that he was in the break all day.”

The full data from Culey’s national road race ride, ignore the TSS!

Establishing the Break

The start of the race was fast and frenetic, with numerous attempts to establish the break being dragged back before the elastic eventually snapped with Culey and Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott) jumping away.

“Before he went in the break, he averaged 300W,” said Shaw. “Then, there’s nine minutes at 390W to get into the break. His threshold is 365W (390W), so he’s actually gone above threshold for nine minutes (Ed: right at threshold) to establish the breakaway.

“At 22.5 kilometres, he’s followed a little surge then done that nine minutes – still at a high cadence, 87, a rarity even in modern cycling – to the 27 kilometre mark, which is the start of the third lap up to the uni. After ten minutes he finally freewheels, but that’s with all that work done, and sometimes the effort is almost twice his threshold… at 700W for 45 seconds over the top of Mt Buninyong.”

In the Breakaway

The pace slowed somewhat once Jason Lea and Cam Roberts (GPM-Stulz) made their way over to the move and it became clear that there would be a chase from the peloton. Culey then settled into a metronomic performance, replicating the ideal lap for him over and over again.

“It’s an interesting graph, it’s like it’s made up almost,” said Shaw. “His power and cadence for almost the entire day, unit for unit, lap for lap, moment for moment match near exactly the whole way.

“His cadence is a bit more sporadic in those final two laps, but outside that he’s done one of the most consistent rides possible. Okay, for the first few laps and the last 30 kilometres, he runs at a higher power.

“But between 70 and 150 kilometres, you can swap around any lap you want and it is identical, moment for moment. That’s why he’s ridden such a good race, he’s just got it spot on. Incredibly difficult to do in a bunch race, this is what you’d expect to see in a time trial.”

Culey was seventh in the time trial two minutes and 43 seconds behind the winning time of Luke Durbridge, but very competitive with the rest of the field, as he was only 50 seconds behind third place and World Tour-bound Chris Harper.

“For the first hour of the race his average power, not adjusted, was 311 W. It would be interesting to have a look at his time trial data to compare the two,” said Shaw. “If we scroll through here to say 100km, it’s a bit of a disaster being in the break for 100km, but his power is still 295W. He basically just time-trialled, that’s why he’s lasted.”

The middle kilometres of the road race

The Final Laps

Culey had breakaway companions Lea and Roberts drop off during the middle part of the race, with Mitchelton-Scott man Schultz sticking with him and word filtering out from the team later saying that he had told the team car during the race that he wouldn’t be able to handle Culey and needed reinforcements. Help arrived with the superb bridge of Callum Scotson and Cameron Meyer, forcing a reaction from the other favourites until there was an elite group of nine up front, including Culey.

“When he’s got caught, he hasn’t actually had to go that much harder,” said Shaw, “maybe one minute or so a lap he’s been under more pressure than he’s put himself under the previous laps.

“The final lap, he was under a lot of pressure. In the final lap he’s had to do significant accelerations nine times. Nine anaerobic efforts in the final 14 km of the race.”

Culey was moderating his efforts with his tactics, loitering at the back of the group, and using the fact that he was less of a known quantity to refuse to take turns and chase down the moves. He also used Harper to return from surges on a few occasions, before launching his own big attack in the final kilometres, one-legged as he was suffering pretty badly from cramp.

“The final four kilometres he has an average power of 280W, maximum 1000W,” said Shaw. “The surges, you can tell the pace was up and down, up and down. If you look at 180km to 181km (race length is 182.5) that’s where he recovers, it’s the downhill (into Buninyong start/finish), he spends nearly a whole minute at an average of just 100 watts.”

Final lap of the race

The TV coverage cut away from Culey’s attack to go to Cam Meyer, but it appeared that Durbridge was on the verge of shutting the move down before the descent into Buninyong. Culey himself said after the race that he couldn’t remember exactly what happened with the final attack, whether he’d gone once, or surged twice enroute to the bronze medal.

“By that data there, you suggest that’s what happened, he got in the tuck and then surged again,” said Shaw. “His final kilometre, he averages 572W, maximum 705W. So if you average it out the last five kilometres, he’s back, basically at that same power he average all day, 310W, though if you adjust it with all that freewheeling it would be above 400W, basically all above threshold.

“It’s an amazing effort actually. When you said you were sending this through I thought it would be good to look at!”

Culey is currently racing with Team Sapura at the New Zealand Cycle Classic and will then either line up at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour or the Tour of Langkawi.

Pat Shaw is an expert commentator and coach these days, but hasn’t gone away from his roots at Shaw’s Cycling Centre servicing the Ballarat community.

Established in 1980, Shaw’s Cycling Centre has always been a place of passion and love of bikes. Much has changed over the years but their desire to provide quality products, bikes and servicing has not – and they are still driven to enhance each individual’s cycling experience.

Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger