Vlad Dascalu is one of the rising stars of World Cup cross country and Albstadt saw him claim a second consecutive third place finish, which moves him up to fourth in the overall World Cup standings. He didn't have it easy, though. Dascalu only arrived at the venue on Friday due to illness so had to start on the fourth row of the grid. He battled forwards to be part of the front group after the first lap but just half a lap later, his saddle broke and he had to make a pitstop and lost about a minute. He fought back through the rest of the race and even launched an attack on the final climb in a bid for second but was closed out by Schurter by 1 second at the finish line. Dascalu was clearly one of the strongest riders of the race and without his mechanical he might have had the best chance of keeping up with Pidcock.
Dascalu published his full power data on Strava after the race so we decided to dig in to see what it takes to be a top World Cup pro.Headline Stats
In his 6 laps, Vlad covered the 25.54 km (15.85 miles) and 1,159 metres (3,800 feet) of elevation in just under 80 minutes. Sauce for Strava (a plug in that allows for deeper data analysis of Strava files)
lists his average power as 332 watts. The most common way to benchmark this is to use a measure called watts per kilogram. Pure watts isn't a great metric as generally heavier riders produce more power so to compare between riders it's best to include their weight as well.
Elevation: 1,159 metres
Average Speed: 19.4kmh
Average Power: 332W (4.55W/kg)
Normalized Power: 408W (5.59W/kg)
Doing this for Vlad's effort gives 4.5 W/kg, based on a weight of 73kg listed on Strava. How does this compare to a top road cyclists? Well, on the face of it, not too great - yesterday at the Giro D'Italia, riders will likely have put out more than 6 w/kg while climbing Mount Etna but that doesn't compare apples to apples.
Those riders will be aiming to keep a fairly consistent power for as long as possible, whereas Dascalu's effort is extremely peaky. Cross country racing also involves descents and a lot of corners and tech sections where you simply can't put out as much power as a measured consistent effort. On Sunday, Dascalu spent 27.4% of the race less pushing between 0 - 24W, which will definitely have brought his average power down from where it might have been were we looking at a time trial-style effort.
There are other metrics that can be calculated such as Normalised Power or Average Weighted Power (for Vlad these are 408 watts and 384 watts respectively) that are designed to better quantify a performance over a variable effort but even these can't take into account a race situation where Vlad may have been racing tactically or caught behind slower riders. Instead, we're going to get really granular and dip into specific parts of the race to see exactly what Vlad was doing. The Start Lap
Getting a strong start is crucial in World Cup XC. You have to sprint hard to be in the front group otherwise bottlenecks and concertinas will see you a long way off the front of the race when the single-file singletrack sections start.
Vlad must have known this as he blitzed forward from his fourth row position. From a standing start, he pushed a maximum of 1,305 watts, which would be his peak power for the whole race. He actually makes efforts of over 1,000 watts three times in the first 200 metres of the race. Firstly off the line, then after negotiating some traffic in the bunch and finally accelerating back up to speed after the first corner. This is his biggest 15 second effort of the race, averaging 891 watts or 12.2W/kg. In total, Vlad spent 37 seconds in this race pushing 1,000+ watts and he spiked above it at various points throughout the race.
On the first climb of the first lap, Vlad also does his hardest sustained efforts of the race as well. From the base of the first climb, which averages 12.5%, Vlad does a 2 minute effort of 539 watts (7.4 W/kg), including a 1 minute effort of 630 watts (8.6W/kg) and a max of 1,029 watts. Unlike road cycling, there's no neutral zone at the start or 50km of easy riding to let the break escape, in cross country racing you're red lining from the gun and then trying to recover and race for the remaining gruelling 80 minutes.Vlad's Fastest Lap
Vlad's fastest time round the circuit came on lap 5 of 6. At 11:27.6, it was the third fastest lap of anyone, 1.6 seconds behind Alan Hatherly's fastest effort of the race. On his fastest lap, he averaged 345 watts (409 watts normalized power) as he chased back onto the lead group of Schurter, Carod and Hatherly. This is only slightly above his average power for the whole race and it shows that in cross country racing there's more than raw power to going fast. Sure, fitness is definitely a main ingredient but so is positioning, line choice, fuelling and spending your resources wisely.The Last Lap Attack
After catching up to the leaders, Dascalu juked it out with Schurter on the final ascent of the Mercedes Benz Uphill section for the silver medal. With a race worth of fatigue in his legs, he hits this two minute section at 490 watts (6.7 W/kg) with a max of 1,067 watts - about 49 watts (0.7W/kg) below his 2 minute max in the race. We don't have Nino's data here but following his smoother race weekend, it's no surprise that the Swiss veteran was able to hold off Dascalu in the run in to the finish. How does this compare?
So how does this compare to a pro road cyclist? Well, Sauce for Strava uses Dr Andy Coggan's power curve to give Vlad an 87% rating, equal to a professional level, but it's quite hard to compare between the two totally different types of effort. This article
suggests that a peak of 1,300 watts isn't too far off some World Tour sprinters max output, but they often have 100km plus in their legs, not sprinting off the line like Dascalu. We also doubt those sprinters could keep up with Dascalu up the short sharp climbs of Albstadt. Equally, you can't compare Dascalu to the pure climbers of the peloton as his data is all peaks and troughs, short sprinty efforts as opposed to the prolonged grinding up an Alpine pass.
A look back through, for example Mathieu van Der Poel's Strava, shows that he might be a bit stronger on pure fitness
but let's not forget the Dutchman took 3 years before he won an Olympic length World Cup race. While he might have had the power, he had to build up his skills and tactics until he could finally best his long-time rival Nino Schurter. It's the race craft, as well as the exceptional fitness, that sets the best cross country pros apart.