Why Alaphilippe shouldn’t train for GC at the 2020 tour
In a previous post we talked about why Julian Alaphilippe wouldn’t win the Tour de France this year. We’d like to say we were pretty spot on. We said he wouldn’t finished inside the top five, and he finished 5th, after 3 major Col’s were taken out due to extreme weather (we’re interested in physiology here, not meteorology here so we couldn’t have predicted that!), and he would certainly have lost more time. We also said Bernal would be the man to beat, and look how that turned out. Long story short, we think you can trust us for an accurate assessment!
Last time we concluded that in the absolute best case scenario Alaphilippe could stand a chance, but let’s take a more realistic assessment of where his physiology currently lies, and where he could get to if he were to focus solely on riding GC at grand tours, but why we feel this would be a bad move for him.
A realistic assessment
Last time we gave our virtual Alaphilippe a VO2Max of 88ml/min/kg, or 5.45l/min. Now, there is no doubt that Alaphilippe is a talented athlete, likely with a very high VO2max, but 88 really is exceptional, and isn’t one of those numbers that would stay secret for long had he been tested. Again, lets go with something still pretty high, a vo2max of 85ml/min/kg, or 5.27l/min at 62kg.
We also assumed a best case scenario of a 0.4mmol/s lactate production rate, but estimated this would likely be more like 0.5mmol/s, so today we will go with that to start with.
We will leave his metabolic efficiency at 23%, and voila we have a lactate threshold somewhere around 360w or 5.8w/kg. Enough to be up there at the Tour de France, but certainly not enough to win.
There is probably very little Alaphilippe could do to raise his VO2Max further. If it was already 85ml/min/kg then perhaps he could squeeze a tiny bit more out, but it would likely be at a cost to other more productive training.
Lowering the lactate production rate is where Alaphilippe would have the most capacity to improve should he decide to target grand tours. 0.5mmol/s is a very realistic assumption, and with really focused training getting down to 0.3mmols/s like Froome would not be out of the question, but would be extremely difficult, and perhaps even impossible given Alaphilippes’ likely muscle fibre distribution.
Furthermore, while he already looked at the limit of low body fat at the tour, potentially he could lose some excess upper body muscle and drop a little weight, say 1kg, down to 61kg.
All this would leave his lactate threshold around 385w, or 6.31w/kg. A very handy figure and one that on paper could win you a grand tour like the Tour de France.
The problem with this
The problem faced here is that lowering the lactate production rate may raise the lactate threshold, but it decreases the energy availability from anaerobic glycolysis, meaning far less explosive, short-medium term power.
While perhaps he could still win a race like Milan San-Remo due to his descending skills (much like Vincenzo Nibali did in 2018), the short-term, high-power efforts that have won him races like Fleche Wallonne, or allowed to outsprint the likes of Peter Sagan, would be gone.
He wouldn’t have the capacity to ride away on the short steep climbs like he did in the first week of the 2019 tour, so may never get a foothold on yellow, add to this his rivals will surely now watch him a little closer so these skirmishes will likely be less productive, and you’re left with a rider who could end up giving up being one of the winning-est riders in the peloton, to someone who hardly ever wins, but can go up a long climb a little faster day after day.
Alaphilippe would have to give up winning almost everything he currently can in order to have a sim, possibly impossible, crack at winning le Tour.
This is why we feel Alaphilippe should carry on as he has, focusing on one-day and week-long races. The questions is, how strong is the dream of a yellow jersey in Paris in Alaphilippes’ mind after getting surprisingly close this year.