Watts and heart rate: performances in numbers at the UCI Track Champions League

Spoiler: the level is incredibly high.

The innovative format of the UCI Track Champions League provides insight into the impressive performance of the competitors. Spoiler: the level is incredibly high.

How high is the level of competition at the 2022 UCI Track Champions League? Impressively so, according to the performances produced by the track stars in the first two rounds of the series in the velodromes of Palma de Mallorca (Spain) and Berlin (Germany).

The analysis of data from the leaders of the four leagues is confirmation: Dutchman Harrie Lavreysen (Men’s Sprint), Colombian Martha Bayona (Women’s Sprint), Canadian Mathias Guillemette (Men’s Endurance) and American Jennifer Valente (Women’s Endurance) delivered outstanding performances to edge their rivals in the overall standings with three more rounds to go in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, in France (26 November), and London, in Great Britain (2-3 December).

As the UCI Track Champions League powers track cycling into a new dimension with its innovative format, it also provides deeper insight into the performance of the athletes.

“The exciting thing about the UCI Track Champions League is that it brings together the best cyclists in the world, so the numbers and the data we’re able to see about their performance provides great context compared to a normal human being”, says Alex Skelton, Director of Sport Science Agency.

Reading into millions of data points

In a little more than three hours of competition, the second round in Berlin saw Sport Science agency and Amazon Web Services record and analyse 2.4 million data points in partnership with Warner Bros. Discovery. “Between now and 2025, there are 43 different metrics that we are looking out,” Skelton explains, “starting with relatively simple ones like heart rate, power, cadence and speed, and progressing through to many more complicated metrics calculating drag and the power or speed necessary to overtake in certain scenarios.”

Some of this data can be regarded as anecdotal, although it enables better comprehension of an athlete’s performance. Surprisingly, Laura Kenny’s heart rate was only up to 183 beats per minute (bpm) when she was the first rider out of the elimination race in Berlin, far below her potential maximum of 206bpm, which clearly shows the five-time Olympic Champion from Great Britain was not able to express her physical potential. Meanwhile, her compatriot Katie Archibald managed to stay under 180bpm for most of the race, saving energy before the final push to get the better of Jennifer Valente.

Other numbers are properly outstanding, highlighting the very high level of the UCI Track Champions League and how demanding the intense racing can be, with two events each for the Endurance (scratch and elimination races) and Sprint (keirin and sprint) riders packed into one night of action.

Before she mastered the elimination, Archibald went all out in the Scratch race, with an early attack alongside Valente, before a furious final sprint, hitting 200bpm, while her American rival stayed under 190bpm. Valente said she approached the UCI Track Champions League as an omnium over several weeks and thus wants to pace herself. Trailing behind after not scoring any points in the elimination race at Palma de Mallorca, Archibald can’t afford the luxury of picking her battles.

"It's not just about who's got the bigger engine"

“Before the beginning of each edition of the Track Champions League, the riders provide data about their peak heart rate, resting heart rate, peak power…” Skelton explains. “In the last race, we saw Kelsey Mitchell (CAN) beat her peak power that she had provided before the season. It’s impressive when you’re a professional athlete to get your best at anything, and for that to happen in a race instead of a lab setting just means that the quality of the race is very high.”

An Olympic Champion in Tokyo (Japan), Mitchell set a personal record in the semi-finals of the sprint in Berlin… only to be beaten by Mathilde Gros (FRA)! Earlier in the evening, the UCI World Champion in the sprint had suffered a similar fate when she hit a heart rate of 204bpm (the maximum she declared ahead of the event was 200bpm) while still being eliminated from the keirin.

“Most people are familiar with the basic calculation for max heart rate being ‘220 minus your age’,” Skelton explains. “Most of these riders are in their 20s. Last year, we saw heart rates get up over 210, this year we’ve seen a handful of riders over 200, so we’re seeing some really standout performances.”

The numbers underline the high level of performance and also show that track cycling is “not just about who’s got the bigger engine,” as Skelton puts it. “Matt Richardson (AUS) and Harrie Lavreysen have been repeatedly facing each other in the keirin and the sprint. In both of the sprints, Richardson won, while in both of the keirins, Lavreysen won.”

In Palma de Mallorca, Lavreysen delivered his best performance in the sprint semi-final, with a peak power of 1937 watts, before fading to 1728 watts in the final. He was "killed", as he said. A week later, he consistently went above 1800 watts to lead the series. Will he go above 2000 this weekend in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines?