How do the pros use cadence to win races?
The pros race with a variety of different cadences and techniques to both optimize their efforts as well as gain a competitive advantage over their competition.
In this video we have two legendary cyclists: Alberto Contador and Fabio Cancellara. Between the both of them, they have won all of the biggest races from the Tour de France to the Gold Medal in the Olympics.
Contador and Cancellara clearly have ability to ride different cadences, but the context around when and how they use the difference cadences is what really makes the difference.
First let’s review the key cadences used:
Use higher cadence (90-100 rpm) to accelerate.
Use lower cadence (50-70 rpm) to maintain speed.
Now let’s look at the video examples to highlight how both riders combine standing/seated techniques with these cadences.
Each rider masterfully added a technique behind the high cadence to enhance their acceleration objective. For an example, Contador accelerates standing knowing Froome preferred to sit. Standing on a steep climb uses body weight to increase the torque and power without adding extra effort, providing more speed.
In contrast, we see Cancellara use a seated acceleration on the cobbles to gap Boonen knowing the Boonen prefers to accelerate standing. Cancellara’s seated acceleration on the cobbles was faster because of the lack of traction.
Both riders used low cadence to maintain their speed on terrain that was trying to constantly rob them of speed.
Contador used low cadence standing to keep high torque on the crankset to keep his bike moving forward on the steep slopes of the Angliru. When the terrain is so steep, if he used a higher cadence his exertion would be much higher and if he ever came off the gas a tough, his speed would drop.
In contrast, Cancellara used low cadence on the flat and high speed cobbles of Paris Roubaix. This enabled him to keep the high torque on the crankset which between each bump sent his bike forward faster as the tire engaged with the ground. A higher cadence could miss each opportunity for speed, slowing the bike down.