The Tour de France wrapped up yesterday with Tadej Pogačar winning the overall title and Wout van Aert winning the final stage. Way down at the bottom of the list of 2021 Tour de France finishers is Tim Declercq. How good is the last place finisher in this year’s Tour de France? Let’s find out.
Roles in the Tour de France
To understand how good the last place finisher is you have to understand that most riders are there to support a team leader. And not every team has a leader who is trying to compete for the overall title (known as the General Classification). Some teams are just trying to win as many stages as possible. That’s what Declercq’s team tries to do. To that end their team leader this year was Mark Cavendish who is widely considered the best sprinter of all time, but is not a cyclist who can ride over the high mountains with speed.
Declercq’s role in his team at the Tour de France was to ride on the front of the peloton for as long as possible to set the pace on the flat stages for his team’s leader, Cavendish who won four stages this year. As they approach the finish line (typically 10-20 miles out) Declercq’s job is done and other team members take over and he rolls home in the back of the pack. Here’s a good video about what he does in a race.
On the days in the mountains Declercq’s team just tries to survive within the time limit for the day. Cavendish has struggled make the time limit in the past so this year Declercq and his teammates worked to set a pace that ensured they made the time limit without expending any extra energy. They were successful in doing that this year.
What Strava Tells Us
Like many professional cyclists Tim Declercq publishes his ride data on Strava. And like thousands of amateur cyclists I follow him on Strava. That’s how I got the idea to see just how good the last place finisher is.
On Stage 17 of this year’s Tour de France Declercq finished more than 30 minutes after the stage winner. But when you dive into his Strava data for the stage you’ll see that he earned the KOM (King of the Mountain) badge for a 3.62 mile uphill segment. That means he was faster than any other cyclist who has ever ridden that segment and recorded it on Strava. Not bad considering that at least 52 other professionals recorded the same ride that day. And his average power for the day was 303 watts over five and a half hours climbing more than 13,000 feet. By comparison, I’m a fairly fit cyclist these days and my best ever ten minute effort on flat ground barely cracks 300 watts.
For further evidence of how good Declercq is take a look at his data from Stage 8 of this year’s Tour de France. On that day some of the top cyclists in the world missed the time cut. Declercq made it home more than 35 minutes after the stage winner despite averaging 326 watts for five hours in the rain while riding over more than 14,000 feet of elevation gain. I happily watched from my couch then went on a leisurely 28 mile ride of my own.
What’s the point?
We already knew that professional athletes are really good at what they do. This just quantified it a bit. Now get out there and enjoy a bike ride.