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The Kona newcomers who made the podium this year surprised us with their dominating performances, but American Ben Hoffman’s race—comprised of a 51:20 swim, 4:32 bike and 2:51 run—may be the performance that surprised everyone the most, including himself.
In the post-race press conference he emphasized that he stuck to his plan and executed the exact way he wanted to. “I think [racing your own race] is the key in Hawaii, especially at this stage in my career,” Hoffman says. “To think I could ride with Sebastian would be naïve. I had a plan coming into this race. I thought the next step for me would be getting into the top 10.”
“I did roll the dice a little bit at Hawi—I saw a few opportunities and I took them. I was riding with Frederik [Van Lierde] for a while, which was a good move, he’s very steady and solid. Especially on the marathon, I did my own race. I tried not to panic or do anything that wasn’t part of my plan and in the end it turned out really well. I think you have to be smart and do your best race, although occasionally it comes down to racing—[third-place Jan] Frodeno was closing in on me at the end and I probably would’ve slowed down otherwise.”
Training Peaks sat down with Hoffman the day after the race to take a look at his Quarq power file and get his comments on how the day unfolded for him. Analysis and commentary from Training Peaks’ AJ Johnson below:
Hoffman exited the water in the main pack, setting him up for a good day without time to make up on the bike. By being in the group early, Hoffman was able to conserve energy early. “The first part of the ride through town was a little more conservative than some of the other years,” Hoffman says. “Going up Kuakini it wasn’t just flat out.”
View the public power file here: http://home.trainingpeaks.com/public/workout/EBSQI7XXLGSVNHALNBMCTIX65A
In a good spot, Hoffman was able to ride comfortably. From transition to the bottom of the climb to Hawi he stayed around 15th place, comfortably averaging 272 watts. When we look at this in terms of his Intensity Factor (IF), which measures a rider’s effort level against their best one-hour power (also known at Functional Threshold Power, or FTP), we see that Hoffman was at .82 IF. This is right in line with what we have seen from other riders in the past, including last year’s champion Frederik Van Lierde.
At Kawaihae, Hoffman and the group were caught by the flying duo of Sebastian Kienle and Maik Twelsiek. At this point, Hoffman wasn’t willing to try to go with them. “I didn’t respond too much when he came by to be honest,” said Hoffman. “I had my plan and I was trying to ride intelligently. And I knew that the biggest moves would probably happen towards Hawi.”
It was starting the ascent to Hawi that Hoffman began to push himself. He was focused on his task and made some smart tactical moves based on what he had learned in previous years. “I knew there were some key moments around Hawi where you needed to be with a select group of cyclists,” said Hoffman. During the climb, Hoffman picked up the effort and averaged 313 watts, or 4.35 watts/kg, for just over 17 minutes. Even though he did have to pull around those getting dropped, his effort was very steady. Putting out big spikes in effort can quickly deplete your energy. Here, Hoffman’s Variability Index (VI) was 1.01, showing he was nearly perfectly even the whole time. This push got him to the front of the group and he hit the turnaround in 7th place, a good spot at this key portion of the race.
It was during the descent that, as has happened in years past, the top riders made a move. While Kienle and Twelsiek were gone, other riders were starting to up the pace. “When I saw Frederik, Marino, Nils and maybe one other rider (likely Romain Guillaume) had broken away slightly from the group, I was able to bridge to them,” said Hoffman. “That was a decisive moment. They started nuking the downhill. Fortunately I was running a 55×11. I needed every bit of that.” This big effort is shown in his file. Coming down Hawi, Hoffman averaged 272 watts at a cadence of 96 RPM and a speed of 38.7 MPH. He also hit his peak speed of 47 MPH here. Had Hoffman not moved up those few spots during Hawi, he would have been further back and may not have been able to go with this group.
Descending down, his power output was filled with spikes, showing a VI of 1.08. Putting out big numbers in that manner is more taxing than doing it as a steady effort. But in the moment of racing, the pros have to make a decision and take a risk. For Hoffman, it wasn’t a big risk since he had done similar training sessions. One of his key sessions in Tucson, Ariz., involves doing a very fast and hard group ride known as The Shootout, then going into a solo long ride with Ironman-paced efforts. “When I did that session the last time, about two weeks out, I knew that I was in a good spot. I knew those numbers are things that I consistently did and I knew I could sustain them for a minute or two.”
Down from Hawi and on the way home, Vanhoenacker pulled away from the group. Hoffman and Van Lierde dropped the rest of the group and even talked to stay motivated during the final miles. Over the second half of the bike, Hoffman’s numbers did drop, as is expected. His smart pacing early left him enough power to average 267 watts with a VI of 1.04 for the final 56 miles. There is a slight drop off in his cadence, from an average of 92 RPM on the way out to 85 RPM when returning. Interestingly, Hoffman commented that he tried to keep his cadence up at the end, but only averaged 83 RPM over the final 30 minutes. While lower than he thought it would be, he remarked that it may have been lower had he not tried to bring up his cadence at all.
Thanks to a consistent and smart bike, Hoffman was able to use his quick run to make his way through the field and up to second place, and to hold his spot when Frodeno was edging in closer.
Final thoughts: In the end, this is a perfectly executed race file. Having seen the numbers from the past three world champions, his numbers all fall in line with what the top contenders do on the bike. Those numbers are a watts/kg of 3.8 or higher, a VI of 1.05 or lower and an IF of .78 to .82. Hoffman trained specifically for what he expected to happen on race day then executed his plan perfectly.