Is Quintana right to call for ban on power meters in races?

Posted on: August 31st, 2016

Nairo Quintana has suggested banning power meters in races. Would a ban make racing more exciting and possibly help reduce doping?


Currently leading the Vuelta and with two fantastic stage wins under his belt, Nairo Quintana articulated an interesting point on yesterday’s rest day when he said he believed power meters should be banned from races.

“They take away a lot of spectacle and make you race more cautiously,” he said.

“I’d be the first in line to say they should be banned.”

And his team mate Alejandro Valverde, who has served a doping ban, also called for power meters to be taken out of racing.

“They take out a lot of drama from the sport; in competition you should be racing on feelings,” he said.

Both are Movistar riders and sit 1st and 2nd overall at the Vuelta as racing resumes today with stage 11 after the rest day.

In 3rd place is Chris Froome; the Team Sky man 58 seconds down on race leader Quintana and only one second off Valverde.

Froome paced himself on the final climb of the day on Monday. And after losing almost one minute on the climb he caught and passed everyone before the finish apart from stage winner Quintana.

“I was just riding with what I felt I could do on the climb in the most efficient way to get up there and not to lose even more time,” Froome said.

“The power meter’s there and I’m aware of the numbers I’m doing, but at the end of the day it is more on feeling and I’ve got to judge that.”

But the manner of his control and the fact Team Sky’s philosophy is to ride to the average Watt numbers rather than go with attacks, is clearly playing on the minds of the Movistar men.

Valverde in particular is a better ‘racer’ than Froome and if the power meters were taken out, the Movistar team leaders could also combine more successfully and put pressure on Froome.

The Tour de France champion would not be able to use his power meter to ride the optimum Watts on a climb – to TT from base to summit.

Instead, he would need to think on his feet and gauge the effort himself.

It would mean he – and everyone else – would blow and lose time when they got it wrong.

Does anyone remember when that used to happen in Grand Tours; when big names exploded?

It forced those losing time to go on the attack on the following stages and often resulted in great racing.

Allowing power meters also gears pro races – especially Grand Tours – towards how many Watts the star riders and their team mates can put out over the course of the race.

This places near total emphasis on riders’ physical ability and diminishes the need to be tactical astute.

Such an emphasis in cycling – where physical ability is everything – increases the rewards that can be gained from doping.

If power meters were taken out and race radios banned more often, perhaps tactical awareness and risk-taking – which cannot be enhanced by doping – would become more important in the sport.

Froome is not the only one to use power meters, and it would be unfair to make the debate about him alone.

Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour by knowing how many Watts he could produce for how long and by riding to those numbers – rather than against his rivals – on key climbs.

Wiggins’ use of the power meter arguably made it possible for him to win the Tour; allowing him to time trial up climbs to a real-time baseline power rather than race against those around him.

Team Sky are not the only team to use power meters of course, but they appear to stick to the numbers more rigidly than others.

They base their racing on them. And they have certainly been most successful using them.

They have also been able to maximise the use of their team by knowing exactly how hard and for how long each team member can ride.

But if the power meters were taken out – especially for summit finish stages and TTs – would the racing be more exciting?

Would the attacking from the big names become a bit more daring again?

Let us know what you think – it’s an interesting topic and one we’d love to hear your thoughts on.