How Do You Compare to Other Cyclists?

Ever wondered what it takes to be a world class cyclist, or even just a pro? How do you compare to other cyclists on the grand scale of things?

Well, there’s no easy answer, which is why we have races! The better cyclist will generally finish ahead of a rival, more often than not. Okay, it’s not quite that simple because it depends on several factors like the weather, the course, how the cyclist is feeling to name but a few.

In bunch races, skill plays an important part, holding the wheel in front, knowing when to attack, when to hold back, getting good position in the peleton, and some good old fashioned luck, but for time trials it’s a little simpler. Get from A to B as fast as possible.

We can simplify things somewhat and make predictions if we know how much power a cyclist can hold for the duration of the course and since power meters started to come within the reach of the average cyclist’s wallet, we can find out roughly where we fit into the mix.

Functional Threshold Power or FTP in cycling, by definition, is the maximum average power than can be sustained for one hour. At the end of that hour there is nothing left to give and on a pan-flat course with no wind it should be a relatively good measure of who is going to be fastest. He or she who can output the most power will win. As soon as the road heads up though, rider weight starts to play a big part and that’s where amount of power output as a ratio of bodyweight gives us a better picture. A 120kg rider could put out 300W of power, a cyclist weighing half the weight could put out 150W and match him up a steep climb. They would both have a power-to-weight ratio of 2.5W/kg.

The chart below shows roughly how much W/kg it takes to be competitive at different levels of cycling from beginner all the way through Cat 1 to 5 and to the pro scene beyond.

Watts/kg
Men FTP Women FTP
WORLD CLASS
e.g. GC Contender
6.60 5.69
6.50 5.61
6.41 5.52
6.31 5.44
6.22 5.35
6.12 5.27
6.03 5.19 EXCEPTIONAL
e.g. Domestic Pro
5.93 5.10
5.84 5.02
5.74 4.93
5.65 4.85
5.55 4.77
EXCELLENT
e.g. CAT 1
5.46 4.68
5.36 4.60
5.27 4.52
5.17 4.43  
5.08 4.35  
4.98 4.26  
4.89 4.18 VERY GOOD
e.g. CAT 2
4.79 4.10
4.70 4.01
4.60 3.93
4.51 3.84
4.41 3.76
GOOD
e.g. CAT 3
4.31 3.68
4.22 3.59
4.12 3.51
4.03 3.42  
3.93 3.34  
3.84 3.26  
3.74 3.17 MODERATE
e.g. CAT 4
3.65 3.09
3.55 3.00
3.46 2.92
3.36 2.84
3.27 2.75
FAIR
e.g. CAT 5
3.17 2.67
3.08 2.59
2.98 2.50
2.89 2.42  
2.79 2.33  
2.70 2.25  
2.60 2.17 RECREATIONAL
2.51 2.08
2.41 2.00
2.32 1.91
2.22 1.83
2.12 1.75
NOVICE 2.03 1.66
1.93 1.58
1.84 1.49
1.74 1.41
1.65 1.33
1.55 1.24
1.46 1.16
1.36 1.07
1.27 0.99

To improve your power to weight ratio you have two basic options. Improve your FTP by increasing the amount of power you can sustain for an hour through training, or reduce your weight. Carrying extra fat that doesn’t contribute to power output isn’t of any benefit, and if you’ve got a few spare pounds to lose, this is by far the quickest and easiest way to boost your W/kg. A combination of the two is even better.

As a guide, top cyclists will have a weight to height ratio in the range of 2.1-2.4 where height is measured in inches and weight in pounds. So a 5′ 10″ cyclist would aim for somewhere between 147 pounds and 168 pounds. The cyclists who climb like mountain goats will even be as low as a ratio of 2.0 pounds for every inch of height. What figure works for you will depend on body composition, how much lean mass you have and frame size, but gives you somewhere to start.

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