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In an interview with Cycle Sport, Cavendish said he puts out over 1500 watts of power.

“You’d be surprised at my watts,” Cavendish says.

“Most people who say that their maximum is 1,600 watts won’t put out 1,600. My maximum is 1,580, and that is a lot. Not many guys will do more than a hundred more than that. But no one will ever get close to that in a race after 200 kilometres,” he continues.

“I put out 1,490 today in training, on bad form, but I won’t put that out in a race. It’s not watts, and it’s not just my frontal area in a sprint. It’s everything beforehand. How I ride in the peloton. My pedalling action. How I sit. I save so much energy for the finish.”

Is it 5 second power or 30 second power?

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Cavendish is listed as 69 kg so it couldn't possibly be 30 seconds -- 1580 watts/69 kg = 23 watts/kg, which is twice what world-class riders specializing in track sprints put out. World-class track sprinters can average 23 watts/kg for 5 seconds, but it's much more common that in informal articles like this people (not just Cavendish) are quoting their one second maximum. –  R. Chung Apr 23 at 16:34
    
I'm thinking he's quoting his maximum power. We know that while he's a top road sprinter, the top track guys reach higher speeds = higher sustained power. –  andy256 Apr 23 at 22:06
    
Not sure if this article is talking about instantaneous or sustained power, but it quotes 2000 watts for track sprinters and 1500 watts for road racers. –  Kibbee Apr 24 at 0:15
    
@Kibbee - That is also a peak, and can be a little bit skewed. Remember that powermeters are based off of strain gauges (At least the crank/hub based, not sure about the newer pedal based versions), and they measure that, not necessarily speed. I have hit over 800 watts on a trainer just standing and cranking from a dead stop. I'm not necessarily putting OUT 800 watts, but I'm putting 800w of strain on the gauges. That's why in race files you will see these huge peaks, they put that much strain on the gauge until the bike starts responding and "catching up". –  JohnP Apr 24 at 20:52

2 Answers 2

That kind of power is going to be between 5-30 seconds, and is most likely a 5 second maximum, or he's quoting the absolute peak that he put out.

There is a very interesting analysis of several Team Columbia riders from a couple years ago when Cavendish won the stage. A few riders have 30-40 second pulls at the front in the 650-700 watt range, and in the leadout, Markus is at 700+ watts for over 30 seconds with a peak over 1000.

So if the leadout is at 1000, Cavendish probably is doing 5-20 seconds in the 1200 range as he comes around the slingshot, with surge peaks into the 1400 range, but that level is not sustainable. You can see this when sprinters mistime their sprints and start losing steam short of the line.

Here is the link with the powerfiles.

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Most people who say that their maximum is 1,600 watts won’t put out 1,600. My maximum is 1,580, and that is a lot.

Quoted like that, the 1580watt number will be for 1 second most likely.

1 second is the typical recording rate of the SRM PowerControl units (same with the Garmin Edge). So unless a duration is specified, "maximum" will refer to the highest recorded sample in the file

(the PowerControl can record faster than 1 sample/second, but the higher rates are typically only used for analysing events like standing starts in track racing, not for 200km road-race stages, where 0.25 second resolution is excessive)

Update:

This article on "The profile of a sprint" gives some specific numbers:

The sprint peak power output was 1248±122 W (range: 989-1443 W), and the average power was 1020±77 W (865-1140 W) for a duration of 13±2 s (9.0-17.0 s). These data fall within the range of previously published data where, for example, a peak power of 1097 W and 1370±51 W were reported for won sprints. The peak speed reached during the sprints was 66.1±3.4 (57.1-70.6), slightly lower than the expected; however, the speed data were in agreement with previously published data (J Martin 2007, Menaspa 2013)

The whole article is worth reading, and it backs up the quote from your question "It’s not watts, and it’s not just my frontal area in a sprint",

We know that the highest sprint power is not always the race winner, because there is no correlation at all between the two outcomes

In practical terms, such a reduction in CdA (~10%) can result in more than three metres advantage over a 14 seconds sprint. Based solely on these data, it becomes obvious why there were no correlations between absolute power (Watts) and race results

Tactical variables may be as important as, or even more important than, power alone. A recent case study showed that a good position in the bunch and team support are important factors for road sprint performances (Menaspa 2013)

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I ask mostly because I can repetitively get wattage readings in the 1600 to 1850 watts whilst doing 'eyeballs out' sprint efforts. After having only been riding for two and a half years and wondered whether my stages power meter is playing up at all but I guess I would need to try it with another power meter to verify the data correctly? –  user95786 Apr 29 at 13:00
    
@user95786 That number sounds plausible enough - I wouldn't worry about it.. It is difficult to draw meaningful comparison from two different people's power-meter numbers - there are a lot of factors to consider –  dbr Apr 30 at 14:08
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Cavendish was the subject of Menaspa's 2013 article in IJSPP so it is particularly on point for this question. –  R. Chung Jul 12 at 7:52

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