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How EF Education-EasyPost use Whoop to whip riders into shape

Will Strickson
9 Jun 2022

EF’s Head of Medicine Kevin Sprouse explains the secrets behind the metrics that took over the Giro d’Italia coverage

To misquote Canadian prophet Alanis Morissette, ‘It’s like strain on your rest day, it’s a free ride in a breakaway.’

It’s been just over a week since the conclusion of the 2022 Giro d’Italia and we’ve been getting withdrawal symptoms. What is Hugh Carthy’s heart rate? What is Mathieu van der Poel’s daily strain score out of 21?

The coverage of this year’s race was littered with data from wearable fitness tech brand Whoop, mostly the data from EF Education-EasyPost and Alpecin-Fenix’s star riders, even when they weren’t involved in the ongoing action.

Mathieu van der Poel could be seen sporting a white Whoop band during his many breakaway attempts at the Giro. Photo: Chris Auld

If you saw any of that info, you won’t need to be told that Whoop – which shows itself in a wristband with no screen – provides wearers with heart rate, sleep and recovery data, and a ‘strain’ number that came with a maximum score of 21, but are the teams actually using that data or is it just for show?

‘I’ve been using Whoop as long as it has been out,’ says EF Education-EasyPost head of medicine Kevin Sprouse. ‘I started using it personally and then with athletes a couple of months before it became available for general public purchase.

‘In cycling we’ve been able to measure heart rate, power, GPS data, speed for quite a while, but we’ve never really had insight into the 24/7 physiology of the riders, including sleep and recovery, with the same type of objectivity.’

EF Education-EasyPost's head of medicine Kevin Sprouse has been using Whoop since its initial release

And it’s that data, outside of race situations, that Sprouse says is the most useful: 'Prior to Whoop you captured that three to seven hours of the day around a training session or race, but you missed the other 20+ hours sometimes.

‘Whoop allows us to see the hours that we never had insight into, specifically sleep, bedtime, resting heart rate in the morning, heart rate variability, recovery stats etc. So it has definitely changed how we work with riders.’

Despite the coverage, the much talked about ‘strain’ function isn't actually something that EF will use due to the wealth of heart rate and power data already accessible, Sprouse says it is useful to many of his patients that aren’t professional athletes but in this situation he’s more focussed on sleep duration, resting heart rate and heart rate variability.

‘For me as a Doctor, I’ll look at their metrics once a week in training and look for bigger trends,’ Sprouse explains. ‘During a race though I’d be looking at them daily to try to catch anyone who could be getting sick, or if someone is staying up too late at nught and is starting to have poor recoveries because of it. Maybe they’re having poor recovery because nutritional needs aren’t spot on.'

That does mean the Whoop data can come into play during a stage race, especially a Grand Tour, ‘I think the riders are pretty good about telling the directors whether they’re feeling good or if they have good legs for the day or not, but I do think there are times when if we’re seeing a continually declining recovery for a rider it may spur a conversation with them.

‘They might say “yeah I’m not feeling that good” or “I might be getting sick” and they just don’t have it. With a combination of the two it could inform team tactics, but it’s situationally dependent.’

Strains and recovery percentages don’t affect mid-race decisions though, so the broadcasting of data is just for show. ‘At the end the end of the day, if two guys are in the break, regardless of what their numbers say, if one of them goes, the other is going to go with him if he can and he's going to drop him if he can – irrespective of whatever number is showing.’

So even if Rob Hatch is telling you Carthy’s heart rate is -1bpm or Van der Poel's strain is 21 out of a possible 21, that won’t stop them lighting it up. 

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