Forum home Road cycling forum Pro race

Just how fit are these guys?

Ringo 68Ringo 68 Posts: 441
edited June 2012 in Pro race
After three weeks of watching every Giro stage I can't help but marvel at how fit these riders are.

Mountain after gruelling mountain, mile after mile at speeds I can only reach on steep downhills. Factor into this that so many have crashed at some point, some really badly and others have carried injuries for the majority of the race, I can't believe that they can still turn a pedal.

How do these elite cyclists compare to other sportsmen that I would consider super fit ie proffessional football players, Olympic athletes such as rowers and long distance runners.
Cube Agree GTC Pro
Boardman Comp
Carrera Subway Hybrid
«1345

Posts

  • ProssPross Posts: 24,271
    Ringo 68 wrote:
    After three weeks of watching every Giro stage I can't help but marvel at how fit these riders are.

    Mountain after gruelling mountain, mile after mile at speeds I can only reach on steep downhills. Factor into this that so many have crashed at some point, some really badly and others have carried injuries for the majority of the race, I can't believe that they can still turn a pedal.

    How do these elite cyclists compare to other sportsmen that I would consider super fit ie proffessional football players, Olympic athletes such as rowers and long distance runners.

    I don't think any sport compares for long term endurance. Race for race something like an Iron Man or ultra marathon compares or probably tougher but those guys will usually only race a few times per season whilst cyclists are doing it day in, day out even when riding one day races rather than stage races.
  • Cyclists must be near the pinnacle of sport in fitness terms but I still reckon they've got nothing on darts players. Armstrong vs Phil 'the power' Taylor - no contest.
  • rick_chaseyrick_chasey Posts: 50,728 Lives Here
    The nature of the effort needed for cycling and how it's totally not weight baring means recovery is an awful lot quicker, so 3 week races are possible and interesting in a way other sports wouldn't be.


    But yes, fitness is everything in cycling.
  • dcjdcj Posts: 395
    fitness yes, but also mentally very tough to hang in and suffer to the extreme on a daily basis. i think desire could be the stand-apart quality needed to do well in a 3 week tour.
  • dougzzdougzz Posts: 1,833
    dcj wrote:
    fitness yes, but also mentally very tough to hang in and suffer to the extreme on a daily basis. i think desire could be the stand-apart quality needed to do well in a 3 week tour.
    Desire, will to win, mental toughness, call it what youu like, it's always the difference in sports.
  • Tom BBTom BB Posts: 1,001
    Andy 'The Viking' Fordham ftw. He pushed himself so hard in one darts match that he actually had a heart attack.
  • tailwindhometailwindhome Posts: 15,506
    Depends how you define 'fitness' I suppose.

    IMO Boxers, particularly those around middleweight would seem to have the best combination of endurance, strength, coordination and physique.
    Believe that a farther shore
    Is reachable from here.
    Believe in miracles
    And cures and healing wells
  • nferrarnferrar Posts: 2,511
    Plenty of other sports compare for the aerobic fitness/lean muscle mass etc. requirements but few test the endurance side as much as cycling. Whilst a marathon is way more brutal on the body than a 7 hour Giro mountain stage they're doing it with fresh legs to start not on knackered legs and with a body generally screwed after a couple of weeks of tough racing already. There's not that many endurance/fitness sports with such a high risk factor either, I'd rather fall over in a marathon than at 70mph on a descent ;)
  • MrTapirMrTapir Posts: 1,206
    I think there also seems to be a sort of punishment aspect, just to put yourself through the sheer level of suffering pretty much every day for 3 weeks. I think Charlie Wegelius attests to this in 'The Bicycle Book'. I suppose an iron man is a similar level of suffering but not in that continuous day-after-day sort of way.
  • BikingBernieBikingBernie Posts: 2,163
    Other sports certainly have competitors who are as aerobically fit as pro cyclists, such as a cross-country skiing. The big difference in cycling is the unique mix of intensity and duration, with the ability to suffer being more important than in any other sport. Sure in other sports you have to suffer for extended periods and in others you have to dig really deep, but in road racing you have to do both!

    I have done a fair bit of bike racing in my time, and have also done some competitive medium to long-distance running, and to my mind long distance running is very much like time trialling, sure it is hard, but the secret to good performance is just keeping below the red zone, at least until the finish is in sight. For example, I recall one 10K which I did where I thought I was going to do an all-time personal best as I was running the first few miles at under 5.30 pace, but got slower and slower and ended up with a slower time than if I had stayed with something more within my abilities, say 6 minute mile pace.

    Compare that with road racing where attacks and climbs demand that you do go really deep into the red zone, and then try to recover before you have to do it again. Here it is others who set the pace and you simply have to match it or go out of the back, which is particularly hard if, for example, others are better climbers than you are. This is far more psychologically demanding that riding a constant pace just below your 'red zone'. In fact on rare occasions where I was super motivated even I have begun to develop tunnel vision in a road race because I was digging so deep.

    As to the suggestion that "a marathon is way more brutal on the body than a 7 hour Giro mountain stage", I would suggest otherwise. Top-class runners train for thousands of miles and have excellent style and so can run a long way at a moderate pace with relatively little damage to their bodies, and when racing they are only going for just over 2 hours.

    Of course, the iconic place of 'suffering and survival' in bike racing has been undermined somewhat in recent years by doping, with races often being determined by 5 km efforts up the final climb of the day, rather than all-day suffer-fests.
  • smithy21smithy21 Posts: 2,204
    BB- you couldnt help yourself could you. Almost made it and then added the last paragraph. :lol:
  • rick_chaseyrick_chasey Posts: 50,728 Lives Here

    Of course, the iconic place of 'suffering and survival' in bike racing has been undermined somewhat in recent years by doping, with races often being determined by 5 km efforts up the final climb of the day, rather than all-day suffer-fests.

    'tis obviously bull this.

    In racing, doping makes you cycle faster - it doesn't make you suffer less.
  • TMRTMR Posts: 3,986
    'tis obviously bull this.

    In racing, doping makes you cycle faster - it doesn't make you suffer less.

    Is this true? I'd have thought that when all the non-doped riders are suffering you'd still be fairly comfortable as you're not at threshold. It's only when you push yourself to the max that you'd suffer.

    At least to my boy logic, which may well be faulty :(
  • mididoctorsmididoctors Posts: 8,612
    In fact on rare occasions where I was super motivated even I have begun to develop tunnel vision in a road race because I was digging so deep.

    rare? and you only rode to tunnel vision? bit lightweight to be giving out the why and wherefore of suffering on a bike me thinks?
    "If I was a 38 year old man, I definitely wouldn't be riding a bright yellow bike with Hello Kitty disc wheels, put it that way. What we're witnessing here is the world's most high profile mid-life crisis" Afx237vi Mon Jul 20, 2009 2:43 pm
  • BikingBernieBikingBernie Posts: 2,163
    edited May 2012
    Of course, the iconic place of 'suffering and survival' in bike racing has been undermined somewhat in recent years by doping, with races often being determined by 5 km efforts up the final climb of the day, rather than all-day suffer-fests.

    'tis obviously bull this.

    In racing, doping makes you cycle faster - it doesn't make you suffer less.

    I guess that is why Willy Voet said:
    It's a dream for a cyclist to be able to ride up a hill in a high gear, to breath comfortably and to have no pain in his legs. That's what they're addicted to - to making cycling easy.

    In fact there are many reasons why Voet is correct.

    One reason is the fact that the fastest way for a clean rider to get up a mountain pass is to lower the cadence (most people do this automatically on a climb) recruiting a higher proportion of 'fast twitch' muscle fibres in order to generate the forces required. This makes most efficient use of the available oxygen, but also demands that the rider is able to tolerate and utilise high levels of blood lactate, which is closely associated with good old fashioned suffering. That lowering one's cadence was the secret to fast climbing was well known in the 'classic' era of the sport with, for example, Bernard Hinault saying that he would:
    “choose his gears according to the pedalling cadence that suits me – above this cadence I get out of breath too quickly; below it, my muscles are too contracted”.

    Alternatively a rider who is able to provide an excess of oxygen to the muscles, say by blood doping or Epo use, can adopt bio-mechanically less efficient higher cadence, but will benefit from being able to rely more on the hard to fatigue 'slow twitch' muscle fibres, with a resultant lowered level of blood lactate and faster long-term recovery due to a reduction in micro tears in the muscle fibres.

    Much of the theory behind all this was covered in an in-depth article in Peak Performance some years back, and plenty of riders have provided support to theory. For example, its is no coincidence that Armstrong adopted his 'famous' but bio-mechanically inefficient high-cadence climbing style, and much the same could be said of Ivan Basso and others who were able to climb the big passes looking as if they were making little effort and 'with their mouths closed'. Back in 2009 Cycling Weekly alluded to something similar when Basso made his comeback after his doping ban saying:
    We said: Remember the 2006 Giro? When he rode up every mountain with his mouth shut, breathing through his skin, pursued only by a buffalo on heat?

    Verdict: This was not the same Basso as 2006. He struggled to rediscover his effortless high-cadence style and it looked like it hurt
    .

    There are many other ways that doping has made cycling less of a suffer-fest. For example, it has reduced the differences between the abilities of the weakest and the strongest, so that drop-out rates are now much lower than they used to be. In turn, riders can now rely on having plenty of teammates to carry them to the bottom of the final climb where a final 5km effort will see the race decided, rather than the stronger climbers being able to decimate the field with all-day suffer-fests, attacking on the first big climb of the day and so forth. Christoper S. Thompson in his book The Tour de France: a cultural history gives a good analysis of such factors.
  • frenchfighterfrenchfighter Posts: 30,642
    Good post BB.
    Contador is the Greatest
  • BikingBernieBikingBernie Posts: 2,163
    edited May 2012
    'tis obviously bull this.

    In racing, doping makes you cycle faster - it doesn't make you suffer less.

    Is this true? I'd have thought that when all the non-doped riders are suffering you'd still be fairly comfortable as you're not at threshold. It's only when you push yourself to the max that you'd suffer.

    At least to my boy logic, which may well be faulty :(
    Nope, sound as a bell! That said there might be no need to push yourself to the limit if you dope yourself enough so that you are able to drop the others without going into your red zone. Hence the 'arms race' that saw riders like Armstrong and Riis taking their haemocrit levels up to near 60%.

    As I have suggested, the effects of doping can also have a more subtle influence on the way a race is run. In fact Ferrari himself said something on his website about the way the whole of cycling in recent years have become much less of an endurance sport and more of a short-term power dependent sport, hence the lack of all day breakaways that used to characterise the sport and the predominance of final 5km efforts up to the summit finishes.

    Doping has also reduced the gaps between the top rider's finishing times and allowed more rider to finish. Back in the 70's it was not unusual for under 100 riders to finish the Tour. For example, in 1976 less than 52 riders would have finished if the organisers had not bent the rules on eliminations to allow more to continue to Paris.
  • shockedsoshockedshockedsoshocked Posts: 3,954
    Cycling and boxing are considered the two toughest disciplines, although in boxing you get a bell after 3 minutes, wish that would happen in some races I've done ;)

    In terms of fitness, ridiculously fit. These people are gifted athletes however and I'm sure many could have became world class in any other endurance discipline they chose.

    Chris Newton used to ride with us sometimes, and he told us about how he was racing in France once. He'd been dropped along with a team mate when Beloki and another rider stopped (actually stopped) for a piss. He thought they'd never get back on. Few minutes later they come soft tapping past telling Chris and his team mate to jump on. He said he couldn't even hold his wheel. This is from a World Champ and Olympic medalist. Frightening to mere mortals.
    "A cyclist has nothing to lose but his chain"

    PTP Runner Up 2015
  • rick_chaseyrick_chasey Posts: 50,728 Lives Here
    Cycling and boxing are considered the two toughest disciplines, although in boxing you get a bell after 3 minutes, wish that would happen in some races I've done ;)

    In terms of fitness, ridiculously fit. These people are gifted athletes however and I'm sure many could have became world class in any other endurance discipline they chose.

    Chris Newton used to ride with us sometimes, and he told us about how he was racing in France once. He'd been dropped along with a team mate when Beloki and another rider stopped (actually stopped) for a wee-wee. He thought they'd never get back on. Few minutes later they come soft tapping past telling Chris and his team mate to jump on. He said he couldn't even hold his wheel. This is from a World Champ and Olympic medalist. Frightening to mere mortals.

    Absolutely. These guys have the most efficient bodies out there, and then they train the hell out of them as well.
  • BikingBernieBikingBernie Posts: 2,163
    Cycling and boxing are considered the two toughest disciplines, although in boxing you get a bell after 3 minutes, wish that would happen in some races I've done ;)

    In terms of fitness, ridiculously fit. These people are gifted athletes however and I'm sure many could have became world class in any other endurance discipline they chose.

    Chris Newton used to ride with us sometimes, and he told us about how he was racing in France once. He'd been dropped along with a team mate when Beloki and another rider stopped (actually stopped) for a wee-wee. He thought they'd never get back on. Few minutes later they come soft tapping past telling Chris and his team mate to jump on. He said he couldn't even hold his wheel. This is from a World Champ and Olympic medalist. Frightening to mere mortals.

    Absolutely. These guys have the most efficient bodies out there, and then they train and dope the hell out of them as well.
    Fixed that for you. :wink:
  • shockedsoshockedshockedsoshocked Posts: 3,954
    As a budding (3rd year nearly finished) Sports Science student it's incredible to see when everything comes together for these athletes, mainly due to excellent genes. VO2, lung capacity, haemocrit levels, hormones, sweat rates, anthropomorphical measures etc etc, plus of course determination. The human body is an incredible thing.

    RE the doping. The better naturally you are the less you benefit from doping. Someone with a naturally high haemocrit for instance won't be able to raise theirs enough before it becomes dangerous to be worthwhile.
    "A cyclist has nothing to lose but his chain"

    PTP Runner Up 2015
  • BikingBernieBikingBernie Posts: 2,163
    RE the doping. The better naturally you are the less you benefit from doping. Someone with a naturally high haemocrit for instance won't be able to raise theirs enough before it becomes dangerous to be worthwhile.
    Exactly, which is why it is a nonsense when people argue that if it were not for doping, the same people would have won. Consequently someone like Armstrong, whose natural haemocrit level was as low as 38% and usually around 42%, according to the data he put on his website in 2009, would have much more to gain from boosting it to 58% than many other riders would have.
  • BikingBernieBikingBernie Posts: 2,163

    Of course, the iconic place of 'suffering and survival' in bike racing has been undermined somewhat in recent years by doping, with races often being determined by 5 km efforts up the final climb of the day, rather than all-day suffer-fests.

    'tis obviously bull this.

    In racing, doping makes you cycle faster - it doesn't make you suffer less.
    More on this:
    Modern cycling, especially in the last 10-15 years, has been giving more and more prominence to big engines, somewhat lessening the importance of an efficient tank.

    The average level of the riders has been rising remarkably, just as the number of athletes and teams able to actually win at any given race: this brought about some very tactical racing habits, where nobody dares or has the strength to attack early in the courses because too many riders behind would set up an effective chase.

    As a matter of fact, the best riders prefer to wait the final clicks of the final climb before striking an attack: 10-20 minutes all-out, where power is more relevant than endurance, the engine more decisive than the tank.
    Add to this the tendency to shorten the mileage of races and stages, in order to provide a “good show” and supposedly counteract doping practices..

    The reality of it, at least for the second point, is actually the exact contrary: if it is relatively easy to “tweak” the engine, it is much more difficult to improve and widen the tank.

    http://www.53x12.com/do/show?page=article&id=58

    Of course, it is also 'obvious' that the Earth is flat and that the Sun revolves around it: until you read up on the science that is. :wink:
  • rick_chaseyrick_chasey Posts: 50,728 Lives Here
    Ah, I ceebs to argue this.

    Your Ferrari argument is to do with the narrowing in performance range in the pro-peloton, combined with shorter stages.

    But whatever. Suffering isn't the be all and end all for me.
  • shockedsoshockedshockedsoshocked Posts: 3,954
    RE the doping. The better naturally you are the less you benefit from doping. Someone with a naturally high haemocrit for instance won't be able to raise theirs enough before it becomes dangerous to be worthwhile.
    Exactly, which is why it is a nonsense when people argue that if it were not for doping, the same people would have won. Consequently someone like Armstrong, whose natural haemocrit level was as low as 38% and usually around 42%, according to the data he put on his website in 2009, would have much more to gain from boosting it to 58% than many other riders would have.

    You genuinely can turn cart horses into racing thoroughbreds.
    "A cyclist has nothing to lose but his chain"

    PTP Runner Up 2015
  • BikingBernieBikingBernie Posts: 2,163
    Ah, I ceebs to argue this.
    I had to look up what 'ceebs' means, but nonetheless please try, I would love to see you come up with some convincing counter arguments.
    Your Ferrari argument is to do with the narrowing in performance range in the pro-peloton, combined with shorter stages.
    Have you actually read it? What he writes is very relevant to what I have said.
    But whatever. Suffering isn't the be all and end all for me.
    And yet at one time 'suffering and survival' were the defining qualities of the sport. Then again, times do change.
  • BikingBernieBikingBernie Posts: 2,163
    RE the doping. The better naturally you are the less you benefit from doping. Someone with a naturally high haemocrit for instance won't be able to raise theirs enough before it becomes dangerous to be worthwhile.
    Exactly, which is why it is a nonsense when people argue that if it were not for doping, the same people would have won. Consequently someone like Armstrong, whose natural haemocrit level was as low as 38% and usually around 42%, according to the data he put on his website in 2009, would have much more to gain from boosting it to 58% than many other riders would have.

    You genuinely can turn cart horses into racing thoroughbreds.

    Or even turn a reasonably talented one-day rider in to a multiple Tour 'winner'. :wink:
  • amaferangaamaferanga Posts: 6,789
    Not taking anything away from grand tour riders at all, but it's worth bearing in mind that they do spend a lot of some stages in recovery mode. If they were to try to ride balls out for 3 weeks then their performance would quickly fall off. It's only by only riding hard when they really need to that they can stay in shape to put huge efforts in up the long climbs after 18 days of racing.
    More problems but still living....
  • ddraverddraver Posts: 20,521
    Ignoring all the above for a moment - The difference between pro and amateurs in any sports should never be underestimated. The difference it makes being able to concentrate 100% on your sport rather than on work/family/real life is exceptional.

    Most of us are happy if we crack the average speed for a flat stage (say 50kph)in a 10 second sprint, likewise watch people try to keep up with marathon runners on the telly - most people last maybe 10 seconds? Obviously in "unskilled" sports like cycling/running (as opposed to sports ike football, rugby, tennis and to a certain extent swimming etc where skills/technique is important) this difference can be even more marked!

    One of the bet (if not the only) ways to experience this in cycling is to do one of the big 24hr bike race where you might be racing against a sort of Pro-Conti equivalent riders and you can see the difference in lap times and when they come flying past you like your standing still! The pro 24hr soloists will put in lap times that are 10-15 mins faster over about an hour than us in out team of 4 reasonably fit, although not racers, weekend warriors. And they do that solidly for 24hrs - we have a 3hr break between laps!
    We're in danger of confusing passion with incompetence
    - @ddraver
  • BikingBernieBikingBernie Posts: 2,163
    ddraver wrote:
    Ignoring all the above for a moment - The difference between pro and amateurs in any sports should never be underestimated.
    But as Lemond said, 'It never gets any easier, you just get faster'. To reverse this, whilst the elites might go faster, the sensations they experience are pretty much the same as an amateur racer will experience. That said, this only really applies to those who are pushing themselves competitively. Similarly, a top pro will only be able to ride at, for example, "100 %", for a similar period as a lesser rider could, they will just be going faster whilst they do it. As has already been mentioned, for much of the time the pros are 'keeping their powder dry' and the benefit to be had from sitting in a 200 strong bunch on flat stage should not be underestimated. It is not as if the pros can ride at their absolute limit for hours on end.

    I do think that the only way to understand how hard bike racing is is to do it. However, this cuts two ways. On the one hand the intensity can be shocking. On the other hand being truly fit adds a completely different dimension to one's riding. To start with one will simply get tired before you can go hard enough to truly suffer. Next you will be limited by the amount of oxygen you can get to your muscles and you will gasp like a fish. Then, as you get truly fit, your ability to utilise blood lactate will become the limiting factor, but by the time you are able to ride along in a sea of blood lactate it can become a rather existential experience, with the endorphins kicking in and the sheer excitement of competition making the suffering almost a positive thing. This is especially the case if you are doing well. As they old saying goes, 'There is a world of difference between suffering to win, and suffering simply not to be dropped'.

    Returning to the marathon thing. Running a marathon can hardly be the ultimate physical challenge when tens of thousands of lardy non-athletes have run one without collapsing. I bet most of the punters who have run a marathon would fail miserably if someone asked them to ride a mountain stage of the Tour or Giro on a similar amount of preparation. Even pretty competitive club athletes often find riding challenges such as Alpine 'Sportives' are little more than exercises in survival! I also recall an article on marathon running that said you should not begin suffering until the 6 miles to go point, otherwise you have gone out too fast and the time you will lose over the last 6 miles will more than outweigh the time you have saved over the first 20.
Sign In or Register to comment.