SSA Blog: What it takes to win a Grand Tour - or two...

Riders performances, like in any sport, consist of a number of interdependent factors. Cycling at its professional level contains some of the most elite endurance athletes in the world. To achieve this level takes enormous dedication, going through years of training to develop the endurance adaptations needed to compete within the professional peloton.

There can be no doubt that to win grand tours, riders need to be at the peak of endurance capacity. Interestingly, for a sport so driven by statistics, numbers associated with the fitness of tour winners in peak condition are limited.

Chris Froome - blog.jpg

Luckily, a recent study which gained access to a major tour winner while at the peak of his powers has been published. This, along with anecdotal evidence and data from previous cycling trials allows us to build a picture of the quite extraordinary levels of fitness cycling’s elite riders reach in order to stand on top of the podium.

Having this data allows fans, via the same tests or using their own power data, to directly compare themselves to the world’s best and develop a greater understanding of just how impressive elite riders are across a number of key performance parameters.

Published in 2017, the case study reveals some incredible statistics, which to the best of our knowledge are among the highest ever recorded in cycling. Obviously, the sport is about more than just numbers from a Lab, it combines history, emotion, tactics and skill, but fundamentally, if a rider can outgun their opponents via superior cycling specific fitness it delivers an incredible performance advantage.

The below highlights some of the key numbers that were recorded during an incremental sub max and max cycling fitness test.

  • V02peak (absolute) - 5.91.L min-1
  • V02peak (relative to body weight) 84 mL.kg-1
  • Peak Power Output - 525W
  • Power to weight ratio - 7.5 W.kg-1
  • 4 mmol-L Power (lactate) - 430 W

The authors, Bell et al, highlight that these tests were conducted a few weeks following the Tour de France, but prior to the Vuelta a España. They report that the rider had actually gained between 3-4kg in body mass since the start of the Tour de France. So, while the absolute power data is in line with that recorded by other professional riders, the power to weight ratio according to race weight could have been 7.84 W.kg-1 the highest value ever recorded…

In order to win a grand tour, coaches will emphasise the need for riders to excel at time trialling and climbing. Both are positively correlated with power output when blood lactate levels are at 4mmol-L. Therefore, this is a key performance indicator and one which once again showed the incredible levels achieved in this case study.

Power to weight ratio when at 4mmol-L was 6.1 W.kg-1. This is significantly higher than recorded in a directly comparable study of elite international riders, but is marginally lower than the number reported from a previous Tour winner. Once again though, applying the reported race weight of 3-4kg lighter than during this testing, the number equates to 6.4 W.kg-1 at 4mmol-L which would be the highest on record…