Two Very Different Ways of Riding the Tour de France

I’d never ever say it to their faces, but as a scrawny distance runner I have normally relished viewing muscle-certain decathletes run their closing occasion, the 1,five hundred meters. They make it appear almost as difficult as the pole vault would be for me. Of program, they really don’t essentially have to race in opposition to center-distance professionals. In cycling, on the other hand, the sprinters, time-trialists, climbers, and all-arounders all contend in the exact same Grand Tours. Consider, for illustration, if Usain Bolt had to finish the marathon inside of a certain time restrict in purchase to start off the 100-meter closing the subsequent working day. What would that acquire?

A pair of new research in the Global Journal of Sports activities Physiology and Efficiency gives a one of a kind appear at energy information gathered by retired German sprinter Marcel Kittel, who above the program of his career won 14 Tour de France phases. Line that up subsequent to a very similar study revealed final yr displaying the energy information of Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin, an all-arounder who has won the Giro D’Italia and placed second over-all in the Tour de France, and you have a one of a kind window into the physiological needs of a Grand Tour from two very unique views.

All 3 research had been led by Teun Van Erp, who worked with both Kittel and Dumoulin as a sports scientist when they had been racing with what’s at this time recognised as Crew DSM (previously Crew Sunweb and Crew Shimano, among the other names). He’s now a postdoc at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. I have published about his investigate with the Crew DSM cyclists a few moments previously: he and his colleagues found that subjective actions like perceived effort feel to be as fantastic as higher-tech actions like energy meters for checking training load, and in an additional study when compared racing information from their men’s and women’s staff. 

One way of quantifying the needs of a Grand Tour is the time a rider spends in each of their 5 unique energy zones, which are centered on their purposeful threshold energy. Here’s what that seemed like for Dumoulin, an all-about rider who is significantly fantastic at time trials and climbing, above the program of 4 unique Grand Tours: 

tour de france
(Illustration: Medicine & Science in Sports activities & Work out)

These are races that cover 2,two hundred to 2,five hundred miles in 85 to 95 hrs above the program of 3 weeks, so it is not astonishing that about 80 per cent of the time is used in the three low-depth zones. The race is won and misplaced in relatively shorter intervals of time, significantly on mountain climbs that ordinarily acquire twenty to thirty minutes.

Which is the information for Dumoulin, a man who weighs about one hundred fifty kilos and has to be aggressive in flat phases, mountain phases, and time trials in purchase to be in the hunt for the over-all title. But what about Kittel, who weighs just under two hundred kilos, substantially of it in the kind of thigh muscle? He requirements that muscle to uncork large energy in ending sprints at the conclude of flat phases, but the character of the Grand Tour implies he also has to lug that muscle above the mountain passes—and however finish inside of a cutoff that ranges from about 7 to 22 per cent driving the winning time.

At to start with look, Kittel’s information appears very very similar. Here’s the exact same graphs for 4 editions of the Tour de France:

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(Illustration: Global Journal of Sports activities Physiology and Efficiency)

But Kittel is essentially expending twenty five to thirty per cent of his time in the major two zones, when compared to twenty per cent for Dumoulin. “What amazed me the most was how substantially heavier a Grand Tour was for Marcel when compared to Dumoulin,” Van Erp informed me in an e-mail. “Further, he has to commit an unbelievably higher quantity of time in z4 and z5 on the mountains located in the to start with aspect of the race to be able to continue to be in the grupetto [i.e. the key pack of non-climbers who drop driving through a mountain phase].”

In the 2017 Tour, Kittel won 5 phases, including the 10th and 11th. In the twelfth phase, which showcased 3 significant climbs, he completed one hundred and seventieth, additional than 34 minutes driving the phase winner. He’s like the decathlete having difficulties by means of a 1,five hundred, and you may think he’s lollygagging, conserving up his power for the subsequent dash phase. But here’s the exact same information broken down by unique kinds of phase: flat, semi-mountainous, mountainous, and time demo. Acquire a appear at how difficult he’s working on individuals mountain phases!

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(Illustration: Global Journal of Sports activities Physiology and Efficiency)

(The time trials are way shorter, often fewer than half an hour, so are ridden at a substantially bigger depth.)

One way of comparing physiology among the unique kinds of riders is to appear at energy output (which is generally measured by a energy meter that detects how difficult you are urgent on the pedals) divided by weight. The additional you weigh, the higher the energy you want to be able to sustain, particular for uphill climbs exactly where other components like aerodynamics really don’t make any difference as substantially. Dumoulin’s purposeful threshold energy ranged concerning five.eight and six. watts per kilogram in the decades covered by the study Kittel, working in opposition to a substantially bigger weight, was four.nine W/kg. The latter variety, Van Erp argues, is likely the bare bare minimum important to finish a Grand Tour with out missing any cutoffs.

The second paper on Kittel’s information normally takes a deep dive into dash techniques through two intervals of his career: with Crew Shimano in 2013-2014, and with Crew Fast-Action in 2016-2017. These sprints are really choreographed, relying on a collection of domestiques to guide the sprinter into place for a prospective win at the very conclude of the race.

With Shimano, Kittel’s energy output tended to be bigger concerning 10 minutes and thirty seconds from the finish, resulting in a superior place as the dash began. With Fast-Action, he didn’t operate as difficult in the guide-up to the dash and had worse positioning as a outcome, but was able to accelerate more difficult commencing with thirty seconds left. Kittel was fantastic ample to win sprints with either method, but that could not be correct for most sprinters, Van Erp suggests. It’s a fantastic point to don’t forget: the ending dash is normally memorable, but the race is often won or misplaced in the struggle for fantastic place just before the actual dash commences.

One of the neat issues in cycling is all the subplots happening on any provided working day of a Grand Tour. Some riders are striving to win the phase some others are striving to go up the over-all rankings some others are striving to pick up points by winning climbs or intermediate primes. It turns out that there’s still an additional layer of drama going on at the again of the pack, as the sprinters try to stay clear of elimination—and the physiology indicates that, by some actions, they are working even more difficult than the leaders. When the Grand Tours resume this summer, here’s hoping for some fantastic display screen time for the grupetto.

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Guide Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty

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