In Pro Cycling, Men Race Longer But Women Race Harder

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Sure, with a complete distance of two,081 miles in 23 days, together with 26 main mountain climbs and a longest stage of 144 miles, last month’s Tour de France seemed pretty grueling. But did you understand that for roughly 25 p.c of the race time, the cyclists weren’t even pedaling? In a month-long Tour, that’s like every week of paid trip. That’s simply one of many particulars that emerges from an in depth evaluation of 4 years of race information from an expert biking crew, recently published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. And there’s lots extra.

The examine was led by Dajo Sanders, a sports activities scientist at Stirling University in Scotland, and Teun van Erp, the pinnacle of scientific analysis for the Germany-based Team Sunweb, and delves into race information for 20 males and 10 girls, all top-level skilled cyclists with “a current World Tour professional cycling team.” While the article doesn’t establish this crew, I feel we are able to safely assume that it was Team Sunweb, whose prime rider, Tom Dumoulin, completed 2nd on this 12 months’s Tour de France, and which additionally has one of many prime girls’s squads on the earth.

Pro cyclists, evidently, spend a variety of time biking, usually masking about 15,000 to 22,000 miles a 12 months for males, and eight,000 to 11,000 miles for girls, in accordance with the researchers. A whole lot of that point is spent racing: as much as 100 days a 12 months for males and 65 days a 12 months for girls. For most of these racing days, the crew’s science crew collected 3 complementary items of information: coronary heart price, which provides a way of physiological pressure; energy output, which provides an neutral studying how laborious the rider is pedaling; and perceived exertion, which provides a subjective tackle how laborious the race was.

In complete, over a four-year interval, the crew collected information on 3,640 days of racing by the 30 riders within the examine. The aggregated outcomes give some sense of what’s required to race a motorbike on the prime skilled stage, which is definitely fascinating. But the true objective of the examine was to check the boys’s and ladies’s information, to get a way of whether or not the calls for of the boys’s and ladies’s excursions are sufficiently totally different that the riders ought to prepare in another way.

Some primary background information: the common distance of a race day for the boys was 114 miles, which took 4 hours and 45 minutes; for girls it was 72 miles, which took 3 hours and 14 minutes. This combines multi-day stage races and one-day races into 1 massive information set. The males sustained a barely increased common energy, at 3.0 watts per kilogram versus 2.8 for the ladies. The period of time spent in several 0.75-watt energy zones was roughly comparable in women and men—with the biggest period of time, as I famous on the prime, spent between 0 and 0.75 watts, similar to no pedaling.

But probably the most stunning distinction was in coronary heart price. The girls sustained a mean coronary heart price of 152, which corresponded to 79 p.c of their most coronary heart price. The males, then again, sustained a mean of simply 133, which was 69 p.c of their max. (For the file, the common max for girls was 185, in comparison with 180 for males. But the calculations of common coronary heart price percentages aren’t easy, as a result of not all riders raced the identical quantity.)

If you divide coronary heart price into 5 zones (above 50, 60, 70, 80, and 90 p.c of max), right here’s what the respective distributions appear like:

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(International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance)

It’s clear that girls are spending considerably extra time in zones 4 and 5, the best depth zones. On the floor, that is very straightforward to grasp. Their races are solely 63 p.c as far, in order that they’re in a position to trip at a better depth for this shorter period of time. Interestingly, once you have a look at perceived exertion, which is assessed on a subjective scale that runs from 6 to 20, each women and men had a mean ranking of 15.4. This means that the depth of girls’s races is increased by precisely the quantity wanted to stability the shorter distance—which is smart in the event you imagine that we finally decide our limits primarily based on perceived effort.

One of the shortcomings of the examine, the authors acknowledge, is that their coronary heart price zones are primarily based on arbitrary percentages of most coronary heart price. You’d get extra significant coaching zones by dividing your coaching primarily based on time spent above or beneath precise physiological cutpoints just like the lactate or ventilatory thresholds. Is it potential that girls, on common, have thresholds at totally different coronary heart price percentages? In a quick glance at the literature, I wasn’t ready to determine if there’s a consensus on this, notably amongst well-trained athletes. Or to place it one other method, in the event you ask women and men to train at, say, 85 p.c of most coronary heart price after which price their perceived exertion, will each teams give roughly the identical reply?

Having a terrific dataset like this is step one to answering a few of these questions on potential variations between women and men. If you’re a feminine bike owner, don’t be stunned in case your coronary heart price throughout races is increased than what male cyclists report. It’s potential, the researchers counsel, that girls ought to prepare in another way than males, incorporating extra excessive depth interval coaching to arrange for racing at increased intensities. It’s additionally potential (and that is me simply spitballing right here) that women’s races should be the same length as men’s races. But that’s a complete totally different dialogue.


My new e book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell, is now out there. For extra, be part of me on Twitter and Facebook, and join the Sweat Science email newsletter.


(Editor references)

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