Introduction: In some endurance sports, athletes complete several competitions within a short period, resulting in accumulated fatigue. It is unclear whether fatigued athletes choose the same pacing pattern (PP) as when they have recovered.
Purpose: This study aimed to analyze effects of fatigue on PP of cyclists during a 40-km time trial (TT).
Methods: Twenty-three male cyclists (28.8 ± 7.6 yr) completed three 40-km TT on a cycle ergometer. TT were conducted before (TT1) and after (TT2) a 6-d training period. A third TT was carried out after 72 h of recovery (TT3). Training days consisted of two cycling sessions: mornings, 1 h at 95% of lactate threshold or 3 × 5 × 30 s all-out sprint; afternoons, 3 h at 80% individual anaerobic threshold. Four-kilometer split times (min) and RPE were recorded during TT.
Results: Performance decreased from TT1 to TT2 (65.7 ± 3.5 vs 66.7 ± 3.3 min; P < 0.05) and increased from TT2 to TT3 (66.7 ± 3.3 vs 65.5 ± 3.3 min; P < 0.01). PP showed a significant difference between TT1 and TT2 (P < 0.001) as well as between TT2 and TT3 (P < 0.01). PP in TT1 and TT3 showed no significant difference (P > 0.05). In TT1 and TT3, cyclists started faster in the first 4 km compared with TT2. RPE course showed no significant difference between TT (P > 0.05).
Conclusions: Fatigue reversibly changes the PP of cyclists during a 40-km TT. Participants reduced their power output until premature exhaustion seemed very unlikely. This supports the assumption that pacing includes a combination of anticipation and feedback mechanisms.