The Physiological Profile of a Multiple Tour de France Winning Cyclist

BELL, PHILLIP G.; FURBER, MATTHEW J. W.; VAN SOMEREN, KEN A.; ANTÓN-SOLANAS, ANA; SWART, JEROEN

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2017 - Volume 49 - Issue 1 - p 115–123
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001068
Applied Sciences

Introduction: This case study reports a range of physiological characteristics in a two-time Tour de France champion.

Methods: After body composition assessment (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry), two submaximal cycling step tests were performed in ambient (20°C, 40%) and hot and humid (30°C, 60% [HH]) conditions from which measures of gross efficiency (GE), lactate-power landmarks, and heart rate responses were calculated. In addition, thermoregulatory and sweat responses were collected throughout. V˙O2peak and peak power output (PPO) were also identified after a separate ramp test to exhaustion.

Results: V˙O2peak and PPO were 5.91 L·min−1 (84 mL·kg−1·min−1) and 525 W, respectively, whereas mean GE values were 23.0% and 23.6% for ambient and HH conditions, respectively. In addition to superior GE, power output at 4 mmol·L−1 lactate was higher in HH versus ambient conditions (429.6 vs 419.0 W) supporting anecdotal reports from the participant of good performance in the heat. Peak core and skin temperature, sweat rate, and electrolyte content were higher in HH conditions. Body fat percentage was 9.5%, whereas total fat mass, lean mass, and bone mineral content were 6.7, 61.5, and 2.8 kg, respectively.

Conclusion: The aerobic physiology and PPO values indentified are among the highest reported for professional road cyclists. Notably, the participant displayed both a high V˙O2peak and GE, which is uncommon among elite cyclists and may be a contributing factor to their success in elite cycling. In addition, performance in HH conditions was strong, suggesting effective thermoregulatory physiology. In summary, this is the first study to report physiological characteristics of a multiple Tour de France champion in close to peak condition and suggests what may be the prerequisite physiological and thermoregulatory capacities for success at this level.

1GSK Human Performance Laboratory, Brentford, UNITED KINGDOM; and 2Sports and Exercise Medicine Clinic and Clinical Research Centre, The Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA

Address for correspondence: Phillip Bell, Ph.D., GSK Human Performance Lab, Unit 2 Brentside Executive Park, Great West Road, Brentford, United Kingdom; E-mail: phillip.x.bell@gsk.com.

Submitted for publication March 2016.

Accepted for publication July 2016.

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© 2017 American College of Sports Medicine