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How much does natural physiology play into a successful cyclist?

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How much does natural physiology play into a successful cyclist?

Old 08-19-12, 04:52 PM
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knoxtnhorn
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How much does natural physiology play into a successful cyclist?

Had this discussion with a couple of friends of mine. Let me set it up.

I play - and have played - soccer for over 15 years. I got into cycling 2 years ago. Despite playing/practicing several times a week, I never felt like I had an extremely high fitness level compared to others of the same ability, age, athleticism. To my surprise, it is the complete opposite when I'm on a bike. There are people that I play soccer with, run marathons, or play other sports that cannot touch me when it comes to biking. And, yes, I am speaking of like-minded people that bike quite a bit often. In other words, I'm not comparing myself to people that never get on a bike. For example, I have a friend that bikes as much as I do who ran a 2:00 half marathon that absolutely struggles to stay with me. There's no way in hell I could match him on my feet; however, when on a bike, I am constantly having to stop and wait for him. In a 3-mile time trial last week, I beat him by over 3 minutes.

My theory is that my physiology is a bonus when it comes to biking. I have short legs but a larger torso. I would assume this would be detractor when doing anything that requires running because it is putting quite a bit of weight-bearing on my shorter-than-normal leg muscles. It may be harder to cycle oxygen as I'm running due to the fact that my stride requires a tad more leg strength than other people per ratio. When riding a bike, my theory is that the weight-bearing is lessened and that I am more easily able to get oxygen to my legs and lactic acid out.

Am I way off? Thoughts?
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Old 08-19-12, 05:00 PM
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Well ... yes
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Old 08-19-12, 05:08 PM
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I am a lot better at writing papers than doing math. Some guys who can solve an equation in minutes that I would struggle with for an hour used to get C's on written assignments that I would get A's on. Point being we are all special snowflakes who are better at some **** than others...
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Old 08-19-12, 05:14 PM
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Certainly there are differing genetic traits that are beneficial to cycling, most notably a high VO2Max. I have short legs/long torso but I don't think it's particularly helpful for cycling as it is more difficult to get into an aggressive aero position without having your knees banging into your chest.

And I think for a runner a 2:00 1/2 marathon is pretty slow.
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Old 08-19-12, 05:23 PM
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Originally Posted by gregf83 View Post
And I think for a runner a 2:00 1/2 marathon is pretty slow.
Yeah that is slow. Any beginning runner can do that after some practice.
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Old 08-19-12, 05:46 PM
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Mark Cavendish has short arms and legs compared to his torso. He's found ways to turn his deficiencies into an aerodynamic advantage.
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Old 08-19-12, 05:53 PM
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Genetics, it's the reason climbers climb and sprinters sprint. You could train your heart out over the next year in the 100 meters while Usain Bolt sits on his couch watching tv. He's still going to beat you in the 100.
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Old 08-19-12, 06:18 PM
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DNA is virtually everything if you want to reach the upper echelons of any sport. Choose your parents with care.
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Old 08-19-12, 06:23 PM
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It's your vo2 max, not your dimensions, that matter in cycling.

This is influenced by genetics and training.
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Old 08-19-12, 06:26 PM
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Physiology can give you a few advantages.

However, I'm fairly confident that a guy who isn't physiologically perfect for cycling, but knows how to pace himself, is willing to work harder, ride harder and suffer longer will be a better cyclist than you.

I also concur that a 2:00 half marathon isn't bad but isn't that impressive -- it's a 9 minute mile pace. I barely run, and can easily do a 10 minute mile.
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Old 08-19-12, 06:28 PM
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Your genetic gift accounts for 7.87 percent of your ability, the rest is sweat and work.
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Old 08-19-12, 06:31 PM
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Originally Posted by surgeonstone View Post
Your genetic gift accounts for 7.87 percent of your ability, the rest is sweat and work.
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Old 08-19-12, 06:33 PM
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Originally Posted by SCochiller View Post
No, really, I'm serious.
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Old 08-19-12, 06:35 PM
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Originally Posted by surgeonstone View Post
No, really, I'm serious.
Then you've obviously never been exposed to pro/Olympic-class athletes. They are a different species. 99% of the population can train as hard as they want, but will never reach that level.

"I was on a mountain bike trip out west a few years ago and one of the guides, Pablo, told a story about being on the Junior National Cycling Team with Lance in the late 80s. Obviously, everybody on the team was completely dedicated to cycling and competition. Pablo spoke of how every minute of every day, every calorie he took in, virtually everything the team did somehow fit into the training plan. Even though it was the Junior National team, their whole lives were focused on training and competition. Pablo related an occasion when the squad was on a training ride in Colorado, on a long, steep climb to some mountain pass. Pablo described this climb as suffering beyond suffering. There he was, giving everything he had, literally, to cycling, and to this climb. Every minute of every day, every calorie taken in...and every last watt of energy, suffering beyond suffering on this climb, grinding pedal stroke after grinding pedal stroke....and then...Lance just rode by like it was nothing...pulled away from the rest of the group like it was nothing. Pablo thought, "f*** this," pulled to the side of the road and decided to leave the team right there. That was it. Turned around, rode back down and had some ice cream. End of racing career."
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Old 08-19-12, 07:08 PM
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Yeah, I get you. IThat genetic component, though small, is still critical.
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Old 08-19-12, 07:09 PM
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It's genetics first.

Training allows you to take advantage of your genetics. Cav was always a good sprinter. He didn't turn anything into anything, he just sprinted well. If he worked on climbing a lot he'd be a pretty bad climber (for a top level pro).

I had a discussion about this with a teammate. Teammate is a decent climber. He can't sprint well.

So said teammate asked me why I don't train for hills, bump my FTP up 100w or drop some weight. I asked him what his max peak power is on a bike. 1000w or so. Okay, I could get on my bike after a few months off the bike recovering from a double fractured pelvis (wheelchair, cane, etc) and rip out a bunch of 1200-1400w jumps. I asked him why he doesn't train his peak power, just increase it by 500-1000w or 50-100%.

"There's no way.... I get it."

Right. Although my jump is okay (not great - a good national level track racer told me just last year that he would max out at 2600w and could do 1000w for a minute, so that's like twice what I can do), my "endurance" i.e. threshold power aka FTP is low, like 210w or so. A decent Cat 3 is usually 300w and the pros are 400-500w (or something like that). I weigh, now, about 175-180. In 2010 I raced at 158 but that was the lightest I've been since 1999.

So to climb better I need to lose weight and increase power. How light do I need to be to get a 5 or 6 w/kg ratio? 40 or so kg, so I need to weigh about 88 lbs (at 5'7"). I weight 90 lbs more than that. I could double my FTP to 410w. How? It's totally not possible. Maybe I could get to close to 300w (40% increase), maybe I could get close to 150 lbs (68kg), then I'd be 4.4 w/kg. To do 5 or 6 w/kg? Not possible.

It's all about genetics. The rest (training, tactics, etc) is just taking advantage of the genetics.

The only other alternative is doping. Those that can't accept their genetic limitations can turn to doping.
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Old 08-19-12, 07:21 PM
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^ what sucks is seeing really fat ex Cat 1s killing you in races. They still have their monster genetic motors. They're not top level national guys anymore but they're still really, really, really strong. The 400w FTP doesn't go anywhere so they can still go 28mph all day (or so it seems) even though they're literally 100 lbs heavier than they were in their prime. I know of two guys, one an ex-pro, one a Cat 1, who can both hang with some of the hardest racing if it's flat. Make them accelerate a bunch of times and they're hating life but once they get in a break it's just plugging away 25-28 mph. They're so, so strong.

In their prime they were ridiculously strong. And they weren't even "great", never made the top level pros, never even made high level US pros (i.e. doing well in the biggest races in the US).

The Cat 1 guy who was never pro once won a P12 race, took place on a course with a 1 mile lap. He attacked very early, got a small gap, and held off a very strong field that included Graeme Miller and Jeff Rutter, both high level domestic US pros. The Cat 1 guy told me what he did afterwards. He attacked, went "fast" for a number of laps, like 30-32 mph. Then he slowed down to 28 mph. He knew it would hurt to chase at 30-35 mph which is what they'd have to do.

As soon as someone yelled they were gaining he'd do a few laps at 30-32 mph. He knew that the guys would be going 35 mph, maybe close to 38-40 on the main straight, but if he could hold 32 mph they wouldn't dent his lead too much (which initially leveled off at about 30 seconds). Then when the gap leveled off again he'd slow down to 28 mph. He did something like 40 or 45 miles like that, by himself, no aero wheels, no nothing, with a field of about 80-90 really hungry guys trying to catch him.

So let's put that into perspective. Go 30 mph for just one mile. Flat road if you want (the course has a hill in it). Heck, give yourself a tailwind. Do that one mile at 30 mph. Now do another. Another. Now slow down to 28 mph. Do that for 5 or 6 miles. Then do a few 30 mph miles. Oh and start it off with a really hard lap, maybe 34-35 mph.

I kill myself to do one lap at 30 mph at that course. To do that a few laps at a time, then recover at 28 mph? Holy cow.

And he's not even a great rider! Good around here, at his best 3rd in the national road race, but there are guys that are clean that just blew him away. He knew it and his goal, as a top level Cat 1, was to be signed as a domestique for some of these much stronger pros.
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Old 08-19-12, 07:32 PM
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^+1.

The Cycling Physiology of Miguel Indurain 14 years after Retirement
shows Big Mig could still be competitive if he lost some weight despite riding only 6 months a year.
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Old 08-19-12, 08:09 PM
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To beat a dead horse, 2:00 hr marathon is slower than middle of the pack for M30 age group, so you're comparing yourself to someone who's pretty slow on the run.

Now if he were running a 1:20 half marathon, and was cycling, that would give you more to find yourself with possible genetic gifts in cycling.

But yes, genetics are huge in any sport, and in cycling, make all the difference given that everyone who races a lot trains really really hard.

If you go and ride with the "A" group of your local roadie club where the competitive roadies hang out, and then you'll get a better sense of how fit for this sport you are. It's really hard to tell base upon riding with folks who are only occasional cyclists, even if they're very strong at another sport.
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Old 08-19-12, 08:24 PM
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Originally Posted by datlas View Post
It's your vo2 max, not your dimensions, that matter in cycling.

This is influenced by genetics and training.
Having just had dinner with about 100 professional cyclists, there is definitely certain charecteristics that the sport selects. The vast majority are pretty small people. And even the tall ones share a common trait with the tiny ones: Almost universally, they have very slender hips.

I could have 2% body fat, and still be way wider than these guys.

No doubt, V02 max is extremely important, but it's not the only charectistic you'll find pro cyclists have in common.
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Old 08-19-12, 08:30 PM
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^^ I'm big-boned too
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Old 08-19-12, 08:34 PM
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Originally Posted by surgeonstone View Post
Yeah, I get you. IThat genetic component, though small, is still critical.
It's not small. It's almost everything. Some people don't like to hear that, because it means that, for most people, no amount of hard work will make you a pro. Some folks like to believe, if I just had the time to train harder, at a younger age, I could have been there. But for most of us, that's not true.
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Old 08-19-12, 08:57 PM
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Originally Posted by surgeonstone View Post
Yeah, I get you. IThat genetic component, though small, is still critical.
No, you still don't get it. The genetic factor is NOT small. Armstrong (et. al.) untrained, can beat 95% of the racers on the planet.
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Old 08-19-12, 09:13 PM
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Originally Posted by gregf83 View Post
^+1.

The Cycling Physiology of Miguel Indurain 14 years after Retirement
shows Big Mig could still be competitive if he lost some weight despite riding only 6 months a year.
"aerobic power output 450 W" - 14 years after retiring.
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Old 08-19-12, 10:29 PM
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Originally Posted by grolby View Post
It's not small. It's almost everything. Some people don't like to hear that, because it means that, for most people, no amount of hard work will make you a pro. Some folks like to believe, if I just had the time to train harder, at a younger age, I could have been there. But for most of us, that's not true.
I invite any of these starry-eyed idiots to go ahead and take a year off from work and see how good they can get. IME (tested twice now) after starting from near zero (but not fat), great gains for ~4 months (like ~70% FTP gain) then nothing. Well... maybe 1% per year for a few years. I've had >20 years to try different things and nothing helps. When I'm coughing up blood and and getting tunnel vision and my legs refuse to go around, then my power output is always the same.
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