As an asthma sufferer, albeit one who hasn’t had many problems in the last 8 years or so, I recently had a routine check up at the local GP practice. Taking a peak expiratory flow test, I recorded a breath volume – essentially a derivative of lung capacity – about 1/3 below that of the average 18 year old of my height.
A peak expiratory flow (PEF) test is undertaken on a peak flow meter, with a sliding dial which moves further up the measurement tab the harder you blow. I remember from reading It’s Not About the Bike that Lance Armstrong went off the scale in a PEF test, blowing the dial to the very end of the meter despite having just finished his first session of chemo. Now I know what you’re all thinking, but however you look at it and whatever you think of the guy, Lance’s athletic credentials can’t be disputed. For reference, I got the dial up to about halfway.
Lance is by no means the only cyclist with extraordinary lungs. Miguel Indurain, for example, had a lung capacity measuring 8 litres, which is 30% larger than that of the average man. 30%! Larger lungs means you can simply breathe in more oxygen. More oxygen means more oxygenated blood, which in turn means more red blood cells. More red blood cells means a higher aerobic threshold. Any cyclist with a basic knowledge of a ramp test or a time trial knows what this means. Simply, you can ride faster for longer. Other methods of obtaining more red blood cells include altitude training, or taking performance enhancing drugs such as the red blood cell booster EPO, showing the natural advantage possessed by riders with enormous lungs. It’s hardly surprising that Big Mig was such a dominant rider.
This suggests that in the same way as Usain Bolt has an incredibly rich supply of fast twitch muscle fibres and Jenson Button has reaction and reflex times dwarfing those of standard people, the best cyclists are physiologically perfectly matched to the sport we love. The one downside to this discovery is that I now realise that my poor lung capacity renders me as unsuited to flying up mountains with Froome & co. as Dawn French is physically unsuited to the High Jump. Okay, maybe not quite that unsuited, but the point still stands. Whilst it is impossible to ignore that dedication and application are of fundamental importance in obtaining athletic success, that genetics play a massive part in selecting our sporting champions is also undisputable.
Nancy Back in Mexico for the Nationals
My sister had a little break from her training camp in Mallorca to do the Mexican Track Nationals. I was so excited because the last time I saw her was back in March at the Track Worlds in the Netherlands. Our schedules are so different I hardly get to see her.
We had some catch up time, we went to all our favorite restaurants (Mexican food of course!) and had a really good time before going to Aguascalientes for the track Nationals. We did a road trip two days before the competition, it was only six hours drive so it wasn’t that bad and it was a good opportunity to talk and get updates on what we’d both been doing in our lives.
When we arrived and did our first training session at the track we knew it was the moment of truth, we were going for all or nothing. All the training and the hard work was going to be tested and we had to compete one more time for that gorgeous Mexican jersey.
Unfortunately my competition was soon over due to a back injury that has been holding me back since the start of this year. On the other hand my sister did an awesome job, she won the individual pursuit on the first day and showed a superior level of skill at the rest of the competition, I guess training with the World Champion [Sarah Hammer] helps a bit!
Sofi in her "AH" Team Colours
Her coach Andy [Sparks] was very happy with her results, “Great first day of racing at the Champs of Mexico for Sofia, getting the fiesta started with a win in the individual pursuit”.
We started the omnium the second day. Sofi and my younger sister Chely raced with our local team “AH” and I raced with my team Horizon Fitness-Prendas Ciclismo RT, so we were rivals for the first time! It was weird, we always race together but this time it was completely different it added more fun to the competition.
Sofia won the flying lap and then I lapped the bunch 3 times to win the points race, the classification was very close and Sofia was beating me in the overall classification by one point. Then it was time for the elimination race, my back was in so much pain. Sofia won again and I finished in 4thplace, at the end of the day Sofia was leading the overall classification and I was still in
Sofi Arreola going for the win
contention for medals but my coach and I decided that it was better if I quit the competition because I didn’t want to have more damage done to my back.
Very disappointing news as I won two gold medals at the Nationals last year and was hoping to at least defend my titles but my health comes first.
The second day of the omnium started, Sofia was leading with a comfortable advantage and she did her best to keep the lead. She won the individual pursuit of the omnium and then it was time for the scratch race, I have to say that it was a very chaotic race!
There were several attacks as the 2nd, 3rd and 4thplace were very close in the GC [General Classification], then Chely made an attack and got away, in the final lap Sofi was way ahead in the sprint and everyone crashed behind her. One of the riders touched Sofia’s wheel by accident and that caused the crash. Some of the riders were in a very bad way and had to go to hospital, even one of the race’s commissaries was injured!
Accident At the Mexican Nationals
There were broken bones, blood and many, many scars! Only my two sisters were fine… it was devastating, so the judges decided to end the race right there and they didn’t do the omnium’s final event (500 metres).
So that meant that Sofia won another National Jersey to add to her big collection, she showed again she was the strongest in the competition but still she was very sad because her rivals crashed, “I can’t even think about the victory, I just hope the rest of the girls are ok…”.
Sofi Arreola racing at the Nationals
One of the biggest surprises of the championships was the comeback of Belem Guerrero (former Olympic silver medalist) and Nancy Contreras (former Jr World Champ of 500 metres). Belem retired after a bad season before the Beijing Olympics’ and Nancy just had a baby four months ago!
They were both in good form, Nancy was looking super fit even after having a baby! It seems like she’s worked really hard to get her fitness back to win two national titles. Belem was also looking very good, she was winning the points race after lapping the bunch once and just when she was getting ready to make another attack she crashed! It was again a bad crash… she broke three ribs and couldn’t keep on racing, such a shame! She is such a talented rider and an icon of Mexican Cycling.
This Championships had a lot of surprises, crashes and emotional moments. It was really nice to be there and have the whole experience (even if I had to end my race sooner than expected…).
With this results Sofia has secured her place in the PanAm Games [Pan-American Games] this October, this event is very important for Mexico because it’s a big competition, a huge test before the Olympic Games in 2012 and also because it will be held in Mexico this time! What a better feeling that racing for the National Team in your own country!
Sofia is now in an altitude camp in Colorado and will return to Mexico to ride the team pursuit and the omnium in the PanAm Games and after that she will be more than ready to start the World Cup season!
Let’s get this party started!
All images ©Copyright Nancy Arreola