The Physiology of Pro Cyclists – Massive Lungs

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.

Glorious Funding

If you follow the Tour every year, like us, you will have waited a lifetime for a Brit to win it (well if you’re from this small island you have). If you’re Bradley Wiggins, you’ve been training for it all your life. howies wanted to celebrate the amazing win and commissioned a limited edition tee “Sideburns of Glory”, that became their fastest selling tee of all time. I ordered mine and I’ve been wearing it proudly since. It’s a conversation piece. The design is based on the Bayeux Tapestry and it shows “St Bradley of Viggins” wielding his sword while atop a pile of broken riders and bikes.

For the week after the Tour, howies decided to donate the proceeds from their cycling themed t-shirts to the Dave Rayner Fund, raising £5560.

Dave Raynor was an English professional road cyclist from 1987 to 1994, in his career he rode for Dutch (Buckler), British (Interent-Yugo, Raleigh-Banana & Banana Falcon) and American (I.M.E.-Health Share and Lex-Townsend) Pro teams. Dave was a consistent winner of the under 22 Milk Race (now known as the Tour of Britain) which was a favourite of his). He sadly died age 27 in 1994.

After his death a memorial fund established and a fund raising dinner which takes place every year with esteemed guests such as Miguel Indurain, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, and Eddy Merckx attending.

Since 1996, The Dave Rayner Fund have supported hundreds of promising British cyclists. By issuing grants to cover training and racing costs, they bridge the gap into making a successful career from cycle racing in Europe and it’s great the customers of howies have raised such an unexpected sum.

The fund has supported the career progression for the likes of David Millar and Charly Wegelius and receives ongoing support from professional riders, such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.

To support the Dave Rayner Fund or find out more please visit their website by clicking here.

Alex from howies says, “There’s going to be loads more British Cycling success on the TV over the next couple of weeks and some great tees to celebrate.”

… and here they are!…

You can choose from “Great Thighs of thunder” (Sir Chris of Hoy), Sweet Chariot (Queen Victoria) and The MMXXII Missile (The Marquis of Cavendish).

To order visit the howies website.

 

Book Review: Stephen Roche “Born to Ride”

Have you ever dreamt about sitting down with a relaxing glass of wine and spending an evening just chatting cycling with a former World Champion?  What if you could spend time with a Triple Crown winner?  Well, that’s how reading the new book by Stephen Roche ‘Born to Ride’ felt to me.  It gave me the distinct impression that I was having an intimate conversation with one of the all-time greats in the world of cycling.

 

The stories and the thoughts behind the action in the book are fascinating.  Stephen’s personal views of the nature and culture of cycling in the 1980s–the teams, the Directors Sportif, the teammates and the rivals are the needed details.  They fill in gaps in the urban legends and the well-documented stories that have become the lore of cycling.  To be allowed into the depths of that world, just a bit, is a compelling read and well worth the price of admission.

 

Setting the stage with the details and drama of the World Championships of 1987, Stephen Roche narrates the tale of that fateful day, bone-numbingly wet, riding the circuit course at Villach, Austria.  “During these early laps I am just staying in the wheels, sheltering from the wind behind other riders, freewheeling almost.  That’s obviously an exaggeration, but that’s how easy I want it to feel, so that I can save everything I can for the end.”  The winning strategy, the gear choices, the details of the day are the simple things, like putting on three rain jackets layered upon each other, that make for a build up that seems so very personal and intriguing. It also makes a fascinating read for fans of cycling and of sports psychology.

 

Mixed in with the racing are touching details of Stephen’s early days trying to gather up money to make the trip over to race in France as an amateur, as well as, engaging stories of the many people who helped make it possible. Stephen openly lets us in to his personal life in a genuine and straight forward manner.  It is this glimpse into the triumphs and failures of the man that make you feel closer, that make you want to read more.  It also makes you realize that a Triple Crown in cycling doesn’t insulate you from being human, from being a parent, or the devastation of having a child who develops leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant.  Within these pages are the joys of winning and the sorrows of life.

 

One of the most intriguing takes I have from the book ‘Born to Ride’ is the strong undercurrent of confidence that comes through when Stephen Roche talks about being on the bike.  He didn’t just think he could win, he knew the race was his to win, and he belonged on the top step of the podium.  Interestingly, he is quite honest about the price he paid for it, within his own team and with others, cyclists and fans, who thought his tactics were not “pure” team spirit.

 

For me, these insights into the mindset of a champion come through between lines, chocked full of the images of iconic cyclists who are brought to life through Stephen’s reminiscences.  The legends of cycling from Miguel Indurain, Laurent Fignon, Roberto Visentini, Sean Kelly to Robert Millar play prominently throughout Stephen’s career.  The book runs the gamut from glimpses of the boy, who collected clippings of Sean Kelly and was told at school he “wasn’t likely to get anywhere”, to the triumphant 1987 World Champion and winner of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

 

Like most conversations, which zig and zag and take you to unexpected, but not unwelcome places, Stephen also addresses the climate of doping in cycling that existed at the time, his opinions of the present-day UCI and its concerns about “cheating” and improving the image of the sport, and his role in each.  It left me ever more hopeful for the future of cycling, that there is still a sense of direction for the sport which comes from people like Stephen Roche who have been there and lived it.

 

As I came to the end, finally putting the book down, there was a sense of joy and a sense of loss.  The interlude with the past, like a fine wine or a lovely evening, was over all too soon, but I was left with a profound sense of place and a newfound appreciation for the real challenges and sacrifices it takes to be a cyclist.  Overall, ‘Born to Ride’ is an absorbing and interesting new book, Stephen Roche’s first full autobiography, and I highly recommend spending a few enjoyable evenings savoring the conversation.

 

 
 

Title:  Born To Ride  

Author: Stephen Roche    

Published by Yellow Jersey Press, The Random House Group

Available from 7th June 2012 in Hardback & eBook

Price: £12.99
 
 

 

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