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.

Book Review: Racing Through the Dark – The Fall and Rise of David Millar

 

Racing Through the Dark

The Fall and Rise of David Millar
by David Millar

I have read many autobiographies about cyclists over the years, but none of them can be compared to this magnificent book by David Millar.
The story can be read on two levels. The first is the most obvious one: a review of one of the most important and decisive periods in contemporary cycling: the end of the nineties and the beginning of the 21st century (the controversial Lance Armstrong era), recorded by an insider. The second is more universal: it is the tale of the loss of innocence, the psychologically fully acceptable story of how a talented young person gets drawn into a world of corruption and foul play, driven by the hunger for success and recognition, and how this world makes this acceptable, because everybody is playing by the same “rules” and the “real world” is well hidden and seems reassuringly far away (a term recently used by Armstrong’s in his defence as he declined to fight his longterm battle with USADA, ‘I played by the rules of the time’). In David Millar’s case, the protagonist survives, and returns on a higher level, an advocate of stronger anti-doping regulations, which, sadly enough, can’t be said of many heroes in many similar stories.

For the real cycling fan, “Racing through the Dark” contains a tremendous amount of background information of how things worked in the pro teams at the time of the 1998 Festina Tour de France: we see how the Cofidis team was organised, we see how “stars” like Philippe Gaumont and Frank Vandenbroucke were behaving like real lunatics, taking drugs before major races, and getting away with it, as long as results were good…We learn how the practice of injections used for recuperation was omnipresent, and how one step leads to the other, as was the case for Millar when he was staying in the house of one of his Italian teammates, who is called “l’Equipier” in the book, but who, in my opinion, can’t be anyone else but Massimiliano Lelli.

We also get a nice insight into contemporary racing, because, luckily, Millar’s racing days weren’t over after he‘d got caught. There is the story of his meeting with the flamboyant JV (Jonathan Vaughters), his friendship with Stuart O’Grady, the Commonwealth Games in India together with Cav (Mark Cavendish), who is described in a very positive way, participating in the Tour de France with a young Bradley Wiggins, who comes across to me to be a rather selfish person, not a team player.

And then there is the second level, the extraordinarily intelligent and well written story of the fall and rise of a talented sportsman, originally from Scotland, who, after his parents get divorced, spends his youth partly in Hong Kong, and partly in England, where his mother and sister still live. We follow his story, how he comes to France to become a pro cyclist, how he reaches top level, winning the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, living the life of a superstar, dwelling in Monaco and Biarritz, how he gets caught for doping practices, and falls into depression, but, sustained by the help of his sister and a few good friends eventually crawls back, and reaches the highest level again, clean and more satisfied this time.

It is this story of “redemption”, as Millar calls it, that makes the book more interesting than the average autobiography of well- known sportsmen, it shows the reader how easily one can make the wrong decisions, how gradually a naïve ambitious youngster chooses the side of the cheating colleagues, and how living in a protected, small universe makes one unaware of what is morally acceptable in the “real world”.

Racing through the Dark is a must read for every cycling fan, who is not only interested in facts and figures, but also enjoys reading a fine story that makes us understand what was going on in the pro teams in the recent past, and makes us hope that there is still a future for cycling.


Title:
Racing Through the Dark – The Fall and Rise of David Millar  

Author: David Millar    

Published by Orion

Available in Paperback, iBook & Kindle

Price:
RRP £8.99 (Paperback), RRP £8.99 (eBook), RRP £18.99 (Hardback)

 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

Book Review: Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape

 

Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape

The remarkable life of Jacques Anquetil, the first five-times winner of the Tour de France
by Paul Howard

 
The Times ‘An extraordinary biography

The Times certainly hit the nail on the head with that one! This is certainly a very extraordinary biography. I would perhaps have re-titled the book, Sex and Drugs and ride a bike, rephrasing one of my favourite songs written by the amazing wordsmith Ian Dury. Paul Howard’s biography is certainly full of all three!

Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape unlike many of the other cycling biographies and autobiographies I have read is not an easy read. This is not due to the content of the book but rather in the style in which it is written. It is clear that Paul Howard has spent time carefully researching the facts in the book. He has done this by reading other author’s books and by talking to people around Anquetil at the time. However to ensure the reader is aware of the depth of research the book can at times be as enjoyable to read as a history text book, not totally riveting!

I found the early chapters really hard going and was not sure if I could persevere, but the desire to get under the skin of such a great cyclist drove me forward. Paul Howard deals well with all areas of Anquetil’s life, from his calculating riding style, which did not win over all the French public, to his unusual personal life and loves.

Through the book you certainly get an impression that, actually what happens today is not really that different to Anquetil’s era but somehow it has become more accepted that deals are struck for teams to work together, rider support is bought, and that it is OK to ride to a carefully calculated marginal time gain plan. Lance Armstrong and other greats certainly did this. The darkside however is perhaps the accepted use of drugs to aid performance and Anquetil’s stand against testing and his refusal to be tested after his final hour record, leading to the lack of ratification for the record. Funny to think that Paul Kimmage has become a cycling world outcast for writing about the same thing, when in reality it was all ready in the open.

The hardest part of the book to ‘get your head round’ is that fact that his wife allowed, maybe even suggested, they use Anquetils’ stepdaughter to act as a surrogate mother. This lead to a twelve year relationship, with mother and daughter. Finally imploding and leading to Anquetil developing a long term relationship with his stepson’s wife! I wonder what Jeremy Kyle would have made of that?!

Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape is most certainly an extraordinary biography and if you are willing to work at reading it, overall it is well worth the effort. You get a chance to get the inside story of one of cycling’s greatest ever Tour de France riders. Persevere, overall it was forth the effort.

 
 

Title: 
Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape – The remarkable life of Jacques Anquetil, the first five-times winner of the Tour de France  

Author: Paul Howard    

Published by Mainstream Publishing

Available in Hardback, Paperback & eBook

Price:
RRP £18.99 (Hardback), RRP £8.99 (Paperback), RRP £8.99 (eBook)

 
 
 
 

 
 

The Six Day’s… Leave them alone – Minty’s Ramblings

Tom Murray - Image © Anna Magrath Cycling Shorts.

This winter I set off to the Gent, Six days full of enthusiasm and excitement, its somewhere I have great memories off, somewhere I have passed down many a story about to my friends, family and anyone else who would listen. But there is a problem, a worry stuck in my head I think the world needs to know, but first I better tell you why I qualify to worry about the six days.

The Kuipke track has always been close to my heart, in truth it’s the whole reason I got to ride a bike for a living. As a young kid my parents took me across to Gent to watch the six day with Ben Swift I remember us both sitting there staring in amazement as the six day rolled on and on into the early hours of the night and the party in the middle of the track got more and more wild and out of hand. I made a decision there and then that I wanted to ride the six days, I wanted a piece of that atmosphere to be part of the whole circus, it felt a lot more than just a bike race is was entertaining and a real show.

The thought of riding at Kuipke in the six days didn’t leave me and a few years later I moved to Gent to live with a Belgian family in the heart of cycling land. Riding for the Kingsnorth International team I spent three years riding on the kermis circuit out in Belgium, a great experience. One that taught me how to be a racing cyclist in truth and in 2007 I was finally lucky enough to get an invitation to ride the Noel Fore Memorial event on the Kuipke track. It had taken some getting there but I had made it onto the track in Gent. Even better was that after a good performance riding with Peter Williams against mostly national squads we received an invitation to the UIV amateur six days of Gent. It was the best news ever; I was to be involved in some small way in the six days! I remember the six nights well, it was hard, a real learning experience, some nights went well others went awful but it didn’t really matter I was part of the six day show, full of adrenaline and excitement.

After that first amateur six day, over the next three years I was lucky enough to ride twice more in Gent and once in Amsterdam, Dortmund and in between took in International events in Alkmaar, Munich and on the new Eddy Merckx track in Gent. Every event was a new experience, a new place, different people a proper adventure, you didn’t always know how you would get from place to place. Once along with Tom Smith I was stuffed in the back of Iljo Keisse’s car along with his huge number six flower after been left stranded in Amsterdam! But that was all part of been immersed in the six day circuit. Although I never got to step up to the professional six day circuit I am happy that for a small while I was part of it, even if that part was pretty small.

So what’s my problem? Well, the atmosphere at Gent this year was pretty subdued, the showmen or orchestrator of the sixes seemed to have disappeared (granted Keisse who is probably the current star of the sixes wasn’t able to take part) and the crowd seemed more interested in the bar than the track. My theory on the reason for this is the changing face of track racing, something that was once fairly individual that didn’t rely on you been in a big backed trade team or part of a national set up now seems to be exactly that. Add to this the exclusion of the Madison from the Olympic Games and it seems like while track racing is becoming universally more popular and important the six days is not been pulled along with it.

In my last year of riding the amateur six days it became more difficult to gain an entry as a result of not been the ‘national’ selection of your country, it had changed from riders who had done it off their own backs, who wanted to be there and be part of it, people who travelled in the back of transit vans from event to event all to be part of the six day circus to deadly serious national selections who the majority of the time while respecting the events were gearing up for bigger and better things on an international stage. This year when I went back and saw the UIV amateur six it was exclusively national selection teams, that’s not that there’s a problem with those riders I’m sure they want to be there and enjoy the experience but in reality there going to move on from the six day circuit to focus on World Championships, Olympic Disciplines or a road career, leaving little for the professional six day circuit to pick from when they look for new riders.

I think that’s the problem, while as the sport gains in popularity the professional six day’s may have to come in line with new format’s that interest a wider audience but the amateur six days should always allow entries from those who have their own dreams and ambitions and follow them. These people are where your characters come from after all. The current six day star Iljo Keisse grew up riding on Kuipke, his dad owns a bar just round the corner from it, he’s a true six day rider who grew up watching the six days and wanted to be part of that, take away the possibility of that happening and in effect your killing the six days slowly. True there are still some rides left, Franco Marvulli and Danny Stam spring to mind, but what happens when they have hung up the wheels, where are the next true six day riders coming from?

Sport’s grow, evolve and change, the UCI in their wisdom have proved this by booting the Madison and individual pursuits out but some things should stay the same for their own good.

 

Minty

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

A Quick Peek at the Ultimate Domestique

 

Team Time Trial--2009 Tour de France Image ©Copyright AFP

 
Who are these riders who give their all in support of the team and its superstar cyclists? Who are the domestiques?

Let’s make no mistake here, all pro-peloton domestiques are super talented riders. They’ve won races throughout their careers and show great promise.

Of course, they have to be that good. If they weren’t great cyclists, they’d never come anywhere close to being considered for a Pro-Tour team. Nor would they be part of that chosen few who support the team in the big races, the Giro, Vuelta, the Tour de France. It’s the pinnacle, the place where all great cyclist aspire to be.

On Cycling Shorts I’d like to spotlight these riders, look at some history of how domestiques and tactics have developed, and profile current and retired domestique riders. In the meantime, maybe we can also get a few to talk about their experiences as professional riders and domestiques.

First though, I really want to start with an ideal, a model of what I think has evolved into the Ultimate Domestique. This is the rider with exceptional, star talent who choses to ride in support of the team instead of inflating his own palmarès.

Yes, it is true. Most of cycling’s superstars started their careers as domestiques-carrying water bottles, blocking the wind, protecting the star rider, then they developed. Lance did, Boonen did, even Contador did, and some of today’s top riders still play both roles, in a sort of super domestique way: stars in some races, support in others.

But occasionally, through circumstances of team or timing, a rider will fulfill the supreme supporting role; that of the Ultimate Domestique. An outstanding rider, one who could easily be a superstar on a different, lesser team, yet he is someone who choses to be part of something bigger. The Ultimate Domestique is that star cyclist who choses to ride and give his all in support of another and help the team win a major Tour!

So, who is my choice? Which rider epitomizes that role of the Ultimate Domestique? Hands down, it’s Andreas Klöden.

 

Photo Courtesy of Team RadioShack

An outstanding rider in his own right, Kloden’s individual talents on the bike are really pretty darn impressive. Twice he’s finished second at the Tour de France (2004, 2006), won at Paris-Nice (2000), and brought home a Bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Yet, he’s chosen time and time again to spend his career with the some of the world’s best teams (Team Telekom/T-Mobile, Astana) riding in support of the most heralded superstars of this generation–Ullrich, Armstrong, and Contador. And much to the frustration of those covetous Team Directors who would love to pay him to come be the big star on their teams.

Klöden has used his talent and stamina to support his team leader through the mountains, in the time trials, and through the grueling weeks of a Grand Tours with the focus on the Tour win for the team. Once again it looks like Klöden will quietly operate away from the intense glare of the spotlight and continue to play his role as the ultimate domestique, this year with his new Team RadioShack.

Having seemingly been dropped from the media’s tentacles, Klöden rarely gives an interview anymore–which is a shame, because among other things he seems like he’d be a pretty fun guy to get to know. Instead he allows his performance on the bike to speak for itself, but that probably says more than dozens of interviews ever could.

So, while I think we may get lucky and see a few more individual accolades before Klöden retires from professional cycling, one thing appears to be certain, he’s discovered his place and he seems happy. Andreas Klöden has found his cycling balance as the ultimate team player — the Ultimate Domestique.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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