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.

Ned Boulting – Talks Doping and Team Sky

Ned Boulting ©Rob (AKA Your Funny Uncle)

Click play button to listen.

Interview with Ned Boulting at Revolution Oct 27th at Manchester Velodrome. An very honest and open interview.

Related links:
Ned Boulting Signed Book Competition
Ned Boulting “How I Won The Yellow Jumper” Cycling Shorts Book Review
Willy Voets ‘Braking The Chain” Cycling Shorts Book Review
Cycling Shorts Revolution 37 Report
Cycling Shorts Revolution Series website
Follow Ned on Twitter @nedboulting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponderings from the Velodrome

Newport Velodrome – ©Dave Gratton AKA SunflowerDave (on Flickr)

For someone who always has a lot to say for himself, thinking what to write about is more difficult than I thought! I should hasten to add, that’s not because I can’t think of anything, it’s because I’ve got so many ideas running around in my head it’s so difficult to chose.

So my decision has been made for me because for the first time in weeks I have an hour or so to spare to put pen to paper (yes, I am actually writing this on paper) as I’m sitting in the stands watching my daughter Ffion take part in a Welsh Cycling youth track session. So the subject: the importance of good cycling facilities, specifically Newport Velodrome.

The difference this sporting facility has made to Wales is difficult to quantify, but if you look at the numbers of riders both before and after this facility was built who are at or on their way to the top of the cycling tree, it’s obvious that its impact has been massive! The same can be said of Manchester Velodrome and I am sure it will be the case with the Olympic Velodrome; we should also consider Herne Hill and the riders that have benefitted from that facility. What it shows it that good facilities really do make a difference to the progression of riders coming through the ranks, whatever their cycling discipline. Of course we also need champions to inspire youngsters into the sport, but we’ve got such a conveyor belt going at the moment there is no worry about these facilities being under used.

So what memories have I taken from Newport Velodrome over the last 8 or 9 years that I’ve been making the 30-minute drive from Abergavenny to get here?

Well I might as well start with my number one memory and also because “why shouldn’t women’s cycling be given priority over men’s for a change?” If I can find the photo to accompany this when I next go hunting in the attic I’ll post it at a later date, as even now I find it quite hard to believe. Picture this: a women’s keirin with six riders on the start line. In amongst the six, the current senior World Champion wearing her stripes Clara Sanchez. Also on the start line I think it was Sandie Clair. Next up to them, a few star struck young girls from the UK including two from Wales, my 13-year-old daughter Becky and Katie Curtis. I can’t recall another current senior world champion ever racing in Newport, so that line-up is implanted very firmly in my head. By the way, it was France first and second with Becky coming in third to the disbelief of the French coach, especially when finding out Becky’s age.

As for other memories of female competition in Newport, between 2006 and 2007 the Youth and Junior Track National Championships had such strong fields the racing really was fantastic to watch. Seeing Becky, Lizzie Armistead, Joanna Rowsell, Jess Varnish, Laura Trott, Dani King…(I could go on) racing against each other with Hugh Porter getting very excited on the microphone really was brilliant. Looking back now I honestly think you could see then who was going to make it to the top and they weren’t all winners. The look of determination in a rider’s eyes is something I believe is what sets them apart and that is something you can spot at a young age. If someone happens to win a Youth National Championship on the way to the top that’s nice, but ultimately you need to look at the bigger picture and remember it’s not a sprint, it takes a lot of time and effort to win at elite level. And that’s what people will remember; senior champions not 11-year-old ‘superstars’!

On that last point, some really bad memories for me have been watching young girls of Under 12 and Under 14 level attempting to break a National Record as if it was the be all and end all. They have been all kitted out with the best equipment money can buy and their parents have been shouting so loudly at them as if they were doing it themselves, but why? Many of those I have watched are either no longer riding or just riding now and again. And why provide the best equipment at such a young age? Good equipment yes, but keep the very best as a reward and as an incentive when they are racing at international level. I really would like to see some sort of equipment specification cap on all youth riders to make it more of a level playing field and to give them something to aim for.

While I’m in the process of airing my concerns, the other thing that really worries me is that young riders seem to be specialising on one cycling discipline at ever-younger ages and training to the detriment of their education. Youth sport should not be like that. If I could single out one young rider who has got the balance right and sets an example for other to follow it is Elinor Barker and look where she is now! Elinor has given most forms of cycling a go, but over the time I’ve known her and the family her education has come first. She’s obviously had coaching, but it has been Elinor’s drive and determination to succeed that has won her the Junior World Time Trial and of course her supportive parents (I believe there could be another reason and the same applies to Becky as well; both Graham, Elinor’s dad and myself are ardent Newcastle United followers and maybe it’s because the girls have never seen us celebrate the winning of a trophy that they are doing their bit to cheer us up!).

On the male side of things, at the same time as that outstanding crop of girls I mentioned the boys’ fields were also amazingly strong and they provided fantastic racing to watch. Jason Kenny, Peter Kennaugh, Alex Dowsett, Luke Rowe, Adam Blythe, Andy Fenn…(once again, I could go on) are just a few of the names that cycling fans would recognise from the Olympics and pro-peloton this last year. Despite many outstanding races and individual performances the one that stands out still after these years is Andy Fenn’s Youth 500 metre time trial. Here was someone mixing it up with the best youth riders this country had to offer in all the circuit races around the country and he was winning the endurance and pursuit events on the track. In the 500 metre time trail he was up against all the best youth sprinters in the country including current BC Academy sprint member Peter Mitchell. I can still picture him going around the track now. I seem to recall I was sitting in the stands next to Iain Dyer, National Sprint Coach and Trevor King, father of Dani and a few others and the first thing that came to my mind was that here was the person to follow in Jason Kenny’s footsteps. Well I was wrong on that front, but I really think he has the potential to be the next big road sprinter from GB. I am not saying that Andy will be another ‘Cav’, because I am not sure there’ll be another in my lifetime, but I am sure that he’ll be winning many races and stages over the next few years. Another rider I’ve watched in Newport in a similar mold to Andy is Sam Harrison, although he’s got a few years to catch up yet.

As recent as last winter I was sitting in the stands of Newport Velodrome watching the annual ‘Winter Track League’, which mixes all abilities up into different races, both male and female. In Wales we are very lucky indeed to not only have Elinor Barker coming up into the senior ranks, but we also have Amy Roberts. To see both Elinor and Amy mixing it up with the men in the ‘A’ league really is a great sight and I am really excited about the prospect of those two girls representing Wales and GB around the world over the next few years. The girls often found themselves riding in amongst elite men, well not just elite, but professional riders. Last year watching Luke Rowe, Magnus Backstedt, Jonny Bellis and many more on a Tuesday night with the rain hammering down on the velodrome roof, whilst sipping a cup of tea, is fascinating, enjoyable and a relaxing time in amongst my hectic lifestyle.

I have never been in Newport Velodrome with a full stand of spectators, but with the success of this last season and the accessibility of cycling stars to the general public I think I might get to see that over the next couple of years. What Newport needs is the right event to fill the stands, something that has got my mind running wildfire again! Now, if that event gives equal precedence to the women riders or better still star billing, wouldn’t that be amazing?

…Next time, whenever that will be, I’ll probably write about organising my first ever hill-climb and also about the importance and thrills of cyclocross.

Thanks for reading.

David James

Twitter: @Dai_Cwmheulog
 
 
 
 

Blaming Lance – Is it the Answer?


Not long after news broke that Lance Armstrong would not formally contest United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) proceedings against him, the media came alive. Some commentators focused on the idea of the seven times Tour winner as a doping cheat who master-minded methods of hoodwinking the authorities and brought discredit on the sport. And some saw events in the USA as a positive marker, which finally drew a line under the murk of the past, separating it from a new, bright and drug-free future.

Rob Draper, in the Mail Online, is a good example of some of the perspectives that were on offer. His thundering article bore the emotive title ‘Arise, Travis Tygart, in Armstrong You Finally Nailed the Biggest Cheat in Sport’ (Mail Online, 25th August 2012). He argues strongly against any who may be tempted to say “…that because all were doping in this era, Armstrong is a true champion.” To do that, Draper says. “… would be to surrender to the malign forces that would reduce sport to a circus designed to enrich its participants and hangers-on.”

And why is he so emphatic? Well, for him.

“Somewhere in the peloton in the Nineties was a man who was clean, who finished perhaps 30th in the Tour de France. Who knows now if he would have been Armstrong’s equal? Who knows if he might have been an even more charismatic champion? Maybe he grew depressed and quit as numerous team-mates eventually surrendered to the curse of the needle, because they saw a sport in which so many colluded with cheats that it had become the norm.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images: Travis Tygart is the chief executive of the USADA.

That man was suffocated by cynicism and we never got to know his name. It is for him that Travis Tygart pursued this fight, and his ultimate victory was as important as anything celebrated in the Olympic Stadium this month.” 

The trouble, of-course, is that it isn’t quite as reassuringly clear as that. Life often isn’t, particularly when it comes to the difficult areas of blaming and excluding.

Let us suppose that the USADA allegations are true. (And, that we can still only suppose is itself a lingering problem). But, for the sake of discussion, let us suppose.

Can we now claim, as Rob Draper seems to, that because of recent events affecting Lance Armstrong, that Draper’s honest rider in the peleton has had his rights restored, that virtuous sporting performance has, at last, been vindicated?

It would be heartening if we could. But it’s just not plausible to think so. Knowing our cycling history, we understand that drug misuse has been a feature of the sport from its earliest days, when men from poor backgrounds were paid to undertake almost impossible feats of endurance on track and road, and were supported by cycling impresarios, with mixtures of strychnine and heroin, to do so.

And if honest with ourselves about the history of the sport, we would also know how deeply engrained drug misuse has been. We might even recall that when Fausto Coppi was asked whether he used the preferred drug of post-war cycling, amphetamine, or as he called it ‘La Bomba,’ he replied. “Yes, whenever it was necessary.” And, to the follow on question as to when that was, replied. “Almost all the time.”

And, from such an honest position, it would be easy for us to recognise that it was only when the money from sponsors looked like leaving the sport for good that a really serious approach to dealing with the problem began to emerge.

In making that recognition, we would not be falling into the nihilistic trap of branding all professional bike riders of the past as drug misusers. Draper is right to say that there were honest and virtuous riders who resisted pressure to dope from; team mates, soigneurs, directeur sportifs, and, yes, from the system and culture of the sport itself. And he is right to point out that these honest riders probably failed to win races because of their integrity.

But, if we are really serious about seeking justice for those riders, would it not be better to be honest about the flaws in the system and culture that failed them? Rather than, as Draper and many other commentators seem to be ready to do, focus discussion, almost exclusively, on demonising the rider who dominated the sport when the culture of drug misuse was at its highest point as though by heaping the ills of the sport on one dark force we could expunge the wrongs of an inglorious past.

And, perhaps if the wrongs of the past were properly recognised in this way, we might be more effective in supporting the new systems and the new culture of fairness and openness that the honest rider of today’s sport is entitled to.
 
 

‘le tour des Merveilles’ – On A Six Pence

I stumbled across the wonderful work of Artist/Illustrator and self confessed geek Johnny Joannou aka “On A Sixpence” recently and I thought I’d share with you all. I caught up with Johnny to find out about his work and inspiration.

So tell me about yourself?
I’d describe myself as a self taught geek artist, “On a Six Pence” is my first attempt to consolidate my all geeky interests. I’ve always loved sport, numbers and good design.

Why Periodic table artworks?
I collected wall charts as a youngster, I’ve always found them aesthetically pleasing. I decided to see if I could produce art versions of them.

What’s the design process?
I plan and sketch them out on paper before moving to the computer to lay them out. Next I learnt how to print with the help of a local group. My main goal was to produce a lovely piece of art that I would be willing to hang in my own home. Each image is a high quality giclée print, on a luxurious heavy weight Hahnemühle fine art paper.

‘le tour des Merveilles’ © On A Six Pence

What is your favourite piece?
My favourite piece, ‘le tour des Merveilles’, is a visual tribute to the Tour, using the iconic periodic table as the framework. My father is very keen cyclist (it’s his bike in the main photo), so cycling knowledge has always been around me, but it was the idea of a cycling twitterer who had seen my previous works covering football teams. The prints show every winner of the Tour de France, with distance covered and average speed. I used colours based on a beautiful Parisian poster from Meteore the bicycle manufacture.

I now make it possible for people to buy personalised prints by including an addition cell to include information about the client or recipient.

So what’s next?
Response from the cycling community has been wonderful, I’ve been amazed at what a friendly, positive and always supportive lot the cycling community are . At the moment I am finishing the Giro D’Italia print. I’ve also been asked to produce a Giro Donne print. I will be updating the Tour de France print when the current tour finishes. I’m hoping to produce a periodic table for every major sport! I’m always open to new ideas so if the Cycling Shorts readers have any suggestions I’d love to hear them!

I’d like to thank Johnny for his time and I suggest you check out the full range of his work at the “on A Six Pence” website: www.onasixpence.bigcartel.com
 

Competition

Johnny has also very kindly given Cycling Shorts. readers to win a signed Tour de France ‘le tour des Merveilles’ signed print when it’s been updated after this tour. So head over to the competition now and you could be lucky enough to win one of these beauties.

 
 

 

My Sister Sofi

Sofi & Nancy

 

My Sister Sofi

by Nancy Arreola

Sofi and her papa Rolando in Apeldoorn for the World Championships

Sofi Arreola is a young successful rider from Mexico (she also happens to be my sister) and she’s aiming for a place to ride for her country at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

Sofi has won 6 gold medals in the Jr. PanAm champs, 4th place in the Junior Worlds in Moscow 2009 and she’s finished within the top 10 in almost every Track World Cup she’s competed in. She was invited to the World Cycling Center in  Switzerland for the 2009-2010 track season and that changed her life. Her results as a Jr. were really good but it wasn’t until she met her new coach Andy Sparks that she started to look at cycling in a different way.

Not everything has been easy for her, she’s had to fight for everything… including her own life. Sofi was a premature baby and she almost didn’t survive. The doctors told dad that he should be prepared for the worst because it was very possible that she wouldn’t survive the night, but she fought and she won that battle. She was getting 15% less oxygen than other babies for one and a half months and she was so tiny.

We had to take lots of care with her because she was always getting sick (I have to admit… I was SUPER jealous because she was getting all the attention from my parents). She used to be allergic to everything so she had to go to the hospital once a month to get 30 injections in her tiny little arms. I could see in her face she was in so much pain but she never cried or complained about it; 3 years old and she was so tough! She wasn’t 100% healthy but my little sister was never weak. She has been giving me life lessons since the minute she was born.

Sofi & Nancy

Life goes on…

Our younger sister Chely and I are really hyper so my parents introduced us to sports at a very young age. Chely is 2 years younger than Sofia but she was just as big as her and beating her in every sport they tried! I bet she can’t say that anymore though… haha!

When I started cycling both my sisters were doing speed skating and they were really having fun with the sport but after one year they took part in a local bike race and they instantly fell in love with cycling, just as I did.

Sofi did the State Championships two weeks after that but she didn’t qualify for the Nationals so she made it her personal goal to win it the following year, she worked harder than anyone else, never missed a single practice and she was really serious about eating well and taking her recovery to a whole new level. It was impressive to see a 13 year old girl behave like that.

Sofi at Apeldoorn - Image ©Copyright Anton Vos

The next year she won everything in the State Championships and got 2 silver medals in the Nationals, since then she’s won almost every competition she’s entered in Mexico. The first time my sister ever rode on the track she won the Scratch Race in the elite category when she was only 14 beating Nancy Contreras (former 500m World Champ) and yeees… she beat me as well but let’s forget about that part!

Sofi & Rolando (Papa) in Puerto Rico

Arreola Family LtoR: Rolando (Dad), Sofi, Chely, Nancy (Mum) and Nancy

She’s had many good results in her short career but also had her ups and downs. In her first Jr. World Champs she crashed in her opening event and was forced to use a wheelchair because she couldn’t walk, but even that didn’t stop her from doing the road race and TT.

She also crashed in the Central American Games last year in Puerto Rico. She was knocked out but the first thing Sofi said when she gained consciousness was “where’s my bike?!” she finished the race concussed and went straight to the hospital not knowing where she was. All her efforts that day gained her a bronze medal for Mexico, a bronze with a good taste of gold.

I’ve seen her do an Omnium going from the ambulance to the track and then back to the ambulance again because she was really sick and even then winning 4 out of 6 events (it was an important race because it would decide who was going to the track world cups to represent Mexico). The Olympic dream has been in her head since she was a little kid and it’s that determination and desire that leads her to keep fighting.

Even with those chaotic races she’s had good results on her way to London, she finished 2nd in the elite PanAms [Pan-American’s] last year and 4th in the Scratch Race at Manchester’s World Cup, putting her in 2nd place in the world rankings but eventually she finished 4th at the end of the track season.

Of course Sofi and I have the support of our whole family. My dad Rolando goes to almost every World Cup with her and when we’re in Mexico he follows us both to every single ride providing all the support while training; my mum Nancy is the one who makes sure that Sofi has everything she needs. Mum calls the FMC [Federación Mexicana de Ciclismo] almost every day, books her tickets to World Cups and she also makes sure that she has all the right equipment to train and race. Chely and myself are her biggest supporters!

Sofi with her coach Andy Sparks

But I think the main thing that has made the biggest impact on her career is training with Andy Sparks, she was training with him when she was in Switzerland and now she’s followed him to Mallorca where they are now both based.

Andy is an amazing coach and they get along really well. She has a lot of respect for him and follows everything he says 100%. Since she’s been training with him we’ve seen her gain more confidence in her skills and has a better attitude while racing. Andy gives her the right motivation and the perfect training to be at her best in every competition.

Sofi knows that nothing is impossible if you work hard for it and you give your best at all times. The fact that she gets to train with Sarah Hammer is also a major boost for her, Sarah is her role model and inspires Sofi to become better every day. Sarah and Andy have been an amazing support for her when she’s away from home, even when she’s missing family, home and friends she’s surrounded by great people in an amazing environment and we know she’s happy even though we all miss her.

She had a complicated season last year but has pulled herself together and focused on doing things right and hopefully she’ll qualify for the London Olympics and achieve a good result. She’s taking it a step at a time, the next track season will be crucial for Sofi, as it will be for many other riders across the world, in order to qualify for London she needs to get good results in the 4 World Cups and the World Championships in Australia. It’s going to be a fun season; I am excited to see how it goes!

Sofi & Nancy - Sisterly rivalry while training - Mexico - March 2011

Thank you very much for reading and I’ll be giving you more updates about the World Cups and who has a chance of getting to ride in London 2012 via my articles here at Cycling Shorts!

Nancy.


 
 
 
 
 
 

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