Reader requests

If you’ve got a question about the sport, try asking. This week’s piece on the range of national champion’s jerseys was a popular read and it came about after a reader put a few questions to me and I went to take a further look.

So whether you want to know how much a rider eats a day or what budget you’d need to sponsor a pro team, get in touch. Obviously an answer isn’t always possible and I’ve got a “to do” list of subjects that’s got a few suggestions already but the answers are better suited towards later in the year, to coincide with a particular race for example. Or I just haven’t got around to it yet.

Just ask. Either leave a comment below or send an email.

42 thoughts on “Reader requests”

  1. With the proliferation of power meters and data logging devices throughout road cycling, I would like to know how many watts a rider in “the sport of professional cycling” averages on a stage in TdF. And in general. What is the benchmark for professional cyclists these days and how does this stackup against the EPO era cyclists of the 90’s?
    It seems there’s very little evidence of riders riding on feel these days with nearly everyone sporting some method of power analysis onboard. I dare say that all recent breakaway victories have been calculated based on sustainable power output and feedback from their cranks..

  2. I know you only recently did a feature on soigneurs etc but I always think it is interesting to know about the behind the scenes staff, including the doctors, and how they ended up in a fairly niche profession. Keep up the great work, most interesting cycling blog on the internet.

  3. I second the rider diet question. Not only how much they eat, but what of? Are some notoriously bad at keeping a sensible diet? Are some monk-like in their weight maintenance? Also, I’d like to hear which riders are more particular about their technology and gear and how they influence the selection of componentry on their team.

  4. Whether riders have equipment preferences. If they prefer some bike brands over others.

    Or is it all just singing the praises of the bike you are paid to ride.

  5. I think you saw with your Katuscha piece that people love to get a take on where the real power lies behind the scenes. In a similar line I would love to hear where the power lies with regard to the contracting of riders. I am thinking of agents and their relationships to riders and team management here. What kind of money are the upper tier agents bringing home in relation to a young star rider. Also, any side stories on collusion to either inflate or supress salaries or bonuses between agents and management. We love drama too. . . .

  6. possibly a dumb one, everyone talks about how steep climbs are in the big races however I’ve never heard anything about how steep the descents are. Clearly riding up a 12% incline is hard enough, let alone racing up one, but do they race down similar declines?

  7. Matthew, there are no dumb questions – having ridden almost all the famous passes in Italy along with most in the French Alps plus plenty of those in the Pyrenees, while watching more than 20 years worth of Tours and Giri, I can tell you they race down as well as up, though some are clearly (just like going up) better at it than others. Vincenzo Nibali is probably the king of the descenders currently, following in the wheel tracks of Paolo Savoldelli, though there are also some other acrobats of the descent vs the not-so-good ones like the Schlecks. I still remember Andy Hampsten saying the only thing worse than racing uphill WITHOUT a super-light climbing bike, is racing down the other side WITH one. I believe this has improved since then (the late 80’s) with composite frames being light but not so flexy. In fact, there are plenty of Italians who contend the current, super-stiff frames and unyielding wheels are responsible for many of the scary crashes we’ve seen. Joseba Beloki in the infamous “off road Lance” incident in the TdF is one of the worst.

  8. From someone who trains a bunch, my big question would lay more with:

    A) How do the pro’s train? How many interval sessions? How many L1/2/3 days?
    B) On a related note, when I see these Cyclingnews “Group” training photos, what do they really represent? Are these true training rides (i.e. – each rider is training their specific training zone?) or, in order to keep the group together, is it more in line with a long L3 paceline?

    It just seems as if the training done by a pro always (based on coverage) looks tame m and knowing what they actually do would be helpful.

  9. Cat4 – those photos are, well, photo ops, set up just for the promotional photos. The photogs all get out there and the boys ride along in various formations while they snap away. Soon enough, they split into various groups depending on who’s doing what while the photogs go to lunch. More photos of the bikes, mechanics, the side of the team truck newly painted and stickered and their job’s done so they can leave the teams to do their real work, which I’m sure someone more involved with that than me can describe in more detail?

  10. Will Greenedge be the new Leopard Trek in if they don’t find a sponsor will they have enough money to survive? Also with the mention of Pat’s brother in the Will Clark article how about a piece about what the other members of Pats clan get up to in the sport.

  11. I was curious to find out about the amount of climbing per stage for the 3 Grand Tours. I am working on a pretty basic Climbing Index and would love to be able to compare GT stages to what us normal people ride.

  12. Eh, just would like to note that if you train in a ‘group’, it’s probably better you don’t try and stay in/on any particular zone/watt/gear. Just follow wheels and you will be fine. However if you can’t train without thinking about your power meter, heart meter or parking meter, better to ride alone that day. Yes those are probably real group rides, an ancient training ritual still performed today, and invaluable if you want to get better at road racing.

    How much does it cost to sponsor a pro cyclist’s diet for a year?

  13. To The Cheshire Tyrant. I would like to tackle those questions since I’m in process of doing a literature review of all available peer-reviewed studies on that topic as part of a masters thesis in elite/pro cycling specific-performance physiology. Beyond these studies, there is a lot of information widely available on the web regarding particular individual TdF riders on various stages; however, to my knowledge, no GC podium finishers have provided specific data about specific stages and therefore, the studies generally cover climbing specialists who are team helpers, top 20 stage finishers or top 40 GC finishers. There is one generalized review of Lance Armstrong’s progress, attributed to adaptations in Type I muscle fiber as a means of improved efficiency, over the course of multiple TdF wins, but the specific power outputs are not publicized in the study. However, inferences could be made and insiders can reckon what was likely achieved in order to have made a critical move at a specific time and place. That data would not necessarily be the highest mean power per the stage but rather a better relative output against whoever is left at that critical moment. That being said, to climb at the TdF level with the leaders, one must exhibit an output per bodyweight of at least high 5w to mid-6w per kilogram. The claims of ratios in the high 6’s have been made; those happened during the 90’s. No data was provided to substantiate this, to my knowledge and it would seem the upward physiological limit is still demonstrated via forays into the mid-6’s. This requires high aerobic capability as well as the ability to launch into more rapid forms of energy again and again, and recover to a high level of sustained aerobic capability.

    A sports physiology blog which answers your last question provides a good review about how data compares between then and now – doping era and assumed clean-up due to biological passport. You can begin to read that here: There are many such postings there.

    However, you’ll soon discover that it is not all that clear-cut and the issues are so complicated that even the insider doping experts cannot agree when opposing testimonies are presented in court scenarios, for example. This murk of complexity contributes to both problems of detection and false accusation. Further, that absolute numbers in longer climbs appear reduced is not necessarily an indication of cleaner sport, in my opinion. Since limits are set on the acceptable markers within an individual’s expected range, these ranges could limit the outliers of yesteryear without markedly reducing a controlled form of doping administration.

    Regarding the proliferation of power meters, power data is utilized generally after the fact. Most riders are not making calculated decisions based on real time read-outs but rather watching the race to make strategic choices in the moment. Response needs to be quicker than analysis. Keep in mind, that one important mastered skill of a rider at this level is knowing one’s own strengths and challenges and how to manipulate them during key race moments against key competitors in key terrains, by feel- the art of physiology if you will, psychology, experience, good old fashioned heart, and by science- analysis of data. An exception could be in time trials or in more controlled scenarios; even then, pacing strategies include things beyond power outputs or other physiological parameters. There are many variables in road racing. Highly motivated riders know that they will see their best data under pressure anyway and some even tape over the read-out to avoid dependency, and potential despondency, at any given race moment. George Hincapie provided data in a domestique role and had the presence of mind to mark the moments of lead-out by pushing the control at that time. That he was able to do so, leading out one of the world’s greatest sprinters ever, in the world’s greatest bike race is an impressive feat in and of itself. Often, the data is viewed later and key moments inferred through analysis. So while there is some calculation going on, not as much of it as you might think is based on what’s being viewed on a power meter control in a race moment. Ask yourself this, you use your GPS to drive but when it comes down to it – you’re using a lot of other information to get where you’re going and likely you’ll not stop and ask directions before using those other sources first – the “feel” you refer to you, especially Mr. Tyrant, if you’re a guy. It’s the same in bike racing, where visceral reactions coupled with self-control yield rewards. And this is one thing that makes it so exciting at times, even to a female passengers who wish you’d just stop and ask for directions 🙂

    I am a coach of elite cyclists, by trade; however, I am still in training – learning – to fulfill my ambition to coach a truly great rider in the future. If that day comes, I would hope to make available a longitudinal study of data on that rider’s great performances, perhaps the first of its kind. In the meantime, if I could answer your questions from the point of view of what the top riders are putting out, I would but the data is unavailable and I’m not yet working at that level. When that day comes, transparency should contribute to cycling science, in my opinion. Even then, I would not compromise the rider’s competitiveness and would likely wait to their retirement to publish the results. That there is some mystery surrounding the very top of the top is perhaps another topic for another post. If Inner Ring can contribute further inside information regarding the very top rider data, please do tell!

    So the following is data available on a subgroup of TdF team helpers to answer your questions, “…how many watts a rider in ‘the sport of professional cycling’ averages on a stage in TdF. And in general. What is the benchmark for professional cyclists these days?”

    The studies delineate 3 types of course: Flat, Semi-Mountainous defined by how much altitude gained, gradient and length of climb, and Mountainous. The studies use Mean Maximal Power over various time periods to analyze various parameters of physiological emphasis per course and rider. In very short efforts, the highest power outputs are seen in Flat races at MMP 15 seconds on average 895w. The highest power outputs at longer MMPs of 30 minutes are seen in Mountainous stages which yield averages of 394w. These absolute numbers in and of themselves are not impressive, nor are they when made relative against bodyweight, among this level of rider that is. World hour record wattages are about 500w, and a fresh sprint can demonstrate power outputs of 1500+w for a road cyclist (much higher for a fresh track sprint.) What is impressive is that the peak power outputs of the 3 classified course types are about the same from Stage 1 to des Champs-Élysées, in other words maintained during 3 weeks of 5-hour day average race time, and that these outputs do reduce significantly during a stage after multiple climbs but are still maintained at high mean relative power outputs performed again and again within a stage. Interestingly, data from world class women during single day races showed similar RELATIVE outputs (watts per kg of bodyweight) however at shorter total race duration in single day events. One would expect the MMPs of the GC podium finishers to be somewhat higher for longer time-frames during Mountain stages but not necessarily in the shorter time-frames or on Flat stages since team helpers are putting out the really big outputs to allow those contenders as much zero pedal and low output time as possible prior to critical race moments. Likewise, one would expect the highest 15 second MMPs from top sprinters but not necessarily, since the peak numbers may be seen by helpers well before the finish. These values are achievable within known human physiological limits for highly trained elite athletes racing clean; the area of controversy is less about achieving the values and when or how often the values are achieved and how much change is exhibited by any given rider arriving at the capability to achieves these outputs.

  14. It would be interesting to get a better understanding of the inner workings of the UCI (election process for different governaning bodies, areas that could be improved etc.)

    Pat M.

  15. One of the things that always seems interesting, at least to me, is to know how riders handle their machines during, before, after races. Nick Legan covers some of this, but it would be great to read more. For instance, how do riders handle tire pressures during different stages/races? Are most pro riders prone to treat their bikes like “tanks” (Merckx talking about Virenque) or like delicate machines? Do riders clean their own training machines? Do they train on clinchers and race on tubulars? There are a lot of these questions wandering around the coffee shops when we should be riding instead of talking . . . . If you have any of this kind of info, it would make a great read with your writing skills.



  16. the general pro peloton is a living beast in itself – does the peloton self regulate?

    i mean if they’re suspicous of someone, or something, if there is a general ill feeling towards a rider – does the peloton serve out it’s own justice? how?

    does it also reward?

  17. I really enjoyed your article on Russia/Katusha history, trying to think of articles on similar line; the history of how Australia has risen to the heights it has in cycling over the last 10-15yrs (yes Im biased) including the development of the AIS in general, and the track programme to road path, from the basics I know its a pretty interesting story, and many of the elements were copied by Britain and last year the Italian federation noted they were looking at the Australian method of developing riders. The life and times of Heiko Salzwedal might also be an interesting read given the national federations he’s worked for over his life.

    Something on UCI rule/interpretation inconsistencies. This was highlighted last year by UCI banning the Bont Crono shoe, but happy to allow aero helmets (I think Bont suggested ‘traditional’ cycle manufacturing companies may have lobbied against them – and we all love a good conspiracy theory), but another one which bothers me is the blow up about race radios causing boring, mechanical racing, but riders are allowed to ride with power meters and you end up with Brad Wiggins talking about the race in terms of maintaining his wattage up a mountain. SRM’s seem more detrimental to exciting riding than radio’s to me – they should remain a training tool only.

  18. Given the general perception of cycling, I would like to see the pro peloton’s doping history. That could show us a ‘clean’ list of riders who haven’t been sanctioned or otherwise scrutinized. It would make my fantasy team much easier to assemble since I always aim for a totally clean team.

    Otherwise I second those praising the site!

  19. I would like to see some more stuff on what goes on behind the scenes of a team e.g. how many people make up the overall team, what are their roles and what do the actually do. So with the rider at the apex who are all the people and what are all the roles that contribute to getting that rider onto the start line. Linked to that would be some features on those roles, eg day in the life of a mechanic etc.

    @Larry T. Thank you for saying no such thing as a dumb question – there are so many knowledgeable people on this blog and I’m really enjoying learning about the scene it’s great to know that those like me who don’t have the detailed knowledge can ask . Cheers

  20. what was the time of the gruppetto up l’alpe d’huez in last year’s tour? i know that sportsscientists had figures on roland, contador and sanchez and maybe a few others but i’ve never seen stats on the ‘non-climbers’ and how that compares.

  21. Thanks for all the comments and suggestions, whether via the comments above or email. All are noted and it’s been a great read this morning. A few topics I’ve covered before, here are some links:

    Steve: not really an app but Twitter is indispensable. You don’t have to tweet your thoughts and converse, you can lurk on it, just follow a range of sources from media to riders. For me it is like a newswire service although I enjoy the interaction too.

    Mad Pat: here is the process on how your namesake gets elected:

    CR: for Alpe d’Huez climbing times see page 25 of this document: where the times for all riders are listed. 55 minutes was the slowest time with many riders fighting to avoid the time cut and elimination.

  22. I would like to know a little more about the history of all races, possibly encompassing details like past editions, race politics and route details. From classics like LBL to smaller ones like Scheldeprijs and the Giro Del Trentino, any throughout the season. Thanks, keep up the fantastic work.

  23. @Cynical Saint, is it the shot of the BMC rider you are talking about? I think that is George Hincapie, and those are varicose veins I believe. Its something to do with the valves on the end of the vein stopping working properly. The valves are supposed to ensure the blood only flows one way through the vein, but when they stop working blood flows both ways which leads to the comedy steroid look.

    I have always thought about a couple of things:
    – What are rider preferences and expertise when it comes to bike setup and parts and things like that? Some must be quite technically minded and get really into all the techy stuff whereas others just get on and ride what they’re given (i suppose). If i was a pro cyclist I would try and hang out with the mechanics all the time so I could get them to show me how to do various things, like wheelbuilding and things like that.

    – Also another shout for a topic on food and diet and all that

  24. I would be interested to read research on how to improve the dynamics of road racing: how to increase time-gaps, how to reduce the advantage of drafting, how to make bonking more frequent and decisive, and in general, how to make races more unpredictable from being decided only in the last 500m (or 3km for tough climbs), involving considerations on race tactics, material & technology, regulation, parcours, and physiology.

  25. History of helmets and regulation.
    Watched part of the 91 Roubaix and everyone had ‘modern’ foam core helmets…but we’re they required?

  26. Bundle,

    The swiftest way to improve the dynamics of UCI road racing is get rid of the two-way radios riders wear. The only valid complaint I’ve heard about using two-way race radios is rider safety. A one-way radio that allows the race organization to broadcast safety issues is a good compromise.

    The two-way radio keeps the race close to the end. It’s boring, but that’s probably why they won’t go away.

    I’d like to see greatly restricted use of team cars too, but that’s a pretty extreme view.

  27. I like MrTapir would like to understand what bikes and equipment are really favoured within the peloton. I had an opportunity to ride with the Movistar team last year and pressed the DS and mechanics about the equipment; they ride Pinarello Dogmas which they claim the riders really like, they were also testing the electronic campy, which was not good early in the season but was vastly improved as the season progressed. They claim that some teams are ‘not so comfortable’ with their bikes, the ride quality, handling on descents etc……can we dig a bit deeper?

  28. As a Brit (who is currently working his way around the ‘100 climbs’ in the UK – see my blog) I have heard apocryphal tales of European pros coming over to the UK for the Milk Race and the other incarnations of UK stage racing, but not being able to manage the short sharp climbs in the stages, such as the Rosedale Chimney etc – ending up walking up the road in a manner familiar to many amateurs faced with 30% gradients…

    I’d love to hear more tales of ‘old school’ racing in the UK – the kit, the interaction between the riders, winners and losers etc. Something along the lines of Cycling Inquisition, but with less Columbians, and more hard-as-nails Yorkshiremen! Now I still haven’t got a handle on whether Mr INRNG is a UK national, but there doesn’t seem to be much he doesn’t know about cycling and its history, so hopefully this falls within his sweet spot!

  29. Channel_zero, thank you. Limiting radio use, as well as banning heart-rate information (and similar) during races, so that riders cannot know when they are over- or under-exerting themselves, are among the most obvious measures to be taken. But I’m sure that pro riders, ex-riders, amateur riders, DS, race organizers, physiologists, bicycle makers, television channels, and officials have ideas of their own about this issue. I think the debate on how to stimulate audiences to watch a race for more than 15 minutes needs very serious pushing, and for this we all need to know how fast it is progressing among the “most interested parties”.

  30. How hard is being a cyclist? I mean, is doing the tour de france like doing 3 weeks of marathons every day (albeit a couple of race days). Maybe we could compare calories burnt or something.

  31. When the sprinters throw their bikes forward at the line, does that really do anything? I’ve tried it a few times and it just feels like I’m pushing my body back. Is there technique involved?

  32. If it’s not too late (I doubt anyone will even read this) how about something about Daniel Telewhatever the Eritrean rider from greenEDGE and cycling in africa in general. thanks…

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