Firstly we often forget the physiological make up of these riders when we talk about sprinters, time trialists, “big diesels”, domestiques, climbers and roulers. Fundamentally though they are all very highly aerobically fit and these specialisations are secondary. Just to survive any road stage or the Tour requires aerobic traits of the best athletes in the world.
The key components include:
- VO2max – the maximal volume of oxygen the body can use to produce energy (upwards of 5.5L/min or 75ml/kg/min, and more for winners e.g. Greg Lemond recorded 6.2 – 6.4L/min and 92-94ml/kg/min depending on training state)
- OBLA or lactate threshold – this is the onset of blood lactate accumulation, so above this exercise is limited by increasing levels of lactate and hydrogen ions, causing the rider to eventually slow (pros are anywhere north of 5w/kg at threshold and 6.5+w/kg for G.C. contenders)
- aerobic efficiency – the amount of power produced for a certain level of VO2 (volume of used oxygen) e.g. if a rider produces more power at a particular VO2, they are more efficient
- aerobic capacity – the maximal amount of physiological work that a rider can do as aerobically (read this how hard and how long they can work aerobically)
- anaerobic capacity – the amount of work performed in one anaerobic effort
- anaerobic effort repeatability – the ability to repeat and recover from several anaerobic efforts (racing’s forgotten component is the dozens of short efforts to hold a wheel, exit a corner or bridge a gap – all of these take their toll and need to be recovered from)
While the riders specialist trick (e.g. Rodriguez’s short burst of power on a climb or Gripel’s sprint) help them win races, they all possess the aerobic components above in abundance. Just compare the physique of Cavendish and a track sprinter and you’ll know what I mean!