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Physiological Demands of Stage Racing

Mar 10, 2009
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We continue to hear about how riders improve their performance for Stage Races if not Racing of all kinds using un-ethical methods and are monitored by the UCI constantly. The demands of racing as a pro are so high that racers feel at times they need to go beyond the rules. We also hear stories on how a Grand Tour puts an extra year on a riders age, and similar antidotes. A story in a fellow website brings up another perspective.

Has the UCI studied the Physiological Demands of Stage Racing? Is it humanly possible to race a grand Tour and not suffer physiologically to the point that the racer is put in bad health? What has the UCI done to prove that it is safe to race so many consecutive days as a ProTour racer? The UCI is after all testing its athletes to make sure they are not over certain physiological limits but what about health in general? Is that tested for? Has a rider ever been banned because his health was deteriorating or had an aliment that would put him in danger?

Many questions, are there answers? Really, I'm not bagging on anything just asking questions.
 
Mar 17, 2009
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Not a bad subject to bring up ElChingon and well maybe I'll play the devils advocate a little here...

Perhaps it is time that the UCI said goodbye to WADA and permitted some of the currently banned performance enhancing drugs if they can indeed protect the health of the riders.

Now I'm not saying legalize everything by any means and certainly not for espoirs or younger riders but if testosterone and HGH for instance really can help prevent some of the harm inflicted from hard racing and without evident side effects then should we be prohibiting their use?

How many of us know that elite and even not so elite riders very often suffer from osteopenia or even osteoporosis at an alarmingly young age? There are 3-4 main reasons for that - and yes some of them are preventable...

1, Greatly reduced hormone levels from hard/long training and racing.
2, Sweating out calcium, which can of course be supplimented.
3, Stress - lots of stress.
4, Lack of load bearing exercise.

Food for thought really, I'd love to hear (sensible) views from others on this important topic.
 
Mar 17, 2009
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Yikes no replies! Is this a seriously taboo subject or something, or would we prefer to live with our heads in the sand?:confused:

I think its fair to say that health of the riders is a pretty important issue - is it not worth facing up to?
 
Mar 10, 2009
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I think I mentioned it before in a thread, about what constitutes/defines D and hence its opposite non-D. Regardless of popular opinion, there is not such fixed separation between D and non-D, because any given definition can be undermined by a multitude of counter examples, which in effect stretches the definition so far that it could include any substance.

That's why WADA applies a 'legal' defininition of D, namely by keeping a record of 'forbidden' substances, listed in a document and therewith constituting the violation. In that case, they don't have to argue and go at great lenghts to define the impossible (what D is), but corroborate whether or not you used something that is on the so called black list, for whatever reason it is on there. The obvious problem is that new/future products are not always included in the list, and when used, cannot be considered D, since the rider using it does not violate the code that lists forbidden products.

To cut a long story short, since a definition of D is impossible, there is that something called the 'grey zone'. Is a substance actually a performance enhancing drug, or does it help restoring depleted bodies after a race.

The question thus turns to what 'performance enhancement' is?

Training regularly is performance enhancing.
Eating and drinking nutrients is performance enhancing.
Taking vitamin tablets is performance enhancing.
Using Cera is performance enhancing.
Riding a lighter bike is performance enhancing.
Using cocaine is not performance enhancing. (In cycling, as far as I know)

An article I once read followed the QST team during the TdF, and after every stage, the team doctor prescribed each rider a well balanced 'diet' of vitamin pills. Guess what, they took over 76 pills per day, all because syringes/needles had been banned after numerous D-scandals, although they could have 'alleviated' the burden of eating so many pills per day, by injecting one or two shots with all the necesarry nutrients.

Another (hypothetical, purely for the discussion) illustration, how fair is it to allow rider to take as many food supplements as possible, when some riders would clearly be at the advantage if no one was supposed to use them.

1)Ie, let's assume der Jan puts on a lot of weight when he eats 'normal' food, but would be greatly helped if he could concentrate his nutrient intake by using specific pills, therewith not being burdened with a couple of handlebars. Another rider, who has the advantage that he does not put on a lot of weight, because of his genetic/natural make-up, loses his 'competitive' edge against riders like Ulrich.

2)If someone's body is naturally better at restoring/recovering from hard efforts, without the use of food supplements, his natural advantage would be canceled out if others, without that natural advantage, are allowed to use food supplements.

If health concerns are overriding, then indeed, one could argue that testosterone or whatever other product, could be beneficial to the capacity of a rider to complete a GT without adversely affecting his health.
 
Mar 18, 2009
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The health of professional riders is an important issue, whether it be pure safety (like yesterday's Giro stage) or long-term health. The TdF has long been plagued with cheating because of the huge physiological and psychological demands created by multiple long stages, from catching trains, getting lifts, to present day doping.

An internet search brings up some interesting articles on the effects of stage racing on various physiological parameters, but does not necessarily look at the long-term health effects.

For instance, Mujika & Padilla (Sports Med, 31:479-87, 2001) found that stage racing (or mass starts) is actually less demanding than time trials and classic races because they are raced at lower mean intensities (210 W for the flat stages, 270 W for the high mountain stages), but are characterised by their intermittent nature, with cyclists spending on average 30-100 minutes at or above lactate threshold, and 5 to 20 minutes at or above the onset of blood lactate accumulation. This, however, does not look at the effect of stage racing on cyclists' health.

Lucia, Hoyos & Chicharro (Sports Med, 31:325-37, 2001) in their review paper on the "Physiology of professional road cycling" show evidence from other papers that professional cyclists exhibit "remarkable physiological responses and adaptations such as: an efficient respiratory system (i.e. lack of 'tachypnoeic shift' at high exercise intensities); a considerable reliance on fat metabolism even at high power outputs; or several neuromuscular adaptations (i.e. a great resistance to fatigue of slow motor units)."

Schumacher and others (International J Sports Med, 29:372-378, 2008), when investigating haemoglobin mass in cyclists during stage racing, found that plasma volume expanded as an adaptation to prolonged exercise resulting in a decreased haematocrit but stable haemoglobin mass. While haemoglobin mass can be used to detect doping, the short-term effect of stage racing places additional stresses on bone marrow resulting in a decreased haematocrit (however, as haemoglobin mass remains stable, oxygen carrying abilities also remain stable rather than decrease as is typically seen in anaemic patients).

The most important answer to your question is no one seems to know the long term effects of stage racing on a professional rider's health. A search of PubMed shows no items covering this topic, just the effects of stage racing on physiological parameters and power output.
 
Mar 19, 2009
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Long rides will lower your testosterone levels. It has nothing to do with intensity though but volume. Granted most of the pros that do these grand tours are already jacked on HGH, or IGF-1. IF your only goal however is to build aerobic power, you can do that with 1-3 hour rides. 10 hours a week of super hard training is way more effective than 30 hours a week JRA (just riding around.)

All in all, health is not a concern in Pro Cycling. Going faster and winning is the major concern.
 
New Poster here-This is an interesting Topic and I have a paper which studied the cardiovascular effects of retired pro bikers who have finished the Tour Du Suisse in relation to golfers. If remember correctly, the bikers had a much better cardiovascular health when the continued to bike in retirement. I will find the paper tonight, but now the sun is shinning and next week I have arace up Passo di Stelvio and I need to get my old heart pumping.

until then, have a nice day.
 
Mar 17, 2009
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iliveonnitro said:
Says who? What makes you think so?
I for one would absolutely agree with that, and in fact 4 hours of specific threshold work weekly will do much more than 25+ hours weekly believe me. If you don't then try it for a while and see how you improve.

Also don't think for a minute that training for "only" 4-10 weekly is easy peasy because if done right it certainly is not and many can not handle it, stick with it though and the benefits will come big time.
 
Bala Verde said:
An article I once read followed the QST team during the TdF, and after every stage, the team doctor prescribed each rider a well balanced 'diet' of vitamin pills. Guess what, they took over 76 pills per day, all because syringes/needles had been banned after numerous D-scandals, although they could have 'alleviated' the burden of eating so many pills per day, by injecting one or two shots with all the necesarry nutrients.
This seriously shows why the mentality of cycling needs to be altered.
Quite simply, if the team had a proper nutritionist, they could have this sorted with a proper diet that met these needs instead of constantly resorting to supplements all the time.
The term "doctor" seems to be extremely loose when it comes to the professional teams and their staff.
You'd think that the teams would have the health of their athletes at the top of their agenda - poor health won't give them the results they're wanting...
It would be akin to the F1 teams not bothering to maintain their cars properly.
 
Jun 14, 2009
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Endorphin Soaked Brain said:
I have a paper which studied the cardiovascular effects of retired pro bikers who have finished the Tour Du Suisse in relation to golfers. If remember correctly, the bikers had a much better cardiovascular health when the continued to bike in retirement. I will find the paper tonight

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17470417

[Edit: BTW, I think the significance test on the number of cycling kms between the two tests is pretty amusing].

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18065754
 

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