Why do pro cyclists have 'peaks' in form?

Rather than maintaining a consistent level. Why does form have the potential to peak? Why is the drop-off from peak inevitable?

How long does a peak (or near peak) last and do riders vary a lot in this regard?

Do riders reach peak by gradually training harder and harder in the weeks/months leading up to the peak?

I've tried googling but no luck. Any general article links would be helpful! Thanks
 
Although it seems different from I what I used to watch in the 80's I have to tell you that nowadays cyclists are more focused on certain targets. Some of that has to do with harder competition in certain disciplines. You don't see GT winners riding for the win at PR or Flanders. If they don't do it is simply very difficult to win.

Having said that there is also a clinic side of the so called "peaks". It probably needs to be discussed somewhere else.

My 2 cents!
 
By increasing the training volume from week to week your fitness level progressively increases. You're capable of developing more power, etc. However, you can't mantain a really high training volume during the whole year, because your body needs rest.

If certain races are more important then others, it makes sense to be at your best in those races. In other words, you want to peak for those races. If you have the same fitness level the whole year, you can't be at your best in certain periods.
 
Mar 24, 2016
28
0
0
If you use the word periodization, rather than peak there is loads of explanatory stuff on the web.
 
Because supercompensation and being recovered from efforts of training or races does not mean that you've recovered from all physical stress. Peak shape is not a natural state for the human body to be in, and is only achieved as a response strain of the muscular and cardiovascular system. There's a point at which that strain will overcome the positive effects of exercise, which probably means that even if you train, rest and get better, that doesn't mean all pathways involved in dealing with strain are recovered.
 
spiritualride said:
Rather than maintaining a consistent level. Why does form have the potential to peak? Why is the drop-off from peak inevitable?

How long does a peak (or near peak) last and do riders vary a lot in this regard?

Do riders reach peak by gradually training harder and harder in the weeks/months leading up to the peak?

I've tried googling but no luck. Any general article links would be helpful! Thanks
There are good physiological and psychological reasons why this is the case. Various physiological capacities have different time courses for response to exercise. Some take months and years to develop, others will plateau after ~6 weeks, while others needs even less time to reach a peak.

Physiologically, a rider is capable of attaining a higher "peak" form through manipulation of training load (via strategic variances of both intensity and duration) than they would should they seek to attain a fitness level that is sustainable for a long term.

The sort of higher intensity work (e.g. training that focuses on VO2max / Max Aerobic Power development, and/or high lactate tolerance) that brings about peak form in many riders has specific physiological effects that plateau after a handful of weeks of dedicated training and perhaps can be maintained for a while thereafter but ultimately a rider's specific fitness will decline.

Secondly, the nature of the training involved is not only difficult to maintain physically but can also create mental burnout. It requires high levels of motivation that is unrealistic to expect anyone to maintain all the time.

Thirdly, sometimes a block of racing ultimately leads to a loss of fitness as overall training loads actually begin to fall once a rider enters a cycle of racing and recovering. When volume of high intensity work goes up, keeping up volume becomes difficult, if not impossible. Eventually a rider needs to drop the hard stuff, recover and begin a rebuild.
 
Excellent replies all of you, thank you very much. It's fascinating how that works, physiologically... the idea of reaching a peak while having a sort-of recovery 'debt' that will have to be paid soon. It makes pro cycling all the more unpredictable and interesting to watch.
 
The difference in power output (e.g. threshold power) between peak form and "off season" for most racing cyclists that don't stop training for any great length of time is ~10%, and a peaking period/taper will at most improve power by only a couple of percent, so we are not talking about huge swings in physiological capability. However winning margins in cycling are often only fractions of a percent, so even the marginal differences matter.

Also, because of the nature of the power-duration curve (i.e. it's pretty flat), a small improvement in aerobic power capability translates to a substantially larger endurance capacity. e.g. improving threshold power by 5% might increase the duration you could sustain your previous power level by 50%. That matters for long hill climbs where riders are trying to maintain the pace for as long as possible. If you are at the pointy end of GC, and only need to maintain a pace slightly under your own threshold (e.g. defending your place), your time to exhaustion will be much longer than others. So a peak that lifts sustainable aerobic capacities even a little can have a significant impact on outcomes.

In other sports there will be a differing mix of attributes required for success. Obviously fitness and physiological capabilities are very important, but skills play a much greater role in success in sports like tennis and football. Not all that much skill in a long hill climb where W/kg is by far the dominant success factor, compared with say being able to nail an ace to save a match point.

Nevertheless, players do still experience physiological peaks and troughs if they don't carefully manage their workload. Indeed team sports are only now beginning to use analytical methods for training load management that have been the domain of cycling (at least those that are in the know via power meter data) for well over a decade. Having said that, a large proportion of pro teams/riders were late to the party than many amateurs. Many pros are good despite their training.
 
Re:

Red Rick said:
Many team sports with year-round competition barely have any of that. Tennis is another sport that has none of it.
Still form is a problem for every sportsman. Whike cycling is a pure physical sport its easier to work toward peakform.

Football players for examplehave to deal with form as well, allthough that usually comes down to technique.
 
Interesting subject. More riders (at least stage race ones) today seem to hold form closer to their peak throughout the season, in particularly Valverde, who is incredible in this regard. Going back 10-15 years, and riders like Ullrich and Kloden (plus to a lesser extent Armstrong) often had very poor form throughout the majority of the season, but for a brief period achieved a very high peak level.

Even tennis has a small amount of peak training elements. Especially with the Australian Open (first grand slam and in hot conditions) the top players will do a hard level of base training for maybe 2-8 weeks prior, then play a lesser tournament before the slam. Much like a TDF rider doing the Dauphne.
 
Re:

gregrowlerson said:
Interesting subject. More riders (at least stage race ones) today seem to hold form closer to their peak throughout the season, in particularly Valverde, who is incredible in this regard. Going back 10-15 years, and riders like Ullrich and Kloden (plus to a lesser extent Armstrong) often had very poor form throughout the majority of the season, but for a brief period achieved a very high peak level.

Even tennis has a small amount of peak training elements. Especially with the Australian Open (first grand slam and in hot conditions) the top players will do a hard level of base training for maybe 2-8 weeks prior, then play a lesser tournament before the slam. Much like a TDF rider doing the Dauphne.
Well form is multifactoral, e.g. during heavy training blocks form will be suppressed due to accumulated fatigue - permit enough recovery though and you bounce back nicely. There's also an elephant in the room around the time of Ullrich and Kloden. The elephant was always there and still is, but it's a smaller elephant.
 
Re:

gregrowlerson said:
Interesting subject. More riders (at least stage race ones) today seem to hold form closer to their peak throughout the season, in particularly Valverde, who is incredible in this regard. Going back 10-15 years, and riders like Ullrich and Kloden (plus to a lesser extent Armstrong) often had very poor form throughout the majority of the season, but for a brief period achieved a very high peak level.
True, but remember that before the 90s, many more top riders held on to high level form for long stretches of the season. Recent patterns may be going back in that direction but things are certainly still more oriented towards peaks and troughs than they were for most of history.
 
Also, there's a difference between
- being in 'peak' condition
and
- exploiting that 'peak' condition with an exceptional performance

It seems that often in a multi-week tour event where the overall GC riders are already established, for lesser known riders who aren't GC contenders to establish an early break that continues to the finish. But often it is very difficult for them to recover from that 1-day 'peak effort'. So it's important to consider the duration that the peak needs to last, and how to regulate the ongoing workload so the peak can continue for the needed time.

Jay Kosta
Endwell NY USA
 
\what facinates me about form and peaks is how different riders can be

Some take ages ot get to form and may even take riding a GT while others are great at the start of the season and lose it as the season progresses

From what I see it is not an exact science even for riders with a previous tried and tested plan...Just look at Quintana in the Tour last year

Howwever when form cannot be guaranteed and peaks vary among riders (except Valverde) this means cycling is unpredictable ...the way I like it

Also the added issue of many riders flying in training ...beating all their team mates and then not being able to reproduce it at a race....
 
I read somewhere that peak form can only last six weeks. To achieve that you need to start training three or four months in advance, and gradually build towards it. When you get older you'll need longer to reach peak form. A good idea is to do it in steps: reach a decent form in two months, a week of rest, six more weeks of hard training, five days of rest, win the Tour, give a bunch of press conferences, go on holiday.
 
Re:

Pantani_lives said:
I read somewhere that peak form can only last six weeks. To achieve that you need to start training three or four months in advance, and gradually build towards it. When you get older you'll need longer to reach peak form. A good idea is to do it in steps: reach a decent form in two months, a week of rest, six more weeks of hard training, five days of rest, win the Tour, give a bunch of press conferences, go on holiday.

I dont think that is universal...some riders have longer peaks and ome tke longer to get to theirs
 
Re:

HelloDolly said:
\what facinates me about form and peaks is how different riders can be

Some take ages ot get to form and may even take riding a GT while others are great at the start of the season and lose it as the season progresses

From what I see it is not an exact science even for riders with a previous tried and tested plan...Just look at Quintana in the Tour last year

Howwever when form cannot be guaranteed and peaks vary among riders (except Valverde) this means cycling is unpredictable ...the way I like it

Also the added issue of many riders flying in training ...beating all their team mates and then not being able to reproduce it at a race....
I wonder if this is part of the reason why the GC for GTs favors older riders, or so it seems? Years and years of pro experience in trying to get the fitness peak timed just right. Timing the peak doesn't seem to be as necessary for week long stage races. Big one day races seem to favor older riders in part due to tactical experience. I wonder if short stage races have the lowest average winner age.

I do love the unpredictability of form in pro cycling. I like when grand tours mix up their important GC days from the beginning to the end of the grand tour to take advantage of the variation in who is at peak at the start vs end of a grand tour. It's more interesting than having all the important GC days crammed into the 2nd week. I think this is one of the factors that makes the Giro and Vuelta more unpredictable GC battles than the TDF. French geography is a factor here I suppose.
 
There is one key factor that no one has mentioned so far: body weight.

Pro riders have a low level of fat, lower than values commonly considered healthy.

A GT rider would push his weight even further down before starting a Gran Tour, in order to maximise his power to weight ratio and increase his performances on long climbs.

Lowering further their body fat content comes at a cost. Health costs. First thing affected would be the immune system, which gets much weaker making the body vulnerable to colds, infections and so on. Much more than usual.
It also affects the hormones and body metabolism, screwing things up.

Shortly, it is worth pushing your body for two/three weeks in order to achieve a GT win. Any longer you'll be damaging your body, potentially in a serious way.

That's why classics riders (Sagan, Boonen,...), who are much less concerned about their weight, can keep their good form for quite a long period. It's more related to training than other physiologic factors.
 
I would add something else.

Pro riders don't keep their weight down just not eating pizzas or burgers. Their team doctors fully load them of pills and stuff, all legal under antidoping rules, but with plenty of side effects. You woudn't want that *** inside your body even for one day, let alone for a few weeks in a row.
 
What is the difference between peaks in boxing, cycling, basketball/football and tennis?
We have seen Federer and Nadal dominate tennis from Australian Open until October.
How about Lebron James, truly he is in peak form from November to June. Messi seems to be on form everytime
 
This is why you see so much inconsistency with riders. Most riders have a very definite difference between being in race shape, being near a peak and being at a peak. Also most riders typically pick 2 major goals to peak for as a 3rd peak is even harder to achieve.
The rider who comes closest to maintaining a consent level for the entire season is Valverde. His consistency is actually not because of a consent level year round it's because his being off peak and at or near peak is not that different compared to other riders. He just doesn't have the high variance in levels. He has stated a few times that this is a great gift he's always had.
This is why riders peak and why for the most part you can tell the difference between when a rider is at/near peak and not.
 

ASK THE COMMUNITY