Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Science Of Cadel Evans From Dr. David Martin

I happened to read an article in the Ride Cycling Review publication titled "A Study Of Champions : Cadel & Lance". This is an Australian magazine and I wouldn't have had the chance to read it were it not for partner in blogging crime, Wade over at Cycling Tips, sending me a fine copy from beautiful Down Under. Thank you!

Written by David T. Martin, a senior physiologist at Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra, the article is a good reminder to all of us that some of the less talked about riders in the peloton also show remarkable physiological characteristics. Yet, few fancy documentaries are made on them.

Anyway, here's the basic information you need to know if you're ready to bust some myths among your cycling friends. Here goes :

1. Highlight : Cadel Evans posted brilliant fitness parameters at an age when he was developing as a cyclist. He boasts high VO2max and power to weight ratios, some of the highest ever recorded at AIS. His physiology, based on traditional measurements of aerobic capacity, reigns supreme over most cyclists, even Lance Armstrong. The article notes that while Cadel's aerobic capacity is higher than Armstrong's, no one has considered other top riders like Alberto Contador. Good point, Dr. Martin.

2. Sample Set : From a sports science perspective, a number of "fitness indicators" were established on Cadel Evans. He was tested more than 15 times at AIS between the ages of18 and 24 and the article focused on 7 tests at a time of the year when he was considered fit (between January and June)

3. How He Was Tested : Cadel was put on something called an electromagnetically braked ergometer to carry out the Australia national cycling team protocol. The procedure calls for 5 minutes of constant power output stages with a self selected cadence, where the initial power output was 100W and it was increased by 50W every stage until volitional exhaustion. The peak power output achieved during the test is calculated by adding 10W to the test score for every minute achieved in the final stage. Oxygen uptake, heart rate and blood lactate were measured throughout the test.

4. Results :Between 18 and 24, the best result achieved by Evans were :

Maximum Aerobic Power Output : 455 W (7.3 W/kg)
Threshold Power Estimation : 370W (6.0 W/kg)
VO2 Max Associated With Max Power Output : 5.65 L/min or 87 ml/kg/min

In those crucial years, Evans was characterized by Dr. Martin as :

62-68kg, 172-173cm; 380-455 W and 6.1-7.3 W·kg-1 at VO2pk; 4.59-5.65 L·min-1 and 73-87 ml·kg-1·min-1 VO2pk.
Economy (mean±SD; range) was 80.2±1.9; 77.5-82.5 W·(VO2 L·min-1)-1 or 401±10; 387-413W at 5 L·min-1 VO2.
GE was 22.6 ±0.6; 21.8-23.4% and DE was 23.6±1.1; 21.9-25.4%.

Now for you starters, power to weight ratio is the key variable for uphill cycling speed and threshold power output is an exercise intensity that represents a distinct transition from aerobic to anaerobic energy production.

Bottomline : Both Armstrong and Evans posted their best fitness values in their early 20's. At his best, Evans posted a power to weight ratio almost 8% higher than the 6.8 W/kg produced by Armstrong when he was 22. His highest VO2max was 7.4% higher than Lance's highest recorded value. Compare this, if you'd like, with Indurain's 6 W/kg at threshold and 7 W/kg at VO2 max.

4. A Word On Inaccuracies : Dr. Martin feels there were enough similarities in testing protocols and equipment employed to allow for an interesting comparison between the two athletes. Most interestingly, he has it in a paper on Evans that the data from his testing procedures did not reflect any improvements in cycling efficiency with maturation.

Recall that Armstrong's values stemmed from studies done by Dr.Coyle at the University of Texas, some of which, especially on the improvements in his cycling efficiency, came under fire from his peers for gross inaccuracies. Dr. Martin maintains that cycling efficiency calculations are very sensitive to equipment and are prone to inaccuracies. He did estimate Evans' cycling efficiency at 22 as 21-24%, similar to Armstrong's calculated 21-23 %, although he doesn't seem to put much faith nor emphasis on it.

5. Ending Quote From Dr. Martin :

"The data doesn't support the argument that Lance Armstrong wins because he was born with some god-given gift, some unique physiological capacity that makes his success as a professional road cyclist easy. There's a lot involved in winning..... Based on physiological traits, it is just a bit too simplistic - and a bit naive - to think that all of Lance's achievements can be explained by superior build."

So there you go. Just physical traits alone does not make you a winner. Moreover, years of training doesn't transform you into a freak of nature. Let's put folklore away and discuss just the facts.

Next, the Science of Alberto Contador. Does anyone want to volunteer from the Spanish Institute Of Sport or likewise? I suppose we'll have to keep the record books handy.

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