Leeds welcomes Le Tour de France (Photo: Inigo Mujika)

Leeds welcomes Le Tour de France (Photo: Inigo Mujika)

A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure to participate in the Second World Congress of Cycling Science in Leeds. Magnificently organized by Dr. James Hopker, Professor Louis Passfield, Dr. John Dickinson and Sarah Coakley of the University of Kent and endorsed by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the conference coincided with the Grand Depart of the Tour de France 2014 and was an opportunity to share knowledge and research from the world of cycling science.

In addition to being a member of the Scientific Committee, I did a keynote presentation entitled “A scientific approach to training and tapering for road cycling events” (see abstract below), and I also organised a symposium on “The role of strength training within endurance cycling” (see abstract below), in collaboration with my friends Bent Rønnestad from Lillehammer University College, Norway, and David Martin of the Australian Institute of Sport. Last but not least, we had the opportunity to ride part of the opening stage of the Tour de France 2014.

Read the abstracts


A scientific approach to training and tapering for road cycling events

I. Mujika

Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine and Odontology, University of the Basque Country

Road cyclists use various periodized training approaches to achieve fitness and performance peaks. Traditional periodization imposes the impossibility to achieve multiple performance peaks. Alternative periodization models such as integrated macrocycles and block periodization can be used, but generic training methodologies may not be appropriate for road cyclists and a sensitive and responsive learning system should be implemented to optimize performance.

High training volumes and a polarized intensity distribution constribute to success in road cycling, but optimal performances are usually attained by intertwining lengthy phases of intensive training and shorter phases of tapered training before a major race. The taper should diminish residual fatigue induced by intensive training and maximize physiological adaptations and performance. Performance is usually maximized by a taper lasting two weeks, where the training volume is exponentially decreased by 41-60%, but training intensity and frequency are maintained, but sport specific and individual variability exist.

Mathematical models of the effects of training on performance have contributed to establish the optimal taper duration and the suitability of progressive versus step tapers, and to assess optimal taper characteristics, predict performance outcomes of functional overreaching prior to the taper and design innovative tapering strategies.

Tapering-induced performance gains, attributed to increased muscular force and power, improvements in neuromuscular, hematological, and hormonal function, and psychological status of the athletes, are usually in the range of 0.5-6.0% for competition performance measures. Nutrition and environmental factors like travel across time zones, heat and altitude may interfere with an athlete’s taper in preparation for international level competition.

The role of strength training within endurance cycling

I. Mujika, B. Rønnestad, D.T. Martin

University of the Basque Country, Lillehammer University College, Australian Institute of Sport

The interest of strength training for endurance cycling performance is the subject of debate among athletes, coaches and sport scientists. It is likely that resistance training for the endurance cyclist can be tolerated, promotes desired adaptations that support training and can directly improve performance. Lower body heavy strength training programmes performed in addition to endurance cycling training have been shown to improve both short-term and long-term endurance performance. Possible mechanisms for improved long-term performance include postponed activation of less efficient type II muscle fibres and improved blood flow in working muscles. Importantly, strength maintenance training is essential to maintain strength gains during the competition season. Recent studies show that competitive female cyclists with greater lower body lean mass (LBLM) tend to have higher maximum mean power (MMP) over durations ranging from 1 s to 10 min (1 kg LBLM = ~9% increase in MMP1s and ~4% increase for MMP10min). These relationships enable optimal body composition to be modelled. Eccentric cycling may also represent an effective technique for promoting cycling specific skeletal muscle remodeling, and ergometers that promote this stimulus are becoming easier to access. Single-leg cycling with a counter weight can facilitate “normal” cycling biomechanics and promotes adaptations in cycling-specific muscles with a reduced cardiovascular load. Resistance training off the bike may be particularly useful for modifying LBLM. Unique training interventions on the bike may then be used to ensure the cyclist enjoys full functionality of available muscle mass.

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