How are cyclists able to cycle so many hours per day without hitting the wall?



John Harlin

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Oct 23, 2009
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Can some experienced cyclist, who may or may not have some background in running, explain to me how cyclists are able to cycle for so many hours like they do without hitting the wall. At the Tour de France, cyclists race 5 to 6 hours per day for 3 weeks. I'm not really sure runners could do that but if they did they would have to go very very slow like not too much faster than a walking pace. Usually, a runner training daily at a moderate pace will deteriorate rapidly after about 1.5 hours. This was even verified by a nutrition class I took where the instructor said that muscle glycogen levels deteriorate rapidly after 1.5 hours. So how are serious cyclist trainers able to cycle for 5 to 6 hours per day.

Basically, I would like to know this. Would it be physically possible to do the Tour de France running for about the same time as cyclists cycle - 5-6 hours per day? Or is cycling just not as demanding as running and so glycogen levels last much longer and you can go on for many more hours. You tell me.
 

DirtTurtle

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May 17, 2007
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John Harlin said:
Can some experienced cyclist, who may or may not have some background in running, explain to me how cyclists are able to cycle for so many hours like they do without hitting the wall. At the Tour de France, cyclists race 5 to 6 hours per day for 3 weeks. I'm not really sure runners could do that but if they did they would have to go very very slow like not too much faster than a walking pace. Usually, a runner training daily at a moderate pace will deteriorate rapidly after about 1.5 hours. This was even verified by a nutrition class I took where the instructor said that muscle glycogen levels deteriorate rapidly after 1.5 hours. So how are serious cyclist trainers able to cycle for 5 to 6 hours per day.

Basically, I would like to know this. Would it be physically possible to do the Tour de France running for about the same time as cyclists cycle - 5-6 hours per day? Or is cycling just not as demanding as running and so glycogen levels last much longer and you can go on for many more hours. You tell me.


For one cyclists "technically" dont have to support all their weight with their legs which helps, although depends how much you like climbing out of the saddle. Also alot of the time on a longer ride will generally be spent "spinning" so glycogen is not used that much, rather you keep it aerobic. I havnt done running for a long time but i assume its generally always done close to threshold so thats why more glycogen is used. When glycogen is used alot in cycling its generally during the hard efforts ie sprinting, attacking or motoring very fast. When racing etc the idea is to keep spinning and conserve energy for as much time as possible, and save that limited glycogen for when its needed.
 

tigermilk

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Jun 20, 2006
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John Harlin said:
Can some experienced cyclist, who may or may not have some background in running, explain to me how cyclists are able to cycle for so many hours like they do without hitting the wall. At the Tour de France, cyclists race 5 to 6 hours per day for 3 weeks. I'm not really sure runners could do that but if they did they would have to go very very slow like not too much faster than a walking pace. Usually, a runner training daily at a moderate pace will deteriorate rapidly after about 1.5 hours. This was even verified by a nutrition class I took where the instructor said that muscle glycogen levels deteriorate rapidly after 1.5 hours. So how are serious cyclist trainers able to cycle for 5 to 6 hours per day.

Basically, I would like to know this. Would it be physically possible to do the Tour de France running for about the same time as cyclists cycle - 5-6 hours per day? Or is cycling just not as demanding as running and so glycogen levels last much longer and you can go on for many more hours. You tell me.

Eddie Izzard completes marathon task .:. newkerala.com Online News -113370
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesper_Olsen_(runner)

The first link is actor Eddie Izzard doing a marathon a day for 51 days. The second is a Danish fellow who ran around the world averaging around 28 miles a day. It can be done.

For cyclists, you won't see those guys going balls out each day. The day-to-day grind does take its toll on the riders, and believe it or not some of those 4-5 hour stages where riders sit in are easier than a 60-120 minute local hammerfest to the body.
 

limerickman

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Jan 5, 2004
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DirtTurtle said:
For one cyclists "technically" dont have to support all their weight with their legs which helps, although depends how much you like climbing out of the saddle. Also alot of the time on a longer ride will generally be spent "spinning" so glycogen is not used that much, rather you keep it aerobic. I havnt done running for a long time but i assume its generally always done close to threshold so thats why more glycogen is used. When glycogen is used alot in cycling its generally during the hard efforts ie sprinting, attacking or motoring very fast. When racing etc the idea is to keep spinning and conserve energy for as much time as possible, and save that limited glycogen for when its needed.

Very good reply.

Could I also add that cycling in a group helps to shield riders from the elements (wind/breeze).
Marathon runners don't usually get the same benefit (to my knowledge).
 

ben_dover

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Oct 26, 2009
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tigermilk said:
For cyclists, you won't see those guys going balls out each day. The day-to-day grind does take its toll on the riders, and believe it or not some of those 4-5 hour stages where riders sit in are easier than a 60-120 minute local hammerfest to the body.

Well as a former professional rider, I can certainly tell you that there is no stage in the Tour De France that is easier than a 60-120 min local hammerfest. This was written by an obvious amateur who has no idea how hard a Protour race really is. This is a level where pure sprinters and climbers are riding 52-53 min, for a 40km/25mile time trial, on a bad day.

For those that do not know, Protour riders are limited as to which races they can ride according to how hard a race is rated, usually nothing lower than a 2.1. The Canadian and U.S. National Championships are rated around a 2.2. State Championships usually are a 1.8 which do not even allow a Protour pro eligible to ride. A flat stage in the Tour De France is typically rated around 3.0. So unless your local hammerfest is at least equal to a North American National Championship then please do not disrepect professional riders by saying your local trg ride is harder than a 4-5hr professional race.
 

frenchyge

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Apr 3, 2005
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John Harlin said:
Can some experienced cyclist, who may or may not have some background in running, explain to me how cyclists are able to cycle for so many hours like they do without hitting the wall.

1) Coasting, 2) eating & drinking regularly to replenish energy stores, 3) less stress on joints and connective tissues from impact.
 

dhk2

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Aug 8, 2006
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Well, maybe this is an issue of semantics....ie, what's meant by "tough". TdF stages are certainly long and hard. But when I'm on a tough group ride here, trying hard to hang on, believe I'm going harder (ie, higher relative intensity)than the average TdF rider is during the middle of a long stage in the peloton. I've seen HRM readings on these guys that are shockingly low, ie, L2 and low L3 range during a stage.

Compared to my struggles at 90-95% max HR up the next rise just trying to hang on to the leaders in the club group, the Pro's are "having a walk in the park" most of the time. Of course, their easy pace in a big peloton might be 25 mph, while I'm killing myself to hang on to a couple of guys at 20 mph, but everything is relative. And when they decide to put to the hammer down and go for it, that's a whole different world.
 

bobfromwaco

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Oct 12, 2009
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Eating and drinking. Staying well fueled and well watered is an option a lot of sports don't have
 

doctorSpoc

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John Harlin said:
Can some experienced cyclist, who may or may not have some background in running, explain to me how cyclists are able to cycle for so many hours like they do without hitting the wall. At the Tour de France, cyclists race 5 to 6 hours per day for 3 weeks. I'm not really sure runners could do that but if they did they would have to go very very slow like not too much faster than a walking pace. Usually, a runner training daily at a moderate pace will deteriorate rapidly after about 1.5 hours. This was even verified by a nutrition class I took where the instructor said that muscle glycogen levels deteriorate rapidly after 1.5 hours. So how are serious cyclist trainers able to cycle for 5 to 6 hours per day.

Basically, I would like to know this. Would it be physically possible to do the Tour de France running for about the same time as cyclists cycle - 5-6 hours per day? Or is cycling just not as demanding as running and so glycogen levels last much longer and you can go on for many more hours. You tell me.

the point you're missing is that, that 1.5hrs is without eating.. cyclist eat a tonne of calories while on the road.. untra marathon runners do the same.. your basic assumption that runners cannot do the same 5-6hrs a day is wrong... they can and do.. they won't be doing 2:30 marathon pace, but in cycling even at the tour when you're in the middle of a group of over 100 a guys you have to imagine that a lot of the time you're doing less than 200watts, maybe even less than 100Watts at times or costing so 0 watts (can't do that in running)... it's just the guys on the business side of the peleton that are pushing the heavy wattage.

so it would be a little bit harder to do as a runner but still very doable..
 

tigermilk

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Jun 20, 2006
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ben_dover said:
Well as a former professional rider, I can certainly tell you that there is no stage in the Tour De France that is easier than a 60-120 min local hammerfest. This was written by an obvious amateur who has no idea how hard a Protour race really is. This is a level where pure sprinters and climbers are riding 52-53 min, for a 40km/25mile time trial, on a bad day.

For those that do not know, Protour riders are limited as to which races they can ride according to how hard a race is rated, usually nothing lower than a 2.1. The Canadian and U.S. National Championships are rated around a 2.2. State Championships usually are a 1.8 which do not even allow a Protour pro eligible to ride. A flat stage in the Tour De France is typically rated around 3.0. So unless your local hammerfest is at least equal to a North American National Championship then please do not disrepect professional riders by saying your local trg ride is harder than a 4-5hr professional race.

No disrespect to pro riders, but looking at actual power files for pro riders in some of the stages, well yes, some of those stages are easier than a 60-120 minute weekend hammerfest. Perhaps not in terms of absolute power, but in terms of intensity factor and TSS bet your bottom dollar.

What's more taxing - a 4-5 ride at 50% normalized FTP or a 2 hour ride at 90%? Me going all-out for a 40k or a pro going all out for a 20k?

The mistake you are making is projecting pro tour performance to amateurs in the absolute rather than relative sense.

Some examples of "how easy" some of those pro rides are at 2009 Tour de France Reports Look at the TSS for those rides.
 

ben_dover

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Oct 26, 2009
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tigermilk said:
No disrespect to pro riders, but looking at actual power files for pro riders in some of the stages, well yes, some of those stages are easier than a 60-120 minute weekend hammerfest. Perhaps not in terms of absolute power, but in terms of intensity factor and TSS bet your bottom dollar.

What's more taxing - a 4-5 ride at 50% normalized FTP or a 2 hour ride at 90%? Me going all-out for a 40k or a pro going all out for a 20k?

This is a bit ridiculous. Tell me which is harder? You going all out at 90% for 40K, a pro going all out at speeds and power levels you can NEVER attain for 20K or a fat kid going balls out for 10K. I think the fat kid has us all beat. It's really all relative. You can pull out all the figures you want about how hard your training ride is but the fat kid will have you beat every single time.

You are pulling figures out for a 20+ day stage race. Of course, there will be a fair amount of down time during the stages but when the pro's want to put down the hammer those figures go through the roof. Also those figures don't show all the nuances going on in the race. How about avg 45-50kph and jumping to 60kph 15-20 times in the next 10km's.

If you want to be fair, since you are pulling out your hardest 40K training stat why don't you pull out the hardest 40K training stat during a pro ride. Have you ever been strung out in a 70 man pace line going 60+kph for over 30km's??? Everyone taking 3-5 sec at the front. That's 30km's in 30 min. How about going 60kph in a paceline on a flat for 20km's and still getting dropped. What about doing a 40km TT in under 50 min? Or sprinting at 72kph? Why don't you just compare your figures to what the riders put out when climbing Alpe d'Huez?

I don't understand how come I don't see more of these "weekend warriors" out at the Grand Tours if the pro ride's are such a joke. I wasn't even allowed to ride a State Championship because it did not even rank as a race at the UCI level. I used to do State and Provincial championship rides as a training ride because I wasn't even allowed to be listed as a finisher because of my UCI pro status.

If Lance Armstrong or Alberto Contador ever swing by your neck of the woods you can enter a debate with them on how your local "Hammerfests" are harder than the Tour De France, lol!
 

dhk2

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Aug 8, 2006
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Tigermilk is talking about relative intensity of the event, not absolute performance. Side-by-side, a pro wouldn't even be breaking a sweat to keep up with my hardest effort, no doubt about that.

If you are an elite cyclist, I'm sure you've heard of the intensity factor, or IF. The mechanisms work the same way for me as they do for you or Lance. His FTP may be double mine, but the principles are the same. To finish well, we both have to judge how hard to go throughout a long event, how much effort to expend keeping up with the leaders on a long climb, or hanging onto the pace line. Burn too many matches early, and pay the price later applies to us all.

When I ride with ex-racers, on the days they choose to take it easy and stay with me, it's obvious they're just cruising while I'm killing myself to keep up. There's no doubt the ride was harder for me than them. After the ride is over, who do you think will need more recovery time? The worst part is back at the finish, when all I can think about is getting home to food and rest while they are planning what harder ride to do tomorrow :)
 

frenchyge

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ben_dover said:
I don't understand how come I don't see more of these "weekend warriors" out at the Grand Tours if the pro ride's are such a joke.

It's because we suck at riding bikes and instead spend our time here practicing how to relate to riders of different ability levels and conceptually discussing how we are similar to the pros and how we are different.

All he said was that there were some 4-5 hr stages where the most of the riders are taking it relatively easy compared to their abilities, and the Pro power files that we weekend warriors feed upon would bear that out as true.
 

Enriss

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Sep 14, 2009
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I think I'd just quote one of the cycling greats here.
"It never gets easier, you just go faster." -Greg LeMond
 

ben_dover

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Oct 26, 2009
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frenchyge said:
All he said was that there were some 4-5 hr stages where the most of the riders are taking it relatively easy compared to their abilities, and the Pro power files that we weekend warriors feed upon would bear that out as true.

I do agree. Using relative intensity, I can also see how Cat 5/Citizen riders ride a lot harder than their Cat 2 and 3 counterparts. Relatively speaking, parts of a Cat 2/3 race would be a lot easier than a Cat 5 hammerfest.
 

vspa

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Jan 11, 2009
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pro's need around 30,000 kilometers on their legs before a grand tour
amateurs need around 15,000 kilometers before a 2 week amateur/continental level tour (kilometers per season of course)

i think those hard facts might help to measure how tough road cycling can be and how fit those guys are
 

velomanct

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Most races, assuming the rider is of adequate form, are not "full out" the entire time. There is always periods of coasting, or soft pedaling or aerobic time.

Have you ever seen a power meter profile from a pro race (or any road race for that matter)? It's all over the place. They aren't TT'ing for 5+ hours.

Runners on the other hand, simply go as fast as they can for entire distane with little variation in effort.

Nutrition and being supported by the bike also help a lot.
 

jhuskey

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Oct 6, 2003
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velomanct said:
time.

Have you ever seen a power meter profile from a pro race (or any road race for that matter)? It's all over the place. They aren't TT'ing for 5+ hours.

.



They do however sometimes hold a speed of over 50kms for miles in an ITT.
I can't even get close to the same universe as this.
 

ecandl

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Sep 20, 2006
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At a similar heart rate, I can eat on my bike without getting stomach cramps whereas I cannot while running. I don't know why this is? Maybe my body is better able to digest when not being bounced around. All things being equal, my heart rate for running fast is 10 bpm higher than my cycling fast Hear rate. Hard to compare those two though because both are perceived.

Secondly, I am usually sore the day after a run (don't run much anymore) and rarely am I sore after a bike ride. Maybe the pounding of running takes a toll. If I were simply trying to burn as many calories as my body could over a week - I could burn much more cycling becuase I can maitain a high heart rate for much longer than I could running. My body would not break down as much. My muscles definitely burn more on a bike - my joints hurt more when running. Different pain with each.
 

pat5319

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Jan 9, 2002
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The guys/pros that ride many hours are very well conditioned superior athletes that ride at a level that most who comment here can't imagine much less experience. One must have long thighs, big lungs,lots of muscle fibers of the right type, high pain tolerance and be willing to ride huge miles for years. Anyone here ride 10,000(not enough) to 20,000 miles per year and "cruise" at 25 mph or more? Pros have to eat and drink a lot of calories(thousands) and fluids (quarts/gallons)ON the bike to be able to compete. No fair comparing a race/level with another unles you've experienced both!!!!!!!! Even the best can "bonk" if they don't eat or drink enough, ie: Contador at Paris-Nice


John Harlin said:
Can some experienced cyclist, who may or may not have some background in running, explain to me how cyclists are able to cycle for so many hours like they do without hitting the wall. At the Tour de France, cyclists race 5 to 6 hours per day for 3 weeks. I'm not really sure runners could do that but if they did they would have to go very very slow like not too much faster than a walking pace. Usually, a runner training daily at a moderate pace will deteriorate rapidly after about 1.5 hours. This was even verified by a nutrition class I took where the instructor said that muscle glycogen levels deteriorate rapidly after 1.5 hours. So how are serious cyclist trainers able to cycle for 5 to 6 hours per day.

Basically, I would like to know this. Would it be physically possible to do the Tour de France running for about the same time as cyclists cycle - 5-6 hours per day? Or is cycling just not as demanding as running and so glycogen levels last much longer and you can go on for many more hours. You tell me.