How to Be an Elite Cyclist

Photo^^ by Tim der Waele  Follow on instagram @tdwsport for great cycling pics.


I’ve been sick lately and at many points while under the influence of “the sickness” I didn’t want to do anything but drown in my own misery.  However, there were other points where I was able to enjoy a few youtube videos.

One of these videos was intriguing.  It attempted to answer the question, “What does it take to be an elite cyclist”.


Who is this guy?

First of all, these are British dudes which should automatically make anything they say more interesting (due to the accent) and more credible (due to the recent rise in British cycling results on the track and of course, the Tour de France).  The speaker is Louis Passfield who is a professor now but formerly the sports scientist for British cycling for the Beijing olympics.  The medal count for Great Britain at these games was…well it was good.  (8) GOLD (4) SILVER (2) BRONZE.  Thats right, nearly 50% of the gold medals in cycling were won by Great Britain in that games.

Sir, you have my attention.

Point #1: Age

It is unfortunate that age is a factor but I’m sure you can all agree that after a certain point, you just don’t got it anymore!  There are always outliers like Chris Horner’s Vuelta win at the ripe age of 41 but based on the evidence gathered by this guy over decades of high profile races, we peak at 27!

This is unfortunate because I am 36.  I will never truly close the door but pretty much this wiped away all hope I had of ever racing in the pro peloton.  For now, I will have to be content with racing masters in the local scene.

This does make sense though – even though grand tour winners probably peak a bit later, the vast majority of us start to lose testosterone production which reduces our bodies ability to recover after hard workouts.  People that can handle larger training loads will improve faster and reach higher peak fitness than those that can’t.  It makes sense but it still hurts a bit.  I’m past my prime!

Point #2: Birthdate

It turns out that if you’re born in the first three months of the year, you are more likely to win.  If you’re born the next 6 months you’re about average.  If you’re born in the last 3 months of the year then you’re screwed.  I am born in Sept…there is hope for me!  It is the 4th best month of the year!

I’m sorry the chart is blurry…it is a screen capture because the slides are not shared.  This phenomenon seems to occur due to physical development of kids and when their chosen sport season is.  If the kid is more developed then they have a higher chance of receiving attention by coaches, playing more minutes, and having success.

Of course the first person I googled was Peter Sagan and his birthday is Jan 26th.  (Also note he is 27 this year).  This is not saying if you’re born in October, November or December that you’re doomed but it is saying you’re less likely.  Notables in those months?  Pierre Roland – October, Bernard Hinault – November.  I didn’t notice any names in December, lol.

Point #3: Genetics

Several slides attempted to show that genetics DOES play a role in cycling performance but in the end, no strong correlation was found either way.

What was found – your genetic makeup will determine your response to certain training protocols.

This confirms a belief that I’ve had since being somewhat successful in power lifting and also dieting.  We’re all different and our bodies are so complex that no blanket training plan can be created for everyone.

Professor Passfield goes on to state that potentially the greatest sadness is that people are afraid to try other training methods for fear of regressing and therefore, may never discover what truly works for their own bodies.


In cycling, we have access to a lot of data.  Speed, cadence, heart rate, power, etc.  We can then use that data to make correlations between cycling performance and the workouts that were done during that time frame so long as some care is taken to be consistent in implementing a plan.  The training calendar could be split up into 12 week cycles with performance measuring along the way.  Potentially, this could lead an athlete to discover what training gives the largest increase in performance for the time given.

Finally, it is noted that one particular olympic cyclists performance increased 17% over 17 years.  Assuming his training was in order, this represents only 1% a year.  Of course we are all starting more or less from zero and should be able to improve more than 17% but it is nice to know what could be possible given the proper knowledge of ourselves.

Personally, I found the video very interesting. I hope you take some trainer time and watch it!


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