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Power Profiling in Professional Cyclists: Take Home Messages

My last blog on a paper I co-authored seemed to grab people's attention! Therefore, with a new paper out I wanted to distill this one down into some take home messages.

Alongside colleagues we looked at the relationship between values from formal tests and values from racing throughout a competitive season in 13 professional cyclists.

You can find and read the paper here (sorry no open access this time but if you have a research gate account you can request the article):

We again split the season up into 4 periods (pre-, early-, mid- and late-season). We conducted formal testing in the pre-season and then tracked several training and performance metrics throughout the entire season.

Here are the 4 take home messages that you can implement!

Take Home 1: Performance is pretty consistent across a season

Ignoring the pre-season values for a moment (we will get onto those a little later) performance in absolute terms is pretty consistent throughout the competitive season. It also appears that the longer the duration the more consistent the power output is across the season. Therefore, coaches should expect to see more changes in the short duration power outputs than in the longer duration numbers during the season. This also means that those longer efforts that rely upon strong aerobic fitness need to be developed prior to the season. Basically, you can put the cherry on top and makes changes in the higher intensity efforts during the season but if that underlying aerobic fitness is lacking when you start the season it's going to be tough to turn around.

One thing that should be noted here is that these professional cyclists had 3 peak events throughout the season - one in each period (early, mid and late). Therefore, what we might be seeing in the data are 3 'peaks' rather than the full extent of the fluctuations in form throughout a season. That said, the peaks are remarkably similar in terms of absolute power outputs values. Therefore, this again suggest that riders set how high the bar can go with their work outside of the season.

Take Home 2: Pre season values mean nothing (unless they are from formal testing!)

If you look at the graphs above (and the graph under take home message number 1) you will see two **'s above the pre season values. This means that these values are significantly different to all other values - significantly lower!

As we saw in the last take home blog, the values that athletes record in training do no predict the power numbers that they might be able to put out in races. It is only when you have riders perform a taper and then do a formal test (see take home message 4) that you get an insight into the performance capacity of that rider! Don't judge a rider by their numbers in training!

Take Home 3: Body mass might change throughout a season can positively impact performance

Earlier in this piece I talked about how performance was relatively consistent during the season. However, this only holds true for absolute values, NOT relative values. We do see changes in the w/kg values throughout a season. These changes are linked to changes in body mass and not in power output. We saw improvements in CP and 12 min w/kg values throughout the season! These matched the changes we saw in body mass throughout the season

As you can see in the graph above, body mass declined through the season. Interestingly as riders raced more we saw a trend that body mass reduced more. This is probably due to an improvement in body composition (although we cannot be sure as we didn't measure this directly). Therefore, it is important to keep a track of rider's weights throughout a season as you may not see a big change in the absolute numbers, for example after a stage race, BUT might see an improvement in the relative (w/kg) values!

Take home 4: A pre-season CP test is a good predictor of what in-season performance will look like - 1 test is good, 2 might be better

Here (on the left) we can see the differences between a pre season CP test and CP values within the season. As you can see the average values are pretty similar. The values from a pre season CP test give a good rough guide as to the level of performance that can be expected (especially for a team as a whole). When we look at the individual data (right hand graph) we see that the biggest differences are ~±20w between CP estimates from pre season testing and CP estimated from in-season maximal values. However, considering most athletes had a CP in excess of 360w this is only ~5% maximal variation. Which when you take into account power meter fluctuations and daily variation is probably about as accurate of a CP estimate as you are going to get.

However, the estimate did get a bit worse as the season went on. Which makes sense considering by the end of the season it had been 9 months since the CP test was done. Therefore we recommend that coaches do at least 2 CP tests per year (pre and mid season) so they can track their athletes.

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