Thank you for visiting The Science of Sport. Over the past few weeks, we’ve followed and attempted to analyse the performances of the very best cyclists in the world, and at worst, it’s created some great discussion and back-and-forth. At best, it’s shown that cycling may just be heading in the right direction in its fight against doping.
Earlier today, Greg Lemond mentioned our analysis in his blog at Cycling News under the title “data of optimism?” and I certainly share that sentiment. So for those arriving “late”, below are the links to the three analysis we’ve done on the power outputs, courtesy data provided by SRM and Training Peaks.
- Post 1: Power outputs from the Alps and Pyrenees
- Post 2: The Col du Tourmalet - the showdown at 6W/kg
- Post 3: Resolving discrepancies in the Tourmalet numbers
I’d encourage you to also read the comments, where you have really improved the overall quality of the debate with your own calculations and questions.
One of the big talking points in all these analyses is the issue of whether a performance is proof of doping. Of course, the answer is no. There are too many assumptions in the calculation of physiological implications of a given performance for it to be “proof”. Also, things like tactics and weather and preceding stages affect a rider’s ability to produce a given power output. However, when looked at in context and when those assumptions are “controlled” in order to create a ‘best-case scenario’, the picture is still, I believe, telling, and that is what the above posts are about. There comes a point at which the principle adds value.
Of particular interest given the debate before the Tour, is that not a single longer climb hit the power outputs that we’ve become accustomed to seeing in 90s and 2000s. Nor have they hit what we debated pre-Tour as the “suspect” power values of greater than 6.2, 6.3, 6.4 W/kg.
And while the 6.2 W/kg number got a lot of people riled, I really think it’s telling that the very best climbers, with the highest level of motivation (on the Tourmalet) failed to hit those power outputs. Re that number – in a debate about “unrealistic performances”, you have to commit to a value, even if only to illustrate a point. It does not mean this number separates the world into light and dark.
Even Contador and Schleck on the Tourmalet, in what was an absolute ‘limit’ performance, just touched 6W/kg as an average, and appear to have dropped right down towards the end of the climb (see post 3 above). To me, this largely validates the physiological principle that says that for every performance, there is a physiological ‘cost’ and at some point, the ‘cost’ becomes an indication of doping. In the words of Lemond, the performance becomes “believable”.
There is no dividing line in the sand, no specific point at which you can say “got you”. A rider at 6 W/kg may be doping, and one at 6.2W/kg (depending on the situation) may not, but there is a theory underpinning it and the change in this year’s Tour is a positive sign, leading to the hypothesis made in those posts and by Lemond.
It’s been a super Tour, with great individual performances on stages, and the confirmation of a rivalry between Contador and Schleck that will hopefully put cycling in the news for the right reasons. And hopefully, it’s also produced a step in the right direction for the sport. Bring on 2011, hopefully a mountain time-trial, and another super-tight race!