Jul 19 2011

La Science de Le Tour


Le Tour de France is getting to  the business end – Stage 16, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to the Gap, 160 km across the top of the Alps. Australia’s Cadel Evans remains 2 minutes behind the yellow jersey holder Frenchman Thomas Voekler. The race finishes in Paris on July 24th. By then an astonishing10 million spectators will have watched the riders passing by first hand.

Those cyclists competing for the overall prize are some of the fittest atheletes in the world. Navigating the high mountains requires tremendous power to weight ratios.

In the Conversation, David Roufett of Victoria University analyses the Science of Elite Cycling in a two part series.

During the first half of the race, most of the riding is done on flat land. The primary force for the riders to overcome is wind resistance. The pack (or peleton) races along at 40km/hr – with riders in the middle of the pack benefiting from the ‘slipstream’ effect created by the riders in front of them, but risking crashes, and being left behind by a breakaway group. Riders who specialise in sprinting – larger, stronger men – come to the fore.


During the second half of the race, the course traverses the mountains. The primary force for riders to overcome is gravity, and the lighter men are advantaged. The best riders can maintain effort intensity close to 90% of their maximum while climbing for long periods – which is an astounding display of fitness. They are at risk of ‘bonking’, which apparently in this case is not a good thing. ‘Bonking’ is when you run out of energy and hit the wall.


David Roufett’s articles make an excellent companion for those who are staying up late in front of SBS.


One Response to “La Science de Le Tour”

  1. Michelle Bourke says:

    Hitting the wall when you’re bonking is a sure way to upset the people in the apartment next door

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