Tour de France versus Vuelta a España: which is harder?

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 May;35(5):872-8. doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000064999.82036.B4.


Purpose: To compare the total exercise loads (intensity x volume) of the Vuelta a España and Tour de France during the last year.

Methods: Seven professional road cyclists (28 +/- 1 yr; [OV0312]O(2max): 74.6 +/- 2.2 who participated in both Tour and Vuelta during the years 1997, 1999, 2000, or 2001 were collected as subjects. They wore a heart rate (HR) telemeter during each stage of the two races, and exercise intensity was divided into three phases according to the reference HR values obtained during a previous ramp cycle-ergometer test: phase I (<ventilatory threshold (VT)), phase II (between VT and the respiratory compensation point (RCP)) and phase III (>RCP). Total volume and intensity were integrated as a single variable. The score for volume x intensity in each phase was computed by multiplying the accumulated duration in this phase by a multiplier for this particular phase. The total score for Tour and Vuelta was obtained by summating the results of the three phases.

Results: The total loads (volume x intensity) did not significantly differ between the two races (P > 0.05), despite a significantly longer total exercise time of the Tour (P < 0.05) (5552 +/- 176 vs 5086 +/- 290 min).

Conclusion: The physiological loads imposed on cyclists' bodies do not differ between the Tour and Vuelta, despite the longer duration of daily stages in the former race.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anaerobic Threshold / physiology*
  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Ergometry / methods*
  • France
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Physical Exertion
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange
  • Spain