Physiological and biomechanical factors associated with elite endurance cycling performance

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1991 Jan;23(1):93-107.


In this study we evaluated the physiological and biomechanical responses of "elite-national class" (i.e., group 1; N = 9) and "good-state class" (i.e., group 2; N = 6) cyclists while they simulated a 40 km time-trial in the laboratory by cycling on an ergometer for 1 h at their highest power output. Actual road racing 40 km time-trial performance was highly correlated with average absolute power during the 1 h laboratory performance test (r = -0.88; P less than 0.001). In turn, 1 h power output was related to each cyclists' VO2 at the blood lactate threshold (r = 0.93; P less than 0.001). Group 1 was not different from group 2 regarding VO2max (approximately 70 and 5.01 l.min-1) or lean body weight. However, group 1 bicycled 40 km on the road 10% faster than group 2 (P less than 0.05; 54 vs 60 min). Additionally, group 1 was able to generate 11% more power during the 1 h performance test than group 2 (P less than 0.05), and they averaged 90 +/- 1% VO2max compared with 86 +/- 2% VO2max in group 2 (P = 0.06). The higher performance power output of group 1 was produced primarily by generating higher peak torques about the center of the crank by applying larger vertical forces to the crank arm during the cycling downstroke. Compared with group 2, group 1 also produced higher peak torques and vertical forces during the downstroke even when cycling at the same absolute work rate as group 2. Factors possibly contributing to the ability of group 1 to produce higher "downstroke power" are a greater percentage of Type I muscle fibers (P less than 0.05) and a 23% greater (P less than 0.05) muscle capillary density compared with group 2. We have also observed a strong relationship between years of endurance training and percent Type I muscle fibers (r = 0.75; P less than 0.001). It appears that "elite-national class" cyclists have the ability to generate higher "downstroke power", possibly as a result of muscular adaptations stimulated by more years of endurance training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bicycling*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Weight
  • Humans
  • Lactates / blood*
  • Lactic Acid
  • Male
  • Muscles / enzymology
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Regression Analysis


  • Lactates
  • Lactic Acid