Super Human Feats Calculations

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This is an add on to the bush43 “All you need to know” post and your post titled: Doping expert levels charges against Contador

Let me preface this by saying I am not a professional physiologist, but this is what I’ve gathered through my graduate studies.

The following info may help you calculate if someone is performing super human feats.

Let’s use Contador as an example. What kind of VO2 would be required to climb at his speed? This is a pretty straight forward calculation if we know watts generated.

I am sure Discovery has this info, but it is not something readily shared. In fact, did you notice on VS. when they showed a rider’s SRM info, they usually showed altitude in the spot reserved for Watts? And we never were shown this info for a winning rider, let’s say someone solo on the last climb.

A while back Vaughters estimated Lance’s wattage up the final climb at the end of a 5+ hrs. race and it was published in Cycle Sport. Does anyone have access to this? He had to take elevation gained, wind resistance, rolling resistance and rider body/bike weight in to consideration.

In the case of Contador, let’s estimate his weight at 136 lbs, and his wattage on a winning final climb ride to be 6.43 W/kg = 400W . This is based off a training value of Basso used to recon. the Alp Duez TT in the documentary “Overcoming” 450 Watts at ~154 lbs = 6.43 W/kg.

We’ll also have to estimate a mechanical efficiency. Lance displayed a very high value of 23% the year he won his first TdF at age 28. Since Contador is younger let’s assume an efficiency on par with Lance’s at 24 yrs of age at 22%, which is still pretty high from what I’ve seen in the lab.

Coyle E.F., Improved muscular efficiency displayed as Tour de France champion matures, Journal of Applied Physiology, 98: 2191-2196, 2005.

With a mechanical efficiency value of 22% it would require ~13 ml O2 per Watt produced. So now the calculation begins. In order to produce 400 Watts it would require 400 X 13 ml O2 = 5200 mls O2. Divide this by Kg body wt. ( 136 lbs / 2.2 lbs / Kg = 61.8) and we get a Vo2 of 84.14 ml O2 / Kg body wt. / minute. The value of 400 Watts was based off of Basso’s training, so if for example Contador maintained 450 Watts his Vo2 value would rise to 94.66 ml O2 / kg / min.

The highest male Vo2 Max I can find on the net is 94 ml O2 / Kg / min. for a cross country skier. There are a few caveats here.

1. Exercises that recruit more muscle groups (e.g. running and cross country skiing) will elicit higher Vo2 values.

2. Vo2 max intensities are not sustainable. Anaerobic threshold (AT) is, and in the most highly trained athtletes, the AT is ~85-90% of Vo2 max. So if you add 10-15% to Contador’s 84.14 ml O2/kg/ min. value, you get 92.55 and 96.71 respectively….and remember, this is all based on a 400 Watt ave., we really need to know what Contador’s ave. on the final climbs was. I would guess it was high than the same W / Kg as a Basso training run.

3.. As exercise duration increases, Vo2 Max will likely decrease for two reasons:

 a) Cardiac Drift: as a subject sweats, blood volume will decrease therefore decreasing stroke volume per heart bt. (it takes more beats to generate the same cardiac output).

 b) As body core temperature rises, more blood will be re-distributed to the skin for cooling, lowering the amount of oxygen carrying blood available to working muscles to produce force (e.g. Watts).

The point here is, if a rider can maintain a Vo2 value which correlates to a Vo2 max value over 90 ml/kg/min on the last climb of the day, his lab value would undoubtedly be higher.

Typical Vo2 max test protocols are designed to reach the Vo2 max in 12-18 min. These are graduated ramp test. They are not preceded by 5 hrs of strenuous exercise. As muscles fatigue, a field not well understood, the ability of the muscles to generate force is reduced. This reduction in force generation would be linear to a reduction in Vo2. This effect would also likely be more pronounced after a few weeks of racing.

Here are some known lab values:

Carlos Lopes: 85.1
Grete Weitz: 73.5
Matt Carpenter: 92
Miguel Indurain: 88
Greg LeMond: 92.5 (treadmill – running)

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About Lovedawg

Tucson, Arizona, USA

18 Replies to “Super Human Feats Calculations”

  1. I remember the Vaughters article. Wish I still had it somewhere.

    I don’t know if you were following the TDF during the early 1990’s. I followed all things TDF during the 1980s and into 1991, and then stopped for a few years (college). One stat that I always seemed to keep a mental note of was the average speed of the stage. When I started paying attention again in 1995, I was dumbfounded. Something was suddenly askew. Speeds were several MPH higher than before, and it seemed no one was taking notice. Certainly not the media. The pro peloton had been using HRMs for training since at least 1985, so it had to be something other than improved training techniques.

    In just a few years, the entire peloton notched it up, and in no small way.

  2. I appreciate the method here, but it all seems pointless if you don’t really know the climbing speed/watts he was putting out. You’re saying “if he output 6.43 W/kg, that would require a Vo2 of 84 ml/kg/min.”

    The 6.43 W/kg comes from Basso, which is of course highly suspect. But can you prove he was actually putting this number out? Perhaps with some time/air & rolling resistance estimates/climb elevation numbers you could get a reasonable figure, but until then this is just food for thought.

    Basically you’re saying “[known doper] output these numbers, which seem *kind* of superhuman. If we assume [random pro cyclist] put out those numbers at the end of 5 hour day, that looks pretty superhuman!”

    Well, duh. The kg in the calculations cancel out, so there’s really nothing being gained here except an efficiency estimate by saying “let’s use Contador as an example.”

    So, I really do appreciate the method, but until you can get a better read on the actual wattage output I don’t think you have enough info to draw any conclusions.

  3. Lot of “if”s and assumptions and looks like time spent on ????

    Lovedog use that brain of your for something positive. Too much whining, assuming, and finger pointing going on for you.

  4. The best and worst thing in athletics i got taught was its not cheating till u get caught. Was told this by all football coaches, have heard it from most others, was taught this throughout life. Dont really obey by it because of those damn things called ethics, darn u parents. Interesting caculations, though just remember he ended up with only 2 jerseys and none claiming he was KOM

  5. El Ganador
    if you read this carefully, and compare the Vo2 max values listed at the end of the post, you may see that these feats could be real. There is no mention of doping in the entire post?
    If Contador could ride at a vo2 of 84, his max may be 92, which is a tested value obtained on Lemond as well. When we don’t know exactly what the Tour de France winner did in terms of work or watts, we have to make esitmates. This is especially true when dealing with efficiency values. I don’t see how the science of physiology is about whinning or not being positive?? Everything in this post is supported in scientific literature.

  6. “Here are some known lab values:

    Carlos Lopes: 85.1
    Grete Weitz: 73.5
    Matt Carpenter: 92
    Miguel Indurain: 88
    Greg LeMond: 92.5 (treadmill – running)”

    On that last Lemond statistic, you do realize that a test conducted while seated on a bike is VERY different than a test conducted on a treadmill, right? And If you’ve ever tried to measure your “true” maximum heart rate, you’ll discover that cycling can come nowhere near the maximum allowed by running. The lack of motion of the arms is why.

  7. And this is why “maximum” heart rates are no longer used by reputable coaches to determine training heart rate zones. They usually use short time trials and average heart rates to better determine one’s lactate threshold.

  8. I absolutely understand that cycling vs running Vo2 max values will differ. That is why I indicated Lemond’s Vo2 max as a treadmill test. The fact that it was a running test is revealed in his competitor radio interview. You are right to point that out.

  9. patrick –

    Wheels changed around that time. Prior to that it was box rims and lots of round spokes. Then entire pro peloton then started racing on deep dish rims and bladed spokes. This easily accounts for 2-3 kph increase in avg speed. They work right, or else why use them?

  10. Yes, but I’m talking 4-5 MPH increases. Listen to Lemond’s competitive radio interview. The one where they had a 148 mile stage, stopped for 3 trains and still came in with a 31 MPH average in the middle of a three week stage race.

    I will admit that when I returned to racing after a 12 year layoff, getting myself downgraded to Cat4 was not the picnic I’d hoped for. Shit got faster, no doubt. But not THAT much faster (and we had the same equipment as the pros)

    I realize that with aero bikes and better positions you’re going to get faster average TT speeds, but I seriously doubt that Kysyriums singlehandedly did this. But it is an interesting point.

  11. This is what Greg LeMond has been saying for some time; even before Lance. But some people don’t listen going to the sour grapes card all the damn time.

    Nice work

  12. Mr Tumble:

    This is great (thanks). People get so wrapped up in the numbers (and the high contrast of “positive” or “clean”). But when focusing on the numbers, it is most important to focus on what the numbers are actually SAYING.

    He put it in great perspective. To break 1:00:00 for a 40K time trial, you need to ride 250 watts, on average, for one hour. Have any of you ever broken 1 hour? I’d imagine very few of you have. I have (barely, and on old-school equipment). It’s fucking hard. Even for a very highly trained guy.

    Now imagine a guy who can do 400 watts for OVER an hour. A 400 watt guy (over 1 hour) is not a human being. He is a pharmaceutical experiment. A 420 watt guy is an android.

  13. Isn’t equipment taken into account in the model? In Lemond’s day, bikes were 5lb’s heavier and 10lb’s less efficient.

    And more to the point; if VO2 max is the most important and deciding factor in making your bike go faster than the next guy, than with his VO2 max way above everyone else’s, why didn’t Lemond win 1000 pro races and not 15?

  14. took another read through and David Sommers—awesome I remember that.

    Couple of points:

    VO2max is not the most important thing.
    The most important is maximum sustainable power.
    As a side note elite cyclists score in the range of 60-84. If you are in the 70s, you got good genetics and a good shot at being an endurance athlete. LA scored an 82. Bernard Hinault–65 (he was just that more efficient).

    There is no such thing as anaerobic threshold. You are always aerobic during events lasting longer than 15 seconds.

    Breaking an hour in a 40k TT is very attainable. 400watts for an hour is very difficult but very attainable by professional athletes. More important is watts per kilogram for an hour. 6watts per kilogram gives you the ability to win any race in the US. You need more for Europe. A local pro can get by on 4.5-5watts per kilo. More than 5 watts will get you some wins on the regional level and maybe a ride on a tier 3 pro team.