Lucia, A., Hoyos, J., & Chicharro, J. L. (2001). Physiology of professional road cycling. Sports Medicine, 31, 325-337.

"Professional road cycling is an extreme endurance sport. Approximately 30,000 to 35,000 km are cycled each year in training and competition and some races, such as the Tour de France last 21 days (approximately 100 hours of competition) during which professional cyclists (PC) must cover >3,500 km. In some phases of such a demanding sport, on the other hand, exercise intensity is surprisingly high, since PC must complete prolonged periods of exercise (i.e. time trials, high mountain ascents) at high percentages (approximately 90%) of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) [above the anaerobic threshold (AT)]. Although numerous studies have analyzed the physiological responses of elite, amateur level road cyclists during the last 2 decades, their findings might not be directly extrapolated to professional cycling. Several studies have recently shown that PC exhibit some remarkable physiological responses and adaptations such as: an efficient respiratory system (i.e. lack of "tachypnoeic shift" at high exercise intensities); a considerable reliance on fat metabolism even at high power outputs; or several neuromuscular adaptations (i.e. a great resistance to fatigue of slow motor units). This article extensively reviews the different responses and adaptations (cardiopulmonary system, metabolism, neuromuscular factors, or endocrine system) to this sport. A special emphasis is placed on the evaluation of performance both in the laboratory (i.e. the controversial Conconi test, distinction between climbing and time trial ability, etc.) and during actual competitions such as the Tour de France".

Implication. Very select high level sportspersons, such as professional cyclists referred to here, often have distinct physiological characteristics and modes of function, factors that set them apart from the normal population. Consequently, to apply normal-population norms to particular sport groups is often erroneous, the two populations being very different. For drug analyses, using normal values (e.g., Nandrolone levels for men and women) and applying them to particularly select groups (e.g., world-class male track sprinters) could lead to a high incidence of false positive test results. One reason could be that under certain circumstances, endogenous Nandrolone metabolites are increased in that select group, and that could explain the unusual number of positive drug tests in that distinct group.

This study also supports the contention that there is a separate science of the exceptional/elite athlete. To attribute athlete-development principles derived from normal individuals to the coaching of elite athletes is likely to be an erroneous decision. The conduct of coaching elite athletes has to be in accord with their distinct physiologies, psychologies, and skill mechanics. Using the wrong (aka normal) principles of training will not spur exceptional to higher levels of performance.

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