Stone, M. R., Thomas, K., Givson, A., Wilkinson, M., & Thompson, K. G. (2012). Racing the favorite: Effects of competition during laboratory based 4,000-m cycling time-trials. Presentation 1440 at the 59th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, San Francisco, California; May 29-June 2, 2012.

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This study assessed if trained male cyclists (N = 10) would reduce a 4,000-m time-trial performance by riding against a simulated opponent who was understood to be performing at a higher power output than their own previous performance. Four 4,000-m time-trials separated by between three and seven days were conducted. The first time-trial was an acclimation trial and the second established a baseline performance. During time-trials 3 and 4, two avatars were displayed on a video screen; one representing the progress of the S and the other the progress of the simulated opponent. The power output of the simulated opponent was set at either 102% or 105% of the S's mean baseline power output in a randomized and counter-balanced order. Ss were briefed about the nature of the experiment and encouraged to try to beat the opponent. Heart rate was monitored continuously and session rating-of-perceived exertion was recorded on completion of each trial.

There were no significant differences between baseline and the 102% or 105% time-trial opponent conditions for time taken, mean heart rate, or session rating of perceived exertion. The presence of a simulated opponent known to be exercising at an intensity greater than Ss achieved during baseline did not affect performance time or physiological and perceptual responses during a 4,000-m time-trial.

Implication. The regulation of self-paced exercise is a robust mechanism which is not readily influenced by the presence of a simulated opponent designed to "push" an athlete to reduce the amount of time taken to perform a cycling time-trial. The pacing of an extended self-determined performance is a personal factor and not likely to be influenced by a simulated opponent.

[Whether this finding extends to real opponents is not shown by this study despite it being commonly proposed that athletes "take it out hard" or establish a lead relative to other competitors in a race. Racing other opponents is likely to be an ineffective strategy if it alters an athlete's preferred or prepared method of executing/pacing an event.]

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