As you can discover with our app Inside the Human Body, our bodies really are amazing creations! They are capable of great feats of endurance and
accomplishment. This is nowhere more true than during the Tour de France cycling competition which will come to its climax this weekend in Paris.
For nearly three weeks the world’s best cyclists have battled it out to see who gets crowned King of the Mountains, who’ll take the green jersey for best
sprinter and who the ‘maillot jaune’ as overall winner of this gruelling test.
We know you’re just as interested in the human body as we are so we thought you might like to know a bit about how cyclists like Chris Froome, Geraint
Thomas, Romain Bardet and Tom Dumoulin make use of our major body systems (including respiration and muscles) to achieve those great performances.
Tour de France riders move oxygen around their bodies really
fast! According to this article, Are Tour de France Riders Healthy, over on bicycling.com, Tour de France riders are very fit. In fact
about twice as fit as the average non-Tour rider of the same age range and who’s in good shape.
That’s because they have a higher VO2max than you or I. VO2 max is a respected measure of fitness and it basically means breathing as hard as you can. According to active.com there are two factors which affect our VO2 :
“One is a strong oxygen transport system, which includes a powerful heart, hemoglobin-packed blood, high blood volume, high capillary density in the muscles, and high mitochondrial density within the muscle cells.The other is speed, or the capacity to contract a large number of muscle fibers simultaneously, as the more muscle tissue is active at any given moment, the more oxygen the muscles demand.”
So these riders not only have strong heart and respiratory systems, they also have really effective, responsive muscles.
Anyone who’s ever been on a bike knows how hard your muscles work to keep those wheels turning! In fact, according to this great article from theconversation.com Building a Tour de France-winning body : know your muscles, the key power behind the Tour is the rotation of the bicycle cranks driven by the force of skeletal muscles.
Cyclists use their position on the bikes to maximise the force produced by these skeletal muscles. They also have to balance the two types of muscle fibres – fast and slow twitch. Fast twitch is great for sprinting but in the mountains, slow twitch comes to the centre when resistance and fuel efficiency are what’s required.
Can you cycle as fast?
Check out this great article from the BBC website, How to cycle as fast as a pro to learn whether it’s actually possible for an amateur to ride as hard and as fast as professional cyclists.
Concerning VO2max that we mentioned earlier, although ones VO2max is largely determined by genetics, you can improve oxygen absorption and thus VO2max through training. Active.com recommends interval training at an intensity level that has you breathing as hard as you can.
So there you have it! Our bodies really are amazing. If you want to learn more about how we breathe and how our muscles work, download our app Inside the Human Body! You too can discover lots more about how our bodies work.