Coach, how much better are Pros and regular guys like me?

Greg Lemond …. Tour Winner 1986, 1989, 1990


I was wondering recently whether Greg Lemond’s famous quote is really true……do pros struggle as much as beginners?

Obviously with decades of hard training under their belt they are fitter, stronger and more determined than 99% of the population. Let’s say you challenged Chris Froome to a 1km climb event at 8% and lets say you were the same weight on the same bike. Lets say your FTP was 250, then you would be able to do 350 up the climb for 3min 40sec (15.9kph) a pretty decent effort. But with Froome’s FTP around 450 you might as well be racing a motobike because he could crest it in 1min 38s! (47kph) at 833w for the intense short effort! Now let’s say Froome has 10kg on you, you would now take 4min 13s. Ouch!!



Equivalent Grade Pro vs Amateur

There is the temptation to think that Froome would have it easy and in one sense you are correct because the same distance is dramatically shorter in time for a pro. Similarly the same grade of hill is dramatically shallower for the time it take to get up it. Let do a quick equivalent grade comparison. Let’s say there were two 2km climbs, one done by a pro at 8% grade in 4min 35s …..what grade would an ameteur manage in the sme time (assuming 10kg difference too). The answer is 3%!! Froome could climb 8% for 2km in exactly the same time as an amateur could climb 3% for 2km!! Wow.


Equivalent Feeling for Pro vs Amateur

BUT how would it *feel* for Froome vs you? Well you would both be giving it everything albeit for 1min vs 4min. Let’s look at this another way….would Froome still rate his effort as max on RPE (perceived exertion scale).Well this has been studied by Zapico who looked at elite cyclists RPE vs amateurs (link)

What he found was that for a similar physiological effort (VO2 max and HR max) RPE was roughly the same. There was a very subtle difference in that pros’ RPE was a little lower during easier efforts and a little high during hard efforts. but as a rule of thumb Greg Lemond’s quotation appears to hold true

We can dive into this a little more using lactate testing, around the middle (z2) and high (z3) intensity thresholds (aka LT1 and LT2). In untrained individuals lactate tends to rise almost straight away, almost in a straight line. In recreational improving cyclists they have a gentle curve with no clear LT1 or LT2. In pros, they have a distinct curve with anything under 50% V02 feeling easier and more sustainable and then a clearer “kick” once the threshold approaches. This means they have a long time to exhaustion and very fast recovery once they drop their watts even a little.


Power Zones of Pros

I heard a pro talking recently about doing a long pull at the front of his team around 500watts for 10mins on a climb, a huge effort but then he said he pulled off and was able to recover at 340w! Yes he continued to climb at 240w but was recovering!! So what happens if we line up a pro and a regular cyclist side by side on their zones. You can get the answer yourself from our calculator TIZ.



Equivalent Zones for Pro vs Amateur

Here is the result of the power based zones for a pro vs a regular guy!

And over a stage…. Mont Ventoux



Physiology of Pros

I guess we already knew that pros abilities are extreme compared to most people. What can we say about the main physiological differences between pros and amateurs?

FTP higher, resting HR lower, VO2max higher (slightly), time at VO2 max higher, time to exhaustion much longer, high lactate threshold, HRrecovery faster, increased capillary density, high fat metabolism. Also Athletes have an increased total mass of red blood cells and hemoglobin, but the decrease in hematocrit by training is due to an increased plasma volume.

SIS looked at some differences and found elite cyclist study are the high Gross mechanic efficiency [(work done/energy consumed)x100], the rider is more efficient in the way he uses energy for the work that he is doing. They were better in warm conditions and were able to maintain their core body temperature closer to resting conditions under stressful conditions more efficiently. Physiological they are better on every marker high VO2peak, high lactate threshold, higher FTP, high w/kg.

Zapico (above) also looked at elite cyclists’ body characteristics (link) as follows

Finally for fun, let pull this altogether and ask how do you direct stack up against a current pro? How would you do in a head-to-head race? Well we have the answer for you…..



Direct Comparison vs Filippo Ganna

For fun, we made a video and calculator about how you would stack up against new 4000m world record holder Filippo Ganna. Enter your 4min best power and discover when he would have lapped you! The video is here:

and the calculator is here


So now you know. In terms of effort (RPE), greg was right, it’s the same for pros and us regular guys. Pros just tend to be going twice a fast for ten times as long!





Leave a Reply