Intensity and Load Characteristics of Professional Road Cycling: Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Races

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose: To provide a retrospective analysis of a large competition database describing the intensity and load demands of professional road-cycling races, highlighting the differences between men’s and women’s races. Methods: In total, 20 male and 10 female professional cyclists participated in this study. During 4 consecutive years, heart rate, rating of perceived exertion, and power-output data were collected during both men’s (n = 3024) and women’s (n = 667) professional races. Intensity distribution in 5 heart-rate zones was quantified. Competition load was calculated using different metrics, including Training Stress Score (TSS), training impulse (TRIMP), and session rating of perceived exertion. Standardized effect size is reported as Cohen d. Results: Large to very large higher values (d = 1.36–2.86) were observed for distance, duration, total work (in kilojoules), and mean power output in men’s races. Time spent in high-intensity heart-rate zones (ie, zones 4 and 5) was largely higher in women’s races (d = 1.38–1.55) than in men’s races. Small higher loads were observed in men’s races quantified using TSS (d = 0.53) and TRIMP (d = 0.23). However, load metrics expressed per kilometer were large to very largely higher in women’s races for TSS·km–1 (d = 1.50) and TRIMP·km–1 (d = 2.31). Conclusions: Volume and absolute load are higher in men’s races, whereas intensity and time spent in high-intensity zones is higher in women’s races. Coaches and practitioners should consider these differences in demands in the preparation of professional road cyclists.

Sanders is with the Physiology, Exercise and Nutrition Research Group, University of Stirling, Stirling, United Kingdom, and the Sport, Exercise and Health Research Centre, Newman University, Birmingham, United Kingdom. van Erp and de Koning are with the Dept of Human Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. de Koning is also with the Dept of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, La Crosse, WI.

Sanders (dajosanders@gmail.com) is corresponding author.
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