Re: Tour de France 2005
There is scientific evidence as to why Lance Armstrong is the best of the best
University of Texas scientist has concluded that the Tour de France cyclist is 18 percent better than he was before he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996
By Suzanne Halliburton
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
It's often speculated how six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong could come back from his illness and dominate a sporting event considered to be the most arduous in the world.
While some whisper about drug use -- although Armstrong has yet to test positive after dozens of in-race and out-of-competition screenings of blood and urine -- a University of Texas scientist who has studied the champion cyclist since 1992 says he has come up with scientific explanations for Armstrong's success.
"Lance is arguably the best endurance athlete on the planet," said Ed Coyle, director of UT's Human Performance Laboratory, whose findings are featured in the June edition of "The Journal of Applied Physiology."
According to Coyle, Armstrong is 18 percent better than before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer Oct. 2, 1996. Half of that increase is the better development and efficiency of his muscles. The other half can be attributed to a significant weight loss.
Armstrong is currently at it again -- training these days in the Alps in preparation for the July 2 start of the Tour de France, the last of his career.
In the nine years since his cancer diagnosis, Armstrong has significantly increased his power and muscle efficiency, Coyle reports.
His heart is bigger, capable of pumping 200 beats per minute, allowing his body to pump high levels of oxygen-rich red blood cells.
The ability of Armstrong's heart to beat that fast for an extended period of intense activity -- such as cycling up a steep mountain pass in the Alps -- gives him a 5 percent advantage over his competition at the Tour and puts him in the 95th percentile for men his age, Coyle said.
At the same time, Armstrong dropped his weight, competing at 159 pounds at the Tour, as opposed to his pre-cancer competitive frame of 174. This weight loss increased his power wattage -- the ability to pedal the bike faster.
Coyle estimates that Armstrong's power wattage is greater than Spain's Miguel Indurain, who had owned the previous record of five Tour victories in a row.
Armstrong is in the same range as Eddy Merckx, the legendary Belgian and winner of five Tours who is considered the greatest cyclist of his time, Coyle said.
Since his illness, Armstrong gained more slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are so vital to endurance athletes who cycle long distances and run marathons. Slow-twitch fibers are more efficient in that they need less energy than fast-twitch muscles to function at a high level.
Coyle estimates that Armstrong has increased the proportion of his body's slow-twitch muscles from 60 percent to 80 percent.
Most Tour cyclists are between 60 and 70 percent, while non-athletes are in the 40 to 50 percent range.
And, Armstrong's focus on training has allowed him to take advantage of these physiological changes.
It all adds up to six consecutive Tour championships, something no other cyclist in the event's 101-year history has accomplished.
Coyle said of Armstrong's change: "It's a huge amount, simply phenomenal."