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Why do Sprinters fall behind on climbs(18 posts)

Why do Sprinters fall behind on climbsJames Curry
Feb 25, 2003 9:53 AM
"All good sprinters hate climbs"

Why, repeatedly do sprinters fall behind on climbs when, in many cases, they have the most powerful legs?

Ratio of Fast-twitch to slow twitch?

I ask because recently on Graham Watson's site, there was a quote similar to this and photos of big-name sprinters hurting on a long climb.

I am curious though why a good sprinter is not a good climber. Ja Ja made the transition fomr being a successful Sprinter to a successful climber, I assume by losing as much weight as possible and turning into the Pure Climber type, suited to high grades.

Whatever, I want some insight into why the fastest guys in the field eat sh-- and die on climbs.
lower power / weight and VO2 max. nmDougSloan
Feb 25, 2003 10:58 AM
lower power / weight and VO2 max. nmEric Marshall
Feb 25, 2003 2:01 PM
Also, fast twitch muscle fibers fatigue much quicker than slow twitch fibers. That's why the term "sprinter's hill" exists :-)
Location of team carRIAN
Feb 26, 2003 7:20 AM
Because the team car, which they need to hang onto, is usually behind the peloton.
You're confusing...Dwayne Barry
Feb 26, 2003 6:35 PM
peak power (or at most very short-term power) with sustainable power. Having larger more powerful muscles is beneficial for sprinting (look at track sprinters and to a lesser extent road sprinters).

Sustainable power is probably almost entirely dependent on the cardiovascular system and the oxidative capacity of the muscle, neither of which are related to the muscle size and therefore maximum force producing ability. This is why no studies, or at least very few that have looked at strenth training effects on endurance have shown any benefits.

Now, even if you had good sustainable power (so you should be able to time trial well) if you're bigger than other riders with comparable sustainable power outputs you'd still get dropped on climbs becuase your power to weight ratio would be lower.

So a good sprinter is not a good climber because being the former is probably somewhat benefit by larger muscles while the latter is probably inhibited by larger muscles (i.e more weight but not necessarily more sustainable power).

Ja Ja is actually a good example but not for the reasons you think. He was a good sprinter and good time trialist (so good sustainable power as well as good peak power) but he was never able to climb with the top guys probably because he had a somewhat larger build than the flyweight climbers. He appeared to be a climber in his latter years because of winning the polka dotted jersey. However, he did that by going in day-long breakaways and eating up points or out-sprinting the others if they came to the top of climbs in a bunch. He never out-climbed the real climbers, and those jerseys came even after his time trialling fell off which suggests his sustainable power wasn't even what it was in his hey day.
if you are one, you ain't the other - technical reasons...DougSloan
Feb 27, 2003 7:48 AM
By definition, if you could climb well, you'd be a climber, and not sprinter, and vice versa.

This just came up the J.O.E.:

"What are the physiological differences between sprinters and endurance cyclists?

What does Mario have that Lance doesn't, and visa-versa? Researchers evaluated the effects of severe acute hypoxia on exercise performance and metabolism during 30-second Wingate tests. Five endurance-(E) and five sprint-(S) trained track cyclists from the Spanish National Team performed 30-s Wingate tests in normoxia and hypoxia (inspired O2 fraction = 0.10). Oxygen deficit was estimated from submaximal cycling economy tests by use of a nonlinear model. Endurance cyclists showed higher maximal VO2 uptake 71-73 ml kg1 min1 than the sprinters whose maximal VO2 uptakes ranged from 60-64 ml kg1 min1. However, as expected the Sprinters achieved higher peak and mean power output, and 33% larger oxygen deficit than Endurance cyclists. During the Wingate test in normoxia, Sprinters relied more on anaerobic energy sources than Endurance cyclists did; however, Sprinters showed a larger fatigue index in both conditions. Compared with normoxia, hypoxia lowered VO2 uptake by -16% in both Endurance and Sprinters. Peak power output, fatigue index, and exercise femoral vein blood lactate concentration were not altered by hypoxia in any group. Endurance cyclists, unlike Sprinters, maintained their mean power output in hypoxia by increasing their anaerobic energy production, as shown by 7% greater oxygen deficit and 11% higher postexercise lactate concentration. Performance during 30-seconds Wingate tests in severe acute hypoxia is maintained or barely reduced owing to the enhancement of the anaerobic energy release. The effect of severe acute hypoxia on supramaximal exercise performance depends on training experience [1].

COMMENT: Oh, oh, oh, our need for speed. In a past issue, one study showed that doing a 30-second sprint at the start of a long ride resulted in growth hormone release much more than doing the same 30-second sprint later or as repeated efforts. Sprinters typically are born with only 2-4% more fast twitch fibers than a naturally endowed endurance cyclist, whose genetic slow twitch fiber composite exceeds the sprinter's slow twitch fiber composite by a whopping 20-30%. Nevertheless, speed work done at 30-120 second intervals benefits both sprinters and long distance cyclists. Interesting that the sprinters in spite of their significantly lower VO2 Max, meaning less efficient oxygen uptake, can "suffer" longer at high rates of speed than cardio-blessed endurance athletes. Oh, oh, oh, our need for speed.


[1] J Appl Physiol 2003;94 668-676."

Where's the COMMENT from?Wayne
Feb 27, 2003 10:09 AM
Is that yours? I actually just glanced over the abstract a couple of days ago. I interpreted it to show that:

1) In a 30 second sprint, oxidative capacities are largely irrelevant.

2) Sprinter trained cyclists have a higher glycolytic capacity (as evidenced by the larger oxygen deficit generated) than endurance trained cyclists.

So is 2 why they sprint faster? I would think the answer would be yes. (I need to go read the discussion to see how the authors interpret the results).

What I can't figure is what the comment necessarily has to do with the reference (I don't remember anything about fast-twitch/slow twitch in the abstract, let alone growth hormone). They seem totally unrelated.

What were talking about here is glycolytic vs. oxidative capacity not contractile speed of the muscle. These two different physiological characteristics are not the same thing. Although they may be correlated their relationship probably is not causitive.
Journal of Endurance (JOE)DougSloan
Feb 27, 2003 10:37 AM
Get this by email:
I'd cancel my subscription...Wayne
Feb 28, 2003 8:12 AM
or at least ask them to get some qualified people to review articles and write comments!

The comment itself is confusing. If there is only fast twitch/slow twitch muscle how can Sprinters have 2-4% more fast twitch muscle than a "naturally endowed" endurance cyclist, yet the endurance cyclist have 20-30% more slow twitch? If you have 20-30% more of one kind doesn't that mean you'd have 20-30% less of the other kind if only two kinds exist? AND if these are trained cyclists how in the world are they separating the effect of training from genetics in influencing fiber type.

I read the article, it has nothing to do with fiber type directly (and certainly nothing at all to do with Growth Hormone).

The important implication of the study actually lie in what limits the performance of endurance trained cyclists during a wingate test (30 second max sprint) since their findings suggest something other than the traditional paradigm, which is that power is limited by anaerobic energy supply (which still appears to be the case for sprint-trained cyclists).

They do discuss why the sprint cyclists have higher peak power and mean power during the wingate test and suggest that fiber type (amongst other factors) may explain some of this difference.

If you look at their data the Sprint cyclists do actually produce about 1 watt more per kilogram over the course of the 30 seconds (roughly 70 watts more power). However, since the sprinters weigh approximately 10 kgs more than the endurance cyclists and are producing roughly 14 watts/kg that accounts for another 140 watts of power during the test. If you compare the mean power production difference between the sprinters and endurance cyclists you'll see that it's roughly 210 watts (70 + 140). So clearly 66% of the power advantage the sprinters have simply comes from the fact that they're bigger. Only the remaining 33% needs to be explained. I'd go with the remaining 33% probably being largely accounted for by a greater ability to produce energy anaerobically (i.e. glycolytically) and forget about it being the fact that sprinters may have a higher % of of fast-twitch muscle per se.

Interestingly the sprinters also fatigued faster, but they started at a much higher power output (due to more muscles mass ?) so still produced a greater mean power output, and yet the lactic acid levels produced during the test were not different between the sprinters and endurance cyclists. Although the authors don't discuss this observation it highlights another important recent paradigm shift that debunks one of the most staunchly held "myths" among cyclists. Which is that lactic acid is the cause of fatigue. There's been alot of evidence in recent years that lactic acid is not why you slow down!
What does Mario have that Lance doesn't, and visa-versa?Dwayne Barry
Feb 27, 2003 12:35 PM
How about starting with the obvious?

1) Cipo weighs about 30 lbs more than Armstrong
It's fairly clear that being bigger (i.e. having more muscle) is beneficial for sprinting and detrimental to climbing.

2) Don't you think maybe Armstrong is much fitter than Cipo if we define fitness in either terms of power at LT or VO2max. This ability is going to be determined by the competency of the cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen.

To sweep those two huge differences under the table or to attribute them to possible differences in relative % of muscle fiber types is probably missing the boat.
and the "sprinters" probably suffer moreDougSloan
Feb 27, 2003 1:10 PM
I read somewhere that the Tour sprinters probably suffer more than anyone else, as they have the most difficult time keeping up on the hills.

Armstrong is about power to weight (and drag, too -- that's what gets him the over all wins).

Cipo is about power to accelleration/top speed.

another way to put it...Dwayne Barry
Feb 27, 2003 3:20 PM
would be Armstrong is about sustainable power (I'm sure he can produce more watts than Cipo over the course of any time interval lasting more than a few minutes).

Cipo is about peak power and/or non-sustainable power. I'm sure Cipo's peak power and mean power over a 10-30 second interval is much higher than Armstrongs. I wouldn't even be terribly surprised if he could ride a faster 1k or 2k maybe even 4k time trial on the track, since this events (decreasingly) rely on glycolytic energy production to a large extent also. Cipe has turned in some decent prologues over the course of his career but I don't think he's ever ridden a respectable time trial (although I doubt he's given 100% in too many of them)
sounds good to me; I think you nailed it. nmDougSloan
Feb 27, 2003 4:49 PM
Wow Thanks DwayneJames Curry
Feb 27, 2003 8:22 AM
Encylopedia response!

You're confusing...allervite
Feb 27, 2003 11:55 AM
I think just as good a case could be made that JA JA could not sprint with the top guys either. He got his sprint reputation the same way he got his climbing reputation, by taking a lot of intermediate sprints in the Tour. Depending on how you look at it, Jalabert was a great sprinter, great climber, and great time trialist or he was not quite with the top guys in any of the disciplines, but much better than 90% of the field when you combine all three.
Well he at least won some time trials,,,Dwayne Barry
Feb 27, 2003 12:03 PM
right? Wasn't he the world champion in this discipline one year?
Yes he wasallervite
Feb 27, 2003 1:27 PM
And I'm sure you won't forget who was second in the prolougue at the Tour last year! Jalabert was a true all-rounder and defianately one of the most talented cyclists ever. I believe if the Tour was an Omnium, Jalabert would have been a multi-tour champion. He came damn close as it was.
some notes on Jalabertrussw19
Mar 6, 2003 6:49 PM
Jaja is a solid all around rider who excells at nothing, yet suffers at nothing either.
In his early career, he was a noted sprinter, but by no means feared in the sprints the way someone like Cippolini is now. The 2 most feared sprinters then were Adujaparov and Ludwig. Jaja was fast, but more like what Zabel is. And don't forget that Jaja's sprinting career came to an abrupt halt 50 meters from the line in Armentières in 1994. But he came back to win the Green Jersey in 1995 by taking out the little intermediate sprints. Same as he did in the KOM competition. In 1995 he finished 4th overall in the Tour. And in 1995, 96, 97, and 99 he finished as the world's number one rider and finished 2nd in 98. The guy is consistent. He did win the world time trial championship in 1997 and the French road race championships in 98. He has won several classics such as Fléche Wallonne and Milano-San Remo as well as Paris-Nice.

Bottom line is that the guy is just plain good! Maybe one of the most consistent riders in the last 20 years. Certainly up there with Indurain and Rominger. And from all accounts in the peloton, he was a class guy as well.