IIn Part 1 of this ‘Sportive Preparation’ blog, I reviewed the results from a recent performance test. In Part 2 we’re going to explore two scenarios that may improve my climbing performance. Scenario 1 predicts performance based on reducing my weight by 5% (3.73kg). Scenario 2 is based on increasing my power output by 5% (12.9 watts). Both scenarios are based on a number of assumptions. I will hit the base of the Tourmalet after 81km of riding, having accumulated a significant amount of fatigue with 67km left to ride, including the climb of the Hautacam. Consequently, my sustainable power output will be reduced relative to a laboratory setting. Also the Critical Power model is most appropriate for efforts up to 60 minutes. Using a number of sources, including Cyclingpowerlab and the French weather archives for the Col du Tourmalet. The Col itself is 17.1km at an average gradient of 7.3%.

Etape 2014 Route


  • Climbing on the hoods (my habitual climbing style), = 0.350 CdA (aerodynamic drag)
  • Average temperature = 20 degrees centrigrade
  • Average wind speed = 18 km/hr
  • Wind direction = South West
  • Climbing direction = West
  • Baseline sustainable power for climb = 259.3 Watts
  • Average speed = 13.68km/hr
  • Time to climb Tourmalet at 13.68km/hr = 76 minutes

Scenario 1: Lose weight

Control Rider

Bike + rider weight = 67.6kg rider + 7kg bike = 74.6kg. Average power = 259.3 Watts. Time to climb Tourmalet = 76min

5% Decrease In Weight

Bike + rider weight = 63.87kg rider + 7kg bike = 70.87kg. Average power = 259.3 Watts. Time to climb Tourmalet = 73min19sec.

Time saving = 2min41sec

Scenario 2: Increase sustainable power

Control Rider

Bike + rider weight = 67.6kg rider + 7kg bike = 74.6kg. Average power = 259.3 Watts. Time to climb Tourmalet = 76min

5% Increase In Power

Average power = 272.2 Watts. Time to climb Tourmalet = 72min55sec

Time saving = 3min5sec

Power Wins By 24 Seconds

Time Saving Graph Data

Based on this Tourmalet experiment, focussing on increasing my sustainable power output and maintaining my weight, is the most advantageous approach. A 5% increase in my sustainable power output would result in me finishing the climb 3 minutes and 5 seconds faster,  verses 2 minutes 41 faster through losing 5% of my total weight (bike+rider).

Even if we extend the scenarios to predict performance based on 10% weight loss or a 10% increase in sustainable power, the trend continues. 5 minutes 20 seconds would be saved through losing 10% in weight verses 5 minutes 53 seconds through increasing power by 10%.

So why do the professionals obsess about weight? Professional cyclists are already nearing the limits of aerobic performance and sustainable power through years of high level endurance training. There are not many opportunities to improve the capacity of their central and peripheral systems. Losing weight is, for some, the final opportunity to enhance performance, providing the rider does not diminish their sustainable power output too much.

What About Me & You?

For the rest of us, the decision to try to lose weight or improve sustainable power should be taken based on your experience, available time and body composition. I’m relatively lean, my bike is only just above the UCI weight limit and my training is far from optimal, so it makes sense that my biggest improvements should come through training. Increasing my sustainable power by 5% equates to 12.9 watts, which is realistic given that I still have around 5 months to train, even though my time is limited. From personal experience, if I lost 3.73kg to reduce my body mass to 63.87kg, I may compromise my sustainable power through losing some muscle mass and will likely make myself more susceptible to picking up an illness.

If you have some excess body fat to lose and you have more time available to train, simply increasing training volume and intensity in a structured way, whilst eating a nutritious diet that meets the demands of life, exercise and health, should mean that you improve sustainable power AND lose excess weight. This is the case for many new riders.

Jesper Stuyven & Alain GallopinEven if you’re sustainable power doesn’t increase, if you have a lot of excess weight to lose, this is probably the most beneficial area to focus on to improve both health and performance. Unfortunately, you can’t exercise away a poor diet. Exercise is important, but addressing diet is the probably the most effective way to lose excess weight.

If your available hours are already maxed out and you have followed a well structured, varied training programme for a number of years, your last resort may be to lose excess weight, either from yourself or your bike but the bottom line is, for the biggest bang for your buck, still do everything you can to increase sustainable power. Many riders reach a plateau because they do the same training they have always done, so they get the same results they’ve always got. Try mixing it up with a new approach. Perhaps polarisation?

Take Home Points

  • Set specific objectives based around more general goals. For example, my goal this year is to ride the Etape, but my specific objective is to increase my sustainable power output by an additional 5% by the time I get there.
  • Base your objectives on your experience and the time you have available. If you are a new cyclist, you likely have huge opportunities to improve through both training and weight loss, but be realistic about what you can achieve. Can you really fit any more training into your schedule? If not, maybe you should focus on cutting out junk miles, polarise your training, introduce structured intensity, and/or lose some weight from you or the bike.
  • Rethink your training. If you feel that you’ve reached a plateau, experiment with a new approach to training. The body needs varied stimuli to continue to develop.
  • Test yourself regularly. Once a month, I try to record my best efforts (i.e. maximum average power) over 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and 20 minutes. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. How can you find out if your training is working unless you test and examine the results? Many of us struggle to motivate ourselves at home, so get in touch with Performancepro to book in your own fitness test. They can also test body composition, which will help you to determine the potential for useful weight loss.
  • Do some experiments. If you’re riding the L’Etape du Tour this year, feel free to adapt my calculations and use the CyclingPowerLab  tools to estimate the effects of losing weight or increasing power on your own performance.

Ultimately, the best approach for most amateur riders is simply to train moderately, consistently, eat a nutritious diet that meets the needs of life and training and get enough sleep. Something I’m likely to struggle to do with the imminent arrival of my second child! Watch the space for the next Performancepro test results…

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