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The Impact of a Cold Environment on the Performance of Professional Cyclists

By Charlotte Murray

A recent study published in the Life journal provided insight into the effects of cold weather on professional cyclists. It was established that the cold does, in fact, have a negative impact on performance – an unsurprising revelation to those of us who fear training over the colder months!

Cycling in winter can present all sorts of challenges. Often the easiest option is to revert to indoor training during the cold and dark months of the year, and many people do so with great enjoyment. However, there is something to be said for bracing the elements and pushing your comfort zone. The hot drink and shower on your return feel extra special, too. Being armed with knowledge for the change in seasons means you can be better prepared while performing your best and upping your training game.

A study by the University of Perpignan Via Domitia explored the impacts of a cold environment on the performance of professional cyclists. It is believed that certain environmental factors such as wind chill, temperature, solar radiation and humidity influence endurance sports so the study sought to understand an element of this. Of course, the pros may respond differently to certain scenarios as us mere mortals but the findings in this context can be applied fairly generally.

Six volunteer male professional cyclists from the Wanty Gobert Pro Cycling Team (Belgium) were observed in the study, all of whom were in their twenties. The study took place in February during the Tour de La Provence, on the longest stage of the tour where the temperature was around 7°C. Whilst this might be a slightly different experience to your Sunday spin over the local lanes, the same effects may be felt.

Unsurprisingly, it was found that ​​the participants didn’t perform at maximum potential during the tour.

The study explained that cycling in a cold environment can have both a positive and a negative impact on performance such as a shorter time to exhaustion and longer time to complete an event. It was also noted that the longer the race went on, the greater the degradation of performance. The average core body temperature of the participants lowered by almost 1 degree during the course of the event. “Start core temperature was 37.32 ± 1.31 °C while the final core temperature was 36.5 ± 1.44 °C.”

To reduce the impacts of the cold on your cycling regime, the study made a number of recommendations based on their findings:

  • Acclimatise to the temperature by training in similar conditions to those of competitions.
  • Increase your internal and muscle temperature before setting off, for example by conducting a warm-up off the bike.
  • Drink room-temperature or warm water as opposed to cold to aid hydration.
  • Wear more insulating layers both before and during a race to minimise cooling of skin and muscles.

Enjoy those winter training months and you’ll be ready to take on spring with your road handling skills intact!