When Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France back in 1999, he showed us a pedalling style with a very high pedalling rate, even in the mountains. Many experts have referred to this technique as one of Armstrong’s main reasons to beat his opponents so easily. It is easier to remove lactate from the legs with a high frequency, but it requires a high degree of special training to maintain a high pedalling frequency.
What is the best cycling cadence?
For me, the cycling pedalling rate has always been a controversial topic. I am not sure that it is possible to change riding style significantly.
Nevertheless, I have tried to adapt some of my riders’ pedalling frequency to a faster one, believing that this would help them save energy for the final parts of the races.
My conclusion is that it is impossible to make significant changes, probably in the area of on average 0-5 rpm higher pedalling frequency. So special training at high frequencies can probably not explain why some riders can do it, and others are not.
It is also worth remembering that a couple of riders who prefer slow frequencies perform at a world-class level (e.g., Serguei Gonchar). Thus, a high pedalling rate per se is not predicting performance even among the best riders in the world. Take a closer look at the riders in the Tour de France and watch the differences.
Slow pedal rate might be a better choice
Ernst Albin Hansen, PostDoc, a scientist and previous elite cyclist, has been studying the choice of cycling pedalling rate for more than ten years now. In a study from 2006, he included nine trained cyclists who rode two rides of 2½ hours at 180W followed by a 5-min all-out trial. Results: There were no significant differences, but trends show that choosing a slower pedalling rate might be attractive.
– 180W, freely chosen pedalling rate (avg. 95rpm) followed by 5min all-out.
– 180W, calculated pedalling rate (which averaged 73rpm) followed by 5min all-out.
The calculated pedal rate was supposed to result in minimum oxygen uptake.
When comparing the two setups, the scientist found some exciting results:
– Peak VO2 was lower after riding with a freely chosen pedal rate
– Perceived exertion was higher with the freely chosen pedal rate (7-9%)
These results indicate that riding like Armstrong might not answer the optimal cycling pedalling rate. However, if you think this study is interesting, you could consider trying the tests mentioned above in the gym during the winter. It is guaranteed a good workout for you.
Tell us about your experiences – Post a comment below!
1: Hansen EA, Jensen K, Pedersen PK. Performance following prolonged sub-maximal cycling at optimal versus freely
chosen pedal rate. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2006 Oct;98(3):227-33. Epub 2006 Aug 12.