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Body Size of Cyclists in the Tour de France

There are many physiological factors which are important for success in cycling , particularly leg power and aerobic endurance. Body size also plays a part, as it is the muscular power and aerobic endurance capacity proportional to body weight (power to weight ratio) that is important.

riders on the 2017 Tour de France

Successful cyclists are generally exceedingly lean, with skinny arms and big muscular thighs. Elite cyclists have also been found to have proportionally longer femurs, which gives them extra leverage when they push the pedals. Among the road racers, the climbers tend to be lighter and smaller than the sprinters and time trialists. The Tour de France is almost always won or lost on mountain climbs, so successful riders in this event will need to fit the mold somewhere between the great climbers and time trialists.

As cyclists have become more professional over the years and training and diet more fine-tuned to maximize performance, has this been reflected in the body size of the elite cyclist? Here we look at historical anthropometrical data of the participants of the Tour de France, the premier tour event which attracts the greatest of riders from around the world, and look for trends in changes in these parameters and relate them to the performance of the cyclists.

Tour de France Cyclists Stats

There is limited historical anthropometrical data of Tour de France cyclists available, though the height and weight of all participants in recent years have been collated by the procyclingstats website, and the height and weight of many of the winners can be found online going back to at least the 1940s.

We have analyzed the age, height and weight data of all participants in the Tour de France since 1990, and the age, height and weight of the winners going back to the 1940s (up to 2019). Using these height and weight measures, we have calculated the average BMI measurement , which is a general (though somewhat flawed) measure of leanness.

Riders are Getting Older and Thinner

The general findings of our anaylysis is that the participants in the Tour de France on average have been getting older, however riders can still win at any age - case in point the 2019 winner was only 22 years old, well below the average winner's age of 28. Again in 2020 there was a young winner, Tadej Pogačar also 22 years old. The average height of riders has not varied much, though riders are much leaner than they were once, reflected in a lower weight and body mass index.

We discuss each of these parameters below in more detail. See also the original data tables .

Age of Tour de France Cyclists

The average age of all cyclists from each tour has gradually increased since it was first recorded, rising from an average of about 28 years to nearly 30 years now, shown clearly in the graph below. Such an increase in age may be due to advances in medicine, diet and training keeping the riders in top condition, but also due to the increasing monetary rewards providing the incentive for them to keep competing for longer.

We have data about the age of the winners for all tours. This data does not show such a clear increase as does the average data, it more so demonstrates the wide variation in ages. The average age of the tour winner is 28 years, ranging from the youngest Henri Cornet winning in 1904 at only 20 years of age, the oldest Firmin Lambot winning in 1922 aged 36.

In recent years, the winners were generally above the average age, being experienced riders in their early thirties. However, the winner of the 2019 tour was only 22 years old, the youngest winner of the Tour de France since World War II. Also the 2020 and 2021 winner Tadej Pogačar was 21 and 22 years old respectively.

Height of Tour de France Cyclists

The average height of all cyclists from each tour since 1990 is mostly between 1.80m and 1.82m. The anomalous average height of 1.86m in 1993 skews the data, which shows otherwise a fairly consistent average height. This data was taken from that published by procyclingstats, and their database from the 1990s may not have included all the riders, so may not be as representative of the whole group as more recent averages.

The tallest rider on record is Marcel Sieberg at 1.98 meters (6' 6"), who rode in the Tour de France nine times between 2007 and 2018. The winner of the first-ever race in 1903, Maurice Garin, was only 1.62 m (5' 4"), though the shortest may be Samuel Dumoulin at 1.59 meters (5' 3") who rode in the Tour de France 12 times between 2003 and 2016.

A professional cyclist who literally stands out among his peers is Irishman Conor Dunne, who races for Aquablue. He is yet to ride in the Tour de France, but if he does you will notice his 2.04m tall frame which absolutely towers over his fellow riders.

The graph below of the winner's height for each tour since 1947 shows a general trend of increasing height. The winners in the last decade have been particularly taller, above the average of the peloton - except in 2019! Egan Bernal, who was the youngest winner of the Tour de France since World War II, bucked the trend in height as well and was only 175m tall. The tallest Tour de France winner was Bradley Wiggins at 1.90m (6'3"), and there are also a few tall recent winners at 1.86m (6'1") - Chris Froome, Andy Schleck and Miguel Induráin.

Weight of Tour de France Cyclists

Since 1990, the average weight of all cyclists in the Tour de France has decreased, though seeming to plateau in the last 10 years. There has been a drop in the average weight of about 5 kg (11lbs) over that time, with no significant difference in height - which would indicate that the riders are getting slimmer.

The heaviest rider on record is Magnus Backstedt at 95 kg (209.5 lbs). The lightest, Leonardo Piepoli at 57 kg (125.7lbs).

Below is the graph of the winner's body weight for each tour. Since 1945, there is great variation, though there is no trend of significant changes (unlike the decrease in average rider weight shown in the last 30 years).

The 1973 winner, Luis Ocaña, was just 52 kg (115 lbs). At the other end of the scale, Miguel Induráin was recorded at 80kg (176 lb).

BMI of Tour de France Cyclists

As mentioned above, it is the power to weight ratio that is very important for cyclists, which is maximized by having low body fat levels. The body mass index (BMI), which relates weight to height, is a general indication of body fat levels. The graph of the average BMI of all cyclists from each tour since 1990 shows a clear decrease, a reflection of the decreasing average body weight while the height has not changed - therefore the riders are getting thinner.

The BMI of the winners since 1947 also shows a tendency to get lower over time. The 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins had a BMI of only 19.1, as did Luis Ocaña, the winner from 1973 winner. The heights of these two riders were very different (1.90 m v 1.65 m) but obviously they both carried very little bodyfat.

Olympic Cycling

At the 2012 Olympic Games, the averages of the road cyclists were 180.5cm and 70.8 kg, with an average BMI of 21.7.

Selected References

  • Foley, J. P., Bird, S. R., & White, J. A. (1989). Anthropometric comparison of cyclists from different events. British journal of sports medicine, 23(1), 30–33.

Related Pages

  • Fitness testing for cycling
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  • Olympic Games Anthropometry for other sports in 2012
  • Athlete Body Size Changes Over Time
  • All about fitness testing , including anthropometry testing
  • Poll about the fitness components for cycling
  • How to measure Height and Weight , and calculate BMI measurement

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  • Tour de France

How do cyclists physically survive the Tour de France? We asked a physiologist and former pro rider

The Tour de France is the most maniacal major sporting event on Earth. We spoke to a physiologist and former pro cyclist to explain the hell that Tour riders put their bodies through.

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Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Eighteen

The Tour de France is probably the most physically demanding major sporting event in the world. Over 23 days and 21 stages, riders burn an average of roughly 5,000 calories per day , which is almost twice as much as a pro marathon runner might burn in a single race, and all the while they must maintain a sharp mind, marking their opponents and working with teammates to go fast as efficiently possible before their bodies cave in.

Cycling a grand tour is as much a fight against one’s own body as it is against opponents. Quite literally, cyclist’s bodies begin fighting back after the first week. Riders begin to lose muscle, their immunes systems tank, and they practically have to force feed themselves in order to maintain the baseline system functionality to climb, let’s say, Alpe d’Huez.

Yes, cycling has a doping problem, but it’s hard to blame athletes who are putting their bodies through very real trauma for looking for some kind of shortcut. Humans shouldn’t do their bodies what Tour riders do to theirs. And indeed, it’s hard to believe some riders aren’t aliens, with their bird-like frames and gaunt features.

There are few people on Earth who can possibly comprehend what riders will be going through this July. I found one: Dr. Stacy Sims, an environmental exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. Dr. Sims was a pro women’s cyclist who later went on to work with men’s pro cycling teams like Saxo and Dimension Data during the Tour de France, advising team chef Hannah Grant on nutrition.

I spoke with Sims about the hell of Grand Tour riding, how to avoid the dreaded “bonk”, and what’s really happening in those disgusting photos of cyclists’ legs we see every year.

How safe is it to ride a grand tour, really? What are the biggest dangers?

Dr. Stacy Sims: Three weeks of that kind of intensity — first you have to take into account that they have some kind of genetic predisposition that allows them to be selected for that sport. They have some kind of DNA abnormality or anomaly that kind of self selects them to the sport. But that said, it is putting yourself through the ringer for three weeks.

It’s kind of like the first week their body can handle the stress. It’s going to be hard, they’re going to have an elevated metabolism and poor sleep because you have the traveling, you have the racing, you have the poor food that goes with it — because unless you travel with a chef you’re never guaranteed that you’re going to get the food that you really need and want.

But then after the first week you really see the body start to bottom out. And you see people start to drop out, getting sick, more crashes because there’s less reaction time available, because their bodies enter so much stress. And then as you get to the third week you’ll see a little bit of a rebound, because the body is trying to compensate for this continued stress.

Le Tour de France 2015 - Stage Thirteen

You can kind of put into the idea of fight or flight and the famine situation, where the body is all of a sudden like, “OK, I have this increased stress, and I have to deal with it because it’s not going away.” And you’ll see some of the less seasoned riders who don’t have as much training history will drop out earlier, or fall and be off the back a lot earlier, and those who have more training history and can handle the stress can probably stay in the peloton or be off the front.

From a physiology point of view, you’re going to be in this continuous state of catabolism: losing muscle mass, losing fat mass. They’ll start off a little bit heavier than they should for the Tour, because they need that weight to lose.

And then when you start adding in all the environmental considerations, if they’re not acclimatized to the heat, that increases dehydration status and inflammation, poor abilities to recover. And then when they get into the cold and the altitude, they have that compensation they have to worry about, less oxygen available, and the fitter you are, the more you suffer at altitude.

The cold as well, getting hypothermic and not being able to control the gears because your hands are frozen. These have some consideration into crashing and attenuating your immune response to exercise.

Illness seems to be something that take a lot of rider out, especially around that first rest day. Why is that? What causes that bottoming out?

SS: So for each successive stress day, you have an increase in cortisol, you have increased inflammation, you have your protein breakdown, which is your catabolism. You’re depleting your fuel stores. And your immune system is very reliant on having glutamine available, which is a key amino acid which is also in the gut. Also having some protein available for white blood cell regeneration and stimulation.

You also have the need for a reduction in inflammation in order for the immune system to do what it needs to do, because the response to inflammation, again, is an immune response. So if your body is dealing with body and muscle inflammation, it can’t necessarily deal with virus or bacterial infections that come into play.

So as you are continuing to put your body under this stress, after about seven days you’re at this tipping point, so that’s usually when the rest day occurs.

But then in my experience working with a lot of the pro riders, all they want is sugar — sugar, sugar, sugar — because they’re in such a depleted state, they’re craving carbohydrates. So instead of trying to help repair, they’re just looking for that quick hit of carbohydrate and quick hit of sugar, and the more they have of the sugar aspect, the worse it is on their gut microbiome, which is also tied to the immune system.

Because if they’re eating high sugar diet, then it’s going to reduce the growth of the bacteria that protects from fatigue and inflammation, and helps your immune system, and the more it’s going to grow the bacteria that relies on simple sugar and the metabolites of stress. So it’s a multi-tier effect of why they bottom out.

So diet is critical then. How do you tailor nutrition for cyclists, and how varied does that get from rider to rider?

SS: When I was working with Team Dimension Data, and my partner Hannah Grant, we had the ability to actually get in and change what they were eating. Working with her, she’s a professional chef, and I would take the science and we would actually time the food and make it so that their body was able to get what it needed when it needed it.

When you start taking a look at overall recovery, it’s more than that 30 minutes post stage. It’s how are you going to facilitate that recovery five hours later, after the transfer, or on the transfer. So we looked at having a higher protein with some complex carbohydrate, because we wanted to really get in and get that catabolic state down, and we wanted to reduce sugar cravings, and you can do that with protein and complex carbs.

Le Tour de France 2013 - Stage Twelve

Also bringing cortisol down, helping bring your metabolism down, your core temperature down to baseline. Because the faster you get down to baseline, the better it is for your immune system and your gut. The other aspect that people don’t really think about, is when you are exercising at high intensity, your intestines are under this severe heat and hypoxic stress, and when it’s under this heat and low oxygen stress, then you’re also going to have a perturbation in the gut microbiome.

So we’re also looking at having them eat really good prebiotic based foods, leafy greens and stuff. And then cultured foods as well — so sauerkraut, some of the guys liked kombucha, having them eat a lot of non-fat greek yogurt, just for the higher probiotic aspects.

We didn’t have any upper respiratory tract infections, we had better joint elasticity according to the massage therapist, less muscle soreness, less DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness] . So overall the guys felt the difference, and so they were able to adhere, because they could see the difference and feel the difference.

So did everyone eat the same thing, or did you tailor the nutrition plan to specific riders?

SS: The older riders are very set in what they do over the years, but the younger riders buy into it. And we were pretty specific to position as well, because if you’re sitting in the peloton and you’re not doing much, your output isn’t as high, and your stress response isn’t as high. But if you’re at the front, then it’s a completely different ride. So we would look and see what was happening, when the mountain stages were coming up, if it was going to be hot or not, and really looking at tailoring position and terrain to what they needed.

So does diet change with type of rider, too? Say it’s a sprint stage and you you’re going to have a rider who will need to be effective in the last 200 meters of a stage.

SS: Overall diet not so much of a change, but on the bike, what are they using on the bike? Making sure they are really well fueled, and doing — say there’s a critical sprint, or it’s the bottom of the hill where they have to get their hill climber up to the front, so they have to go full gas at the bottom. So then you’re looking at what’s in their bottle, maybe some beet juice and beta alanine for vasodilation. So we look at some of the legal ergogenic aids to put in their bottle to give them that extra bit when they need it right when they need it.

Every year during the Tour de France you see the “bonk.” Can you explain what the bonk is?

SS: That comes from poor recovery or inadequate glucose regeneration and glycogen. We technically say it’s “low energy availability,” but what happens is that they’re not taking in enough to put everything back in their muscle and their liver, partially because they’re in this breakdown state — their body is using more in the immediate rather than storing it. So as you get further and further into the race, and you have less and less storage, they have toe eat more and more, and physically they just don’t have the appetite. Like after your gut has been under this extreme stress for seven to eight days, your appetite is completely gone. So it’s more force feeding both on the bike and off the bike.

So as you get more and more into this depleted state, it becomes this fine balance of getting riders to take in enough to be able to perform, but also knowing that they have no appetite, and they’re dehydrated and you have this repercussion aspect. They’re going to hit the wall, they’re going to bonk, and then it’s all over. [Laughs] I didn’t do my job properly.

What are the steps you take as a rider to recover? And I mean after the Tour is over, you’ve ridden all 21 stages successfully. What is your body like at the very end?

SS: This is a little bit more individualistic. It depends on training history, what the work output was during the Tour — were you a domestique , or were you the GC contender, the sprinter.

But absolutely stopping off the bike is not a great idea, because your body has been so used to training for so many months and months, and racing.

So recovery is just real easy facilitation of blood movement and muscle contractile strength. And if you want to, you can do some swimming or some walking, but not just completely stopping, otherwise it’s a too much of a shock to the body, where your body’s like, “Woah what’s going on, all of a sudden I have no input of muscle contraction, I have no increased blood flow.”

What would be the consequence of stopping riding altogether after a grand tour?

SS: This is when all the injuries and niggles come out. It’s as if someone had an injury and becomes bedridden. Your joints and tendons and everything will start to get a little bit tight from the fact that you’re not having increased blood flow and that range of motion every day. So some of the scar tissue will start to really adhere, trying to repair some of the micro-trauma and inflammation factors that have happened.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Twenty

You lose a lot of your plasma volume, the watery part of your blood, because you need some stimulus to keep that, so your overall blood volume shrinks. You have a decrease in your red cell count as well, you have a decrease in your immune factors as well. So when your body is used to having some increased blood flow, and increased heart rate, and increased blood circulation through everything, and then it stops, the repercussions are as if you are bedridden.

You mentioned that third week bounce back. What is exactly is happening then? Is it that your body chemistry has changed?

SS: It’s not so much the chemistry, it’s just that you get to a point and it becomes about survival. So you are getting a little bit fitter as you’re riding, so that extra fitness comes into play as well, and you’ll have less of a stress response because your body has kind of learned that stress response.

And what I mean by that is, let’s take it out of the cycling context. Say you have a final exam, or you have a big presentation, and you’re nervous and you get that big adrenaline rush. And your heart rate goes up, and your pupils dilate, and you’re ready to go. And you have that same response every time you have something major to do. But over time, if you were to have that every day, you don’t have as big a response because your body has learned what that is.

It’s the same thing with riding for those two weeks. Your body is starting to attune to that stress and understand what that is, so when you get into that third week, it’s not as strong of a response to that stress.

That is what the bounce back is, because you don’t have as much cortisone being released, not as much adrenaline being released. The body is more efficient in carbohydrate utilization, more efficient in fat utilization. The inflammation response isn’t as great, so everything has kind been attenuated and habituated to that response.

If there were to be a four-week grand tour, who knows what would happen. You would probably see some guys really take off in that last week because of the residual fitness and the ability of the body to learn what that stress is. It’d be pretty interesting actually.

If you ride all three grand tours, and the 10-day races, and Classics — you put your body through a cycle of stressing and relaxing — what is the cumulative damage of that, say, 20 years after you’re done? Or 40 years?

SS: That’s a research question that has been around, and people are doing a little bit of longitudinal research, but the confounding factor there is the fact that the sport isn’t clean. If the sport was clean, then we’d have some really good data to say yes or no. Like if you look at runners who have been racing competitively and don’t have the same drug induced aspect that cycling does, then there’s some really good research to show that the hardcore racing is protective — so your cartilage is protected, your heart is protected — so you’re aging at a slower rate. But with the earlier aspects of all the drugs that were involved in cycling, the data for the grand tour and the longitudinal effects on the health, it’s not there, until we can clean up the sport really well.

For some of the younger riders, some of the results are coming out really well except for bone density. So the long term effect on bone density is horrendous for riders because it’s such a strong stress and there isn’t any kind of gravitational pull or bone stress from all the riding, that even in the short span of a season, they can go from normal bone density to osteopenic, which is right before osteoporotic. So they have to build bone off the bike. And the consequence of that — seasonal, seasonal, seasonal — is a high incidence of osteoporosis and risk of fracture.

With a high sweat rate and a high work output, riders lose a lot of calcium, because you lose calcium in sweat, and if you don’t have enough dietary calcium, then the body starts building on the bone. And every six months, your bone remodels, so if you think about the season being six or seven months, you have six or seven months of high calcium output and drawing off the bone, in that six or seven months you’re going to get really low bone density.

You see those pictures Tour riders’ legs, and they have knotted veins and it looks like knives are coming out of their legs. It looks alien. What’s happening there?

After sixteen stages I think my legs look little tired #tourdefrance A post shared by Paweł Poljański (@p.poljanskiofficial) on Jul 18, 2017 at 10:04am PDT

SS: They’re very vasodilated, so all their blood is in their legs and their muscles, and they’re super, super lean, and you have these surface veins and you have these deep veins, and the surface veins have kind of popped out because they’re so dilated. And with not very much body fat — or almost none — over the legs, it’s just really apparent. So it’s kind of like a body builder being super pumped before they come out on the stage.

What is the effect of altitude? When you’re riding in the Alps, what sort of changes does that bring on the body?

SS: Yeah, altitude is awful. [Laughs]

I say that because when you’re working at a high output at altitude, and you’re super fit, your body relies heavily on oxygen, and with a low oxygen availability and partial pressure of oxygen in that environment, the fitter you are, the more you suffer. Your body also uses a lot more carbohydrate and your respiration rate and heart rate are also elevated. So if they’re going to altitude without any pre-acclimatization, or even heat stress to increase total blood volume and your red blood cell production, then they’re going to suffer.

This is the way I watch the Tour: I look at teams that are based primarily in the heat or those who are based in the mountains, and then I can say, “OK, those teams are going to do really well when we get to the Alps.” And then those that are based in Belgium, or they’re not in any kind of environmental extreme, you can pretty much guarantee that they’re going to suffer when you get to the Alps. They might be OK in the cold, but because of the altitude, their body just can’t perform at that top percent that it needs to.

These guys are working at a very high level of aerobic capacity. We always talk about your lactate threshold, or your VO2 max. Say two people have a VO2 max of 85, and one can work at 90 percent and one can work at 80 percent, then the percent who works at 90 percent is going to suffer more than the one who works at 80 percent, because they’re relying so heavily on that oxygen intake.

How hard is it — say, for someone who likes to bike — how hard would it be for someone to get to a place where they could even just ride a grand tour course. Not race or anything else, but be physically able to ride, compared to how long it would take to train for, say, a marathon?

SS: It depends on your baseline fitness.

Most people take about six to eight months of continuous coached training to get there. If you’re not looking to go fast and race it, it’s very doable because you have the long slow plod, right? And anyone could accomplish that distance if they have enough motivation and enough food.

As to race it? That’s a different story, because that comes into years of base training and getting that top end speed, and knowing the food and recovery aspects that you need.

But it’s doable. You should do it!

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In a race decided by seconds, weight matters.

How Skinny Are the Top Tour de France Riders, Really?

Plus, Lance Armstrong’s favorite on-the-bike snack

In a race decided by seconds, weight matters.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the Outside app available now on iOS devices for members! >","name":"in-content-cta","type":"link"}}'>Download the app .

In short, very. 

“If you took one of these racers and you presented him to a normal doctor, without telling the doctor that this rider had just been in the Tour de France, the doctor would think he was on the edge of becoming anorexic,” says Jens Voigt, who recently retired from professional racing and is now the cycling analyst for NBC Sports. “He would send the racer to a psychologist for counseling. It’s an artificially low body weight, but the Tour does that to you.”

Contenders for the yellow jersey now sport between four and six percent body fat. Let’s put that in context. When people drop below three percent body fat, they run a risk of dying. Many of these racers spend the entire season paring their body weight down so that they arrive at the Tour as lean as possible. Voigt speaks from personal experience, who says he started each Tour at 4.5 percent body fat and generally finished at 3.8 percent.

Why the fixation with being lean? It comes down to maximizing your power-to-weight ratio. Or, to put that in less egg-headed terms, if two competitors produce the same power on the bike, the lighter one will almost always be able to accelerate and drop their heavier competition on the big mountain climbs, where this race is often won and lost. 

“You want to be light so you can fly over the mountains, but if you shiver on one bad day in the North, you’re screwed.”

In a race decided by seconds, weight matters. A number of Tour de France winners began their careers with entirely unimpressive results, dropped weight, and returned a skinnier winner. Miguel Indurain, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and, perhaps most famously, Lance Armstrong are all examples. 

“I was a swimmer and I was always stuck with a swimmer’s body,” says Armstrong, who started his competitive life as a triathlete and retained a heavily muscled upper body. It was a build well suited to winning one-day races, but which proved a liability in multi-week tours studded with long climbing stages. When Armstrong returned to cycling after his bout with cancer, he was 20 pounds lighter and worlds faster on the climbs. 

“Being lean is all about the three or four months before the Tour and—let’s be honest here—this is just about starvation,” he says. “For me to get down to 163 pounds and still be four percent [body fat]? I’ll tell you, in those months leading up to the Tour, you’re just hungry, man.”

Being so lean, however, is not only difficult to maintain, but risky as well. A certain amount of body fat (usually around six percent for athletic men) is necessary for maintaining health. With their reserves pushed to the absolute limits, riders who maintain a body fat percentage below five percent for an extended period run numerous risks: muscles atrophy, energy levels plummet and their immune systems take a hit. Sick and worn out during the middle of the Tour is an even greater roadblock to victory than carrying an extra pound of fat.

“But here’s the thing,” says Armstrong, “it doesn’t happen every year, but in the first week of the Tour, the weather can be weird and you can get caught in a cold rain. When guys get too lean, they get sick easily because their reserves are so low. So there’s this dance you have to do—you want to be light so you can fly over the mountains, but if you get caught with a shiver on one bad day in the North, you’re done. You’re screwed.”

When I press Armstrong on the details of his own Tour de France diet, he shrugs the question off. 

“If you made a big mistake and didn’t eat enough the night before the race, that matters,” says Armstrong. “But if we’re talking about one energy bar over another, or one chef or nutritionist over another…I don’t think it matters. You find something that works for you and you just stick with it.”

So what worked for him?

“Stroopwafels—just these shitty, toxic cookie things that you’d find right next to the Oreos at the corner store in Belgium. Those are what I existed on during each day’s race for the last three of four Tours. I liked the taste and it was loaded with calories, probably not the best calories, actually, but I was a creature of habit. It tasted good and I never bonked, so why change?”

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Five key points of Chris Froome's physiological data

Noted American physiologist Andrew Coggan examines the Tour de France winner's data

What makes two-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome such an exceptional cyclist?  Cyclingnews looks at five key points from his recently released physiological tests and what they results can and cannot tell us about the Team Sky rider's performances.

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After out-climbing his rivals on stage 10 of the Tour de France to La Pierre-Saint-Martin in a spectacular fashion, Froome came under intense suspicion by critics who found his performance unnatural.

In an attempt to silence the doubters, Froome underwent strenuous physiological tests several weeks after the Tour, and recently released the data to the public. But the information published in Esquire magazine only served to raise more questions about the missing pieces.

FDJ performance director Frederic Grappe told Cyclingnews that Froome shows the exceptional physiology of a Grand Tour winner, and that his VO2max was comparable between 2007 and this year.

Cyclingnews spoke to Dr Andrew Coggan, a professor at Washington University School of Medicine and co-author of Training and Racing with a Power Meter, who took a deeper look at the data and what it shows about Froome's physiology.

A strong heart

The body needs to be able to get oxygen to the exercising muscles to keep them putting out power. That oxygen is carried by hemoglobin molecules on red blood cells, which are pumped by the heart through the arteries to the legs. Once there, the oxygen is used to create energy for the muscles to use to pedal the bike. So there are several factors at play: the amount of hemoglobin, heart rate and the amount of blood that moves with each beat of the heart, or stroke volume.

Froome has a rather low heart rate. In his test at GSK, his heart rate at the top effort level tested - 425 watts - was only 138bpm. Froome's maximum heart rate has been reported to be 174, although the researchers did not note the maximum in their report. Froome's hemoglobin was reported to be 15.3g/100mL in samples taken on July 13 during the 2015 Tour de France and on August 20, the day after his physiological test at GSK.

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With that in mind, Coggan noted that Froome's heart rate was on the low side "both during submaximal exercise and (reportedly) at maximal exercise", and that means he must have a high stroke volume.

"Even with a hemoglobin of 15.3 g/100 mL at rest ... this implies that he has a very high stroke volume. Specifically, assuming a maximal heart of 174 beats/min ... I estimate his maximal cardiac to be 32.8-36.9 L/min, making his stroke volume at maximal exercise to be 188-212 mL/beat. This is quite high, but not beyond the upper limit of what might be considered normal," Coggan wrote.

Coggan, an accomplished masters cyclist, said his stroke volume at maximum effort was 175mL/beat at Froome's age.

"I don't find the difference in heart rate at particular power between these test results and his actual race data surprising, due to the lag in heart rate during an incremental exercise test, cardiac drift in competition, day-to-day variability, etc."

Power to weight

Froome's scrawny arms and sinewy legs during the Tour de France are a good indication that he has very little body fat, and there is no question that losing a lot of body fat and maintaining or even gaining a little lean mass would be good for performance.

When going uphill, it is power to weight ratio that is important, and since Froome's power outputs have stayed relatively consistent, decreasing his weight has been the key to improving performance.

Plenty of riders have tried to shed weight only to find they can't maintain the same kind of power, but Coggan noted, "while it can be difficult to lose only fat and not lean tissue when reducing body mass, it is certainly not impossible, especially when the weight loss is gradual and dieting is combined with strenuous exercise."

Readers may be surprised at the body fat percentage given for Froome in August - 9.8%. But Coggan explained that the researchers used "the gold standard" for measuring body composition, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA)

"The accuracy depends in part upon the precise algorithms used to convert the raw data to body composition, which can differ from one brand to another, and even from one version of the software to another when using the same brand of scanner," Coggan said. "Still, that 9.8% means he was almost certainly somewhere between 8 and 12% at the time of the tests."

His 2007 value was given at 16.7%, but comparing it with this year's data is apples and oranges, Coggan said, because we do not know how they measured his body fat. Regardless, "His lean body mass didn't appear to change much, which is somewhat reassuring."

Missing information

A rider's performance is the combination of VO2Max and efficiency, but the GSK study did not include the measure of oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange or respiratory exchange ratio (RER), which gives an indication of efficiency.

Grappe had the same criticism of the study, noting that this "impacts upon the level of effort on climbs; you don’t produce the same number of watts with 23% efficiency as with 21%."

Coggan agreed. The study gave Froome's VO2Max, it gave its power. But when Froome is cruising along below his maximum effort, Coggan said he'd need to know the RER to understand how much of Froome's maximal aerobic capacity he was using at a given power output.

"That would have made it possible to estimate his what percentage of VO2max he sustained on certain climbs when racing. As it stands, we don't know he achieved the reported power outputs (which comport with climbing speeds) due to a high fractional utilization of VO2max, a high efficiency, or some combination thereof."

In other words, is Froome really efficient, very good at riding at his maximum, or both?

Lactate threshold

Coggan noted that the GSK lab stopped its measurements short of pushing Froome to total fatigue, which resulted in underestimating his lactate threshold. The highest wattage in the test, 425W, was a perceived effort level of 17 out of 20 for Froome, and his heart rate had only reached 138bpm.

Had Froome kept going at higher watts, his heart rate would have caught up with his effort level and his body would have begun producing more lactate than it could get rid of, leading to fatigue. In Coggan's opinion, that would have connected the dots and given a more accurate result in their calculation using the Dmax method.

"The GSK lab terminated the test at 425W, rather than continuing it all the way to fatigue. The highest lactate value of 4.37 mmol/L is therefore lower than if they had done so. I don't consider it a major issue. It is possible that they only applied the Dmax method retrospectively, i.e., to try to show by using multiple methods that they aren't "spinning" the data," he said.

Incomplete information from 2007

The testing done on Froome in Lausanne in July 2007 only showed his peak power and VO2Max, so Coggan says comparing the data to 2015 is difficult.

"It is unfortunate that the UCI tests in 2007 apparently didn't entail any sort of submaximal assessment, just measurement of VO2max and peak power. That makes it impossible to say how much, if any, of the improvement in Froome's performance over the intervening period is due to an increase in threshold relative to VO2max and/or an improvement in efficiency," in addition to his weight loss.

"Assuming the data presented is correct, I would say that his performance (at least uphill) definitely improved due to simply losing weight, and might have also improved due to an improvement in lactate threshold and possibly also efficiency. The former is more likely than the latter but since his threshold apparently wasn't measured in 2007 and his efficiency has never been measured, it's also possible that they didn't improve at all."

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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura specialises in covering doping, anti-doping, UCI governance and performing data analysis.

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What’s Really Happening to the Tour de France Riders’ Legs?

Because it looks crazy.

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  • Expert Debabrata Mukherjee, M.D., says that pro cyclists have twice as much blood flow to their legs, compared to recreational cyclists.
  • If you train more, you’ll likely notice more visible veins, but it’s unlikely your legs will look like these pros. Leg aesthetics, including carved calves, can also largely depend on genetics.

Back in 2017, Bora-Hansgrohe rider Pawel Poljanski almost broke the Internet after Instagramming a photo of his “tired legs” following stage 16 of the Tour de France . This left everyone wondering what is really going on with the Tour de France riders’ legs.

The sprawl of veins punching through his paper-thin skin looked like a host of spiders throwing a web-weaving rave. Heck, even my mom reposted it asking, “Does this hurt?!” Other slack-jawed observers wondered if such a vascular look was worth aspiring to or whether Poljanski was simply a freak of nature.

And Poljanski isn’t the only one. Team INEOS shared a dramatic photo of four-time Tour de France general classification winner Chris Froome’s legs back in 2014, and Antoine Duchesne also shared a photo of his legs after training for the Tour before missing the selection in 2017.

Almost every year, a similar photo from a pro cyclist on the Tour pops up. And while these photos are jarring, vascular legs don’t actually hurt (though the efforts to get there usually do). As for the rest of the questions, we tapped vascular expert Debabrata Mukherjee, M.D., chair of the department of internal medicine and chief of cardiovascular medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso, to find out what’s really going on here.

“These prominent veins are due to a combination of low body fat and significant increase in blood that flows through the legs of high-level cyclists,” Mukherjee says. Tour de France riders have minimal body fat, so there’s no soft layer under the skin to mask the veins, which are essentially sitting closer to the surface.

“High-level cyclists also have double the blood flow to their legs compared to recreational exercisers,” he explains. So while you may have about 20 liters a minute coursing through your pistons as you ride, a pro like Poljanski pumps around 40 liters a minute through his pedal-pushing muscles . “That contributes to bulging prominent veins,” Mukherjee says.

And if those metabolic changes don’t pump you up enough, blood pressure increases during exercise can force plasma fluid out of your thin vessel walls and into compartments surrounding your muscles. This process, known as filtration, causes swelling and hardening of the muscle, which nudges all those bulging veins even further to the skin’s surface.

Should you aim to create your own vascular network to share on your social network? Not necessarily. Though they may get a lot of attention, prominent veins in and of themselves are not particularly beneficial, and like diamond carved calves and second knee cap quads , not every rider is genetically wired to achieve the same aesthetic. That said, Mukherjee says a few more veins rising to the surface is definitely an indicator of improving fitness or decreased body fat.

“Since it reflects lower subcutaneous fat and higher blood volume, the harder a cyclist trains, the more prominent the veins will become,” he says. “It is something that may tell an athlete that he/she is getting to a higher level of performance.”

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Home News Metabolomics: The Science Behind a Tour de France Winner back to News

Metabolomics: The Science Behind a Tour de France Winner

Cu research team’s platform measures how the body adapts during competition; has implications for treatments of cancer, diabetes, alzheimer’s.

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For the second year in a row, Iñigo San Millán , an assistant professor in the CU School of Medicine, coached Slovenian rider Tadej Pogacar to the top of the podium in the Tour de France. Pogacar dominated the 2021 Tour after winning the world's ultimate stage race as a rookie in 2020. Millan leads a CU Anschutz research team, experts in athletes' baseline metabolic profiles and how these physiologies change during competition, that is helping guide some of the world's elite athletes to their best performances. Their understanding of the metabolic underpinnings of top athletes has implications for improved treatments of disease, including cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's.

The following story was posted after Pogacar's 2020 Tour de France victory.

To say cycling enthusiasts were stunned by the Tour de France performance of rookie rider Tadej Pogačar might be an understatement. Jaws dropped as the 21-year-old Slovenian, the second-youngest rider to ever win the Tour, ascended the final 5.9-kilometer final climb of the time trial and secured the yellow jersey.

Iñigo San Millán performs an incremental lactate test on  Tadej Pogačar, who won this year's Tour de France as a rookie rider. San Millán, an assistant professor  at the CU School of Medicine, is  Pogačar's coach.

Pogačar ’s victory, however, did not surprise Iñigo San Millán ,  PhD , an assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (SOM). His team at the SOM had already employed science – specifically the measurement of hundreds of thousands of metabolites in Pogačar ’s blood ( see recent paper ) – and knew the young cyclist was on another level.

Their understanding of the metabolic underpinnings in top athletes has implications for improved treatments of disease, including cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Podium as the goal

“Last year he was third in the Tour of Spain and won three stages there,” said San Millán, who is director of performance for Team United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Pogačar ’s coach. “He was the youngest guy ever doing that, and this year he was stronger. For sure, he was a contender for the Tour (de France), and that’s what we had in mind.”

Going into the stage-20 time trial, the penultimate day of the three-week Tour de France, Pogačar trailed his compatriot, Primoz Roglic, by 57 seconds. Pogačar ’s blazing time trial vaulted him past Roglic by 59 seconds.

In interviews following the time trial, which included grades of 8.5%, Pogačar told the media, “I guess my genetics are really good. I have to thank my parents, probably.”

San Millán may agree, but he also knows that being able to investigate Pogačar’s whole blood responses to elite-level exercise pays big dividends. San Millán, a former competitive cyclist, knew from Pogačar’s physiological measurements that the cyclist would benefit from staying off his bike for a week in May as he was already too fit and the Tour was still three months away.  

Such insight is important because the Tour de France is considered the world’s most physically demanding race. “We’re talking about 5,000 to 9,000 calories of expenditure a day for 21 days,” San Millán said. “That’s like playing three soccer games each day for 21 days in a row. That’s why you need to have a very good recovery capacity.”  

Metabolomics as difference-makers  

A new study performed by San Millán’s team , including Angelo D’Alessandro , PhD, an associate professor and director of the Metabolomics Core of the SOM, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics , and CU Cancer Center member, and Travis Nemkov, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry and molecular genetics and senior author on the study, examined the metabolomics of endurance capacity in 20 elite professional cyclists.  

Iñigo San Millán

The study offers insight into the exceptional ability of team UAE riders – the team of Pogačar, now age 22 – to efficiently burn fuel and recover. The team collected blood samples from the cyclists and measured their metabolic parameters relevant to mitochondrial function, as well as use of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.  

While in the current study they established the athletes’ baseline metabolic profiles and measured how these physiologies changed during a short, intense cycling test, CU researchers are also wrapping up a similar study on these cyclists’ physiology during the course of a multi-stage world tour. “From this information, we try to define what the upper limits of human physiology are ­– what’s the gold standard?” Nemkov said.  

When the team compared the metabolic measurements of the various cyclists, the signature of a champion in the making stood out. “As the stages (in a race) become harder and harder, racers accumulate a specific subset of metabolites,” D’Alessandro said. “Elite riders have a metabolic signature, a unique phenotype, that makes their recovery much faster.”  

Through the methodologies created by D’Alessandro and Nemkov, the researchers also could assess athletes’ capacity to burn fat, which allows them to preserve an all-important fuel – glycogen.  

Angelo D’Alessandro

“The goal of the study was trying to understand, with more resolution, what is specifically different about the metabolism as your lactate-clearance capacity improves,” Nemkov said.  

Cycling toward better disease treatments  

If researchers can better define the metabolic traits of fatigue, for example, they can more accurately measure athletes’ pre-race physiology as well as predict their susceptibility to injury.  

The research is helping to inform personalized approaches to “exercise-as-medicine” interventions for other diseases and conditions, including cardiovascular and neurological disorders, and inflammation.

“Through the medication of exercise, we want to try to elicit changes at the metabolic and cellular level,” San Millán said. “Right now, there are very limited ways to quantify that. It’s why metabolomics has a tremendous future – it has a huge space. We should be able to see the metabolic signatures and what’s happening at the cellular level, and how a person with diabetes or cancer or a metabolic syndrome (e.g. obesity) is responding to exercise. And we can see how changes and personalized intensities (of exercise) and durations could help them.”  

The use of metabolite profiles in the blood to monitor fitness and prescribe exercise regimens that can counteract specific diseases could be the “sabermetrics of the 21 st century,” Nemkov said. Sabermetics is the analysis of baseball statistics to drive improved team performance.  

Mysteries of the mind

An area requiring more study is the changes to metabolites that occur when a football player suffers a concussion. Blood markers are released in waves post-concussion, and the researchers can quantify the changes through metabolomics to improve monitoring of injury severity and recovery – either in the military setting or in popular contact sports such as football.

Travis Nemkov

Also mostly uncharted territory is understanding how an athlete’s mental makeup – grit and calm when their body is being pushed to the limits – plays out on a cellular level.

“One thing we’ve found with riders who could ride longer with higher output and have better lactate clearance capacity is they appeared to potentially have some metabolic differences in neurotransmitter synthesis and recycling,” Nemkov said. “That goes back to the theme of what can we learn from molecules in the blood and how they associate not only with performance and endurance, fatigue and injury, but also potentially to your mental state.”

CU and Colorado: hotspot for human performance

San Millán is well-connected worldwide among elite athletes, and his high-altitude training camps in Colorado regularly draw top-tier cyclists. N ow, on the heels of Pogačar’s dramatic Tour victory, the spotlight is shining more brightly upon his team’s groundbreaking research.  

The metabolomic platforms they’ve created are high throughput – able to run a large volume of blood samples in a short amount of time – ensuring that their insights will be in strong demand for the foreseeable future.  

San Millán said metabolism has “been the poor brother” in medical research but is now becoming the “crown prince.”  

“Everybody is stumbling upon metabolism (as an emphasis in disease study),” he said. “We’ve been criticized a few times for using elite athletes as a control group, but humans have evolved over millions of years to become athletes. It’s only in the last two or three centuries that we’ve become more sedentary, and that has been the intervention.”

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Tour de France: How many calories will the winner burn?

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Professor of Physics, University of Lynchburg

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John Eric Goff does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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tour de france rider body fat

Imagine you begin pedaling from the start of Stage 12 of this year’s Tour de France . Your very first task would be to bike approximately 20.6 miles (33.2 km) up to the peak of Col du Galibier in the French Alps while gaining around 4,281 feet (1,305 m) of elevation. But this is only the first of three big climbs in your day. Next you face the peak of Col de la Croix de Fer and then end the 102.6-mile (165.1-km) stage by taking on the famous Alpe d'Huez climb with its 21 serpentine turns.

On the fittest day of my life, I might not even be able to finish Stage 12 – much less do it in anything remotely close to the five hours or so the winner will take to finish the ride. And Stage 12 is just one of 21 stages that must be completed in the 24 days of the tour.

You can listen to more articles from The Conversation, narrated by Noa, here .

I am a sports physicist , and I’ve modeled the Tour de France for nearly two decades using terrain data – like what I described for Stage 12 – and the laws of physics. But I still cannot fathom the physical capabilities needed to complete the world’s most famous bike race. Only an elite few humans are capable of completing a Tour de France stage in a time that’s measured in hours instead of days. The reason they’re able to do what the rest of us can only dream of is that these athletes can produce enormous amounts of power. Power is the rate at which cyclists burn energy and the energy they burn comes from the food they eat. And over the course of the Tour de France, the winning cyclist will burn the equivalent of roughly 210 Big Macs.

Cycling is a game of watts

To make a bicycle move, a Tour de France rider transfers energy from his muscles, through the bicycle and to the wheels that push back on the ground. The faster a rider can put out energy, the greater the power. This rate of energy transfer is often measured in watts. Tour de France cyclists are capable of generating enormous amounts of power for incredibly long periods of time compared to most people.

For about 20 minutes, a fit recreational cyclist can consistently put out 250 watts to 300 watts . Tour de France cyclists can produce over 400 watts for the same time period . These pros are even capable of hitting 1,000 watts for short bursts of time on a steep uphill – roughly enough power to run a microwave oven .

But not all of the energy a Tour de France cyclist puts into his bike gets turned into forward motion. Cyclists battle air resistance and frictional losses between their wheels and the road. They get help from gravity on downhills but they have to fight gravity while climbing.

I incorporate all of the physics associated with cyclist power output as well as the effects of gravity, air resistance and friction into my model . Using all that, I estimate that a typical Tour de France winner needs to put out an average of about 325 watts over the roughly 80 hours of the race. Recall that most recreational cyclists would be happy if they could produce 300 watts for just 20 minutes!

A pile of hamburgers.

Turning food into miles

So where do these cyclists get all this energy from? Food, of course!

But your muscles, like any machine, can’t convert 100% of food energy directly into energy output – muscles can be anywhere between 2% efficient when used for activities like swimming and 40% efficient in the heart . In my model, I use an average efficiency of 20%. Knowing this efficiency as well as the energy output needed to win the Tour de France, I can then estimate how much food the winning cyclist needs.

Top Tour de France cyclists who complete all 21 stages burn about 120,000 calories during the race – or an average of nearly 6,000 calories per stage. On some of the more difficult mountain stages – like this year’s Stage 12 – racers will burn close to 8,000 calories. To make up for these huge energy losses, riders eat delectable treats such as jam rolls, energy bars and mouthwatering “jels” so they don’t waste energy chewing .

Tadej Pogačar won both the 2021 and 2020 Tour de France and weighs only 146 pounds (66 kilograms). Tour de France cyclists don’t have much fat to burn for energy. They have to keep putting food energy into their bodies so they can put out energy at what seems like a superhuman rate. So this year, while watching a stage of the Tour de France, note how many times the cyclists eat – now you know the reason for all that snacking.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter .]

This is an updated version of a story originally published on June 24, 2021.

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Cyclist’s Legs After the Tour de France: Why Are They So Veiny?

Cyclist’s Legs After the Tour de France: Why Are They So Veiny?

Have you seen those crazy Tour de France pros’ legs with bulging veins? How does that even happen? Can any cyclist train their muscles to look like that? There’s a perfectly logical and normal explanation for this phenomenon. But don’t get your hopes up! It’s really hard to achieve that kind of physique.

What you see in those images from Tour de France riders is something that happens to all of us to a certain extent. When you exercise in warm conditions, your blood flow increases and veins expand. But you might not even notice. Let’s examine the main differences between you and the pros that make their legs look so crazy compared to yours when you exercise.

Cyclist legs

Low body fat

The most obvious reason your legs don’t look as veiny is body fat. The average active man might have around 20% body fat, while women have around 25% body fat. Professional cyclists at the Tour de France have as low as 6%. There’s no visible layer of fat covering their veins. But still, there are many slim people and their legs don’t look like this. We need to delve deeper.

A super-developed blood supply network

The vascular system is just as important as leanness if you want veiny legs. The gruelling training that elite cyclists go through puts a big strain on their vascular system. They need to push a lot of oxygenated blood into the leg muscles and extract deoxygenated blood back out to the heart and lungs. Both their arteries and veins have to increase in diameter to accommodate this. And they also get much better at dilatation, expanding when under pressure.

Meanwhile, on Instagram, one cyclist shows us what 16 stages of riding the Tour De France will do to your legs. pic.twitter.com/7HHgVS6uia — Richard Conway (@richard_conway) July 18, 2017

High blood volume

Having a well-trained vascular system won’t produce a veiny look if there’s not a sufficient amount of blood to fill it. An untrained person has around five litres of blood, around 50-75 ml per kilogram, or 5-7% of body mass. A world-class endurance cyclist might have 7-8 litres, as much as 150 ml per kilo, or 15% of body mass. In other words, those bulging veins are being filled with twice as much blood than the average person.

The filtration process

There’s one more effect in play. When you exercise, your blood pressure increases, which can force plasma fluid into compartments surrounding the muscles. This process is known as filtration and causes swelling and hardening of the muscle. That in turn pushes your veins even closer to the skin’s surface. If all of that wasn’t enough, there are still genetics! Some riders are simply more genetically predisposed to having very veiny legs.

Veiny legs

Should you try to have legs like that?

That depends on your goals. If you’re after that kind of aesthetic then it might be a worthwhile reason to train extra hard. But keep your expectations realistic. Most people will likely never reach the levels of Tour de France riders.

Observing how your legs look can still be useful as a way to see progress. A few more veins rising to the surface is definitely an indicator of improved fitness, decreased body fat, or both.

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Yellow, polka dots, green, and white: what do the tour de france jerseys mean, the tour de france is a colorful affair, with multiple competitions going on simultaneously. the leader of each competition wears a special yellow, white, green, or polka-dot jersey..

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You’ve most likely heard of the Tour de France, and maybe you know that the leader of the race wears a yellow jersey. But that’s not the only special jersey in this epic three-week tour through France.

The Tour de France is a stage race, which is a multi-day competition consisting of individual races — or stages — where prizes are awarded for both each day’s competition and for the cumulative overall results.

The primary competition is time-based: The first man across the line each day wins the stage. But the biggest battle at the Tour is for the yellow jersey: the rider with the lowest time overall after the 21 stages wins the Tour de France.

There are races within the race: The King of the Mountains competition, the Points competition — often referred to as the sprinter’s jersey — and the Best Young Rider competition. As with the overall race lead, the leader of each of these competitions wears a special jersey throughout the race.

The Tour de France is a grand tour, which is the most prestigious type of stage race in the world and lasts for three weeks. The Giro d’Italia in Italy and the Vuelta a España in Spain are the other two grand tours. The Giro and the Vuelta have similar jersey competitions, but with different colored jerseys.

What the colored jerseys of the Tour de France mean

Yellow (general classification).

What version of Vingegaard will show up to the Tour de France? Will he show up at all?

After each stage, the rider with the fastest cumulative time is awarded the yellow race leader’s jersey to wear the following day. The cumulative time is what is known as the general classification, as opposed to each day’s stage result.

While it is prestigious to wear the yellow jersey on any stage, it is only the final, cumulative result after three weeks that wins one rider the Tour de France — and €500,000 in prize money. The other podium finishers also ride away with a decent financial bonus with €250,000 going to the runner-up and €125,000 for third place.

Polka-dot (King of the Mountains)

tour de france rider body fat

Mountain points are awarded at the summit of all categorized climbs. The rider with the most cumulative mountain points wears the polka-dot jersey throughout the race. The overall winner earns €25,000 in prize money.

Points in the competition are graded by the severity of the climbs, with the tough ascents offering up the most points. Climbs that are deemed hors catégorie, or beyond categorization, are the hardest, and fourth category ascents are the easiest. Crossing the line first on an hors catégorie climb can earn a rider 20 points down to two for eighth across the line, while a fourth category only offers one point for the first rider.

Green (Points competition)

tour de france rider body fat

Points are awarded each stage (other than individual time trials) at intermediate sprints and at the end of every stage finish. The rider with the most points wears a green jersey, and the rider who finishes with the most points takes green and €25,000 in prize money.

How the points are allocated has been altered over the years with much more weight given to the flat sprint days in recent years. Currently, riders get 50 points for a win on a flat day compared to 30 on a hilly stage and 20 when the race goes through the high mountains. As well as at the finish, there are points on offer in the intermediate sprints, the allocation of which remains the same each day.

Peter Sagan has the record for number of green jerseys won after claiming his seventh in 2019, while Erik Zabel was the previous record holder at six.

White (Best young rider)

Tadej Pogačar will race the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in 2024.

The rider with the fastest cumulative time who is 25 or younger wears the white jersey. The overall winner earns €20,000 in prize money. It was introduced in 1975 and many riders that have won this jersey have gone on to win the Tour de France outright, and in recent years, the yellow jersey has been the winner of the youth classification as well.

Two-time winner Tadej Pogačar and 2019 victor Egan Bernal were both under 25 when they took the overall win.

Other prizes and symbols at the Tour de France

Sepp Kuss won a stage of the 2021 Tour de France in Andorra

Winning a stage of the Tour de France represents a career-affirming accomplishment for a pro cyclist. Every year there are 21 stages up for grabs, and each one pays €11,000 to the winner.

Combativity prize

Wout Poels was awarded the combativity prize after stage 8 of the 2021 Tour de France

A panel of experts picks the most aggressive rider during each stage; this rider wears a white number with a red background on his jersey the next day and earns €2,000. At the end of the race, the panel will award one rider with the “Super Combativity” prize and €20,000.

Team Classification

tour de france rider body fat

After each stage, the cumulative times of the three best-placed riders on each team are tallied, excluding any time bonuses or penalties. The team with the lowest cumulative time at the end of the race wins the Team Classification and €50,000.

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Ask The Expert: Why are my legs so veiny?

Dr Omar Abu-Bakr explains how to tell the difference between normal veins and those that need medical attention

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Msle cyclist with protruding veins

Cycling and vein health

Preventative measures, how to treat varicose veins.

There are certain nagging questions in cycling that have a tendency to generate conflicting opinions and a confusing array of different views. In this  ASK THE EXPERT series  from  Cycling Weekly’s print edition , we seek to clear up confusion by seeking out the experts best qualified to provide, if not the final word, then at least authoritative advice supported by verified expertise. 

Veins are a type of blood vessel that form a vital component of the circulatory system. They play a crucial role in the circulation of blood, ensuring the efficient return of deoxygenated blood to the heart and facilitating the continuous functioning of the body's organs and tissues. Cyclists often have more prominent leg veins. Here we explained the science behind why Tour de France rider's legs are so veiny, but how can cyclists tell the difference between a healthy vein and one that may require treatment? We called on Dr Omar Abu-Bakr to take us through what you need to know...

Dr Omar Abu-Bakr ( theveinsdoctor.com ) is a consultant venous surgeon and phlebologist at The Whiteley Clinic. He has over 15 years’ experience and holds a special interest in treating varicose veins. His areas of expertise include varicose vein surgery, thrombophlebitis, leg ulcers, perforating veins, and thread veins. 

Varicose veins are enlarged and swollen veins that occur in the legs and feet. Varicose veins form when the valves within the veins do not function properly. These valves are responsible for preventing the backward flow of blood, aiding in the upward movement of blood towards the heart. When the valves become weak or damaged, they are unable to effectively regulate blood flow, causing blood to pool in the veins. Key symptoms include swelling, pain, discolouration of the skin, itching, and redness – though some people don’t experience symptoms. 

If left untreated, varicose veins can lead to serious health implications, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). It’s therefore important to be aware of your vein health and seek treatment if you suspect or know you have varicose veins.

The repetitive movements of the legs involved in cycling can contribute to the development of prominent leg veins, including varicose veins. Several factors may contribute to this. The increased blood flow to the legs during cycling puts pressure on the veins, which can lead to the dilation and expansion of the vein. The pressure within the veins increases during cycling, particularly when the cyclist is pushing hard or pedalling uphill. This can cause the veins to expand and become more visible.

Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing varicose veins, which can be exacerbated by the physical demands of cycling. The risk of developing varicose veins increases with age, as the veins lose elasticity, and the valves weaken over time. While cycling can contribute to the development of varicose veins, it is also an extremely effective way to promote overall cardiovascular health and fitness, so healthy cyclists – at all levels of the sport – should not be overly concerned about developing them.

The veiny appearance often seen in professional cyclists’ legs is usually not a cause for concern and does not necessarily indicate varicose veins. The cause of veiny legs is primarily due to a combination of low body fat and increased blood flow to the legs during intense physical activity. This is not something to be alarmed about. 

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The following factors can help determine if a vein is normal or a cause for concern. Varicose veins are enlarged, swollen, and often twisted or bulging. They can appear as dark blue or purple veins beneath the skin, whereas normal veins appear straight, thin and are usually a blue/green hue. That said, normal veins may appear more prominent in muscular cyclists. Varicose veins may have a lumpy or rope-like texture to the touch. Normal veins typically have a smooth texture.

Varicose veins can cause symptoms such as aching, heaviness, throbbing, or discomfort in the legs. Itching, swelling, and skin changes (such as darkening or ulceration) can also occur in advanced cases. If you are at all concerned, it’s best to seek medical advice.

Even if you are genetically predisposed to developing varicose veins, there are measures everyone can take to prevent them from forming. This includes staying hydrated, as dehydration can contribute to blood pooling and poor circulation in the legs, increasing the risk of developing varicose veins. Maintaining a healthy weight and consuming a healthy diet also helps prevent varicose veins. Particular food groups, such as antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein are good for promoting vein health by improving blood flow, reducing inflammation, and strengthening the veins.

Cyclists can reduce the risk of developing varicose veins by taking breaks to stretch and move their legs, but should be reassured that they are already helping themselves. Exercise is an excellent way to prevent varicose veins. It's important to note that while prominent veins in cyclists are usually healthy and normal, if there are concerns about the veins or any associated symptoms, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide a comprehensive evaluation, make an accurate diagnosis, and offer appropriate guidance or treatment options if necessary.

In summary, prominent veins in cyclists’ legs are usually not a cause for concern and you should not panic just because your leg veins are visible and/or bulging. That said, if you have any unusual, new, or persistent symptoms that might indicate varicose veins, get them checked. Modern treatment is highly effective, minimally invasive and has high success rates – so it’s best to seek diagnosis and treatment as early as possible.

Untreated varicose veins can lead to further health complications, such as DVT and leg ulcers. They can also cause a great deal of pain and discomfort, so it’s important to treat them as soon as possible. 

There are various procedures to treat varicose veins, including echo-therapy treatment, microwave treatment, endo-venous laser ablation, radiofrequency ablation, microsclerotherapy, and more – some available on the NHS, some only privately. A vein specialist is able to guide the patient on which will be the most effective treatment in their individual case.

Different treatments have different recovery times, but modern advances in varicose vein treatments have given rise to fast recovery times and high success rates. What’s more, modern techniques hold a very low risk of recurrence – approximately 3-4% – whereas surgeries once commonly used to treat varicose veins, such as vein stripping, incurred a higher risk of recurrence, were more invasive and required longer recovery times.

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The tour de france is mystifying; so is the business of cycling.

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Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The Tour de France, the most elite bike race in the world, kicks off this Saturday. 176 of the best cyclists in the world will race nearly 2,200 miles across 21 stages and climb over 170,000 feet of elevation into the clouds of the highest mountains in the Pyrenees and Alps. The effort involved can be mind-boggling. So can the business side of cycling.

The Regulator and the Promoter

There are numerous actors and entities involved in professional cycling and their complex interrelationships underlie races like the Tour.

The sport of cycling is regulated by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), a non-governmental, non-profit association, based in Switzerland, which is recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the governing body for cycling. The UCI, like all international governing bodies in sports, is governed by a complex hierarchy of committees and executives from around the world.

The UCI is responsible for organizing, regulating, and sanctioning cycling events of various kinds for both men and women of different ages all over the world. The WorldTour is the UCI’s elite professional men’s road cycling tour. Teams and riders participate in races on the WorldTour calendar and earn points and are ranked based on their performance. The Tour de France, as one would expect, is a major contributor to those rankings.

The Tour itself is put on by the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), a French sports marketing and event management organization. The ASO’s crown jewel is the Tour de France but it organizes 29 other cycling events, including several important preparatory races for the Tour (such as the Critérium du Dauphiné), the Vuelta a España (another Grand Tour), as well as the Paris Marathon. It also operates the week-long Tour de France Femmes for women in August.

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To be clear, the ASO and UCI are separate entities with sometimes divergent interests. The ASO organizes nine of the 35 races on the WorldTour calendar and understandably seeks to maximize interest and revenue associated with its events, most of which take place in France. Of particular note, the ASO controls and sells the broadcast rights to the Tour to networks around the world. While the specifics of those deals are not clear, they certainly bring in tens of millions of dollars a year to the ASO. Perhaps not surprisingly, the ASO and UCI have long-standing disputes over who controls the sport and reaps any related financial benefits.

Aside from the Tour, the remaining WorldTour events are organized by a variety of parties, including the UCI and organizers in the many countries where races take place.

The WorldTour calendar does not include any events in the United States. The Tour of Utah (2004-19), Tour of California (2006-19), and USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado (2011-15) were former races that attracted some of the best riders in the world. Nevertheless, the organizers ultimately found them financially unsustainable.

The next group worth mentioning are the teams. To the uninitiated, it might be confusing that cycling has teams, since only a single rider can win a race. However, teams are just as essential to victory in cycling as they are in soccer, football, or any other team sport.

Professional cycling teams consist of approximately 30 riders, eight of whom are chosen to be a part of the Tour de France roster. The composition of that roster will depend on the team’s goals. A handful of teams will have a rider they believe capable of winning the Tour de France’s General Classification (GC), signified by the yellow jersey. So the roster will be constructed toward that goal, including by stocking the roster with elite climbers and other riders (collectively known as domestiques) who can support the leader in a variety of ways.

The best teams protect their elite riders by encircling them and keeping them near the front of the race to minimize the chances of crashes. Elite domestiques will lead their stars up the mountains, breaking the wind and chasing down any attacks from competitors.

Other teams are formed around sprinters who try to win flat stages and win the green (points) jersey. Here too the team is tremendously important. In the closing miles of flat stages, the teams with the best sprinters push to the front, often hitting speeds of 40-50 miles per hour. The team’s riders will “lead-out” the sprinter by giving their maximum effort before dropping off and unleashing the sprinter toward the finish line. The Manx sprinter Mark Cavendish has 34 all time Tour de France stage wins, tied for the most all time, in large part due to the incredible lead-out teams he has had in his career.

If your team has neither a GC rider or a sprinter, it might try to win the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey or to win individual stages via creative and aggressive racing strategies.

There are 18 WorldTour teams and 17 ProTour teams. ProTour teams have smaller budgets, staffs, and schedules than their WorldTour counterparts. Beginning with the 2022 season, every three years the two lowest performing WorldTour teams are relegated to the ProTour and the top two ProTour teams are promoted to the WorldTour.

The idea of a “team” though is often remarkably in flux. Teams are identified by their corporate sponsors, which fund the vast majority of a team’s budget, ranging from about $ 10 to $40 million . Sponsorship contracts with teams are often only one or two years and renewals are closely tied to team performance. Consequently, on an annual basis, some teams are desperately looking to retain or find new sponsors in order to keep the team going another year or to avoid being relegated. Inevitably, some teams fold or merge with other teams. Team finances have historically been so shaky that the UCI Regulations require each WorldTour team to obtain a guarantee from a bank to fund its operations.

Additionally, the teams conduct some joint efforts through an organization known as the Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels (AIGCP), discussed further below. Nevertheless, the AIGCP has no role in organizing races and has minimal influence. Moreover, teams operate out of numerous countries and thus often have cultural differences of opinion on various issues (doping being a notable historical example).

Finally, we get to the riders. Cyclists are represented by the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA), a non-profit association, but not a labor union under the law of any country.

The CPA negotiates “ Joint Agreements ” with the AIGCP setting forth some minimum terms and conditions of employment, including various insurance coverages. Cycling is a physically grueling sport, where the term “ suffering ” is a point of pride. Unfortunately, most cyclists are not terribly well-paid for their efforts.

The current agreement sets the 2024 minimum salary for a WorldTeam rider at € 68,957 (about $74,300) for veterans and € 55,793 ($60,100) for rookies. ProTeam veterans and rookies are entitled to a minimum of € 55,279 ($59,600) and € 46,234 ($49,800), respectively.

Of course, the stars of the sport make considerably more. Two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar earns a reported € 6 million ($6.47 million) from his team, UAE Team Emirates.

Yet, like the AIGCP, the CPA has little control over the sport, with minimal leverage to negotiate with the ASO or UCI. Indeed, the height of rider authority has been the occasional instance in which the riders “ neutralize ” a race stage due to unsafe conditions, meaning that they collectively agree to ride to the finish line at a moderate pace without contest.

Pogačar is favored to win this year’s Tour, with steep competition expected from fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic of Bora-Hansgrohe and Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard (also a two-time Tour winner) of Visma-Lease a Bike if he is able to overcome recent injuries. Otherwise, some of those involved in the Tour will win more than others.

Chris Deubert

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IMAGES

  1. From body fat to power output: anatomy of a Tour de France rider

    tour de france rider body fat

  2. From body fat to power output: anatomy of a Tour de France rider

    tour de france rider body fat

  3. What The Tour De France Does To A Rider’s Body

    tour de france rider body fat

  4. How much weight do Tour de France riders lose?

    tour de france rider body fat

  5. Why Riders Gain Weight During The Tour de France

    tour de france rider body fat

  6. How Skinny Are the Top Tour de France Riders, Really?

    tour de france rider body fat

COMMENTS

  1. From body fat to power output: anatomy of a Tour de France rider

    POWER OUTPUT: 300 WATTS. During a normal stage of the Tour de France, pro riders can pump out around 230-250 watts on average, which equates to burning about 900 calories per hour. But on some of the harder stages they can average over 300 watts, or 1,100 calories per hour. Tadej Pogačar has a Functional Threshold Power - an estimate of the ...

  2. Body Size Tables of Tour de France Riders

    The table below lists all known heights and weights of Tour de France champions. There is a lot of missing data from prior to the 1940s. Weight values are to the nearest kg or lb. Body mass index has been calculated from the height and weight data. The data is being used to get a general view of the riders' body size and changes over time.

  3. FAQs of the Tour de France: How lean? How much power? How do they pee

    The riders mentioned start the Tour de France with body fat percentages well below 10 per cent, but nutritionists are careful not to allow 'cutting' to go too far.

  4. Body Size of Tour de France Cyclists Over Time

    The tallest rider on record is Marcel Sieberg at 1.98 meters (6' 6"), who rode in the Tour de France nine times between 2007 and 2018. The winner of the first-ever race in 1903, Maurice Garin, was only 1.62 m (5' 4"), though the shortest may be Samuel Dumoulin at 1.59 meters (5' 3") who rode in the Tour de France 12 times between 2003 and 2016.

  5. Pro Cycling and Body Fat

    Although De Maeseneer says that each rider is different and that there is no perfect muscle-to-fat ratio, there are certain limits. A Tour de France rider, he says, must be around 6% or under.

  6. This Is What Happens to Your Body During the Tour de France

    Weight. Grand tour competitors weigh roughly between 155 and 165 pounds, according to a 2012 review of all riders, with time trial specialists typically weighing a bit more than climbers ...

  7. Tour de France Weight

    No surprise here, Tour riders (though some appear lacking in upper body muscle) have healthier than average body compositions across the board. Climbers, of course, tend to be whippet thin at an ...

  8. Tour de France riders put their bodies through hell. An expert explains

    The Tour de France is the most maniacal major sporting event on Earth. We spoke to a physiologist and former pro cyclist to explain the hell that Tour riders put their bodies through. The Tour de ...

  9. How Skinny Are the Top Tour de France Riders, Really?

    When people drop below three percent body fat, they run a risk of dying. Many of these racers spend the entire season paring their body weight down so that they arrive at the Tour as lean as ...

  10. Five key points of Chris Froome's physiological data

    Froome's hemoglobin was reported to be 15.3g/100mL in samples taken on July 13 during the 2015 Tour de France and on August 20, the day after his physiological test at GSK. Get The Leadout Newsletter

  11. This is what you have to eat to compete in the Tour de France

    Diet of a tour rider. (Image credit: Getty Images / Chris Graythen) 09:00: Breakfast. Riders will have breakfast around three and a half hours before the race, with carbohydrate-rich foods such as ...

  12. Tour de France Legs

    Tour de France riders have minimal body fat, so there's no soft layer under the skin to mask the veins, which are essentially sitting closer to the surface. "High-level cyclists also have ...

  13. How Did Bodies of the Tour de France Riders Change Over Time

    Riders are getting older - by a few years. The youngest winner was Henri Cornet winning in 1904 at mere 20 years of age while the oldest was Firmin Lambot aged 36 and winning in 1922. Even though we saw Tadej Pogačar winning the last Tour at the age of barely 22, the average age of a title-holder in the last decade has been established at 28 ...

  14. I tried eating like a Tour de France rider for a day

    A 70kg rider pedalling hard burns approximately 1,000kcal per hour. Riders in this year's Tour de France will cover 3,405km, and if we assume an average speed of 40kph, that's 85 hours of ...

  15. Nutritional strategies for the Tour de France

    The Tour de France (TDF) ... (both individual and team). The 2016 TDF consisted of 198 riders (22 teams of nine riders) where a total of 3509 km was completed. ... of CHO intake alongside consistent high daily protein intake may allow long-term development of training adaptation and body fat loss while also promoting training intensity on those ...

  16. What The Tour De France Does To A Rider's Body

    As far as feats of physical endurance goes, the Tour De France has to be way up there at the top of the list. Pushing your body to the limit for over 2,000 m...

  17. Tour de France: How many calories will the winner burn?

    Riders in the 2021 Tour de France will ride more than 2,100 miles (3,400 km) over the 21 flat and mountainous stages of the race. And they will burn an incredible amount of energy while doing so.

  18. Metabolomics: The Science Behind a Tour de France Winner

    For the second year in a row, Iñigo San Millán, an assistant professor in the CU School of Medicine, coached Slovenian rider Tadej Pogacar to the top of the podium in the Tour de France. Pogacar dominated the 2021 Tour after winning the world's ultimate stage race as a rookie in 2020. Millan leads a CU Anschutz research team, experts in athletes' baseline metabolic profiles and how these ...

  19. How much weight do Tour de France riders lose?

    Racing; Tour de France; News How much weight do Tour de France riders lose? - you asked Google and we've got the answer. Three weeks of solid riding and more than 3,000km in total - surely ...

  20. Tour de France: How many calories will the winner burn?

    Riders in the 2022 Tour de France will ride more than 2,100 miles (3,400 km) over the 21 flat and mountainous stages of the race. And they will burn an incredible amount of energy while doing so.

  21. Cyclist's Legs After the Tour de France: Why Are They So Veiny?

    The most obvious reason your legs don't look as veiny is body fat. The average active man might have around 20% body fat, while women have around 25% body fat. Professional cyclists at the Tour de France have as low as 6%. There's no visible layer of fat covering their veins. But still, there are many slim people and their legs don't look ...

  22. How running shoes, food apps, and psychology sessions take riders to

    This is the second in a two-part series investigating the cornerstone components of a rider's journey toward the Tour de France. The opening installment explored the nine-month training pathway from winter altitude camps through to the grand départ. Now it's time to look at how cross-training, dietary manipulation, and mental and physical ...

  23. Explainer: What Each Tour de France Jersey Means

    The Tour de France is a grand tour, which is the most prestigious type of stage race in the world and lasts for three weeks. ... cumulative result after three weeks that wins one rider the Tour de France — and €500,000 in prize money. The other podium finishers also ride away with a decent financial bonus with €250,000 going to the runner ...

  24. Ask The Expert: Why are my legs so veiny?

    Here we explained the science behind why Tour de France rider ... The cause of veiny legs is primarily due to a combination of low body fat and increased blood flow to the legs during intense ...

  25. Body Mass Index Trends for the Top Five Finishers in Men's Grand Tour

    Weight-related issues can be prevalent in elite-level sports, especially in men's road cycling, where riders may exhibit harmful behaviours, with potentially adverse outcomes for mental and physical health. This study investigated Body Mass Index (BMI) values amongst the top five finishers in the three Grand Tours and the five Monuments races between 1994 and 2023 to assess longitudinal ...

  26. The Tour De France Is Mystifying; So Is The Business Of Cycling

    The Tour de France, the most elite bike race in the world, kicks off this Saturday. 176 of the best cyclists in the world will race nearly 2,200 miles across 21 stages and climb over 170,000 feet ...