A 100 years ago, the Tour de
France was not deemed challenging
Desgrange, the first organiser
of the Tour, and his team
decided to press the riders higher, taking
them through some of the toughest
peaks through the Pyrenees. Desgrange,
analysing his decision, later said, "The
Tour de France only became the Tour
de France when we sent the riders into
The riders, though, took some time
warming up to the task. On 21 July 1910,
Octave Lapize struggled up the Col du
Tourmalet, first of the mountain stages
added to the course, walking alongside
his bike. As he crossed the next pass,
the Col d'Aubisque, he shouted out at
the organisers, "You are all assassins.
No human being should be put
through an ordeal like this. That's
enough for me."
But he carried on, establishing the
strong bond between cycling and suffering.
By all accounts, cycling as a tool of
fitness is on the upward curve in India.
But there is neither the scientific knowhow
nor any idea of ingredients that go
into making a top-level cyclist.
And the Tour de France is the pinnacle
for endurance athletes.
Tough as it gets
"There is no other sport in the world
that continues for 21 days, day in and
day out, over mountains, in the rain and
heat, over rough terrain," said Hunter
Allen, an elite cycling coach.
"The guys that win? They
are genetic mutants.
Truly mutants. There
aren't many of them on
It is the commitment to training that
sets the Tour riders apart.
Jamie Wilkins, of Procycling magazine,
writes, "Over the full duration of
the Tour de France, 2,263 miles this
year, the winner will average around 26
mph. That's faster than many club time
triallists can manage for 10 miles.
"The truth is that most of us have
the physiology to be a decent racer if
we trained as much as they do. Call it
30 hours a week for around five years.
That's about how long it takes to condition
the body thoroughly.
"After three years of retirement, during
which he ran marathons, Lance
Armstrong trained hard for a whole 12
months ahead of last year's Tour de
France and yet peers and press alike
spoke about his lack of conditioning as
if he'd only been training for a fortnight."
Armstrong is best known for his
superhuman turnaround on the racing
track, from a cancer survivor to a seventime
Tour de France winner. But the
Texan is also not physically built like
an average human being.
Not your average guy
Back in 1998, Armstrong's coach Chris
Carmichael said, "He possesses a large,
strong heart that can beat more than
200 times a minute operating at maximum
capacity and pump an exceptionally
large volume of blood and oxygen
to his legs -- only around 100 other
men on earth, who have been tested,
have comparable abilities."
Five-time Tour winner in the 90s,
Miguel Indurain, had a resting heart
rate of just 28 beats per minute, less
than half of that of an average person.
But though the two famous cyclists were
blessed with a physiology tailor-made
for their chosen sport, it's the love of
pain that kept them at the top.
"It's a hard race; you suffer a lot. It's
a long race, so it's long suffering, which
is worse than suffering," Armstrong
had once remarked.
It's also a long, hard sacrifice. The
riders have to give up on drinking with
their friends, literally measure what
they eat, and spend up to six hours in
a day on the bike.
And they also need a large heart, not
just literally. "The real motivation, the
force that impels when cold rain falls
and a further mountain pass beckons,
comes from inside. It's the final element
that bonds the training, the dedication
and the physical potential,"
With agency inputs.
Armstrong's vital stats
Resting heart rate of 32-34 bpm (for
the average person this is 60-100 bpm).
VO2 max (standard measure of aerobic
fitness based on body's ability to
take up oxygen): 83.8 ml/kg/min.
Among male endurance athletes you
might expect to see average VO2max
values of 70ml/kg/min.
Lactate threshold heart-rate: 178bpm.