Road Cycling and Sport Science Lab : A relationship that needs a further improvement

Estimated read time 7 min read


Road cyclists intend to spend money in anything that could help them become better athletes. Unfortunately this is not the case for their cooperation with a sport lab. We have tried to identify the main reasons why cyclists don’t consider it necessary for their progress to work in a permanent base with a sport science lab :

  • Lack of cycling specific knowledge on behalf of the sport science lab staff. The lack of specific knowledge is so obvious even to amateur cyclists that make them loose their trust on the Sport Science Lab
  • Lack of equipment. Cyclists for many years had to performed the cycling tests in a basic stationary bikes. Nowdays sport science labs use ergometer where a road bike can be used for the test
  • No involvement of the cycling coach. The cyclist had to contact the lab staff and the coach was not involved in this two way communication. This is absolutely critical.
  • Following the above the lab test was using the same protocol for all cyclists. The coach has the sport specific knowledge, selects the protocol for each cyclist and creates the questions that would be answered through the test procedure. It wasn’t clear that there isn’t a perfect protocol, a protocol that can be applied for all circumstances.
  • The results of the test are not well communicated to the cyclists. As they don’t understand the results and their significance at the cycling development process they consider their involvement with the sport science lab as a waste of time.
  • The power meters allow road cyclists to perform on the field tests that are considered more valuable for their training plans. Generally speaking on the field test seem to be appreciated more and more from cyclists and coaches.


After we have identified the most common issues that make the road cyclists believe that their visit at the sport science lab is a waste of money and time it’s wise to create a simple process that could result in a beneficial longterm.

The process should be supervised by the cycling coach as the cyclist doesn’t have the necessary knowledge to supervise the project :

  1. The coach should make a desktop research and identify the labs that have the necessary/ modern equipment (especially the reliable cycling ergometer where a appropriate bike fitting should be applied ).
  2. Then the coach must visit the 2-3 best options and have a discussion with the staff. The equipment that is necessary for a proper aerobic scale/ ramp test includes the following material
    • A modern cycling ergometer with high accuracy where cleapless pedals, a modern saddle can be used and also special arrangements can be done in order to have the same bike fitting as at the road bike that the cyclist uses everyday.
    • A PC software in order to plan the test from the beginning
    • A gas analyser with Oxygen and Carbon dioxide to be measured directly
    • A lactate analyser
  3. We suggest that the coach makes by himself on the lab prior to invite a cyclist for a test.
  4. For each cyclist the coach knows it’s capabilities and he/she can estimate the Power at Anaerobic Threshold and the highest power value at the end of the test. Having such an estimation the coach can create the scale test. This can determine the step (the increase of power). E.g for an elite athlete this might be 40 watts every 2 minutes or for a novice this might be 20 watts every 2 minutes.
  5. The coach must be present prior to the test in order to ensure a proper bike fitting but also during the test in order to give guidance to the athlete (e.g. concerning the cadence or it’s concentration) but also motivate the athlete.
  6. The coach must ask the athlete to spend a valuable time to explain the results of the test and also to explain him/her how this help them at the planning of their training.


One of the most critical issues is the planning of the scale test. Usually the test begins at 100 watts and the step is 30/40 watts per 2 minutes.  This test has some main disadvantages :

  • The step is too big so we can’t determine precisely the Anaerobic Threshold Power.
  • The step is too big in order to have improvements.’s almost impossible an athlete with the next months to increase the Anaerobic Threshold Power to the next step. E.g. a 30 watts step and an ATp at 250 watts. In order progress to be determined for this variable the athlete must move to 280 watts that is not possible to happen in a few weeks or even month.

I suggest the following two days test that can be performed with a couple of days rest in between:

1st day – The Athlete performs a scale test starting at 100 watts with a 25-30 watts/ 2 minutes step. This allows to measure : VO2max, max.power with a well reproducible test and the Anaerobic Threshold. If the cyclist is supposed to have a ATp at 200 watts or less then 20 watts is suggested otherwise 25/30 watts is more appropriate. Some labs use a different steps for some elite athletes. Starting at 100 watts they use a 40 watts (2minutes step) until 20 watts lower than the expected ATp and then the step decreases to 20 watts.

2nd day – Knowing approximately  the Anaerobic Threshold the athlete start 40-60 watts below this Power value and continues with a 20 watts/ 4 minutes step. Every 4 minutes the athlete stops the effort and the lactate value is measured. The 4 minutes step ensure that the lactate value relates to the previous specific power. At the same time the interruption of the test ensure a precise lactate value. For this second test the reproducibility  of the test is not important. Meaning if the lactate measurement will cause 20 or 25 seconds intervals. We could do 6 minutes efforts as many running coaches but 4 minutes is considered enough.

Some Key points

  • Each athlete is a different project and a different protocol is needed.
  • The Coach must make all the communication with the sports science lab and the athlete as well.
  • The coach mustn’t be afraid to crate new protocols and be innovative. Unfortunately n order to be innovative time and money must be spend.
  • The maximum power than an athlete can reach at the scale test is an important factor but depends from the step. Small steps (20 watts) especially after the AT makes it more difficult for the athlete to go higher. At the same time bigger steps (30-40 watts) give small accuracy at the determination of the ATp.
  • The majority of the portable lactate analysers are influenced by the movement of the cyclist. In order to have accurate values the cyclist must stop pedaling.
  • The cadence is an important issue and the cadence strategy during the test must be determined by the coach and not by the lab staff. They usually ask for 90rpm but this must be ignored. The athlete must follow their usual personal pedaling strategy. Generally speaking high cadence allows cyclists to go higher at the end of the scale test. At the same time higher cadence influence the pedaling economy especially at low values as they increase the Pint (Power Internal)


Text : Giannis PsarelisEditor of & Chemist, MSC –MBA

Email : & mobile +00306937170260


  • Triathlon New Zeeland Level 2 Accredited Coach (Candidate for Level 3)- Endorsed by International Triathlon Union (Level 1)
  • American Swimming Coaches Association Level 2 Coach
  • Australian Swimming Teaches and Coaches Association Bronze License
  • North American Academy For Sport and Fitness Marathon Certified Coach
  • USA National Federation of High Schools Accredited & Certified Coach
  • International Triathlon Coaches Association Certified Coach



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