Is it possible for a non-professional athlete to complete the Tour de France? A comparison between recreational and professional cyclists


The Tour de France has always been considered the pinnacle of cycling, as it requires exhaustive training and large amounts of energy and exercise.

It has traditionally been believed that only professional cyclists have the ability to compete in this event. However, a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology challenges this assumption, suggesting that even amateur athletes have the potential to cope with the Tour de France. This groundbreaking research compares the performance and energy expenditure of recreational and professional cyclists, providing insight into the abilities of non-professional athletes participating in this iconic race.

What was the procedure of the study?

The study group consisted of a 58-year-old male recreational cyclist and a 27-year-old male World Tour professional cyclist. The researchers analyzed power data from the 2023 edition of the Tour de France, which covered a total distance of 3,405 km and included a significant cumulative elevation gain of 51,815 m.

Surprising findings of the study

Amazingly, the recreational cyclist completed the race in 191 hours, while the professional cyclist finished in only 87 hours. The average power generated by the recreational cyclist was 1.50 W/kg, compared to an impressive 3.45 W/kg for the professional cyclist. This indicates that the professional cyclist was able to maintain a higher level of intensity throughout the race.

In addition, the study revealed the energy expenditure of the athletes during the event. The recreational cyclist was estimated to have a total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) of 35.9 MJ, approximately 4.3 times his daily basal metabolic rate (BMR). In comparison, the professional cyclist had a slightly lower TDEE of 29.7 MJ, equivalent to approximately 3.8 times his BMR. Despite the high energy expenditure, both cyclists experienced minimal body weight loss, between 0-2 kg.

A non-professional cyclist tackling the Tour de France.
A study showed that not only professional cyclists can complete the Tour de France, considered the pinnacle of cycling.

This study challenges the common perception that only professional cyclists are able to cope with the extreme physical demands of the Tour de France. The analysis indicates that even those who train recreationally can achieve similar or even higher levels of energy expenditure (four times their basal metabolic rate) compared to professional cyclists. This was made possible by the longer exercise time of the recreational cyclist, combined with a slightly lower relative intensity. These findings suggest that regular training and proper preparation can enable motivated individuals to participate in and successfully complete this iconic cycling event.

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Source: Physiology Journal: The Tour de France, also possible for mortals? A comparison of a recreational and a World Tour cyclist – Journal of Applied Physiology


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