Skip to main content

Physiological Characteristics of Nationally Competitive Female Road Cyclists and Demands of Competition


There are few published data describing female cyclists and the studies available are difficult to interpret because of the classification of athletes. In this review, cyclists are referred to as either internationally competitive (International Cycling Union world rankings provided when available) or nationally competitive. Based on the limited data available it appears that the age, height, body mass (BM) and body composition of women cyclists who have been selected to the US and Australian National Road Cycling Teams from 1980 to 2000 are fairly similar. Female cyclists who have become internationally competitive are generally between 21 to 28 years of age, 162 to 174cm, 55.4 to 58.8kg and 38 to 51mm (sum of 7 skinfolds) corresponding to 7 to 12% body fat. The lower BM and percentage body fat are traits unique to the most competitive women. Internationally competitive women cyclists also possess a slightly superior ability to produce a high absolute power output for a fixed time period and a noticeably greater ability to produce power output relative to BM. In Women’s World Cup races, successful women (top 20 places) spend more time <7.5W/kg (11 ± 2 vs 7 ± 2%, p < 0.01) and less time <0.75 W/kg (24 ± 4 vs 29 ± 3%, p = 0.05) compared with non-top 20 placed riders. Additionally, cyclists in the top 20 produced higher average power (3.6 ± 0.4 vs 3.1 ± 0.1 W/kg, p = 0.01). Unlike professional men’s road cycling, the physiological characteristics of internationally competitive female road cyclists and the demands of women’s cycling competition are poorly understood.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Table I
Fig. 1


  1. Fernandez-Garcia B, Perez-Landaluce J, Rodriguez-Alonso M, et al. Intensity of exercise during road race pro-cycling competition. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000; 32 (5): 1002–6

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Lucia A, Hoyos J, Carvajal A, et al. Heart rate response to professional road cycling: the Tour de France. Int J Sports Med 1999; 20 (3): 167–72

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Padilla S, Mujika I, Cuesta G, et al. Level ground and uphill cycling ability in professional road cycling. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1999; 31 (6): 878–85

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Padilla S, Mujika I, Orbananos J, et al. Exercise intensity during competition time trials in professional road cycling. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000; 32 (4): 850–6

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Padilla S, Mujika I, Angulo F, et al. Scientific approach to the 1-h cycling world record: a case study. J Appl Physiol 2000; 89 (4): 1522–7

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Palmer G, Hawley J, Dennis S, et al. Heart rate responses during a 4-d cycle stage race. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1994; 26 (10): 1278–83

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Golich D, Broker J. SRM bicycle instrumentation and the power output of elite male cyclists during the 1994 Tour Dupont. Perform Cond Cycling 1996; 2 (9): 6–8

    Google Scholar 

  8. Jeukendrup A, Diemen AV. Heart-rate monitoring during training and competition in cyclists. J Sport Sci 1998; 16 Suppl.: S91-S99

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Road cycling world rankings: women. International Cycling Union (UCI) [online]. From: URL: [Accessed 2000 Mar]

  10. Jeukendrup A, Craig N, Hawley J. The bioenergetics of world class cycling. J Sci Med Sport 2000; 3 (4): 400–19

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Hawley J, Noakes T. Peak power output predicts maximal oxygen uptake and performance time in trained cyclists. Eur J Appl Physiol 1992; 65 (1): 79–83

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Road cycling world rankings: women. International Cycling Union (UCI) [online]. From: URL: [Accessed 2000 Jul]

  13. Burke E. Physiological characteristics of competitive cyclists. Physician Sports Med 1980; 8 (7): 79–84

    Google Scholar 

  14. Pfeiffer R, Harder B, Landis D, et al. Correlating indices of aerobic capacity with performance in elite women road cyclists. J Strength Condition Res 1993; 7 (4): 201–5

    Google Scholar 

  15. Wilber R, Zawadzki K, Kearney J, et al. Physiological profiles of elite off-road and road cyclists. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1997; 29 (8): 1090–4

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Stockhausen W, Grathwohl D, Burklin C, et al. Stage duration and increase of work load in incremental testing on a cycle ergometer. Eur J Appl Physiol 1997; 76: 295–301

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Road cycling world rankings: women. International Cycling Union (UCI) [online]. From: URL: [Accessed 2000 Oct]

  18. Ashenden M, Gore C, Martin D, et al. Effects of a 12-day ‘live high, train low’ camp on reticulocyte production and haemoglobin mass in elite female road cyclists. Euro J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1999; 80 (5): 472–8

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Roberts A, Martin D, Hahn A, et al. Aerobic and anaerobic performance characteristics of elite female road cyclists [abstract]. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1999; 30 (5): S106

    Google Scholar 

  20. Fornasiero D, Martin D, Brosnan M, et al. Effects of altitude training on repeat sprint and graded exercise test performance in female road cyclists. Fifth IOC World Congress; 1999 Oct 31-Nov 5; Sydney, 90

  21. Trewin C, Martin D, McLean B, et al. Power output demands of women’s World Cup road cycling. Fifth IOC World Congress; 1999 Oct 31-Nov 5; Sydney, 203

  22. Bishop D, Jenkins D, Mackinnon L. The relationship between plasma lactate parameters, W peak and 1-h cycling performance in women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998; 30 (8): 1270–5

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank all the members of the Australian Women’s Road Cycling Team from 1997-2000 who have embraced the process of monitoring fitness and the demands of competition. Special thanks to Darrell Llewellyn McCulloch, the AIS mechanic, for all his help mounting SRM cranks and ensuring that this equipment was in race condition. Dr. Alan Roberts and the members of the AIS Department of Physiology have been incredibly helpful during both laboratory and field-testing sessions. Evan Lawton has also been extremely helpful throughout these studies, making sure that laboratory equipment, including SRM cranks were calibrated and operating properly. This manuscript has been noticeably improved based on the many constructive comments provided by Dr. Garry Palmer and Dr. John Hawley. Funding for this research was provided by the Australian Sports Commission, the Department of Physiology at the Australian Institute of Sport, and the Australian Olympic Athlete Programme.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Martin, D.T., McLean, B., Trewin, C. et al. Physiological Characteristics of Nationally Competitive Female Road Cyclists and Demands of Competition. Sports Med 31, 469–477 (2001).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Average Power Output
  • Peak Power Output
  • Race Time
  • National Team
  • Female Cyclist