Skip to main content

Improving Cycling Performance

How Should We Spend Our Time and Money


Cycling performance is dependent on physiological factors which influence mechanical power production and mechanical and environmental factors that affect power demand. The purpose of this review was to summarize these factors and to rank them in order of importance. We used a model by Martin et al. to express all performance changes as changes in 40km time trial performance. We modelled the performance of riders with different ability ranging from novice to elite cyclists. Training is a first and most obvious way to improve power production and was predicted to have the potential to improve 40km time trial performance by 1 to 10% (1 to 7 minutes). The model also predicts that altitude training per se can cause a further improvement of 23 to 34 seconds. Carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks may decrease 40km time by 32 to 42 seconds. Relatively low doses of caffeine may improve 40km time trial performance by 55 to 84 seconds.

Another way of improving time trial performance is by reducing the power demand of riding at a certain velocity. Riding with hands on the brake hoods would improve aerodynamics and increase performance time by ≈5 to 7 minutes and riding with hands on the handlebar drops would increase performance time by 2 to 3 minutes compared with a baseline position (elbows on time trail handle bars). Conversely, riding with a carefully optimised position could decrease performance time by 2 to 2.5 minutes. An aerodynamic frame saved the modelled riders 1:17 to 1:44 min:sec. Furthermore, compared with a conventional wheel set, an aerodynamic wheel set may improve time trial performance time by 60 to 82 seconds.

From the analysis in this article it becomes clear that novice cyclists can benefit more from the suggested alterations in position, equipment, nutrition and training compared with elite cyclists. Training seems to be the most important factor, but sometimes large improvements can be made by relatively small changes in body position. More expensive options of performance improvement include altitude training and modifications of equipment (light and aerodynamic bicycle and wheels). Depending on the availability of time and financial resources cyclists have to make decisions about how to achieve their performance improvements. The data presented here may provide a guideline to help make such decisions.

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

Table I
Table II
Table III
Table IV
Fig. 1
Table V
Table VI


  1. 1.

    Hawley JA, Stepto NK. Adaptations to endurance training in cyclists. Sports Med 2001; 31 (7): 511–20

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Lindsay FH, Hawley JA, Myburgh KH, et al. Improved athletic performance in highly trained cyclists after interval training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1996; 28 (11): 1427–34

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Stepto NK, Hawley JA, Dennis SC, et al. Effects of different interval training programs on cycling time-trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1999; 31 (5): 736–41

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Hahn A, Gore CJ. The effect of altitude on cycling performance: a challenge to traditional concepts. Sports Med 2001; 31 (7): 533–57

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Bailey DM, Davies B. Physiological implications of altitude training for endurance performance at sea level: a review. Br J Sports Med 1997; 31 (3): 183–90

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Saltin B. Exercise and the environment. Focus on altitude. Res Q Exerc Sport 1996; 67 (3 Suppl.): S1-S10

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Wolski LA, McKenzie DW, Wenger HA. Altitude training for improvements in sea level performance: is there scientific evidence of benefit? Sports Med 1996; 22 (4): 251–63

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Fulco CS, Rock PB, Cymerman A. Improving athletic performance: is athletic residence or altitude training helpful? Aviat Space Environ Med 2000; 71 (2): 162–71

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Jeukendrup AE. Cycling. In: Maughan RJ, editor. IOC encyclopaedia of sports medicine: nutrition in sport. Oxford: Blackwell Science, 2000: 562–73

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Burke LM. Nutritional practices of male and female endurance cyclists. Sports Med 2001; 31 (7): 521–32

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Costill DL, Dalsky GP, Fink WJ. Effects of caffeine ingestion on metabolism and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1978; 10 (3): 155–8

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Graham TE, Spriet LL. Performance and metabolic responses to a high caffeine dose during prolonged exercise. J Appl Physiol 1991; 71 (6): 2292–8

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Pasman WJ, van Baak MA, Jeukendrup AE, et al. The effect of varied dosages of caffeine on endurance performance time. Int J Sports Med 1995; 16 (4): 225–30

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Kovacs EMR, Stegen JHCH, Brouns F. Effect of caffeinated drinks on substrate metabolism, caffeine excretion, and performance. J Appl Physiol 1998; 85: 709–15

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Spriet LL, McLean DA, Dyck DJ, et al. Caffeine ingestion and muscle metabolism during prolonged exercise in humans. Am J Physiol 1992; 262 (6 Pt 1): E891-E898

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    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 

  18. 18.

    Martin JC, Milliken DL, Cobb JE, et al. Validation of a mathematical model for road-cycling power. J Appl Biomech 1998; 14: 276–91

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Olds T. Mathematical modelling in cycling. Sports Med 2001; 31 (7): 497–509

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Olds TS, Norton KI, Lowe EL, et al. Modeling road-cycling performance. J Appl Physiol 1995; 78 (4): 1596–611

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Hickson RC, Hagberg JM, Ehsani AA, et al. Time course of the adaptive responses of aerobic power and heart rate to training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1981; 13 (1): 17–20

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Hickson RC, Kanakis C, Davis JR, et al. Reduced training duration effects on aerobic power, endurance, and cardiac growth. J Appl Physiol 1982; 53 (1): 225–9

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Hickson RC, Rosenkoetter MA. Reduced training frequencies and maintenance of increased aerobic power. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1981; 13 (1): 13–6

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Jones NL, McCartney N. Influence of muscle power on aerobic performance and the effects of training. Acta Med Scand Suppl 1986; 711: 115–22

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Norris SR, Petersen SR. Effect of endurance training on transient oxygen uptake responses in cyclists. J Sport Sci 1998; 16: 733–8

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Westgarth-Taylor C, Hawley JA, Rickard S, et al. Metabolic and performance adaptations to interval training in endurance trained cyclists. Eur J Physiol Occup Physiol 1997; 75 (4): 298–304

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Rusko H. New aspects of altitude training. Am J Sports Med 1996; 24 (6 Suppl.): S48-S52

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Levine B, Stray-Gundersen J. ‘Living high-training low’: effect of moderate-altitude acclimatization with low-altitude training on performance. J Appl Physiol 1997; 83: 102–12

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Stray-Gundersen J, Chapman R, Levine BD. HiLo training improves performance in elite runners [abstract]. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998; 30 (5): S35

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Mattila V, Rusko H. Effect of living high and training low on sea level performance in cyclists [abstract]. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1996; 28 (5): S156

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Below PR, Mora-Rodríguez R, Gonzáles Alonso J, et al. Fluid and carbohydrate ingestion independently improve performance during 1 h of intense exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1995; 27 (2): 200–10

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Jeukendrup AE, Brouns F, Wagenmakers AJM, et al. Carbohydrate feedings improve 1 h time trial cycling performance. Int J Sports Med 1997; 18 (2): 125–9

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    el-Sayed MS, Balmer J, Rattu AJ. Carbohydrate ingestion improves endurance performance during a 1 h simulated time trial. J Sports Sci 1997; 15 (2): 223–30

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Greenwell EA. Aerodynamic characteristics of low-drag bicycle wheels. Aeronaut J 1995; 99 (983): 109–20

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank the riders and staff of the Rabobank Professional Cycling team for their kind cooperation in the preparation of this manuscript. We also want to thank John E Cobb for his kind input and sharing of data and his invaluable experience and help in the wind tunnel.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Asker E. Jeukendrup.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Jeukendrup, A.E., Martin, J. Improving Cycling Performance. Sports Med 31, 559–569 (2001).

Download citation


  • Time Trial
  • Lactate Threshold
  • Altitude Training
  • Trained Cyclist
  • Road Race