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The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

How Fast?

In a recent article Cycling Plus mentions Ploughman Craven training at speeds up to 80km p/h. So, how fast do professional cyclists actually race?

Obviously, this is a ludicrous question in some ways – is a course steep? Is it a mountain bike race, road, track or bmx? Is it a men’s or women’s race? Is it a long race or really short?

Track cyclists can momentarily push 80km p/h but, really, the easiest way to get a rough idea of the speed of competitive cycling is to take averages over a large stage race.

The Grand Tours

On major downhill sections, especially in the Grand Tours – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta d’Espagna – which encompass such huge mountains top speeds can surpass the 100km p/h mark. Internet rumours abound of Marco Pantani hitting 127km p/h. But on the flat in a group this is much lower.


In conversation with CyclingNews Juan Antonio Flecha described the run-in at the end of a flat stage in the Tour of Qatar: “I found myself two metres back, but I thought it was no big deal. However, we were riding at 60 to 70km p/h and it was not possible (to catch the group), I kept losing minutes.”

In the 2011 Tour of Oman Hayden Roulston tweeted, “After doing 30km/hr for 130k the last 80k at 50km/hr kinda felt fast!”

In the early days of the Tour de France riders rode fixed wheel bikes with big rubber tyres, with no support teams, and carrying their spare parts. These guys would ride a route which averaged 5000km on unpaved roads at an average speed of 28km p/h. Serious dudes.

In the heady days of Lance Armstrong’s dominance of the race the distance covered averaged 3500km at a blistering 42km p/h. This was up an average of 6km p/h from ten years previous.

The Giro d’Italia records are of similar average speeds but shorter distances in the early days. More recently the courses have been of a similar length but the Giro’s emphasis on ridiculous climbs means speeds are in the high thirties ~37.5km p/h.

The Vuelta, meanwhile is broadly similar to the Tour de France in terms of terrain and therefore speeds.


Of course mere mortals can do none of this without wearing our legs to matchsticks, having our hearts explode and our pants soiled. Of course, you could always take some “special vitamins”…

Camp Follower, Giles P Croft, Cycling Plus, Feb 2009
Blazing Saddles, Matt Rendell, Quercus, 2007
Juan Antonio Flecha Interview on CyclingNews
Giro Statistics

This article was posted by on Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 at 05:26.
It is archived in Bicycles, Sport and tagged , , , , , , .

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