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Tour de France - The Hardest Race

30 Jun 2004

The evolution of human locomotion through the millennia basically developed two possibilities: walking and running. 

Cycling is a stranger to such evolutionary process, being a physical activity introduced in the last 2 centuries-- nothing, if compared to the time needed to produce evolutionary change.

Walking is a relatively untraumatic means of movement for muscles and joints, with low intensity and a relatively low energy expenditure for time unit, which makes it possible to keep it up for long periods every day with no problems.

Running has obviously a much higher speed and intensity, with greater energy cost. Being very traumatic for muscles and joints it’s not possible to keep it up for many hours for days on end without risking inflammation and injury.

Cycling basically unites both these methods of locomotion, combining the particularities of each: it’s not very traumatic in its movement, it allows high intensities with great energy expenditure and can be repeated for several continuous days, with prolonged periods of effort expenditure.

While one aspect of the bicycle proved itself to be a most efficient system of locomotion, the exhaustive nature of cycling competition, especially professional racing, brought forward new problems and issues for the body, certainly unexpected in the human evolutionary process.

The Tour de France is the most demanding cycling race on Earth: the repetition of intense and prolonged efforts every day for three weeks, often under extreme weather conditions. It requires extraordinary energy consumption, up to 6000-7000 kcal per day, that has to be compensated by proper “super-nutrition”.

This implies a digestive apparatus overcharge, and makes demands on liver and kidneys in a way that was not provided for by human evolution—especially if we consider how difficult it was in the past to get such high caloric amounts in every day life. 

Extreme heat conditions, not rare in the Tour de France, also imply proper “super-hydration”, sometimes with ingestion of as much as 10 liters of fluid in one day in order to compensate for perspiration. Such demands never appeared in the evolutionary history of the human race!

Elevated, repeated and prolonged intensities of exertion that are so peculiar to cycling also put a heavy stress on respiratory, kidney and cardio-circulatory apparatuses, unlike any other sport activity.

Many sports medicine publications have documented a whole series of lesions (luckily most of them reversible) to cells and function of these apparatuses; lesions that have to be prevented or treated with appropriate training, nutrition and diet supplementation strategies, always within the limits of sports and legislative regulations, which should in their turn take these unique physical demands into consideration.

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