Enhancing Training and Performance in Elite Cycling
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Kent
Unit of AssessmentSport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
This impact case study describes the development and application of
models of training and performance in elite cycling. These models have
been used by elite medal winning teams in their search for competitive
advantage in the UK (by British Cycling and British Triathlon, including
the GB Olympic Cycling and British Triathlon Teams and the British
Paralympic Team) and internationally (by the Australian Institute of
Sport). These new cycling models have provided the basis for the
development of new training processes that are influencing the way in
which many nations prepare their elite riders. This work has contributed
directly to enhance elite sports science practice in the field of cycling
and the competitive advantage for British teams to which it contributes is
envied around the world. The adoption of the underlying algorithms for the
`Wattbike' software has given our work a wider impact on sports practice
and training methods, and it has been adapted for the `Map My Tracks'
website which is used by sports enthusiasts worldwide.
Prof Louis Passfield joined the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences in
2007, creating its Endurance Research Group and leading its research in
endurance training and performance. Passfield has more than 20 years'
experience of applied work with Great Britain team cyclists and he
continued to work for British Cycling alongside his work for the
University of Kent. His research has been partly motivated by the insight
and challenges presented through this collaboration. A core focus of the
Endurance Research Group has been the training and performance of
competitive cycling, and Passfield and colleagues have investigated these
aspects from both a physiological and mathematical perspective.
Cycle Racing Model
The Cycle Racing Model, developed by Passfield at the University of Kent,
is the first comprehensive mathematical model of both cycle and rider in
the world. It represents a major development of all earlier work to
provide a complete detailed mechanical model of cycling. Once at the
University of Kent Passfield developed this detailed dynamic model using
Matlab and Simulink, in collaboration with Dr Martin Bailey and Dr Helen
Carter from the University of Brighton. This work formed the basis of
Patrick Cangley's PhD thesis for which Passfield was one of the
supervisory team. The new model builds on Passfield's previous modelling
research that utilised a single static equation of motion to predict
cycling performance. The new detailed model specifies separately aspects
of every major mechanical component of the bicycle and rider. Pedal torque
data is used to propel the model of bicycle and rider. Like a real bicycle
the model can be balanced and steered around any race route or track that
along with associated environmental conditions can be specified in detail.
The model calculates the necessary bicycle and rider mechanics and
corresponding cycling performance. The model has been validated
successfully both theoretically and against field data (Cangley et al.
2011, 2012). Subsequently, this new model has been used (and is continuing
to be used by British Cycling) to perform a range of "what if" scenarios
for various aspects of cycling competition and training.
Cycle Training Model
In 2008, Passfield (PI) and Dr Simon Jobson both at the University of
Kent used mathematical modelling to study the training process by
analysing the power output data obtained directly from the bicycles of
elite competitive cyclists. This project was funded by an EPRSC grant
under the "UK Sports Achieving Gold" call, and involved collaboration with
Prof Greg Atkinson and Dr Gabor Barton from Liverpool John Moores
University and Prof Phil Scarf from the University of Salford. Their work
resulted in the Sports Medicine review paper on the analysis and
utilisation of training data (Jobson et al. 2009) and inspired subsequent
work from the School's Endurance Research Group, such as Hopker et al.
The Cycle Training Model represents a new approach to investigating
training because it reverses the normal method of scientific enquiry in
this area by studying the training process, rather than its outcomes. This
innovative approach has in turn enabled the Endurance Research Group to
gain fresh perspectives and challenge accepted training practice. For
example, with careful use of indirect calorimetry, our Endurance Research
Group was able to demonstrate repeatedly that cycling efficiency changes
with endurance training. Furthermore, using an elegant crossover design,
Hopker et al. (2010) demonstrated that it is high-intensity training, not
the widely-held moderate-intensity training, that is responsible for this
change. Our laboratory was the first to demonstrate this finding that has
changed widely adopted coaching principles.
Sprint Cycling Model
Further to the development of the Cycle Racing Model, in 2007 Passfield
(as a Co-I with Prof Phil Scarf, University of Salford) was also
successful in obtaining an EPSRC grant from the "Achieving Gold" scheme.
This grant provided funding to examine the use of mathematical modelling
to evaluate race tactics in track sprint cycling. The Sprint Cycling Model
uses logistic regression to calculate the probability of race winning
tactics. This analysis was derived from historical video footage from over
360 world-class sprint races. The model evaluates a range of different
race scenarios and calculates the likelihood of success associated with
them: for example, depending on the best and current speed of the cyclist,
and the race distance remaining, the model will calculate the probability
of winning associated with different race tactics such as whether to
follow, where and when to overtake, which position on the track to ride,
and so on. This work was embargoed before the London 2012 Olympics to gain
a competitive advantage over rival nations and is therefore only now under
peer review having been released for publication.
References to the research
Papers from the research underpinning the Case Study in chronological
order (authors in bold were at the University of Kent at the time of the
1. Jobson SA, Passfield L, Atkinson G, Barton G, Scarf P,
The analysis and utilization of cycling training data. Sports Med. 2009;
This paper was written as part of the EPSRC funded research programme. It
identifies a number of methods by which training data can be modelled and
2. Hopker J, Coleman D, Passfield L, Wiles J, The effect
of training volume and intensity on competitive cyclists' efficiency. Appl
Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010; 35(1): 17-22.
This study demonstrates that cyclist's efficiency can be improved and
that this occurs with supra-threshold training rather than
3. Hopker J, Myers S, Jobson SA, Bruce W, Passfield L,
Validity and reliability of the Wattbike cycle ergometer, Int J Sports
Med. 2010; 31(10): 731-6.
This was the first study to examine the validity and reliability of the
4. Cangley P, Passfield L, Carter H, Bailey M, The effect of
variable gradients on pacing in cycling time-trials. Int J Sports Med.
2011; 32(2): 132-6.
This is a field validation study of the mathematical model of cycling
5. Cangley P, Passfield L, Carter H, Bailey M, A model for
performance enhancement in competitive cycling, Science and Motricite.
This paper presents a complete mechanical model of cycling developed in
6. Moffatt JL, Scarf PA, Passfield L, McHale IG, and Zhang K, To
lead or not to lead: analysis of the sprint in track cycling, Journal of
Quantitative Analysis in Sports, (Submitted).
Available at http://usir.salford.ac.uk/29554/
Grants supporting the research underpinning the Case Study:
• Scarf, McHale and Passfield. Optimum strategy in sport.
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). £68,816.
1/12/07 - 31/01/09.
• Passfield, Jobson, Atkinson, Barton and Scarf. Modelling
training and performance in competitive cyclists. Engineering and Physical
Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). £55,240. 17/10/07 - 16/08/08.
Details of the impact
Cycle Racing Model
The Cycle Racing Model is a comprehensive mathematical model of cycling
and is the first in the world to include cycle and rider together. British
Cycling and British Triathlon scientists used the model to formulate
pacing strategies and inform equipment selection when Britain's elite
athletes race on technically challenging courses. For example, the basis
of this model was used to formulate the pacing strategies and race
equipment selection for Britain's elite cyclists in the time- trial at the
2008 Beijing Olympics (at which Emma Pooley won a silver medal). The model
was used to calculate specific scenarios of the impact on final race time
of varying power output for different sections of major championship
courses over the recent Olympic cycle.
In 2010 the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and in 2011 the British
Paralympic Association both used this model to assist with the preparation
of Australian cyclists and British Paralympic riders respectively. The AIS
awarded Patrick Cangley (PhD student co-supervised by Passfield) a
"Visiting Scholarship" to fund his travel to Australia and his
accommodation whilst working with their scientists in Canberra. As this
model provided a significant advance on their own previous (published)
models the AIS scientists wanted to examine a number of what-if scenarios.
The Cycle Racing Model enabled sport scientists at the AIS to explore many
aspects of cycling performance and help their coaches and athletes in both
track and road cycling disciplines. For example, joint torque was
calculated with the model using inverse dynamics to better understand and
inform specific Australian cycling team race and training practices. The
British Paralympic Cycling team used the model to quantify the demands of
the London 2012 Paralympic cycling course at Brands Hatch. This data was
then used to fine tune the final preparation of British riders for this
event and derive optimal race scenarios. The British Paralympic road
cycling team won three gold, two silver and two bronze medals at the
London Games. It is the exceptional mechanical detail of this model that
has made it so valuable to scientists at the English Institute of Sport
supporting British Cycling and British Triathlon's elite athletes. Indeed
the model continues to be used to evaluate novel "what if" scenarios for
various aspects of cycling competition and training and Passfield
continues to use the model to assist British Cycling scientists with new
novel applications of the model.
The Wattbike is a successful commercial cycle ergometer that is sold
around the world. It is endorsed by British Cycling and used by them and
Cycling Australia as part of their elite and talent development
programmes. British Cycling uses the Wattbike to help identify talented
cyclists for the future. The Cycle Racing Model was used to develop the
algorithm incorporated into the Wattbike software to simulate a rider's
cycling speed from the ergometer power output. This algorithm is
fundamental to the use of the ergometer as it provides the basis of the
distance and speed covered when riding on the ergometer. It also enables
the rider to monitor performance over set distances and to race against
another rider on a different ergometer.
Sprint Cycling Model
Scientists working with the British Cycling sprint team that included
Olympic Champions Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton CBE used the sprint
cycling model to help devise the sprint race tactics of this team. In
order to maintain a competitive advantage, publications from this work
were embargoed until after the London 2012 Olympic Games and are only now
being fully published. Cycle Training Model
The Cycle Training Model was motivated by the need to better understand
the wealth of data (e.g. power output, heart rate, cadence) that it is now
possible to obtain from cyclists and their bicycles when training and
racing. Several studies from the Endurance Research Group have led to a
change in understanding training practices for elite endurance cyclists.
For example, the findings of Hopker et al. (2010) informed this model
which was used by Sir Bradley Wiggins in his preparation for his Tour de
France and Olympic time trial victories in 2012.
Specifically, his science team identified the need to develop Wiggins'
cycling efficiency as a key target and focus of his preparation. As
described above, the findings from our laboratory have changed the way
scientists and coaches think about efficiency and the training necessary
to improve it. Indeed, a world leading sports scientist at the AIS has
noted that this work provides a fresh perspective on important issues and
that it has had a substantial impact on the way many nations prepare their
elite cyclists (see sources to corroborate impact).
The cycle racing and training models are having impact far beyond
professional cycling. Many people in gyms, health clubs and schools around
the world use the Wattbike ergometer for exercise and training.
Furthermore, aspects of the Cycle Training Model are being incorporated
into the "Map My Tracks" website which has over 450,000 users worldwide.
Map My Tracks provides GPS tracking on the web for people with GPS
tracking embedded in their mobile phones or other GPS-enabled devices. The
service is focused on sports enthusiasts who want to keep track of their
running, cycling, kayaking, and other such pursuits. Map My Tracks is a
product of Tinderhouse, a UK company based at the Innovation Centre,
University Road, Canterbury.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Sprint Sports Scientist, English Institute of Sport
This letter from a senior sport scientist for the GB Cycling Team
provides details of his use of the Sprint Cycling Model as part of the
support he provided for the British Olympic Sprint team including riders
Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton CBE.
Sport Science Coordinator, Cycling Australia, and Senior Sport
This letter is from a world leading sports scientist at the Australian
Institute of Sport (AIS) and Cycling Australia. It provides evidence of
the worldwide impact of the cycling models developed by Passfield and
colleagues, and confirms the models' direct influence on how AIS sport
scientists advise and support Olympic and pre-elite cyclists. In 2010 the
AIS flew Patrick Cangley (Passfield's PhD student) to Australia because
the Cycle Racing Model was superior to their own models and helped them
better understand the integrated demands of cycling. This world leading
sports scientist comments that our cycling models have provided fresh
perspectives and had a substantial impact on the way many nations prepare
their elite cyclists, and that the competitive advantage given to GB teams
by our research is a source of envy.
Head of Nutrition, British Cycling and Team Sky
This letter is from the Head of Nutrition and part of the infamous
"marginal gains" team for both British Cycling and Team Sky. This letter
states British Cycling and Team Sky used the Cycle Training Model to
inform their successful preparation strategy for major races such as
Bradley Wiggins's Tour de France victory and his London 2012 Olympic gold
Sport Scientist, English Institute of Sport
This letter is from a sports scientist working at the English Institute
of Sport in Loughborough. His work involves supporting British Cycling and
British Triathlon's elite athletes. His letter provides examples of a
range of uses the Cycle Training and Racing models have contributed to his
work supporting British Cycling and Triathlon World and Olympic teams.
Cycling Coach, Great Britain Paralympic Team
This letter is from the Cycling Coach for the GB Paralympic Team. The
letter details the GB Paralympic Cycling team's use of the Cycle Racing
Model in preparation for the London 2012 Games.
Wattbike website (http://wattbike.com/uk/company)
This website provides factual evidence of Passfield's involvement in the
development of the Wattbike ergometer. The site also details the worldwide
impact of the Wattbike ergometer, that it is endorsed by British Cycling
and used by a diverse range of institutions around the world including
schools, gyms, British Cycling and the Australian Institute of Sport.