Anatomy of a Cyclist: The Incredible Stamina of Jolanda Neff

October 14, 2019

We’ve taken six
of the world’s top athletes to find out what it takes
to make a true Olympian. Now we’re working, come on! – Testing, analysing…
– Dig deep, come on! ..getting under the skin
of an elite athlete… we push
their bodies to the max. (ANATOMY OF A CYCLIST) Cross-country mountain biking,
because it’s off-road, the variability in terrain
makes a really big difference, so you get what’s called
“stochastic” power output. And to be able to sustain that
over a long periods of time, for the entire race, is really
a very difficult thing. Add on top of that,
operating under pressure with large numbers of riders
around you at the same time – they’re very unique traits
that mountain bikers have in comparison
to other forms of cycling. Jolanda Neff puts herself right
on the front of the field. Jolanda Neff is one of Switzerland’s brightest
sports stars. At 23, she’s already
a two-time World Cup and European
Games Gold medallist. If you’re an athlete,
you’re always trying to go for the maximum, you always
want your body to be as strong as possible. Jolanda Neff –
she’s one of those riders that just has fabulous
technical skills in descending – no fear! That’s really the big
challenge about any sport, is to find that balance,
how much can I push my body, but not push it too much? We’ve brought Jolanda
to a state of the art Human Performance lab to really put her anatomy
under the microscope. She’s one of only
two riders who competed in both the road racing and
mountain bike events at the Olympic Games Rio 2016,
with a top ten finish in both. But when it comes
to physical firepower has she got what it takes? If you take a look at all
cyclists, to some extent, but particularly mountain
bikers, is that they will tend to be very light,
very lean, but very strong and very powerful. (DYNO) The dynamometer test
is going to show us one of two things –
one is strength and the other
is strength endurance. Particularly focused on the quadriceps
and the hamstrings – the two key muscle
groups which dictate cycling performance
for Jolanda. For a cross-country
cyclist like Jolanda, the ability
to deliver maximal power from the core muscle
groups in the legs, especially
the hamstrings and quadriceps, defines her race performance. OK, you’re ready? We’re going
to go for our 20 reps. – Yeah.
– OK? After three. One, two, three! But can Jolanda maintain
this maximal effort for repetition after
repetition? Good! Push! Well done! Four! The dyno test will show us
just how much torque she can produce… Good, well done! Push! ..and keep on producing,
effort after effort. The Olympic Mountain Bike
race demands technique and strength in equal measure. Jolanda is carrying less weight
than many of her competitors but has she got the power to deliver that
medal-winning performance? ..18, 19, 20, OK, and you’re
finished! Well done! – How did that feel?
– Yeah, it was hard. Pretty tough, eh?
OK, well done! Jolanda’s peak torque
production from both her quadriceps and hamstrings
is unusually well balanced for a cyclist, with her more
developed hamstrings a powerful protector
from injury. But it’s her muscular endurance that’s the real show-stopper, maintaining close
to peak power delivery all the way from
the 1st to the 20th rep. The results for me
are spectacular. We measure how much strength
she loses, in other words, torque, across 20 efforts, and what we see is
that is less than 10% in both quadriceps
and hamstrings. Not only is she strong, but she’s also
incredibly endurable. OK, so if you
just want to lay down on your bed with
your head at this side. Jolanda’s Dyno has shown us she packs a real punch when
it comes to power-production but how much of her
body mass is actually power-producing muscle? The Dexa scan will tell us
how Jolanda really measures up. An elite level female
triathlete has an average body fat percentage
of 13.9, a sprinter 13.7, but Jolanda’s 12.4% is in
a class of its own. The composition test confirms
that 42kg of her 50kg body mass is pure, lean muscle. To some extent what
you have to think about is that fat is stored
fundamentally in two places – one is subcutaneously,
just beneath the skin, the other is viscerally, so
it resides around the organs. And what we’re doing
with skin fold measures, is we’re measuring that
subcutaneous fat to look at the distribution
of fat around the body. Anything under 40mm – is very lean…
– OK. 36mm or 36.3mm
is where you are at the moment, we wouldn’t recommend
that you should ever go any lower than that, – that’s pretty much optimum…
– OK. ..for where you are
at the moment. For cyclists, skin fold
measures give them a quick and easy way of analysing
their body composition. As a naturally lean athlete,
Jolanda’s figures put her into a category
alongside the most efficient endurance athletes in the world
and her total sum measurement of 36.3mm is truly remarkable. My body learns really fast – if I do something
my muscles adapt immediately. My lungs, my legs,
everything, when I give an impact, then there
is a reaction. (UP CLOSE) It’s not like I thought,
if I should do mountain biking, it’s just that when I was very
little we went mountain biking with the whole family because
my dad was very much into the sport,
he was a road racer. All day in school I was
longing to go out on my bike, together with my friends,
so for me riding the bike was always
something very social. I didn’t even realise
I was riding my bike, I was just talking to my
friends and it was just a great time. Come on, Jolanda! Go on!
Come on! Dedication is
one of the key words if you want to be
a good athlete. If you want to be successful, you need determination
and dedication. I didn’t imagine that I could
go that quick in the end. But if you love what you do,
it’s not a sacrifice – it’s passion. (HYDRATION) The human body depends
on hydration to regulate temperature and
maintain vital organ function. For elite endurance
athletes like Jolanda, controlling hydration
effectively will mean the difference between
medalling or failing to finish. We’ve put Jolanda
in the sealed “enviro chamber” where we’ve dialled in Rio
conditions during Games time. With temperatures well
above 30 degrees Celsius, humidity at 80% and a series
of punishing uphill climbs, it’s the athlete who
can minimise both fluid and essential mineral
loss who will be left standing on the podium. 50 seconds! Come on,
keep it there, come on! Come on, Jolanda, come on! So the information
we get from here will be around your fluid
replacement strategy. These patches
that we’ve got here, they’re collecting the sweat
which is dripping off your face so we’ve got a lot of it! And from there we can work out
the amount of sodium and the amount of potassium,
and these are something called electrolytes, so we can
calculate your replacements. – So I know how to replace it.
– Exactly that. In the Rio conditions of 31
degrees and 80% humidity, Jolanda experienced a sweat
rate of 1.4 litres per hour, but crucially experienced
a massive 2.7% reduction in her body weight
through fluid loss. That’s incredible
when you think about that, that’s in Rio conditions – the body simply
cannot withstand that. We can withstand
somewhere in the region of a 2%-3%
reduction in body fluid, so it’s interesting to see that
she’s going to have to consume quite a lot of fluid
on the bike in order to maintain
that performance. (PEAK POWER) The peak power test will
analyse how well Jolanda’s body can respond to her
sports’ sudden demands for massive power output
in those brutal uphill sections and if she can keep delivering
that power, lap after lap. What we’re looking for
is how much power Jolanda can produce
and then looking at how she can sustain
that power output, something we call
“the fatigue index” – how quickly does she fatigue. OK, ready in five, four, three,
two, one! Let’s go! Come on! Come on! Come on!
Come on! 15 seconds! Come on! Come on! In a series of timed-efforts
over increasing durations, our team of sports scientists are pushing Jolanda
to the limit. Three, two, one! – And we’re done.
– Excellent! They’re analysing how much
power she can produce and continue to produce as the length of effort
increases… Keep it there, come on,
keep the cadence up! Come on! ..all the way up to four minutes
of flat-out racing. Keep the cadence there!
Three, two, one. And stop and stop and stop. As the laps build around
the Olympic course and the brutally
long climb comes round again and again,
it’s as much a psychological as a physical effort for
the athletes – has Jolanda got the mental strength to ignore
the burning muscles? Keep it up there. The duration of
the effort is increased to a full 240 seconds
of high tempo-power output Come on, final effort! Final sprint now. Come on, dig
deep! Really push! There’s no hiding place now. Come on! Five seconds!
You got this! Massive effort, come on!
Last one and we’re done! – Well done, well done!
– Top work! Top work! Well done. Real good work, that.
Well done. Do you feel light-headed? Do you feel all right? No, it was all right,
it was intense! Yeah, it’s hard, isn’t it? Looking at Jolanda’s figures,
we can see she achieved an average power output
of well over 500 watts and maximum power
outputs of over 700 watts, ideal to attack the short
inclines and gradual hills which make up
a mountain bike course, with her best power-to-weight
figures of 12.5 watts per kilo over the shorter
15 second interval. For mountain biking, particularly when
you are going uphill, the more powerful you can be in relation to your weight,
the better. And for her,
it’s part of this test, 12.5 watts per kilogram, that’s what makes
her one of the truly elite athletes in the world. For a first-time Olympian,
Jolanda’s performances on the roads and hills of Rio made for a truly
impressive debut. But it’s how she responded
to the toughest of tests in our lab that sets
her apart – strength, speed, power and endurance
in the leanest of forms. Tokyo 2020
could well be her time. Jolanda is the complete
package, all the way from what she looks like,
her aesthetic, all the way through
to her performance. I’ve seen an awful lot
of cyclists and for me her strength endurance
is absolutely outstanding. You know there is this saying,
“Train hard, win easy” – in some way,
I love the hard work. It’s just an amazing feeling and, you know,
once you’re in that zone, you don’t want
to be anywhere else, it’s just amazing.

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