Taking cadence to the extreme when cycling, yes or no?
Extreme agility is the trend we have become accustomed to in recent years. We still have in mind Froome’s famous cadence that we all try to imitate. But is that still the case? Are we sure it is really beneficial?
Maybe it’s too early to say but, looking at the new pedalling dynamics of many champions, this is no longer the case.
Alaphilippe, in the decisive phases of the race, drives monstrous relationships. Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar are not noted for their agility. Nor 2020 Giro winner, Tao Geoghegan Hart.
First of all, we’d like to say that you shouldn’t always compare yourself to the pros. But are we witnessing a change in the pedalling dynamics and preparation of the great cyclists, or is it just a case of chance?
Before attempting to give an answer, let us try to make some considerations.
1. Agility VS speed
Let’s start with physics.
POWER (in watts) = FORCE (in newtons) x PEDAL CADENCE (in RPM)
Power is the result of multiplying the force applied to the pedal (in Newtons) by the speed at which it moves, i.e. the pedalling cadence.
It is clear, therefore, that it is possible to put out the same watts by moving an agile ratio at high cadences, or a harder one at low cadences.
Cycling more nimbly is less demanding for the muscles, but it considerably increases oxygen consumption and therefore requires a greater cardio-respiratory effort. If you notice, a higher cadence results in a higher heart rate.
On the other hand, a very low pedalling cadence leads to a longer muscle contraction with each pedal stroke and therefore to greater vasoconstriction. This means that the blood reaches the tissues less quickly.
On a general scientific level this is true… but let’s not forget that everything is very subjective.
2. What lessons do we learn from the professionals?
It is clear that some of today’s strongest cyclists pedal at not so high frequencies. But it’s also clear that if someone like Froome were to return to the highest level, he couldn’t do without his agility.
Roglic, for example, is another rider who makes high pedal speeds per minute his trademark.
What does it all mean?
The fashion for agility at all costs is surely old-fashioned. What was an almost “obligatory” choice as an absolute necessity and which many fans tried to imitate, is no longer so necessary.
But be careful: this does not mean that agile pedalling is not advantageous. On the contrary.
The reality is that there is no ideal cadence and it is necessary to take into account the subjectivity of each athlete, i.e. the muscular and physiological characteristics of each individual.
It’s clear that even athletes who carry more load have tried to increase their pedaling with lighter ratios… but they obviously weren’t performing ideally.
As amateurs do not have the same evaluation tools, it is probably best to choose the pedalling cadence that makes you feel the least fatigued.
Listening to your body is definitely the way to go.
If you want some numbers, you should know that lab tests and analysis have shown that the optimal average cadence on climbs is between 75 and 80 rpm, which is the cadence Pogačar maintained in the last time trial of the 2020 Tour.