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Women Racers: What type of cyclist are you?
By Imelda March
Date: 10/15/2010
Women Racers: What type of cyclist are you?
Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon an article titled, What type of cyclist are you? written by Irish Coach Paddy Doran. Although the article made very good points there were a few things that got my blood boiling. Firstly, it was written about male bike racers and secondly he claimed to be a coach to Irish women bicycle racers. So what was wrong with this picture?

I asked myself why would a coach who excelled in coaching women write an article about male bicycle racers? To satisfy my curiosity, I sent him an e-mail saying “I enjoyed your article and now I would suggest you re-do the article featuring women racers! Why are we always ignored?”

To my surprise Mr. Doran replied back and said, “Thanks for your email, I have just read over the article again and I take your point in the sense that if I had included a few women’s photos and women in different disciplines that might have covered the gender equality aspect of it.”

I told him that I would welcome his re-write and would share it with our audience. Below Coach Doran makes the case about how different skills provide clues as to the type of rider you maybe. In his writing he includes several professional women who you may already be familiar with.

About the author: Imelda March lives in Chicago and is a member of Team Kenda. She will be a frequent contributor to The Daily Peloton Cycling News team reporting on women’s cycling issues and general peloton ramblings. Imelda is an experienced racer who holds an MBA and is marketing strategy expert.


Have you ability to really excel in some other discipline than you already compete in? Now is the time to decide for success next season.

Many sports experts say “if you want to be a champion chose your parents very carefully” so your genetic makeup will determine to a large extent which cycling disciplines you can excel in. Then to make the most of your genetics you must train specifically for the best events for you.

For example no matter how well Anna Meares the brilliant Olympic and World Champion sprint specialist trained for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games road race or next years majors Tours or Road World Cup series she is highly unlikely to win them. It’s also just as unlikely that Nicole Cooke or any of the top road racers or cross-country mountain bikers will win the track sprint event in London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Are you more of an Anna Meares or Nicole Cooke? or might you be more like a combination of both of them, and have good endurance with good sprint abilities. Answering these questions might increase your possibility of success.

What are the main differences between the extreme endurance athlete who wins the long stage races and the pure sprint athletes who win the track sprint medals? If you do a search of some of the sports medicine and physiology books you will see that the percentage of slow twitch versus fast twitch muscle fiber differs greatly between elite sprint and endurance athletes.


Elite endurance athletes have up to 80% slow twitch fibers which allows them to cycle for a long time at medium speeds. These athletes usually are quite light and don’t have much of a sprint.


Elite track sprinters can have up to 70% fast twitch muscle fibers and this enables them to accelerate really fast and reach very high maximum speed but they can only hold the speed for a short period of time. They are usually heavier and very muscular.


We can also see the athletes who have a very strong mix of the two; Marianne Vos of Holland might be a good example. She is very fast at the finish of very long difficult events. Marianne is one of the great all rounders. Winner of world championships at cyclo cross, road race, and track. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, she won the golden medal in the points race.

She can win alone or in sprints in all types of races. She is unusual in that she competes year round in cyclo cross, track and road. An amazing athlete!

Her approach also demonstrates that mixing different disciplines can be advantageous especially for young athletes. Some Cyclo cross is a great discipline for maintaining and improving bike handling skills, strength and endurance over the winter.

Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit) takes final stage and overall win in Holland Ladies Tour in Hellendoorn. (Photo Credit: Bart Hazen)


If you have only started your competitive cycling this year you may be getting some idea of where your strengths are.


Did you attack and ride away from other riders on hills, or raced very good time trials or mountain bike cross country or endurance events, but were not be so successful in sprint finishes. This suggests that you should focus on the endurance events.

If you found that you couldn’t attack too much or move out of the bunch without getting really tired dropped etc, but could sprint very fast if you get to the finish after a comfortable race that may indicate that your talents lie in sprint events.


For example if you played team games, were you like a soccer midfielder who can run all day (endurance) or the striker who doesn’t have great endurance but can accelerate like a bullet over a short distance (sprinter).

School athletics; were you better at the sprint or endurance events? When you are out training with your club or local cycling groups are you really fast when doing sprints? Or can you cycle for hours at good speed without tiring?


There are also many riders who are not at the extreme end of either sprint or endurance abilities. These riders can influence their ability in either direction by focused training. As well as the Fast twitch and slow twitch muscles there are also intermediate muscle fibers, which can be developed to be more efficient for endurance or sprint sport according to whether emphasis on endurance or sprint training takes precedence.

So, if you are reasonable at endurance and sprint events you could steer your training in the direction of whichever component is strongest.

Current Irish National Champion for road and ITT, Olivia Dillon (Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY 12)(Photo Credit: Rob Evans)

Riders like Olivia Dillon (Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY 12), both the current Irish National Champion for the road and ITT events and recent winner of the 3-day Ras Na Mban Stage Race in Ireland may be a good example of this. Olivia has made good improvements of her sprint abilities on top of her strong TT / endurance performances. So she is now capable of sprinting well at the end of long hard races


If you are new to the sport try as many disciplines as you can to determine which events you like and perform well in. Some Governing bodies also have talent id programmes that you can apply to. If successful you may be tested which will steer you towards the best event for you.


In training, the different type of muscle fibers will respond to specific training. An athlete with a high percentage of fast twitch fiber responds very well to strength / power and speed training.

Athletes with a high percentage of slow twitch fibers responds best to Aerobic / endurance training; thus, if you have determined that your talents are strongest for either endurance or sprint. How can you make the most of that talent? Train specifically for the event! It’s amazing how much improvements you can make if you target the right components and train them really well.

Try to get a coach who has expertise in whichever disciple that you decide to go for. This will maximize your potential.

Note 1: This article is aimed at senior cyclists, or cyclist’s just leaving junior ranks to become senior.

Note 2: What is the Rás na mBan? The Rás na mBan International Ladies is a 3-day bicycle stage race based in Ireland. It is promoted by the Women’s Commission of Cycling Ireland and run under the rules of Cycling Ireland and Union Cycliste International (UCI).

About Paddy Doran: Is a level III coach and coach tutor. Paddy has trained professional, International and club cyclists from road, track and mountain biking, including winners of four Ras Na Mban events. He has also been a masseur to professional and international athletes from multiple sports. He specializes in coaching individuals and groups with proven training plans that are aimed at peaking for the main goals of the riders. Paddy has been Cycling Ireland coach of the year and overall winner of Tutor of the year in the Coaching Ireland Tutor awards. Follow the Irish cycling scene at Irish Cycling and Women’s Commission of Cycling Ireland!

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