Platinum changes for perimeter bicycling events

Yes, yes I understand the safety issue in changing the women’s qualifying platinum time to that of men’s, and safety really is the first priority. I’ve been in the platinum start and know how scary it is to feel all that testosterone surging around you. However, I do take issue with Richard DeBernardis’s statement that “Speed, skill and experience do not know gender or age, so those are no longer factors in the new platinum times.” I’m not going to touch on age considerations but will address the physiological gender differences that exist between men and women and why the same qualifying times are somewhat gender bias.

In the marathon the current world record is still approximately 10% less than that of the men’s world record, and this gender time difference exists across most endurance sports. It’s not that women don’t train as long, often or hard as men it’s because there are some important physiological differences.

1.   On average men are much bigger than women and heart size scales in proportion to lean body size

2.   Women tend to experience less heart enlargement in response to endurance training

3.   The lower hemoglobin content in women results in less oxygen carrying capacity

These factors all contribute to a reduced maximal oxygen consumption (the ability of the body to take in and use oxygen) in women athletes as compared to male athletes.

Factor in body composition, where untrained women average about 25% body fat as compared to 15% in men (these estimates are for those of normal body fat, not the overweight or obese). Female athletes can average 18-20% and male athletes 8-12% (the percent body fat of elite athletes is often lower). You can’t expect a female athlete to reduce her percent body fat to that of a man’s and maintain healthy training and performance. The differences in body composition also effect the total body weight to lean mass and power ratios. The primary reason men generate more power is that they are larger and have more muscle mass.

However, women do match men in many of the physiological training parameters including lactate threshold and peripheral adaptations. Female skeletal muscle is just not distinguishable from male muscle – it responds in the same way to training. And there is really little difference in fat metabolism (sorry women, you do not metabolize fat faster or more efficiently then your male counterparts) We also dissipate heat equally, although women have slightly lower sweat rates, but also less body weight and surface area. And women tend to be as efficient in their skill techniques in endurance sports as men.

So what is the bottom line – due to the physiological differences in maximal oxygen consumption women are going to train and perform at about 10-15% the capacity of men. Important to make this clarification – for the record.

Hey –so what’s the real reason to ride El Tour anyway – because “the journey is the reward.”

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