Sports: February 2007 Archives


February 23, 2007

Reader Paul Hoffman writes:
Women athletes are supposed to compare more favorably against men in sports that do not require as much upper-body strength. Women also face barriers in team sports where there is expected to be lots of locker-room camaraderie. So why are there essentially no professional women bicyclists?

There are actually several issues here. Women do compare more favorably against men in sports that don't require upper body strength. For example, the gap between men and women in the clean and jerk, even for comparable weight classes, is order 20-25% (see the figure below):

By contrast, the world record gap for running hovers around 10%. But more favorably doesn't mean favorably and the 10% gap in endurance sports is fairly persistent. Cycling actually is mostly a team sport so it's fairly hard to get individual performance numbers, but if you look at the cycling part of triathlons it becomes clear that the gender gap is fairly persistent there as well. The best men's bike time at Ironman Hawaii 2006 was 4:18:23. The best women's time was 4.52:11 by a woman who dropped out on the run. The best woman's time by a finisher was 4:59:04.1. So, it should be clear that there's no practical way that women cyclists can compete along with elite men. That said, there are professional women bicyclists. They just compete in their the own races, which (of course) get less money and less press attention so you don't hear about them.

1 It's actually surprising that the gap is larger here because wind resistance is such an important factor in cycling performance and power goes up as a cubic function of speed, whereas in running power goes up much more linearly with speed. I don't have a great explanation here. Perhaps that body mass is a more important factor in running and that women tend to have lower power/mass ratios?


February 19, 2007

The Amgen Tour of California started yesterday. Am I the only one who finds it a bit ironic that the name sponsor of the race is the company that makes EPO?.