Will Riding in a Group Make You Faster?

1. Fourteen recreational athletes (although a potential weakness of the study not target recruiting trained or elite cyclists) were used in the study.

2. Subjects performed three familiarization sessions of the test protocol, consisting of a 2,000 meters TT on a Velotron ergometer with a flat course.

3. For all sessions, subjects were tasked with riding as fast as possible with no pacing strategy provided. While they could see their avatar on the virtual software, they received no performance feedback at all (time, wattage, HR, etc.) throughout the test. No verbal encouragement was provided.

4. The two test sessions involved completing the TT solo (essentially identical to the familiarization trials), or a head-to-head (HH) competition.

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5. For the HH, subjects were told that they would be competing head-to-head against another subject of similar ability in another room. Each cyclist could see both avatars and the distance remaining. In reality, the competitor on the screen was their own best performance during the three familiarization trials.

6. Oxygen uptake and respiratory exchange ratio (carbon dioxide production divided by oxygen uptake, a general measure of energy source) were measured. Data was mainly "binned" into 8 x 250-meter intervals to analyze pacing strategy.

Test Results

Not surprisingly, competition, even if it was against themselves, brought out the best performance. Here are the more detailed results:

1. The authors of the study reported that the three-familiarization trials were essentially identical in performance time, with a coefficient of variation (a measure of the variability between two repeated trials) of 1.1 and 0.8 percent between trials one and two, and between two and three. This would suggest that any difference in the solo versus HH wouldn't be from a learning effect.

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2. The TT times for the familiarization, solo and HH trials were 187.7 +/- 8.2, 188.3 +/- 9.5, and 184.6 +/- 6.2 seconds, respectively, with the HH trial significantly faster than the best familiarization or solo conditions.

3. During the HH trial, 12 out of 14 subjects were able to beat their competitors (best familiarization effort). The two "losers" lost by only 0.06 and 0.01 seconds, which was pretty close to a tie.

4. Blood lactate values at the end of the TT were similar amongst all trials.

5. Pacing strategy solo versus HH is difficult to compare due to the presence of a competitor. However, comparing the familiarization to HH, the tendency was that the first 1,000 meters were similar, but higher power output was maintained from 1,000 to 1,750 meters.

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