Yellow jersey rider Thomas Voeckler of France and Australia's Cadel… (Joel Saget / AFP/Getty Images )
You're sitting on your comfy sofa watching the Tour de France, and after a swig of Gatorade you think to yourself, "You know, I'm a pretty good cyclist. I bet I could keep up with those guys!" (Don't deny it. You know you totally did that.)
Here's a little reality check: You probably can't. While you may have mad cycling skillz, chances are you don't have what it takes to compete against some of the best racers in the world on this grueling, three-week, 3,430 kilometer race through the flat, curved and mountainous terrains of France.
Bicycling magazine has an amusing feature online that's part of its Tour de France coverage: "You Versus the Peloton," comparing race stats between average cyclists and elite Tour riders. Standing in for "you," the average cycling enthusiast, are the writer's friends "Matt" and "Andy," and data on the tour riders is from Team HTC-High Road.
OK, let's start out with average speed on the flats. You: 17 to 18 mph. A tour rider: 25 to 28 mph. Ready to give up yet? No? Fine.
Let's go with average speed on mountainous terrain. You: 9 to 10 mph. Tour rider: 21 to 25 mph. Dude, that's more than double the average cyclist. "TV doesn't tell the real story," says writer Whit Yost. "It's staggering to witness how fast pro cyclists go uphill. Their strength-to-weight ratios make these speeds possible."
Still not convinced? How many calories do you think you burn on an average three-hour ride? Probably 200 to 450. Those Tour riders? They're burning about 4,000 to 5,000. Yost adds, "It's not unheard of for a Tour rider to burn up to 8,000 calories during a single stage." Hot-fudge sundaes all around!
Those Tour riders aren't even taking a true recovery day -- they're riding two to three hours on rest days. You? You're at brunch.
Now that you've conceded defeat, be glad there's still room for improvement. Top cycling coach Joe Friel, author of "The Cyclist's Training Bible," imparted some training wisdom during an hour-long live Web chat recently, including how to improve on hills. On that, Friel said, "The best way to get better at climbing hills is to simply climb hills. Initially the improvement will come because you learn how best to sit on the bike and apply force to the pedals: Sit back on the saddle with hands on the bars near the stem. Then engage the pedal higher in the pedal stroke than you usually do. This will allow you to apply force downward for a longer range than you would normally do. To improve climbing for racing or simply going over hills fast, do intervals on hills."
Read the chat for even more tips, and maybe we'll see you at the Tour next year.