Should women race the same distance as men? Put another way, would equalising distance validate women’s racing? Sit through the first half of a men’s race, especially a sprint stage, and the answer’s an unequivocal ‘no’, for the sake of our boredom thresholds. Flip to the women’s events, which are 50-100km shorter, and there’s no dead time. It’s foot down from the get-go, or at least that is how it looks. And according to research using elite riders, that’s exactly how it is. “My study shows that women race at a higher intensity than men,” says Dutch sports scientist Teun van Erp. “This is potentially revelatory and should guide how women train.”

Van Erp spent nearly nine years at Team DSM and its various incarnations before leaving last year to study a post-doctorate at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Van Erp is one of those figures who upsets the purists and romantics – he loves numbers, algorithms and finding solutions to questions most fans haven’t even considered. It’s why for four consecutive years, he collected training data from 20 male and 10 female DSM cyclists. During those seasons, the women’s team finished in the top 10 of the elite rankings; for the men, the first year’s data derived from ProConti efforts, followed by three years in the WorldTour. The merry-go-round that is pro cycling meant individuals’ data sets varied from one to four years with some riders’ race calendars curtailed due to either fitness or form.

“From the outset, I knew there’d be significant differences because of race distance and number of race days,”. “When it comes to the men, the longest oneday effort is up to 300km and the longest multi-stage race is a grand tour at 21 days. For the women, the longest one-day race is around 160km, while the longest multistage race is the Giro d’Italia Femminile, which features 10 race days. Despite that, I had proof that women’s races were of higher intensity and that potentially they could tolerate higher levels of pain.”

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