Burping your way to sprint success

I’ve always had a fascination for numbers and quantification, probably because I started my career as a scientist before I found life was and could be so much more interesting. Today I was doing 30 minutes steady spinning on my turbo trainer but without listening to ‘The Boss’ on my iPod because the battery was flat. And, being an Apple product, I couldn’t simply pop in some fresh batteries. So to prevent myself from getting bored I did some simple arithmetic to entertain myself.

I know from my percentage body fat approximately how many kilos of stored energy, i.e.  fat, my body has. Apparently a Tour De France rider needs about 6000 calories a day over and above their normal requirement for basic functioning. This they take on board according to a systematic schedule over each day’s stage using a combination of energy snacks carried with them and larger amounts of supplies picked up on the move from feed stations. The total needed for the 3 weeks of the race is about 120,000 calories. I have stored about my person about 220,000 calories. At first glance it seems that I could ride the Tour De France nearly twice without having to take on any extra calories. This is not so. Heaving an extra 4.5 stone of fat up the roads and mountains of France would require a lot more calories than it takes to cover the same terrain as a spindly emaciated professional Tour rider who is not carrying his entire 3 week food ration with him. Obesity is not a race winning strategy. On the other hand riding at the front of the bunch on narrow roads would be a good way of controlling the pelton for a while. When Julia and I did a walk last Christmas entitled ‘exploring Brighton’s back passages’  there was a tale from Regency days of a very fat burgher challenging a fit young rake to a race over 100 yards or so for a substantial wager if he could choose the race course and have a 10 yard start. The rake immediately agreed to what he saw as an opportunity for easy money. The race course the Burgher chose was the narrowest alley in Brighton and, of course, started the race 10 yards down it. Needless to say he easily won the race and the wager.

Mark Cavendish

These calculations and thoughts kept me occupied for about 20 minutes and I still had 10 minutes to go on the turbo. At this point I let out a rather unseemly burp and to my surprise my heart rate, showing on the monitor on my handlebars, dropped momentarily by nearly 10 beats per minute. Needless to say I experimented with some deliberate burps and found I could repeat the effect. Now the same level of exercise at a lower heart rate indicates an increase in power measured in watts. Burping has the surprising effect of increasing, however briefly, power output. I wonder if the top coaches are aware of this? I can see this catching on as a way of getting a brief power advantage at crucial stages in a race. A loud burp at the moment of attacking on a hill, or making that final jump in acceleration for the sprint finish may give a decisive and winning advantage. Will we expect to hear the last hectic metres of a sprint finish peppered with reverberating belches? Having watched Mark Cavendish’s sprinting style and strategy over the years I predict you will rarely hear his race winning burp outside of 200 metres to go.