Ive just recently returned from Europe were I fulfilled a long time dream of seeing the Le Tour in the flesh as opposed to from my couch. The little that I saw made it clearly evident that this race is huge, I mean massive in a way that TV does it no justice at all. The racing itself is only a small portion of what is going on at anyone time. My fetish for all things carbon was completely overloaded and so was the memory card from my camera that nearly went into melt down because I had a need to capture anything that had 2% body fat or 2 wheels. Esthetically all tour related things are beautiful (except Cadel....sorry Cadel) which of course is the goal of sponsors and teams to make us all lacking in genetic grace want these beautiful, fast, light, sexy pieces of extreme engineering to make up for the performance deficit (I am talking about the equipment not the riders).
As seen in the above photo (bonus points if you can figure out which Schleck brother it actually is) even the riders have to look good. If you are familiar with Zoolander you will recognize the Blue Steel pose. Getting to the point... How much of performance is actually limited by skeletal muscle? Id swear that if I is was asked to fill in for a team during the TTT I would ride faster than I ever have before (until I eventually got dropped). And of course as many of us know getting a state of the art new bike seems to provide this motivational advantage that allows performance enhancement to exceed that of any mechanical advantage.
Ultimately, muscle is controlled by the brain and the brain is so complex that we haven't even scratched the surface of its capabilities. There is a lot of sports science research that has attempted to determine the mechanisms of this central role of the brain in limiting performance. The simplest example I can think of is the placebo effect that us scientists go to extremes to control and suppress. If you think you can go faster then you usually do. Performance appears to be a state of mind rather than a physical state especially when you have exhausted your adaptive potential through years of consistent training.
So is it possible to trick the mind into thinking you are an elite athlete? I would like to do a study where I hypnotize my subjects to make them think they are grand tour riders with the ability to put out huge power numbers and then make them perform a performance trial. My hypothesis would be that skeletal muscle would still be a limiting factor, however their would be significant improvements in performance compared to a control trial where the subjects performed it in a normal state.
My conclusion to this post is buy the most expensive fastest bike you can, live a life style that makes you think you are a professional cyclist, make sure you look pro every time you ride (even if it is on the trainer in your lounge room) and most importantly believe you are the fastest!!
Think fast... GO FASTER.