There is a tradeoff between power delivery and aerodynamic drag force when cyclists ride at different altitudes. The result is particular to the characteristics of the bicycle as well as the aerobic fitness of the cyclist. This work proposes a methodology based on an integrated approach to the study of the influence of altitude on power output and aerodynamic drag over a particular bicycle-cyclist set. The methodology consists of an independent analysis for each of the effects, to conclude with an integration of results that allows estimating the overall effect of altitude on cycling performance.

A case study for the application of the methodology was developed, and the obtained results apply for the specific bicycle-cyclist set under analysis. First, the relationship between power and time was analyzed for a male recreational cyclist based on all-out effort tests at two different altitudes: 237 meters and 2652 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l). Second, the effects of environmental conditions on air density and drag area coefficient due to altitude changes were analyzed based on Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations. It was found that for the bicycle-cyclist set under study, the sustainable power output for 1-hour cycling was reduced 45W for the high-altitude condition as a consequence of the reduction in the maximum oxygen uptake capacity. In addition, the aerodynamic drag force is reduced in greater proportion due to the change in air density than due to the change in drag coefficient. Finally, the results of both effects were integrated to analyze the overall influence of altitude on cycling performance. It was found that for the analyzed case study, the aerodynamic advantage at higher altitude dominates over the disadvantage of reduction in power output: despite delivering 45W less, the subject can travel an additional distance of 900 meters during a one hour ride for the high-altitude condition compared to that in low altitude.

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