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In this YouTube video, they show the hour record, but, during all its duration, they declare that women have a different goal than men. (in the video he mentions women's record could be 50km/h and men's 57km/h) They also mention that the women's record have a different wattage vs men's record (women = 350 watts, men = 440 watts).


I once heard that men are "naturally" stronger than women. Men are born with a biological physical advantage. But, that does not mean that a woman cannot reach the potential of a man, right?


Basically, in cycling (perhaps other sports), men always have better scores than woman? Why can't a woman hold 440 watts in a hour like a man can?

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    opportunities men have are not shown to women. That is a big part of it. Start letting women compete in the Tour de France, and one will eventually win.
    – bradly
    Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 2:54
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    This might be a question for fitness.SE as well.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 3:51
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    @bradly: short of some sort of Steven Bradbury-esque situation, that's pretty unlikely. At world-class levels, you're basically comparing genetic capacity, and we haven't had enough time as humans to eliminate sexual dimorphism. Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 5:47
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    @whatsisname on the other hand with opportunities like the tour closed off to women you could also argue that means fewer women might be encouraged to join the sport in the first place, therefore reducing the number of female participants that could compete at all. Sort of a confirmation bias. To an extent. Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 12:02
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    @UuDdLrLrSs But professional sports are in the entertainment business. If the LA Lakers, Team Sky, or Real Madrid could find a woman who could make their team, they'd sign her in a heartbeat for the publicity and the fans who'd be drawn. The Lakers actually did try, AFAIK the closest a woman has ever come to actually competing in a top-level men's professional sports league. Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 15:47

4 Answers 4

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Yes, Males have a significant advantage over females, on average, for the kinds of activities society turns into sports. Males are typically larger, taller, have greater lung capacity, larger hearts, and larger oxygen carrying capacity. Male and female bodies have different ratios of muscle and fat even for two average adults of the same weight, with males having more muscle.

But, that does not mean that a woman cannot reach the potential of a man, right?

So, let's look at this statement in depth, and what man and what women we're comparing against. What I described above, is a comparison between two average people. The average person does not exist. And, the difference between the slowest male and the fastest male is significantly larger than the difference between the average male and the average female. So there are going to be tons of women faster than men.

So when you are competing in competitions that are full of amateurs with day-jobs that are in it for the fun and challenge, women can absolutely take the podium. To win, you need to persevere and work hard.

However, when you are looking at the world records, or best-in-the-world class competitions like the Tour-de-France, that variance becomes irrelevant, because we're not looking at average males or females anymore. There, you are competing within a segment of the population representing the very fastest, most capable specimens our species can produce. To compete at these levels, you don't get there by just working hard and persevering. Everyone there is doing that. You also need the genetic advantage to get you that extra edge. And unfortunately, in that kind of competition, women are at an insurmountable disadvantage.

Sexual dimorphism is a real thing, and humans are no exception to it.

Note: There are some events where for whatever reason, women do seem to have an advantage over men, such as in ultra-distance swimming.

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    "women do seem to have an advantage over men, such as in ultra-distance swimming" This could be just small sample size, how many people are attempting to swim through the english channel as often as possible?
    – Michael
    Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 5:52
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    I don't have time to look for the source now, but recall reading that in ultra-distance bike racing the difference is much less than in shorter events or stage-racing (e.g.Fiona Kolbinger winning the 2019 TCR overall)
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 8:46
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    @Michael Sample-size effects should be easy enough to discern. In a competitive sport that's close to the limits of human achievement, the top performers won't be separated by very much. For example, in the Tour de France, after literally 3 1/2 days total of racing spread over three weeks there's usually only a few minutes between the winner and the tenth-place finisher. 100km ultramarathon results show quite a gap between top finishers, indicating a less-competitive sport. Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 19:21
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    (cont) Also, if records are getting broken rapidly, that's another indication of a less-competitive sport. For an example of a highly-competitive sporting event, look to the long jump. Bob Beamon jumped 8.90 meters to set the world record in 1968. That record stood until 1991 when Mike Powell jumped 8.95 meters. Those are the only two long jumps in history of 8.9 meters or more, and there's only 4 of 29 feet or more. But there are many 28-footers. The history of women's jumps is similar: a few in the 7.5 meter range and a lot just short Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 19:28
  • @Chris - I posted a link recently to a scientific article - summary was in ultradistance cycling women have the same power to weight as men. Given ultra-distance athletes are lightweights, the elite women have little to no power disadvantages. With recent societal shifts, ultradistance running and cycling events are now showing this is the case. (The Tour is not ultra distance, its a series of standard distance races and is one of the last true male bastions, the 2000's version of the gentlemen's clubs of the 1800's, so don't expect women to compete any time this century.).
    – mattnz
    Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 21:01
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For a given level of fitness, wattage is proportionate to weight: that is, a 50-kg rider who can generate 4 W/kg could be considered to be at the same level of fitness as a 75-kg rider who can also generate 4 W/kg.

When riding on level terrain, though, your power/weight ratio doesn't determine your speed, it's your raw power output. So the 75-kg rider (generating 300 W) will beat the 50-kg rider (generating 200 W) every time. On climbs, the smaller rider will have the advantage because gravity becomes an important factor.

The average woman is smaller than the average man, so she'll be at a relative disadvantage in the hour. Of course, average people don't attempt the hour record, but until a woman who's about as big as a man attempts it, we probably won't see women overtake men in that event.

It's worth pointing out that there are some cycling records held by women: fastest motorpaced speed on a bicycle (Denise Mueller-Koronek), and highest annual mileage bicycled (Amanda Coker). Women have won both the Transcontinental Race (Fiona Koblinger) and the Trans-America Bike Race (Leal Wilcox).

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    It's not just about size. Males have an intrinsic W/kg advantage over females. Top-level pro males are pushing close to 7 W/kg for threshold power, while top level female pros are in the upper 5 W/kg range. Over shorter time spans, the difference is even more pronounced. Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 15:21
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    Powerlifting shows the same sexual dimorphism. Men's powerlifting records are uniformly greater than women's records. For example, the best male squat in the 198 lb/90 kg weight class is 860 lbs/390 kg. The 198 lb/90 kg female record is 640 lbs/290 kg. Sprinting? The world record female 100m dash is 10.49 sec. That's been beat over 50 times by males. High schoolers. In California alone. Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 15:26
  • @AndrewHenle Yeah, these are important points. I didn't have the differences in wattage at my fingertips when I wrote my reply.
    – Adam Rice
    Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 17:57
  • The power to weight evens out of longer distances. At Ultra distance, women have the power to weight as men. Women have always been more than capable of competing (and winning) against men in ultradistance, We are seeing more women on the ultra distance podiums today because of social chances, not physiological changes.
    – mattnz
    Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 21:06
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You pointed it out yourself: “Men are born with a biological physical advantage.” It’s mostly due to a naturally higher level of testosterone.

If you compare men and women in various sport world records you’ll find roughly a 10–20% advantage for men. Usually a bit less in endurance sports and older age groups.

Of course individuals differ (it’s a bit like a Gaussian distribution) and there could be a woman who’s so talented and exceptional in every aspect that she can beat men at the highest level. But that’s highly unlikely, especially since most racing authorities have different limits on testosterone (even if no doping can be proven) for men and women. A woman with a naturally high testosterone level wouldn’t be allowed to compete and it’s doubtful whether any amount of talent can make up for that.

An example which comes to mind is Chrissie Wellington, who managed to be among the top in overall (men+women) score in world class Ironman Triathlon events several times:

In July [2011], Wellington bettered her own ironman-distance world record at Challenge Roth by exactly one minute, to 8:18:13. Her marathon time of 2:44:35 was also a new world record. Only four men finished in front of her, and only one man, the winner Andreas Raelert, who also set a new world record, was able to beat her marathon time.

(emphasis mine)

Of course all of this is about world class level. On an amateur level (up to about federal championship level) it’s totally possible for women to overcome that 10% disadvantage with better training and beat men (who train worse, are less talented etc.).

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One answer specific to UCI events such as the hour record is that different allowable biological parameters between genders put women to be at a disadvantage. Specifically, women must have a hematocrit less than or equal to 47 (actually 48 since there is a 1% allowable margin), while men must be less than or equal to 50 (+1% margin). Since both men and women can achieve hematocrits well above 50 with the help of transfusions or EPO, it is common for elite athletes to compete with hematocrits as close to the allowable limit as possible. By setting a lower limit for women than for men, the UCI makes it harder for women to reach the same level of performance as men.

Similarly, the UCI requires female athletes to have testosterone levels below 10 nmol/L, while men can have much higher levels (as long as there is no evidence of synthetic testosterone). Since anabolic steroids such as testosterone are helpful in building muscle mass and improving recovery after training, the cap on testosterone levels for women puts them at a disadvantage relative to male athletes.

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  • I wonder how many men are going to s__t their pants when a woman beats the men's hour record. It's only a matter of time....
    – bradly
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 18:50
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    @bradly It is not. Check the athletic disciplines. Top women are not competitive with top men in any other sport. It is simply biology. Some female spiders are much larger than males. But in humans men are on average faster and stronger. And in the extremes the masculine extremes are much higher than feminine extremes. Just watch any track and field event like the world championships and see the times or distances the men and women achieve. And the women have great training and opportunities, there is a lot of money in that. Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 7:58
  • FWIW even women with higher testosterone levels like en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caster_Semenya never really came close to man speeds. They only were able to come close to the old records that may have been done with anabolic steroids in the past. But not nearly close to how top men are running. Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 8:03
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    @VladimirF - I'm not arguing that any women with enough RBC and testosterone can match a man. Rather that the UCI limits change the odds from "statistically extremely improbable" to "no chance at all". I would bet that if you limited Campanaerts to 47 hematocrit and suppressed his testosterone for six months, he'd be nowhere near his record performance.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 11:46
  • Pantani was a tiny little guy, which gave him some great advantages. Smaller than the average rider but won big races all the time. Male pros get more funding for training, and have so many resources and opportunities women just don't. We wont know if a woman could give men a run for their money until we let them in the door.
    – bradly
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 19:08

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