Cyclist’s Brain: Profound Studies in the Midst of Tour De France

cyclist's brain activity during the Tour De France race.

As the Tour De France is in full swing, now is the perfect time to delve deep into scientific literature to unravel the enigmas of a cyclist’s mind. Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tour has persevered, much to the delight of sports enthusiasts, especially those passionate about cycling. An intriguing question arises: what transpires beneath those helmets during the race?

Read more: Cyclist’s Brain: Profound Studies in the Midst of Tour De France

The Rarity of Cyclist Brain Studies:

While numerous sports-oriented blogs shed light on the intricate choices team athletes must make under duress, an interesting observation is that studies on the brains of professional cyclists are quite rare. Nevertheless, an enlightening research piece caught my eye—a 2019 publication titled, “Cyclists´ Brain Cycling: An fMRI Study.”

The fMRI Study on Cyclist’s Brain:

Conducted by Bodnariuc Fontes and his team at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, this study explored the neural patterns distinguishing professional cyclists from non-professionals, especially when subjected to varying intensity levels. Through the research involving 22 participants—10 professional cyclists and 12 non-athletic adults—each individual underwent an adaptive test on a specialized bike MRI ergometer while their brain activities were meticulously monitored using functional MRI.

Findings and Conclusions:

Astoundingly, the study found that both groups utilized brain functions associated with motor movement. Yet, a stark difference was observed: the professional cyclists exhibited heightened brain activity in the prefrontal cortex compared to their inexperienced counterparts. This area is crucial for logical and rational thinking, suggesting trained cyclists retain more cognitive capacity, especially when fatigue sets in—undoubtedly a pivotal trait during taxing descents.

To further comprehend the brain’s role in fatigue and cycling, a captivating study led by Mathias Pessiglione at Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris delved into the ramifications of overtraining on the brain. This investigation involved 37 competitive male endurance athletes, divided into two groups, with one continuing their regular training regimen while the other increased their training load by 40% over three weeks. Using fMRI scans, the findings were intriguing: the overtrained group not only felt more fatigued but also displayed impulsive behavior when presented with economic choices, showcasing a reduced activation of the lateral prefrontal cortex.

The Implications:

Researchers from this study advised monitoring fatigue levels to mitigate the risk of poor decision-making. If your muscles ache, it’s likely that your brain also craves rest, particularly in cycling, where a single ill-advised move can have devastating consequences.

While the studies discussed predominantly address the influence of fatigue on the brain and its relation to amateur cyclists, unfortunately, I’ve yet to encounter research focused on the tactical decisions made by cyclists in high-pressure scenarios, such as sprint position selection. We eagerly await further insights on this topic in the future.


Bodnariuc Fontes, Eduardo & Grandjean da Costa, Kell & Bortolotti, Henrique & Cabral, Daniel & Vivas Diaz, Jose Andres & Hussey, Erika & Ward, Nathan & Campos, Brunno & Li, Li. (2019). Cyclists´Brain Cycling: An fMRI Study.

Bastien Blain, Cyril Schmit, Anaël Aubry, Christophe Hausswirth, Yann Le Meur, Mathias Pessiglione, Neuro-computational Impact of Physical Training Overload on Economic Decision-Making, Current Biology, Volume 29, Issue 19, 2019, Pages 3289-3297.e4, ISSN 0960-9822,

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