The study looked at the performance of 11 professional and nine non-professional road cyclists. Both groups of cyclists were asked to complete a 20-minute cycling time trial in the laboratory on two different occasions. On one of the occasion, the cyclists carried out a computerised cognitive task, which was designed to test inhibitory control and induce mental fatigue, after which they completed the cycling time trial.
Two main findings were seen between the groups. Primarily, the elite cyclists performed better in the cognitive task compared to the group of recreational cyclists, indicating that the professionals had better inhibitory control. Inhibitory control is one the factors that helps an individual carry out a goal-related behaviour, and is associated with will-power and concentration.
The second finding was more surprising. The =non-professional cyclists’ performance worsened in the time trial after they completed the cognitive task, but the professional cyclists’ performance after the cognitive task was not significantly different. This suggests that the elite cyclists were more resistant to mental fatigue, and did not let it affect their cycling performance.
The authors concluded that these characteristics are psychobiological, and it is unclear whether they are genetic, acquired through training and lifestyle, or come from a combination of the two. This new finding could be used to shed light onto what gives some cyclists that ‘upper-edge’, and provide a new focus to improve personal performance.