How Much Better Is A Professional Cyclist Than An Amateur? The Key Stats Explained

David Lavery sets out to discover the numbers that separate the pros from us mere mortals

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reviewed by Rory McAllister

Let’s be real – we’ve all thought about it, especially on an especially good day in the saddle ticking off hills that normally have you wheezing like they’re not there. Who knows, maybe you’ve even smashed a local Strava KOM without even trying.

That little thought creeps into the back of your mind. “Could I mix it with the pros, I wonder? Even just for a little burst? How much better can they really be?”

The short answer – for 99% of us mortals at least – is no, we would be dropped by a professional cyclist almost immediately.

In almost every sport, the men and women at the business end are by definition freaks of nature. This is even more obvious in endurance sports such as road cycling.

Just in case you still think you could win the maillot jaune, or even just cling on in the peloton for a little while, in this article we take a deep dive into the stats and figures that separate professional cyclists from the rest of us.

Professional cyclist Wout van Aert on a road bike.
© Kristof Ramon/Red Bull Content Pool

Super Humans

How can we even go about comparing ourselves to the professionals? Well, if you are lucky enough to ride the same roads as the professionals then you might be able to compare Strava segments.

At the very real risk of embarrassing myself and my cycling credentials, I will do just that. Way back in 2017, I was on a family holiday to Mallorca, a mecca for road cyclists looking for some great roads and an escape from the gloomy northern Europe skies.

I was at the peak of my cycling fitness back then so I somehow managed to convince my wife that I should hire a bike and test myself on the same roads that the pros use to hone their form as they come into the season.

I found myself at the bottom of the Sa Calobra (Coll dels Reis) ready to take on its hairpins and the sun as the morning air got hotter and hotter.

On the official Strava segment, my time to climb the 656 meters was 36 minutes and 52 seconds. The holder of the KOM at the time of writing is Tom Pidcock, the enfant terrible of the modern peloton. His time? A mere 22 minutes and 46 seconds.

The winding climb of Sa Calobra.
The winding climb of Sa Calobra.

That’s around 14 minutes faster than me on a climb that only lasts 9.44 km. He would have been able to order lunch at the café at the top and eat most of it by the time I sat down and caught my breath beside him.

And the most galling thing is that this was probably part of a long training ride for him, in a week of long training rides.

Ok, that was just a single climb but what about a longer route, something more like a stage in a Grand Tour? How would the keen amateur cyclist compare to a pro in the peloton?

Perhaps the most famous cycling sportive of all is L’Etape du Tour de France which allows amateurs to tackle a mountain stage of the real Tour de France one day before the peloton comes into town.

The 2023 edition of the L’Etape du Tour de France mimicked Stage 14 of the real thing taking the riders across the 157 km from Annemasse to Morzine with barely a flat piece of road between them.

The first to cross the line in the L’Etape du Tour de France took 4 hours, 31 minutes and 28 seconds. That equated to an average speed of just over 32 km/h, very respectable considering the 4100 m of climbing.

The winner of this famous Gran Fondo is no slouch. In fact, they also compete at a high level – but just how do they compare to the real warriors battling for a shot at a stage victory in the Tour de France?

In the real race the following day, the spoils were taken by Carlos Rodriguez (INEOS Grenadiers), who struck out on his own on the last descent as the two main GC contenders hesitated, in a time of 3 hours, 58 minutes, and 45 seconds.

That’s more than half an hour faster than the winner of the L’Etape du Tour de France!

You would have to go all the way down to Danny Van Poppel (BORA – hansgrohe) to find a similar time as the L’Etape du Tour de France winner. Van Poppel crossed the line in 81st place and 33 minutes behind the winner of the stage, as you would expect from a sprinting specialist.

This is not a perfect science but it does highlight that the bar is just much higher in the pro peloton.

If we just look at average speeds, you and I would be happy to come home to see an average speed of just over 20 mph. The winner of the 2022 Tour de France, Jonas Vingegaard, crossed the line in Paris after 21 grueling stages with an average speed of 26.11 mph.

Our ride was two hours long. His ride was three weeks long.

Of course, we don’t have the luxury of a peloton to keep us out of the wind but at the same time we don’t have to race up alpine cliffs day in and day out without any chance to recover.

Robbie riding to compare himself to a professional cyclist.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Why Are Professional Cyclists On Another Level?


The most obvious difference between professional cyclists and us mere mortals is simply the amount of time they spend in the saddle.

It is their job, whereas we have to try to fit in some time on the bike around the other priorities in our lives such as jobs, school, and family.

To compete at the highest level, the guys and girls in the world tour need to have tunnel vision and block out everything in their lives that is not cycling. If we do that then we are likely to be heading towards a divorce.

And it is not just the amount of training but the quality, with each professional cyclist having their handcrafted training program devised by experienced coaches. This structured training is designed to get them in peak condition depending on the objectives of the season.

Most of us are not committed to a training program but just love getting out on the bike any chance we get.

VO2 Max

What if we ditched everything and concentrated fully on our cycling? Unfortunately, it is not just about putting in the hours on the bike.

Of course, you will improve but it is unlikely that you will reach the level to survive in the brutal world of the professional peloton.

As I said at the start, the pro riders are genuine freaks of nature. They are superhuman.

A useful measure of this is something called VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can absorb and use during exercise. It is one of the best ways to measure and compare aerobic fitness.

Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond had an incredible VO2 max of 92.5 ml/kg/min, not far behind the highest VO2 max ever recorded by a sports person, the Norwegian cyclist Oskar Svendsen maxing out at a frankly unbelievable 97.5ml/kg/min.

The average male sedentary office worker will have a VO2 max of between 35 and 40 ml/kg/min, and an equivalent female would typically be around 27-30 ml/kg/min.

According to my Garmin, my VO2 at the moment is 61 ml/kg/min. So, despite doing intensive exercise regularly and from a young age, my VO2 max is still closer to that of a sedentary office worker than a Tour de France contender.

Professional cyclists don’t just have a numerical advantage against us but they can also sustain these massive VO2 max numbers for longer before the lactate threshold is reached.

You can improve your VO2 max of course through exercise but your max will likely still be way short of the numbers in the pro peloton.

Graphic of a cyclist climbing uphill on a white road back on a yellow background.

Power and Weight

Cycling is all about power and weight. Or more specifically being able to produce the most power whilst being as lean as possible. This power-to-weight ratio is the golden number if you want to have any chance of standing on the top step in the yellow jersey.

Since this data is closely guarded, it can be difficult to get an exact number for professional cyclists, but a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) of 6 W/kg has long been held to be the magic number for climbers and contenders for Grand Tour victories.

To put this in perspective, if you output these sorts of numbers on Zwift they will suspect you of cheating and could chuck you out of the race results!

Professional cyclists optimize both parts of this ratio; they train power and they have the best nutritionists to devise diets specific to each rider to help maintain an optimal (low) weight.


Lance Armstrong’s book might have been called “It’s Not About the Bike”, but having the right equipment makes a huge difference for the professionals compared to your average cyclist.

Not only do they ride the top-of-the-range bikes but their set-up is completely optimized to their riding style and position on the bike. These gains might be marginal compared to other riders in the peloton but they are massive compared to your average weekend warrior.


I remember watching a video of a fairly decent cyclist climbing up a hill when, out of nowhere, they are passed by the legendary Marianne Vos who was out on a training ride with her team.

She went past as if the hill didn’t even exist. She was barely breathing and just sat spinning the pedals whilst our intrepid videographer puffed and grinded.

When I saw that I realized there is still more daylight between me and a professional, than there is between me and someone who has never even sat on a bike before.

It quite drastically put to bed any notion that I might be able to last more than one minute in the professional peloton!

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David rediscovered his love of two wheels and Lycra on an epic yet rainy multi-day cycle across Scotland's Western Isles. The experience led him to write a book about the adventure, "The Pull of the Bike", and David hasn't looked back since. Something of an expert in balancing cycling and running with family life, David can usually be found battling the North Sea winds and rolling hills of Aberdeenshire, but sometimes gets to experience cycling without leg warmers in the mountains of Europe. David mistakenly thought that his background in aero-mechanical engineering would give him access to marginal gains. Instead it gave him an inflated and dangerous sense of being able to fix things on the bike.

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