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Scientific backing for those who maintain that Lance Armstrong is a much better athlete following his battle against testicular cancer than he was before it has been provided by Ed Coyle, director of the University of Texas' Human Performance Laboratory. According to a paper by Coyle that is published in the June edition of The Journal of Applied Physiology, Armstrong is no less than 18 per cent better as an athlete now than he was before he had cancer.
According to Coyle, "Lance is arguably the best endurance athlete on the planet," and most of his improvement in recent years is the result of better development and efficiency of his muscles. Much of the rest can be attributed to significant weight loss.
In the nine years since being diagnosed with cancer, Armstrong has significantly increased his power-to-weight ratio and muscle efficiency. In 1996, the American who was then regarded as an all-rounder rather than a major tour specialist weighed in at 174 pounds. His racing weight now is around 159. However, the loss in body weight has not resulted in a loss in power output. According to Coyle, the reverse has taken place, giving Armstrong a power-to-weight ratio that, says Coyle, is better than that of five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain and an on a par with that of Eddy Merckx, generally regarded as the best rider of all time.
In addition, Coyle says that Armstrong has improved the efficiency of his muscles, boosting the use of slow-twitch fibres that give him greater endurance than his rivals, particularly when riding on extremely tough mountain stages. "It's a huge amount, simply phenomenal," said Coyle of Armstrong's improvement as an athlete over the past decade.