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British champion working on building strength in gym as preparations continue for Tour de France

Mark Cavendish believes the introduction of more aerodynamic bikes and helmets to the peloton has reduced his advantage over bigger rivals such as Marcel Kittel and André Greipel – and the British champion says he’s hitting the gym to work on his strength.

Crouched improbably low over the handlebars as he makes his final surge to the line, meaning he encounters less air resistance than his rivals, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider's trademark style has helped make him the most succesful sprinter in the history of the Tour de France, with 25 stage wins to his name.

His big aim this year is to take his 26th stage - and with it, the race leader's yellow jersey - on the opening day of the race on 5 July, when Stage 1 from Leeds finishes in his mother’s home town of Harrogate.

But others are targeting it too, including Giant-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel – who last year won the opening stage on Corsica, and was in Yorkshire this week with the Dutch outfit to recce the routes of the opening two stages – and Lotto-Belisol's André Greipel.

Cavendish, smaller and lighter than Kittel or Greipel, says that developments in technology have reduced his edge over his rivals, and is now in the gym doing exercises such as squat thrust as well as seeking to strengthen his core stability.

“With the aerodynamic advancements in the bikes and the helmets now those big strong guys, like Griepel and Kittel, are getting a bigger advantage than I am, percentage-wise, compared to their body mass,” he said, quoted in the Daily Mail.

“I thought I'd better get a bit stronger because my aerodynamic ability is not going to help me as much as it used to.”

Reunited with his former leadout man at HTC Highroad and with ex-rival Alessandro Petacchi also now riding alongside him, Cavendish has built his season around the Tour.

After winning at least five stages in each of the previous three editions, 2012 saw Cavendish, then with Sky, play a supporting role to Sir Bradley Wiggins' overall ambitions. He still came away with two stages.

What’s more, on the final day in Paris last July, Kittel became the first man to beat him on the Champs-Elysées, where Cavendish had won for four years in a row, the German winning his fourth stage of the race.

Should Cavendish win the opening stage of this year's race, he would be only the third British rider to have worn the leader’s jersey of all three Grand Tours, joining David Millar and Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Regarding his prospects of winning the stage, he said: “I'll do everything I can to make it happen,” he added.

Unlike Kittel, however, he hasn’t yet been to Yorkshire to look at the route of the stage in person.

“I have done the third stage [from Cambridge to London], but we're planning with the team to go in the next weeks [to Yorkshire] and see it,” he said.

“It's not beneficial to go when it's three degrees.”

A virus picked up after Milan-San Remo kept Cavendish out of races such as the Scheldeprijs, and despite the Giro d’Italia changing the way the points competition works to favour sprinters, Cavendish, winner of that contest last year, will miss the race to focus on his preparations for the Tour.

That begins this Sunday with the Tour of Turkey, followed by the Amgen Tour of California in May and the Tour du Suisse the following month.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

41 comments

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Roberj4 [221 posts] 2 years ago
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Giant-Shimano lads have been for a Yorkshire Moor recon visit the last two days take in both stages routes. Don't think they popped into the Black Sheep Brewery at Masham for a pint but it shows their intention & commitment to win. Come on Cav!

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cub [86 posts] 2 years ago
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I don't buy that claim, more aero bikes and helmets won't make that much of a difference, especially with most sprints won on the acceleration phase.

If anything I'd expect a reduction in bike aero drag to benefit a smaller more aerodynamic rider like Cav, similar to the way that reducing bike weight helps smaller riders.

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morseykayak [67 posts] 2 years ago
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Cav is an honourary Southener  4
“It's not beneficial to go when it's three degrees.”

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SirCav [34 posts] 2 years ago
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I hope he's not left the gym work too late. As always, I wish him well.
(Would it have killed them to mention Mark Renshaw by name?)

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surly_by_name [410 posts] 2 years ago
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Can't see micro aero mods (bike, helmets) making a difference over the distances that a sprint occurs, but I don't have data to provie it. Accept macro aero mods (getting low over bars) might make a difference. Cav seems to have bought his sponsor's line about aero helmets and bikes. Its his job to sell stuff.

Cav WAS simply faster than anyone else on a bike for many years. He appears to be slowing down a bit as age catches up with him. Its great that there are new guys coming through who can match him for (his current, slightly reduced) speed. I don't think Griepel is or has ever been in the same league as (even a slightly slower) Cav. I don't have the stats but I think head-to-head it must be about 8.5 Cav: 1.5 Andre the Giant. The only times I recall Griepel beating Cav there have been extenuating circumstances - e.g., crash that held up Cav. Griepel good for sweeping up all the sprint finishes in a race like the Tour of Poland but otherwise he flatters to deceive.

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overshoot [51 posts] 2 years ago
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I also disagree with this claim due to basic physics:

Aero bikes and helmets mean the final velocity is higher, for an equal power output. Governing factor still is aero drag as it squares with speed, therefore Cav should have an even greater aero advantage against his rivals.

Cav should win more races. QED.

Although he is correct not to rest on his laurels!

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farrell [1950 posts] 2 years ago
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cub wrote:

I don't buy that claim, more aero bikes and helmets won't make that much of a difference, especially with most sprints won on the acceleration phase.

If anything I'd expect a reduction in bike aero drag to benefit a smaller more aerodynamic rider like Cav, similar to the way that reducing bike weight helps smaller riders.

I think the logic is that the bigger riders were always hindered by their size as they had more surface area which meant he could accelerate with less power.

Now, the bikes and everything else, along with the way the riders have themselves set up the bigger riders are seeing bigger overall gains, if they're all able to shave 10% off their surface area then actual shaved amount for Griepel or Kittel is going to bigger than for Cav, but they already have the bigger muscle so I guess he is just going to try and meet them in the middle.

The other point, that I haven't seen mentioned or alluded to yet is that track sprinters can get away with being a bit bulkier than road sprinters in terms of muscle.

I don't suppose there would be a large sporting event featuring track cycling coming up that Cav would have an eye on by any chance....?

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Nick T [971 posts] 2 years ago
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Sounds like gamesmanship to me. He had a poor lead out last season, this year should be greatly improved, that's basically the difference in his prospects.

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farrell [1950 posts] 2 years ago
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Mark Cavendish wrote:

“It's not beneficial to go when it's three degrees.”

So when will we see you again?

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mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
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They do make a difference, quite a big one. You need to combine your physical logic with biological factors. The introduction of aero mods (and they aren't mini, at those speeds they actually make a lot of difference..) means that the bigger riders can sustain their speeds for longer, it's not how quickly these modifications move through the air but the amount of watts saved per kph. It's physical power that matters in these cases and while Cav's numbers are less he gains many advantages that are actually being made slightly obsolete by the introduction of these new aero bits.

Cav *used* to have (and imo still definitely does) the advantage of being able to last that little big longer than his bigger burlier peers, now that the playing fields becoming more slippery, that extra distance is becoming a smaller gap. He is also crucially hyper-intelligent, that has always played a huge part in his sprinting ability, again with age comes the increasing need to hone this and keep those skills in check - not least a new wave of multi-talented sprinters is coming through the pack some of whom are equally bright.

Technology has changed as has his body, Cav will need to adapt - that doesn't mean he's been sandbagging, it's simply a realisation that there are different ways of doing things.

We're all allowed shit starts to the season. I can empathise, each of my races so far this year have brought a brand new learning curve of both tactics and training methods.

His dominance will return, and it'll be f***ing epic when it does.  1

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Gkam84 [9092 posts] 2 years ago
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I'm also in the not buying it boat.

If aero was to blame for other riders winning and beating him. They all had less aero stuff before and he was miles ahead.

That should be the same in like for like aero conditions.

I do think he's lost a bit of power, but it is more that others have learnt how to control him and give themselves the best advantage in sprints. Also that there are a new crop of good sprinters out there for him to go up against. Making it hard to dominate for anyone.

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geargrinderbeard [96 posts] 2 years ago
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Wait, is this the same guy who's been knocking about in one of the specialized aero lids for a few years now???

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Jimmy Ray Will [516 posts] 2 years ago
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I think he is focusing in the wrong area. Looking at many of his sprints this year he does seem to be missing his position far too much for the quality of lead out he has.

Now, there are a few reasons for this.

1. The lead outs of other teams have got stronger and accordingly, it is harder for Cav to automatically be in a good position to sprint
2. That after many, many victories, maybe Cav isn't quite so hungry and accordingly, not quite so willing to take the risks he used to to maintain position for sprints
3. Cav's form may simply not be there yet... he is putting everything on the tour de france and we'll see the best of him there.
4. That the other teams have woken up to the idea that in a straight fight, Cav is going to win more times than not, so the simple tactic is to ride in a way that ensures Cavs leadout and route to the finish is impeded as much as possible

Personally I think number 4 makes a lot of sense... if I was a team manager, thats the route I'd be exploring. However I accept that number 4 may simply be an unintentional side effect of number 1.

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surly_by_name [410 posts] 2 years ago
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Summary of slighty longer response that I somehow lost before it got posted: bollocks, conjecture unsupported by data, not over that distance, "hyper intelligent" *guffaw*, "lasts longer" *oo err*, bollocks, maybe, hope not. Kittel has a stupid haircut.

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gareth2510 [167 posts] 2 years ago
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surely being a pro cyclist of some merit, Cav knows better than us??
Just saying

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Nzlucas [125 posts] 2 years ago
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Cav was quick to pick up Aero equipment where others were not which they have now done. Aero equipment also pays dividends over the whole stage meaning the sprinters can arrive 'fresher' at the end. It would have been easier for Cav given his size to hide from the wind during a stage also while the bigger sprinters were at a disadvantage. So now the bigger riders are also saving energy over the stage with the new Aero stuff available.

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chrisp1973 [55 posts] 2 years ago
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I have to say that I think all the points made so far are valid and make sense.

I think you're all missing a very important point though - if I had Peta Todd at home I wouldn't be putting all my energy into sprinting either.

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mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
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surly_by_name wrote:

Summary of slighty longer response that I somehow lost before it got posted: bollocks, conjecture unsupported by data, not over that distance, "hyper intelligent" *guffaw*, "lasts longer" *oo err*, bollocks, maybe, hope not. Kittel has a stupid haircut.

http://books.google.com/books?id=fRlC01uXRpwC&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=cyclin... - short of it - "aerodynamic drag would certainly become a significant factor at the speeds calculated for final velocity"

http://www.cervelo.com/en/engineering/ask-the-engineers/aero-in-the-pelo...

http://roadcyclinguk.com/gear/kask-infinity-and-specialized-s-works-evad... - "2.6metre saving in a 200metre sprint"

I think that pretty much covers data, distance, lasting longer the physical vs biological factors involved in sprinting. Probably way more on Training Peaks if you're wanting more sport science based evidence.

In regards to lasting longer, biologically that's absolutely normal in a smaller riders case like Cavs, he is generally built well for that sort of endurance and it's not exactly a secret that he's one of the best in the world at suffering, someone like him would have to be (as would all pure sprinters) to get to where he is now.

I can give one of his old teachers a ring and see if I can get some old school reports if you like. He is exceptionally clever.

I know a clever bastard when I see one (I'll send you my most recent Mensa test along with those school reports), and I know a fast f**ker when I race against one.

Hair - not my department, I'll leave that one to you.  3

Hope that clears things up!  1

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cub [86 posts] 2 years ago
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overshoot wrote:

I also disagree with this claim due to basic physics:

Aero bikes and helmets mean the final velocity is higher, for an equal power output. Governing factor still is aero drag as it squares with speed, therefore Cav should have an even greater aero advantage against his rivals.

Cav should win more races. QED.

Although he is correct not to rest on his laurels!

It's not as basic as you think. In fact the total amount of power lost by aero drag has reduced with faster speeds due to more aero equipment.

Why?

The riders are all putting out the same amount of power with their new pointy hats and bikes as they were before, lets say 2000W.

Before 1800W went to drag the rest went to other factors, say 200W to rolling resistance (RR) which increases proportionally to speed. If they are going 10% faster due to reduced drag then it's now 220W RR and 1780W drag.

So now as a fraction of total power aero is now less important, that's not to say Cav is losing out though as rolling resistance becomes a bigger factor which benefits Cav's lighter weight, calculating which is more of an advantage to him is much more complicated.

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stem [37 posts] 2 years ago
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According to the linked article he is doing squats (barbell squats I'd guess) rather than squat thrusts as it says here.
Squat thrusts are cardio not a strength exercise.

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thereverent [432 posts] 2 years ago
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Cavendish, smaller and lighter than Kittel or Greipel, says that developments in technology have reduced his edge over his rivals, and is now in the gym doing exercises such as squat thrust as well as seeking to strengthen his core stability.

Back in the HTC days his edge was his speed combined with the best lead out train in the sport. Now with more teams getting better lead outs for their sprinters, it's made it harder to get in the best position.
If OPQ improve on their lead out he will be winning plenty of stages.

The gym work will certainly help though.

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jamiemfranklin [8 posts] 2 years ago
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I'm sure he's right about marginal comparative gains given his size and sprinting position on the bike. Any relative gains will be specific to rider(s), situation, finishing speed, wind direction and sprint length and therefore impossible to quantify in the real world.

However, I agree with the posters who've said that he's just not as well positioned. A few years ago he was 3rd-5th wheel, no matter where his team were. Last year his train tended to break down under pressure from other strong lead-outs. So far this year (see the Middle East races), he just hasn't been putting himself in the mix like he used to do very consistently. Maybe a bit less desire/need to win and he's got a family and doesn't want to come down at 70kph or maybe the other teams have found a way to shut the door on him. Whatever is going on, let's hope he and Renshaw are hungry for July! He's a lot of fun to watch when he's winning.

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mylesrants [356 posts] 2 years ago
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OVER analysis by everyone. just give er dixey with 250 to go

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Yennings [237 posts] 2 years ago
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Can see the benefits of aero kit in TT scenario but really, in the madness of a bunch sprint won't the surrounding air be rather turbulent anyway? Be that as it may, last year felt like a real changing of the guard, obviously Froome was Sky's priority but even on the Champs it looked like time was starting to catch up with Cav. With a better lead-out train at OPQS he will still win his fair share of stages but Kittel is clearly the coming man.

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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gareth2510 wrote:

surely being a pro cyclist of some merit, Cav knows better than us??
Just saying

Don't be silly, the resident internet experts know more than Cav...
After all sitting behind a keyboard qualifies for knowing what wins a Grand Tour stage.

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mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
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glynr36 wrote:
gareth2510 wrote:

surely being a pro cyclist of some merit, Cav knows better than us??
Just saying

Don't be silly, the resident internet experts know more than Cav...
After all sitting behind a keyboard qualifies for knowing what wins a Grand Tour stage.

Exactly!

Didn't Brailsford just quit to make way for some dude in an armchair?!

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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mooleur wrote:
glynr36 wrote:
gareth2510 wrote:

surely being a pro cyclist of some merit, Cav knows better than us??
Just saying

Don't be silly, the resident internet experts know more than Cav...
After all sitting behind a keyboard qualifies for knowing what wins a Grand Tour stage.

Exactly!

Didn't Brailsford just quit to make way for some dude in an armchair?!

I think the main criteria was how many posts on online forums had candidates made...

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gareth2510 [167 posts] 2 years ago
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glynr36 wrote:
gareth2510 wrote:

surely being a pro cyclist of some merit, Cav knows better than us??
Just saying

Don't be silly, the resident internet experts know more than Cav...
After all sitting behind a keyboard qualifies for knowing what wins a Grand Tour stage.

haha  41

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surly_by_name [410 posts] 2 years ago
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mooleur wrote:

Hope that clears things up!  1

This is almost as much fun as baiting you over equal prize money for (unequal) women's racing.

I'm not as clever as Cav (and I am really supposed to be doing something else), but the relevant bit of the first article (I'm on pages 50 and 51) says nothing more than "you need to stand up to generate power but you have to remember that your drag goes up when you do so by virtue of the increase in your frontal area so the increase in drag means your increased power is partly wasted". This seems about as surprising as "ursines defecate in boreal environments". Its consistent with - and I can see how - getting low over your bars a la Cav in the good old days to reduce CDA so that you get to "keep" more of the increased power you derive from standing up. If I am reading it correctly, the author suggests that the best strategy is probably to stand up to start then sit down at just the right point in time. Cav kinda gets there by getting low over his bars. This is the macro aero advantge thing I've already agreed with you on. Unless it's in the pages I can't read over the internet, I don't see how the article provides any evidence or even any commentary about the benefits of aero frames or helmets to a sprinter. (As an aside, it doesn't actually appear that the author actually tested the effect of increased drag from standing up. He refers to "correcting ... calculated" velocity, i.e., he's measured sitting and standing power output then worked out difference in drag sitting and standing then calculated (NOT measured) the difference. This is a bit different to actually measuring what happens, no?)

As for the other links to research sponsored by the very people who are interested in its outcome, google "Tobacco industry manipulation of research" just for a laugh. Am I wrong, or has Cervelo built a brand around "aero" bikes? And was that the noise of Kask and Specialized (and pretty much everyone else) jumping on the same bandwagon?

Of course, the placebo effect might mean that if Cav thinks it makes him faster then it will.

After that - right about the point you descended into hero worship ("not exactly a secret that he's one of the best in the world at suffering"; "excpetionally [sic] clever") and just before you descended into playing the man and not the ball - I kind of lost the thread of your argument.

Cav has actually grown on me. I used to hate him, especially when he opened his mouth. But jesus he was fast. Now I actually have a bit of time for him - I particularly like the fact that he seems to recognise his place in the sport as a whole, including its development and its history. He's not as fast as he used to be, or others have gotten faster or both - and that's good (in my opinion), 'cause I don't like foregone conclusions and a hard fought victory is always better to watch than an easy one. But I guess I'm a bit too old for heroes, at least ones drawn from the world of sport.

At the risk of descending into the personal - the other thing about getting old is that I'm reconciled to my own shortfallings/don't feel the need to tell everyone how wonderful I am. But if you need to work out your insecurities then you go ahead and post your high school results, your Mensa scores, whatever works for you babe.

Unfortunately hair hasn't been a problem for me for many years now (but I am cool about that as well).

Pretty shortly I am going to go for a ride on my bike. I imagine THAT will clear things up nicely.

Kisses.

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stefv [212 posts] 2 years ago
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chrisp1973 wrote:

I have to say that I think all the points made so far are valid and make sense.

I think you're all missing a very important point though - if I had Peta Todd at home I wouldn't be putting all my energy into sprinting either.

In all seriousness, becoming a father reduces levels of testosterone [insert peer-reviewed reference here].

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