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September 4th, 2007

Riding the grueling Tour de France bike race takes strength, stamina — and perhaps a heart nearly 40 percent bigger than normal.

Researchers who examined the hearts of former Tour bikers found that the athletes’ hearts were from 20 to 40 percent larger than average, said Dr. Francois Carre of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Rennes, France, speaking at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

The difference is attributable largely to rigorous training that expands the cyclists’ hearts. But researchers have not yet determined whether the athletes’ hearts were larger to begin with.

“They are a special breed,” said Dr. Richard Becker, a professor of medicine at Duke University and spokesman for the American Heart Association. Becker was not connected to Carre’s study.

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