Pawel Poljanski is an elite cyclist from Poland who rides with the German professional team, Bora–Hansgrohe. After the 16th stage of the 2017 Tour de France he posted the above image of his legs on Instagram on 19 July with the comment, “After 16 stages I think my legs look a little tired.” The photo received a lot of attention in social media with a lot of cynical comments that the appearance may be due to something sinister (such as suspicions of drug use; it wasn’t). We was 27yrs of age at that time.
The cause of the appearance is blood flow going to the stretched superficial veins in a well trained and hard exercising elite cyclist with very little body fat to conceal the venodilation. This is normal and will probably happen to everyone after prolonged exercise in warm conditions, but is not typically visible as most people have more body fat than elite cyclists. When competing the deep veins via the muscle pumps return venous blood, however, after the stage or race, that muscle action stops and the venous blood flows to the more superficial veins.
Varicose veins are different again as they occur when the valves fail and are prominent on standing; are typically painful and the ankles swell. That is not happening in Poljanski’s legs.
He went on to finish 80th overall in the race, 2:53 behind the 4th time winner, Christopher Froome. Pawel Poljanski retired from competitive cycling in 2020.
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