Once a year, the world’s best riders sweep across 3,500 of the finest French kilometres. The riders tackle brutal stages often close to 200km and crossing mountain ranges such as the Alps and Pyrenees.
This task requires a lot of calories. In today’s tour, riders will burn upwards of 5,000 calories a day. For 176 riders completing a three-week race; that’s up to 18.5 million calories between the peloton.
Fueling riders for victory has become an art form and the artists are not just the ones pedalling.
In the early days of the Tour, the chosen fuel was typically steak, whisky and cigars. These were the days when riders would change into the big ring for the summer and the small ring for the winter. Since then, teams have adopted slightly more sophisticated tactics.
It wasn’t till the 90’s that a team brought along a chef to the tour and as late as 2005; one team chef named Allen Lim swapped out traditional pasta for rice to the fury of European traditionalists. “Just before the 2010 Tour, I was packing things up at the service course and in a back room found about 15 rice cookers that the Euro staff had stolen and tried to hide from me,” he recalls. Lim was ahead of his time.
In the modern era, it was Team Sky who introduced the now ubiquitous strategy of ‘marginal gains’. This meaning that every aspect of a riders day, their equipment and their riding however seemingly small would be considered. Many hundreds of these marginal advantages resulted in members of this team on the top step of the Tour for 7 of the past 8 editions of the race. Here is a good idea of what goes into team nutrition from GCN during the Giro d’Italia in 2018:
Nutrition was crucial to this and you would now not find a single team without chefs, nutritionists and sports nutrition sponsors all there to ensure riders perform at their best.
To keep riders fueled, each stage will have a ‘feed zone’ where team helpers or ‘soigneurs’ will pass out food bags known as ‘musettes’ to their riders.
Typical goody bag contents would include cans of soft drink, rice cakes, sandwiches as well as the team’s sports nutrition products including bars and gels. It’s important to mix between real food and performance food so as to maintain the riders appetite (and mood!)
Team cars will be on hand to hand out bottles throughout each stage. Workhorse riders known as ‘domestiques’ who are there solely to support their leaders will regularly be seen loaded with as many bottles as they can carry moving their way through the peloton handing them out to teammates.
As ever, the UCI have rules around taking on food as well as the unwritten rules made through the generations of expected sportsmanship. There are penalties for anyone accepting food within the first 30km and the final 20km of a race.
Much more interestingly, there is an unwritten rule that no one attacks passing through or just after the feed zone, giving everyone time for their lunch. Drama has been caused plenty of times in the past, famously in 1990 when the full PDM team attacked during the feed under instructions from their team director no less! This type of indiscretion is met generally with verbal abuse and tactical mutiny from other teams and riders.