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How do Tour de France riders eat on the go?

It takes a whole lot of calories to get through a stage, and here's how the racers take them all on board
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I think we can all agree that snacks are one of life’s great pleasures, but riding the Tour de France requires a lot of calories: 5,000, 6,000 or even more on every stage. You’re not going to get by on a couple of Mars bars. So how do the pros get enough nutrition on board?

What do pros eat on a Tour de France stage?

A rider will eat mostly carbs during a stage… a lot of carbs. 

Let’s bring back our friendly pretend pro, the one who punctured the other day when we were looking at what happens when a rider punctures in a big race. After a hearty breakfast of porridge followed by scrambled eggs and avocado on toast with some fruit on the side, it’s off to the start line with pockets full of snacks. 

Psssssst! What happens when a rider punctures in the Tour de France? …More than you might think

Today’s stage should be fairly straightforward, with a small breakaway expected to go early. It’s a flat stage with a category 2 climb to finish and our pro needs to keep the team leader in a good position for the start of the ascent.

High5 Energy Gel Caffeine

Snacking starts with a tasty rice cake once the breakaway riders have bid adieu to the peloton. These are small cubes of pudding rice with some flavouring like a chopped up date or apricot. They take a little bit of chewing, so it’s best to get these down when the going is easy.

As the race meanders its way through the day, our pro friend fishes an energy bar out of his back pocket. Packed with carbs, these are great for keeping energy levels topped up. One per hour of riding should do the trick.

PowerBar New Energize energy bar .jpg

Washing all of this down is some tasty energy drink, again filled with carbs and also key electrolytes (salts) that our rider will be losing as he sweats in the midday sun. With two bottles on his bike and another collected from the team car as he returned to the peloton after answering a call of nature, a pro will get through a 500ml bottle every hour.

The supply chain

Being out of snacks is always annoying, but when you’ve got a long way to ride, it’s a recipe for running out of energy. This is where the team will work to ensure that its leader and support riders are topped up with fuel.

There are a few ways that teams get food and drink to their riders. The easiest for a team leader is to have another rider drop back to the team car. After the leader places their order, the teammate heads to the back of the peloton, pops their hand in the air to signal to the race director’s car that they require service, and the rider’s team car is called up to assist. 

In the meantime, the teammate can radio the team car to say what is needed, allowing those inside to get everything ready. Once loaded up with bottles and energy gels or bars, the rider will make their way back through the peloton before distributing the snacks.

A rider can carry a lot of bottles, usually at least eight inside their jersey. If there isn’t much room to move through the bunch then they will shout “service” so that riders make room for them. It is a tiring job that takes a lot longer than you’d think. On a hot day, that rider will be back and forth almost non-stop. It’s a job that many viewers never even see.

Musettes

Madison-Genesis musette pass at 2014 Tour of Britain (picture courtesy Madison-Genesis)

A musette is a little shoulder bag that’s filled with food and drink, and it’s a great way to hand riders their nutrition (here's a Team Sky one off of the old days, below). There might be water bottles, energy bars, gels, fruit, cake, and so on in the musette.

MUS04-Team-Sky-Musette-1-e_MEDIUM

Soigneurs (staff who do loads of different jobs within a team) stand on the side of the road in designated feed zones with musettes held aloft. Riders grab a musette on the fly and sling it over their shoulder, so it’s a bit like a cycling version of a drive thru McDonald’s. Although the soigneurs wear team colours – maybe a jersey and a hat – and the musettes carry the relevant team’s logo, it can still be a chaotic process when you have 22 teams of eight riders in the race. 

There’s a zone for waste just before and just after the feeding zone so that riders can ditch their rubbish, and another just before the final 20km of the stage begins.

Feeding rules

You’ll have heard last week that Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe was given a 20-second time penalty for taking a water bottle when it wasn’t permitted, costing him the race lead.

UCI Cycling Regulations say:

2.3.027 All feeding (from a car and on foot) is strictly forbidden: 

during the 30 first and last 20 kilometres; 

- in the last kilometre before a sprint counting for a secondary classification (points classification, king of mountain classification or others), bonus sprint, feeding zone; 

- in the 500 meters after a sprint counting for a secondary classification (points classification, king of mountain classification or others), bonus sprint, feeding zone; 

- on descents of mountains listed on the mountain classification; 

- in any other area specified by the organiser or the commissaires panel.

Alaphilippe was given a bottle inside the last 20km, hence the penalty. Them's the rules. 

Back in the 2013 Tour de France, Chris Froome made the decision to send teammate Richie Porte back to the team car to fetch a gel within the final 20km of stage 18 because he was in danger of cracking before the finish. Froome knew that he could be sanctioned as a result, but figured it was better than bonking. Both Froome and Porte were given 20-second penalties.

 

Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.

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