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What do pro riders do on Tour de France rest days?

Here's what the pro riders get up to when they're not racing...

“No such thing as a rest day,” Team Qhubeka NextHash tweeted during a recent Tour de France. That’s right, after suffering over several back-to-back stages the riders might get a well-deserved day off from the racing itself, but you can’t get the pro riders off their bikes.

There are usually two rest days in a three-week Grand Tour – although last year's Tour de France was a little different because the organisers chucked in an extra one to allow for travel back from the Grand Depart in Denmark. The 2023 Tour de France has rest days today and next Monday (17th July)

Pro riders are packing in active recovery rides to stretch out their legs, but it’s not just that on the rest day to-do list. Refuelling, scouting out the next stage, dealing with journalists, sponsor duties, a lot is going on. Okay, there are lie-ins and massages to enjoy too, but a rest day isn't just a full day of relaxing and lazing about.

That said, there is still a significant reduction in the intensity and the volume of exercise on rest days... because all the other days are even crazier!

Let’s have a look at how much easier the pro riders took on a rest day a couple of years ago, and how much recovery they needed.

The EF Education Nippo team – now EF Education-EasyPost – partnered with Whoop for insights into personalised biometrics including heart rate variability, resting heart rate, respiratory rate and sleep performance, to optimise recovery for each rider in the team.

2021 TDF EF Education whoop data

“We’ve been able to measure training load for years now, but that is only four to five hours of the day. Whoop gives us insight into the other 20 hours of the day. Individually, riders have been able to make changes to their routines and prioritise recovery in a data-driven, actionable manner,” said Kevin Sprouse, the head of medicine at EF Education Nippo.

2021 TDF EF Education whoop data team overview

The graph above shows the data Whoop collection for the EF Education team across the first nine stages of the 2021 Tour and into day 10, the rest day.

Looking at the blue top line first, the day strain was really high – day strain is on a scale from zero to 21, and it measures the total cardiovascular load experienced across the day – hitting over 20 for six of the stages, all of which had over 1,600 metres of climbing, whereas on the recovery day this dropped down significantly to 13.2.

Now taking a look at the recovery percentage, after accumulating 546km with 10,969 metres of climbing in the legs across the three days before the rest day, that red 28% on the day off racing says it all—that recovery day was definitely needed.

To dip to that lower day strain doesn't mean not riding at all though. To spin out the legs, the Jumbo-Visma lads for example headed out for a two-hour ride in Tignes on the first rest day of 2021’s Tour. Wout van Aert clocked an average speed of 33.5km/h (20.8mph) for a 42km (26 mile) spin with 474m of climbing.

2021 5 July Wout van Aert rest day ride strava.JPG

Teammate Mike Teunissen uploaded his ride to Strava too but in his case complete with heart rate data and power readings. Across the ride, he had an average heart rate of 82bpm and a max of 118bpm. He averaged 130 watts, with one 20-minute block sitting around the 235-watt mark.

> 8 things you didn’t know about Strava — advanced features for exploring and performance analysis

2021 5 July Mike Teunissen rest day ride strava.JPG

“What’s the furthest you’ve ridden on a ‘Rest Day’?,” Ineos Grenadiers tweeted, along with pictures of the team heading out for their ride.

A better question might have been, “what’s the most climbing you’ve packed into on a rest day ride” though, as Dylan van Baarle squeezed around 600 metres into his 24km (15 miles).

2021 5 July Dylan van Baarle rest day ride strava.JPG

At least Geraint Thomas – who isn't racing the Tour in 2023, of course – managed a lie-in first.

And he had another snooze after recording his Watts Occurring podcast with teammate Luke Rowe.

The riders are also having fun testing unreleased shiny kit from their sponsors while stretching their legs on the bike.

Michael Woods of Israel Start-Up Nation – now called Israel – Premier Tech – was spotted riding a new solid five-spoke disc brake wheel with shallow rims from Factor Bike’s in-house brand Black Inc.




A post shared by Rick Zabel (@rickzabel)

There’s no point trying to look out for these wheels in the Tour de France peloton though as UCI regulations do not permit their use in group competition.

Physical as well as mental recovery is needed though, and food can play a role in both of these areas.

The day before the rest day, the Trek-Segafredo team – now called Lidl-Trek – were treated to burgers and chips, “Tour style, of course” as a rest day tradition.

They nommed a healthy version, consisting of fresh bread, meat with 5% fat, fresh tomatoes, avocado and low-fat cheese, with some salad and roast potato on the side.

Also notably, instead of mayo, ketchup or regular sauce, they had beetroot mousse as studies have shown that beetroot has the potential to reduce muscle pain and inflammation if eaten post-workout.

> How to maximise your recovery and build your fitness

“It’s feeding their body after a hard day and also giving them something for the mind is quite important,” the team’s chef shared in a video on Twitter.

Then there are sponsor shout-out duties to fulfil too, showing you’re putting released sponsored products to good use.

This time Israel Start-Up Nation’s Michael Woods was filmed having SpiderTech's kinesiology tape applied to his legs for aiding recovery.

In the video posted on Twitter, Wood says: “I wear it quite often, particularly because I have knee issues.

“I call it my five-hour ache; after about five hours of riding I often get a bit of pain in the patellar tendon particularly and so I really find the Spider Tech knee tape really helps for that.

“We’re doing both legs today because it’s a recovery day and I really shocked the system the last two days in the mountains.

“It was really challenging hard racing and it was also challenging conditions with the rain, and I find that this lymphatic stuff really helps with reducing inflammation—it just gets you feeling a bit better.”

As well as stretching the legs on the bike, there are some serious tools for helping out the muscles.

Dorian Godon of AG2R Citroen was having a “little bit of rest”, while the team's physiotherapists worked some magic with EME’s Polyter Evo.

AG2R says the portable device is mainly used for recovery sessions.

Last but not least, there are journalists like us, ruining the relaxation by pestering the riders for answers to questions.

Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López carried out this duty for Team Movistar in a live-streamed press conference as part of their rest day.

What are your plans for today’s “rest day” as you recover from watching the thrilling racing?

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Paul J | 9 months ago

The kinesiology tape is hilarious. There's no plausible physiological mechanism behind it, and - consistent with that - never any scientific result to show any difference to it (besides placebo effects).

Hirsute replied to Paul J | 9 months ago
1 like

That's what I said to the physio when she taped me up and yet my pain was reduced in my trip home.

Paul J replied to Hirsute | 9 months ago

The placebo effect is quite real. Your head will perceive differences/benefits when it wants to, or expects it should.

This stuff is "placebo tape".

quiff replied to Paul J | 9 months ago

I don't understand your point. You seem to be disparaging the tape for being physiologically pointless. But if the placebo effect is quite real, then it is still beneficial, no? From a non-scientist.   

Paul J replied to quiff | 9 months ago
quiff wrote:

I don't understand your point. You seem to be disparaging the tape for being physiologically pointless. But if the placebo effect is quite real, then it is still beneficial, no? From a non-scientist.   

Fair observation. Here's the problem:

1. There are cheaper placebos out there.

2. The riders and/or the team and/or the team "physiologist" may well be getting sponsored to have the rider out with these things visible on global television. So, it's not that they're getting a placebo benefit that bothers me, but that they may be getting a financial benefit out of helping to legitimise and sell rubbish to the public.

quiff replied to Paul J | 9 months ago

Fair enough. But if there's a benefit (even if only placebo), then they're not selling rubbish to the public.

My understanding is that the placebo effect is observable even when people know they've been given a placebo. Given that premise, I wonder if anyone has ever (successfully) transparently marketed a commercial product as placebo, e.g. "there is no evidence this tape produces physiological benefits, but 9/10 customers said it made them feel better"  

Hirsute replied to Paul J | 9 months ago
1 like

You can explain what went on then.
My mindset was this was not going to do anything being a basic sceptic and expecting the worst, yet it had a positive outcome.

I think it also depends on the problem and the physio's knowledge and ability.

Matthew Acton-Varian replied to Hirsute | 9 months ago
1 like
Hirsute wrote:

You can explain what went on then. My mindset was this was not going to do anything being a basic sceptic and expecting the worst, yet it had a positive outcome. I think it also depends on the problem and the physio's knowledge and ability.

Yes. I have had injuries where I have had muscles or joints want to move in way they should not. Alongside physiotherapy, using kinesiology tape has help keep everything in place allowing freedom of movement where I otherwise could not rebuild strength. My wife also suffers from chronic illness which affects her musculoskeletal system leaving her very susceptible to repeated injury and joint weakness. She has used it many times and has given her the ability to just function and get through the day when otherwise she would be bedridden. 

I am also lucky to have a mother-in-law who has worked with (amongst others) GB Archery and Equestrian Teams (both human and equine patients) Including at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, and the Oxford Rowing Team. Her knowledge of biomechanics is absolutely mind blowing.

It's not a magic performance pill. It is there to prevent the worsening, and allowing the healing, of certain injuries whilst allowing you to remain active. 

Pogacar is wearing it on the wrist he broke, because if he didn't, he would be in one hall of a lot of pain where the pressure is applied to the healing fracture, and the surrounding muscles which may have weakened in that time.

nniff replied to Paul J | 9 months ago

It's witchcraft.  I know it's witchcraft.  I have shonky knees (two lots of cartillage removed from one, plus a fight with a car) and when it hurts  (it's always 'when' rather than 'if') I stick some tape on and forget about it - it stays on for about 5 days at a time - it stops hurting fairly quickly. 

I've done a lot of 'keep it until it gets better' and it doesn't.  I got to the point when I was sure I was going to have to go and see a man with a knife again, but thought I'd give it another go - that was about a year ago.  It's good and bad - when I have a relapse, I put some tape on for a couple of weeks and it sorts itself out.  The pain goes fairly quickly and it stabilises over those few weeks.

About 10 weeks without at the moment, but it's grumbling again....

I have no idea how or why it works, especially with a knee.  I don't even bother with the full KT tape knee construction any more - just a strip under my knee cap with a curl upwards on the inside...


leipreachan replied to Paul J | 9 months ago

> There's no plausible physiological mechanism behind it

sometimes it's "No plausible physiological mechanism found so far"

> besides placebo effects

and alone placebo effect is better than NO placebo effect because it's not a doping

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