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Brain stimulators and pocket labs – two of the unusual tools riders have been using in their preparation for this year’s Tour de France

Two teams' hi-tech efforts to seek out marginal gains...

Thomas Voeckler once said that he primarily based his training on wind direction, seeking out a headwind for the homeward leg of his journey if he felt like he needed a harder ride. While his overall approach was doubtless a little more sophisticated than that, you still wouldn’t imagine he’s one who’s routinely making use of a brain stimulator or a pocket laboratory.

Business Insider reports that Andrew Talansky and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) have been using portable neuroscience technology to deliver “neuropriming”.

Devised by Silicon Valley startup, Halo Neuroscience, the device in question uses “electrical stimulation during movement-based training to build stronger, more optimised connections between your brain and muscles."

A set of headphones lined with electrodes allied to a mobile phone app, Halo supposedly induces “a temporary state of hyper-learning or 'hyperplasticity' in the brain, which refines the brain's ability to learn and adapt to training.”

Talansky uses Halo three or four times a week, primarily to try and improve his pedalling efficiency as he tires.

“Obviously, as you get deep into repeated high-intensity efforts, your form will naturally deteriorate, and that doesn't contribute at all to the effort, but it takes away watts and energy. So the more fluid and smooth you can be, the better everything is and the more power you're going to put out. That's one of the best applications for me with the Halo technology — just helping the body stay there.”

He believes results could be significant, if not dramatic: “I'd say there's nothing where you're like, ‘I did 20 more watts today.’ But you can look at a time trial and maybe in the last 10 minutes of a 30-minute time trial where you start to become unravelled, like at the Dauphiné or California, and you still feel very solid on the bike, very fluid, able to keep the cadence up.”

LottoNL-Jumbo, meanwhile, have been using ‘pocket labs’ to see how the riders respond to training and racing.

The Ember device, made by Cercacor Laboratories, tracks haemoglobin and other biomarkers and almost instantly tells riders how their bodies are reacting.

The device, which again connects to a smartphone, requires the rider to insert a finger into a small clip sensor. It then measures the flow of blood through arteries using light waves and results appear on the phone’s screen within 30 seconds.

Cercacor says that by monitoring blood when a rider wakes up, after workouts, and before they go to sleep, the device can help give a clearer idea how the body responds to and recovers from training.

Tour of California winner, George Bennett, said: "My season has been built around specific targets, using altitude camps as a major part of my build up for each goal. I have been able to track my progress and the effectiveness of each altitude block as well as help my recovery and adaption using the Ember device."

LottoNL-Jumbo says it will be using Ember during the Tour de France to test riders' haemoglobin levels and other biomarkers.

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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