The Ways to Recover: A Perspective of a Rider, Coach, and Physiotherapist

By Jiri Kaloc

Recovery is essential to professionals at the Tour de France as well as amateurs cycling anywhere around the world. We talked to a coach, physiotherapist, and a pro rider to see what recovery looks like from three different perspectives. You are sure to discover something new, regardless of your experience.

Kasia Niewiadoma, CANYON//SRAM Racing

How has your personal approach to recovery evolved over your career as a professional cyclist?

My approach towards recovery has been evolving each year based on the positive and negative experiences I had during training, racing and travelling. Our race calendar is getting busier with every passing year. Therefore, my recovery and rest have to evolve as well to keep up. I use everything from passive to active conscious recovery, such as getting physio treatment regularly, stretching and solving little body-related problems yourself. It depends on the part of the season because there are moments when all you need to do is stay on the couch but there are also moments where you have to invest a lot of your time into recovery.

Can you share some specific recovery strategies or techniques that you feel have significantly improved your performance in multi-stage races like the Tour de France?

I’m obsessed with Normatec boots, they always make me feel better, and they force me to stay still for 45 minutes where I focus on hydration as well, so it’s like a little nourishment time. I follow this up with a massage, which is very important during a stage race for speeding up the recovery process. And lastly, I stretch my body before going to sleep.

Over the past two decades, have you noticed any significant changes in the emphasis placed on recovery within professional cycling teams?

Recovery has always been an important topic, especially during stage races. Over time, we got access to more tools that help us recover faster, such as compression boots and massage tools that help work on the muscle’s tension before a massage. Having a chef for meal preparation that enhances recovery also changed in the last couple of years.

How have advancements in technology, such as power meters and wearable devices influenced your recovery routines during the Tour de France?

I believe that all technology tools help us get in the best shape before the Tour de France. But then during the race itself, we rely on it a bit less to keep things simple and focus on fuelling, proper hydration, a calm mind, and sound sleep.

Stephen Gallagher, a director at Dig Deep Coaching and a coach at CANYON//SRAM Racing

How do you ensure effective recovery for your athletes during multi-stage races, and how has this approach changed over the last 20 years?

The primary focus of recovery is adequate nutrition needed to help the body repair and recover from intense exercise. With modern research and many years of analysis, nutritional planning has improved and become more specific, enabling quicker recovery and delivering enhanced adaptations from exercise with optimal nutrition intake.

How has mental recovery, including stress and psychological fatigue, evolved in professional cycling over the past two decades? What techniques do you use with your riders?

Modern-day professional sport has many stresses that can affect performance and athletes’ well-being. It is important to acknowledge this and its impact on performance and everyday life. With racing being very intense, mentally and physically, and training very focused and disciplined, it is crucial that our athletes have a period of recovery to “switch off” professional sport. We develop our racing calendar so that riders have this period to relax and step back, which allows them to recharge before coming back to the competition. Riders typically have 5-7 days of rest and recovery after key periods of the season, this allows them to recharge and come back to competition with fresh bodies and minds.

How have advancements in technology, particularly in wearable tech and data analysis, changed the way you monitor and manage recovery for cyclists?

Technology has played a big role in how athletes train and perform. This has allowed us to monitor how the body reacts to stress and look at each athlete much more individually. With wearables becoming a standard part of everyday life, not just in sports, it helps with the consistency in accumulating data to help make informed decisions. An example of what we do is our work with CORE, a continuous body temperature sensor that helps us monitor the body’s temperature fluctuations during and outside of exercise. This wearable device allows us to evaluate how heat is generated and how it impacts performance and helps make informed decisions on developing strategies for our riders in all environments, from hot and humid to cold conditions. After intense exercise, bringing the body down to a lowered core body temperature as quickly as possible is key to recovery.

Lars Schiffner from CANYON//SRAM Racing, physiotherapist

Have the techniques and practices used in physiotherapy changed to speed up the recovery process for cyclists after a gruelling stage in the Tour de France?

Each year our team adds more resources that assist in recovery. More staff for massages, a chef for preparing meals and more tools, such as Normatec compression boots, to help with recovery.

The recovery actually already starts during the race with the right fuelling because “hungry” muscles don’t relax and recover best after the race. Massage is also crucial for a good recovery, and both of these are individualised to the rider. Yoga and fascial release techniques are strategies that riders can do independently. Reducing stress around the athletes is important, so the rider doesn’t need to be worried about anything and can focus their energy on the race performance.

Bike fitting and ergonomic adjustments evolved over the past 20 years, how have these influenced the work of a physiotherapist in professional cycling?

Of course, bike fitting and ergonomics have an important influence on physiotherapy work and have evolved over the years. If you don’t have the correct position in any of the three connection points – the pedals, the saddle, the handlebars — it has the potential to cause injuries, add unnecessary stress, reduce the power output or contribute to slow recovery. Physiotherapists can play an important part in understanding if an imbalance or injury is due to a poor bike fit or a change in a rider’s bike position.

Over the last 20 years, what are the most significant advancements in physiotherapy that have had a positive impact on injury prevention or treatment in professional cycling?

The most significant advancement is that the physiotherapist is thinking about the athlete as a whole. It is a team effort to ensure the athlete is in the best shape possible, and physiotherapy is just one aspect. Techniques have not changed dramatically but the balance of nutrition, mental, physical and many other factors, as well as many different people working with an athlete, are what is on a different level now.