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Eat, Pray and Ride

By We Love Cycling

After a slice of ham, a sip of wine and a fresh baguette they mounted their bikes and pedalled to victory! It may have worked back then, in days of yore, but today a cyclist’s stomach is full of things that are best avoided.

Maurice Garin became a star thanks to his victory in the first ever Tour de France and without a moment’s hesitation after the race he managed to negotiate something completely unheard of for the following year, free food and drink after each stage. “You surely don’t want the stars of the race to starve,” Garin pressured the organisers, but unfortunately the other riders were not so lucky.  A certain Jules Deloffre, for instance, took part in fifteen Tours, where in the evenings he used to have to perform acrobatic tricks on his bike in order to get enough money for something to eat and a place to stay. “Rider-catering” created a complete microcosm in the history of the sport.

Cyclists Cooling Off During the 12th Stage of the 1961 Tour de France
(The frontrunners cool off during the 12th stage of the 1961 Tour de France at a fountain in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

Stopping off at a bar, have a drink and a sandwich along with a quick breather and off you go again was the recipe for François Faber, hero of the 1909 Tour. Celebrating a stage victory with a cigarette was just the ticket for 1960 champion Gaston Nencini. Heading out to a party on a rest day and going overboard on the wine a bit, even though you were the Tour favourite was par for the course for Jacques Anquetil in 1964. Riders were expected to turn in super-human performances, but it always used to be clear that deep down they were people and not machines. What is it like today though?

(Spain’s Alberto Contador bites his energizing bars as he rides during the 13th stage of Tour de France 2010. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

According to nutritional scientists, the average person gets by on about 1,500 calories a day, whereas a Tour rider needs at least 4,500 more, totalling a daily intake of at least 6,000 calories, the equivalent to more than three kilograms of meat. A twenty-first-century cyclist’s normal day starts with a solid breakfast three hours prior to the race, during which they have to stuff themselves with cereal, porridge or rice and other high-calorie foods. Just one hour later they have to take on carbohydrates, in a consistency designed to release energy slowly, so it’s ready to call on once the race begins. The carbs are usually consumed in a pint glass brimming with a nasty looking milkshake, full of dubious components that are best not to inquire about. The real “goodies” come out on the course though where all sorts of energy gels, bars and drinks top up the competitor’s “juice” and the whole thing is reminiscent of a soldier’s ration-pack in overdrive.

(Spain’s Alejandro Valverde eats a banana as he rides during the 18th stage of Tour de France 2013.)

That’s not the all as things are far from over when the rider’s wheels cross the finish line. Once the race is over they have need to start drinking gallons of water and other drinks to rehydrate the body and aid recovery. The post-race meal is generally served with tasty little morsels, where the only importance is that they consist of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat. Gone are the days when the riders would be given lemonade on the side of the road, warm up with rum during the mountain stages, and on hot days drink directly from horse troughs. The gastronomes are long gone and the only way to win in this day and age is with science!

Text: Honza Hanzlík