As the 2019 Tour de France rolls toward its conclusion, we’ve seen riders test themselves in races against the clock, bunch sprints, steep climbs… and the inevitable crashes. And even if you aren’t a super fan, there’s a lot we can all learn from the gear and nutrition riders in Le Tour use. While many of the bikes might seem exorbitantly expensive, the principles guys like Geraint Thomas and Peter Sagan rely on to speed around France in July are no different than what you need to snag your neighborhood KOM or set a new PR in your summer century. After nearly three weeks of racing, here are five key items and concepts that stand out.
1. Light Makes Right (Especially Uphill)
The Gear: The UCI limits bikes to 6.8 kg or greater. In previous years this hasn’t been hard to hit and smaller riders have ended up adding weight to their bikes. However the addition of disc brakes has increased bike weight a little. While this is a worthwhile trade off for most thanks to the increased descending speed, bike racers don’t want to give away an extra ounce if they don’t have to. That’s the thinking behind Canyon’s latest release, the $12,000 Ultimate CF Evo Disc, a medium-sized bike that can hit the UCI weight limit. There is no lighter bike to climb on, but the disc brakes allow riders to rip down the mountains faster than ever before.
The Lesson: The first thing you do when you get a new bike is lift it up, because lighter bikes just feel faster. In recent years, we have learned about the importance of aerodynamics, but this hasn’t displaced the fact that at low speeds (i.e. uphill) and when accelerating, a light bike is unquestionably faster. You might not want to drop the cost of a small car on the new Ultimate, but you can learn from Canyon nonetheless. Smart choices of seatpost, wheels, tires and a new handlebar are what keep this bike so lean. If you’re looking to improve your climbing, the simplest and cheapest way to do so is taking weight off your bike, whether that means a lighter set of wheels or simply not carrying as much crap in your saddle bag.
2. Aero Extends All Over
The Gear: Last year Cannondale launched the SystemSix, a race bike that looks more like a sport motorcycle. The wheels and aerofoil tubes are designed with one goal in mind: aerodynamics. The SystemSix cuts through the wind faster than a conventional road bike, meaning that riders save energy all day. Even on a climbing stage, arriving at the bottom of the mountain fresh might be more important than having a light bike that you have to work harder to get to the climb. When you factor in the high climbing speeds on many Tour stages, you can understand Cannondale’s claim that their bike is “faster everywhere.”
The Lesson: The biggest aerodynamic gains on modern bikes come from integration. Flapping cables and round handlebars aren’t aero. If you’re not in the market for a new bike, simply shortening your cables, or perhaps investing in an integrated barstem with internal cable routing, will save you valuable watts. Of course most of the drag comes from the rider, so you can slam that stem while you’re at it and make sure you’re wearing form-fitting clothing that doesn’t flap in the wind.
3. Sitting Comfortably Counts
The Gear: Shimano’s new PRO Stealth Superlight Saddle weighs in at just 145g for the climbing days, thanks to a one-piece carbon construction. But despite how it might look, the saddle retains the all-day comfort of Pro’s other models thanks to a wide cutout designed to relieve pressure on the nerves that run through the perineum. Saddles with padding can actually press on this area as the padding moves around under the rider, meaning that minimalist saddles like the Stealth, which keep pressure on the bones and not the soft tissue, might be a better option.
The Knowledge: If you don’t interface with your bike comfortably, you’re not going to be able to put out power for a long period of time. Shimano offers the Stealth saddle in various widths, to accommodate different pelvic anatomies. With services like Cyclefit (which offers pressure mapping of saddles to help you find a comfortable perch) and bikefitting.com now available to consumers, you can ensure that you ride injury free and comfortably, a much wiser investment of your money than shiny new gear.
4. Proper Hydration Leads to Domination
The Gear: Peter Sagan relies mostly on his superhuman talents to win races, but Osmo’s Active Hydration Performance Drink Mix certainly helps. The multiple world and national champ and green jersey winner chooses Osmo thanks to its highly absorbable electrolytes and easily digestible carbs. Before big stages, Tour riders forgo fibrous foods to make sure their stomachs and intestines aren’t full of fiber, which is not only heavy but also can upset the stomach during hard efforts in the heat.
The Knowledge: Heading into a big race, especially one uphill in the heat, you may wish to consider a low residue diet. Although it isn’t healthy in the long term, a few days of rice, white pasta and eggs might reduce the load you’re lugging. The most important thing is liquids, though. Coming into a race properly hydrated and staying that way throughout the ride is probably the cheapest and easiest way to ensure an optimal performance. Simply sipping on sports drinks and monitoring the color of your urine is an easy way to maintain your hydration.
5. You Can Recover Quicker With… Rice
The Gear: Ever since cycling’s favorite sports nutrition nerd Allen Lim started working with pro teams, he has begun to incorporate simple and sensible nutritional practices that enhance recovery. Knowing that fueling up right after a big day is the best way to kickstart the process, he began preparing rice for team riders in their bus so it was hot and ready when they finished the stage. At first, others laughed, but now you’ll hard pressed to find a team at the Tour that doesn’t have a rice cooker like the Gourmia GRC770 their bus.
The Knowledge: After a big ride, if you have another effort soon after, you need to focus on refuelling with some easily absorbed carbohydrates. If you don’t have the luxury of a soigneur (team helper) to prepare some rice for you, cook some up the night before and leave it in the fridge. When you get home, crack a couple of eggs on top and reheat the rice for a delicious way to refill your gas tank.