A question came up in the gym the other day about cycling and that led to a talk about the Tour de France. With the Olympic Games in full swing just 40 kilometers from where I live, I thought an article about athletics/sport and how we can learn from athletes might be timely. If you are a cycling fan you will be glued to your televisions every July watching the coverage of what is called the “greatest cycling event” in history. This historic race was in its 96th year last July.. The race course will usually vary from year to year and cities around Europe will vie for the honor of hosting a stage of this great race, just as Cities vie for the opportunity to host a Summer or Winter Olympic Games. 2009 saw the tour begin in Monaco with a 15 km time trial and will continue daily until July 26th.
The race will cover parts of Monaco, Spain and France finishing on July 26th in Paris. The race will cover 3500 kilometers in 21 stages, over flat and mountainous terrain. During the course of the race they will cover 10 flat stages, 8 mountain stages and 3 time trial stages (normally relatively flat). Through this three week period, the racers will have just 2 rest days. Daily mileage will vary from 160 km to 211 km. Imagine spending 5-6 hours climbing through the Pyrenees mountains with probably a sprint finish, rest up the rest of the day and night and get back on your bike to repeat the same thing again and continue this for 3 straight weeks! You can only imagine the condition of these athletes. They are known to consume in excess of 10,000 calories a day and will still probably lose weight over the course of the 3 weeks. But nothing is left to chance with these athletes.
The technical aspects of the race – namely the bicycles and all their components are a whole other topic in itself. To say the technology has advanced over the 96 running of this race would be an understatement. Special
metals that make the frames not only incredibly strong, but feather light is just on advancement in bike technology. Wind tunnel testing is also a common test to help make the bike and riders as aerodynamic as possible.
But, aside from the technology of the bikes, there is also the rider himself to consider. You can bet that nothing is left to chance with the riders as well. Each team will travel with their own physio therapists, massage therapists and associated personnel to ensure that every aspect of the rider's rest and recovery is taken care of. One of the most difficult challenges of this type of event is the recovery of the athlete.
In most sporting event, once the event has taken place the athlete is free to rest, recover and train for the next event which may be days, weeks or months away. But, with this 3 week race, the rider has less than 24 hours to recover and repeat again for 21 days. Along with ensuring that their bodies get the treatments they need to recover, their nutrition is also an integral part of their recovery process. Not only must they fuel throughout the ride, they must ensure that adequate nutrition meaning the right foods in the right amounts at the right time are ingested to promote the recovery process. The same holds true for the Olympic athletes. They are often competing in several events (one sport, but varying distances). Also some sports will have several qualifying heats. This requires these athletes to be able to compete, recover and compete again, usually in a very short period of time.
So what can we take away from the Tour de France? What can we take away from watching these amazing Olympic athletes competing right now in Vancouver, B.C. Canada? We can start by thinking of ourselves as athletes as well. No, we are not competing for the honor of wearing the yellow jersey or to win a medal, but all of us have daily obligations whether it be work or home related that require us to be alert and ready to tackle whatever tasks comes our way. We can all take a little lesson from the the pro riders and athletes and start to treat our own bodies like those of the athletes. Ensure you get the proper nutrition daily, starting with breakfast and continuing throughout the day with small meals. We also need to ensure that we are getting adequate rest to tackle the needs of the day. Without adequate rest you won't be able to operate at your peak and your workouts at the gym will most certainly suffer. Proper nutrition, adequate rest and training are just as important to each of us as it is to the professional bicycle racer battling it out in the mountains of France.
Till next time,