The most famous bike race in the world has had its fair share of scandals and controversies during its 116-year history. One thing that remains constant, however, is the intensity. The Tour de France transpires over 23 days and takes riders through different terrains around France and its surrounding countries.
It’s considered one of the most difficult athletic feats in the world. Every year, nearly 200 riders from around the world participate in the Tour de France. So, what exactly does it take to be a contender?
The Tour de France’s route is not made for beginners
While the Tour de France’s route changes slightly every year, it always consists of 21 stages and about 2,000 miles. Some stages go through the Alps and the Pyrenees mountains while time trial sections occur on flatter ground. Depending on the terrain, each stage takes anywhere from two to six hours to complete.
In the more difficult stages of le Tour, a competitor may burn up to 7,000 calories in a day. In comparison, an Ironman competitor burns about 7,000 to 10,000 calories throughout the whole race. That’s nearly the same amount as a Tour de France rider burns in a single day!
How do riders train for the Tour de France?
It’s hard for bikers to determine when they should be at their peak performance during the three-week race. Most teams train year-round in preparation. The route is usually disclosed in October or November, which is when training becomes more detailed.
At this point, training can be up to 30 hours per week. Riders focus on building up an aerobic foundation to be able to maintain their intensity during the whole race. As time goes on, riders must focus on every part of their body to prepare. They will build muscle, work on flexibility, and practice sprinting. They’ll bike on hilly terrain to prepare for the stages through mountains.
Most riders participate in other races in the spring as a means of training for the Tour de France. In doing so, they can evaluate their weaknesses, so they can tweak their final training sessions as needed.
During the Tour de France
When July comes and the Tour de France is ready to kick off, riders must be at their peak athletic performance. Surprisingly, most riders maintain their exact weight throughout the race, eating as many as 6,000 calories a day to replace the calories they’ve lost while racing.
While there’s no way to know for sure if a rider has trained sufficiently, utilizing their teammates helps immensely. Teams consist of eight people, each with a designated strength where they can get ahead of the crowd. By doing this, teams can give the leader the opportunity to be in the best position possible to win it all.
No matter how hard you train, some things are out of your control. Intense exercise for extended periods of time can actually depress your immune system, making it easier to get sick. While the honor of winning the Tour de France is enough motivation for these professionals, it’s hard to imagine training up to 30 hours per week for almost a whole year, only to be sidelined by a stomach bug.