Le Tour de France: Chess on Wheels

2014 peloton (2) cropped Whew!  I just finished the 9th stage of the Tour de Franceand really worked up a sweat.  Okay, maybe I didn’t literally ride 170 kilometers across the hills and mountains of Lorraine and Alsace. But I do speed along with them on my stationary bike.  Today I sprinted the last 15kms to the finish line. The Tour de France has completely, totally taken over my life. On July 5th 198 cyclists set off on the 21-day race that finishes in Paris on July 27th.  The riders in the 101th Tour de France will cover 2,277 miles made up of 21 stages: nine flat stages, five hill stages, six mountain stages with five altitude finishes, and one individual time trial. Last Wednesday’s stage across the north of France included some cobblestone sections that hurt just to watch. 2014_Cycling-Tour-de-France_cobblestones I’m not sure when I fell in love with the Tour de France, but several years ago I found myself glued to the television for 21 days as I became increasingly aware of the strategies behind the wheels. To those who are avid and knowledgeable cyclists, forgive me, but the Tour, and others like it I assume, is a grand game of chess played out on the roads of France and its neighbors.  Each of the nine riders on a team has a job to do. Some are sprinters, others (the domestiques) provide the draft for those who hope to wear the yellow jersey (the maillot jaune) on the podium in Paris, while still others vie for the title of King of the Mountain.

Putting my food blogger hat on I began to wonder: What do these guys eat? After all, they burn 3,500 to 4,500 calories on a single stage, plus they need an additional 1,500 to 2,000 calories to sustain the body’s normal daily functioning.  According to Bicycling magazine, “each day the cyclists consume 5,000 to 6,000 calories. That’s the equivalent of six pounds of steak or, in Garmin’s case, two boxes of Chocolate-Chip Clif Bars and a half-dozen gels.” Team Sky rider Froome of Britain eats his lunch while cycling among the pack after crashing during the 163.5 km fourth stage of the Tour de France cycling race from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to Lille If I was told that I had to eat 5,000 calories-worth of food in a day I would head straight for the ice cream freezer at Shoprite. But the riders are not as lucky. Their diet during the race is as strategic as the team’s composition and route planning, but it sounds like a science project: slow-release carbohydrate mix, gels, chews, Clif bars, rice bars, paninis (for lunch—“it’s important to still have a regular lunch during a long day of pedaling to maintain your body’s normal rhythm”), cold water, soda, a recovery drink (a sweet and fruity carbohydrate mix), white rice and egg dishes. They might get an optional second recovery drink–chocolate-flavored, protein-packed–to aid muscle repair. Dinner is real food, again to avoid G.I. distress but ”prepared with the team’s usual mix, 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fats.”

I think this will not be a food blog. 2014 TDF Stage 10 map Monday morning I plan to be back on my stationary bike, following closely the moves the teams make as they jockey for position, calculate the breakaway, manage the peloton, accumulate points.  I’ll make a Quiche Lorraine for lunch to celebrate Bastille Day and the three days I’ve just spent (virtually) in that region. Maybe I’ll also have some protein-packed chcolate milk. For muscle repair, of course.

The Tour de France is carried several times a day on NBC Sports http://www.nbcsports.com/cycling.   Photo credits:  Peloton,ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images,  The Epoch Times;  cobblestones, Cycling Weekly; lunch, Reuters; map, letour.com.

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