The Demands of the Tour de France, with Ciaran O’Grady

What exactly does it take to race the Tour—physiologically, psychologically, spiritually? We'll break it down with the help of a WorldTour physiologist.

pro cyclist Fast Talk Laboratories
Photo: Arni Svanur Danielsson

Right now, the 2019 Tour de France is in full swing. Yesterday we saw the riders crawl up the steep finishing raps of La Planche des Belles Filles, and today, as we speak, they’re churning through all 230 kilometers of this year’s longest stage. If you’re like us, every day, for most of July, you’re pretending to work while you surreptitiously watch the biggest race of them all, cleverly tucking the livestream behind some important looking Word document. For three weeks we watch the best bike racers in the world tear themselves apart for four-plus hours per day and wonder if we ever could have done something like that. What exactly does it take to race the Tour — physiologically, mentally, spiritually. Each day these phenomenal athletes race an event that would shatter most of us in just one day. But then they also have to contend with answering reporters questions, pleasing sponsors, transferring between hotels, trying to eat enough food to cover the day’s expenditures, and, finally and perhaps most importantly, trying to get quality sleep. It’s a feat that’s hard to comprehend, so today we’ll try to give a sense of what it takes to race the Tour. We’ll cover:

  • First, an overview of the Tour from a numbers perspective, and why the numbers really don’t tell the tale.
  • Our guest, Ciaran O’Grady will explain his role as a Tour team physiologist and coach.
  • The many challenges of the Tour outside of racing, including not only what I mentioned above, but also not missing the bus, handling the food, and what happens when you get sick.
  • Why getting dropped by the peloton doesn’t make for as easy a day as you might think.
  • What happens to the riders physiologically over the three weeks and why, in essence, it’s just a controlled burnout.
  • How riders try to recover day-to-day, especially when they’re dealing with injuries.
  • How riders train for the Tour and why having incredible endurance comes first. Then we’ll take a deeper dive into how the different types of riders prepare, from GC contenders to stage hunters and domestiques.

Finally, we’ll try to pull all this together and talk about what mere mortals should and shouldn’t take from Tour riders, whether we’re preparing for a weekend race or a three-day stage race. Our primary guest today is Ciaran O’Grady, one of the team physiologists for the Dimension Data WorldTour team. Along with Ciaran, we catch up with one of our favorite guests, Brent Bookwalter of Mitchelton-Scott. Brent has now completed nine grand tours, so he had a lot to say about what it’s like getting through 23 grueling days. We also talked with Houshang Amiri, a former Canadian National and Olympic coach who runs the Pacific Cycling Centre. He’s coached Tour athletes and had a few thoughts to share on getting athletes ready for a grand tour. So, get your bidons and your musettes and your baguettes and your crepes, let’s make you fast!

Primary Guest Ciaran O’Grady: Physiologist for Team Dimension Data Secondary Guests Houshang Amiri: Former Canadian National and Olympic coach who runs the Pacific Cycling Centre Brent Bookwalter: Pro cyclist with Mitchelton-Scott

Episode Transcript

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