Belgian cyclist Tim Declercq has been a fixture in Grand Tours for years. He is a domestique, the workhorse of the peloton, and currently rides for Soudal–Quick-Step. Declercq recently sat down with Dr. Stephen Seiler to discuss his cycling career, a day in the life on a Grand Tour like the Tour de France, and how cycling has changed over the years.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 00:03
It’s good to see you again. We had coffee in Bilbao about exactly a month ago and it was the day before the start of the Tour de France.
Tim Declercq 00:17
Yes, quite a lot has happened since then.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 00:22
For you, but not so much for me. I went to vacation and then you went into the toughest job in sports, arguably. So I’ve had a long vacation. Now I’m back at work and you’ve been working your butt off in the peloton and I’m a huge fan both of the Tour de France, I’ve been watching it for years all the way back to Greg LeMond because I’m American.
So my first exposure to the Tour de France was through this guy named Greg LeMond who won three times and then I’ve been following it from Norway and in the last five or six years, you’ve been one of the names that always is there and of course you have the nickname “El Tractor.” The listeners are going to know you a lot, or a lot of them do, but not everyone perhaps, and so we can give a little background. You’re Belgian.
Tim Declercq 01:24
Dr. Stephen Seiler 01:25
You live in a city called Leuven.
Tim Declercq 01:27
No, I was born in Leuven because my dad was an assistant professor at the time at the University there, but all my roots are in West Flanders. So a little bit more to the west now.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 01:43
Okay. It’s very important to say that. I don’t want to get anybody scared. It seems like Belgium has a very clear defined you know, like you are from Flanders or you are from another part of that. I mean, it’s kind of interesting country.
Tim Declercq 02:01
Even in Flanders itself, there is somebody who is completely from the West like me, it’s almost a completely different language to the people from the East, who it’s just Limbergh. If you speak a dialect, one another cannot, we cannot easily understand. So it’s a little bit sensitive, but it’s nice.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 02:29
I’ve been in several places in Belgium and all I can say is fantastic food, fantastic cycling, fantastic beer, without a doubt and first of those, of course, cycling is extremely strong in Belgium. So you grew up in the fire of the Belgium, cycling talent development system. When did you start cycling? How old were you?
How Tim Declercq Began Cycling
Tim Declercq 03:06
First of all, I don’t come from a cycling family. My dad like the sport, but in his cycling career, he only did one race, student race where he kept on talking about almost every month that they hit 40 kilometers an hour with normal bikes. Yeah, I think I had the idea that I said maybe, maybe we can try it better, but I had to wait until I was 12, which was not bad I think for my parents. They said you can start cycling but only when you’re 12 years old. So I had to wait until then and then from then I started.
Got some good moments in the beginning of my career, but I got quite a severe mononucleosis and then I got a little setback and I never thought actually I could make it to the pros, but then my last year under 23, I was living a little bit off of the good student life, but then the year before I was seventh in body repair without really doing everything for my sport and then I had the idea, maybe we can try one year to put everything on everything and I became Belgian champion that year, so then I could make it to a top spot which was not so expected, but still nice to make it to the pros.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 04:44
That was what? 211 or 210? Somewhere in there.
Tim Declercq 04:47
211. Had quite the good year.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 04:50
You were the under-23 national champion for Belgium right and then you join the Top Sport Flander team, which is kind of, I guess, a talent development team for Flanders. So you were kind of one step below or one or two steps below a world tour team for a few years.
Tim Declercq 05:13
Cycling as a Team and Declercq’s Role
Dr. Stephen Seiler 05:14
When you won a national championship bet at some point, and we’ve talked a bit before, and this—cycling has so many different roles within a team. There’s different kinds of cyclists, sprinter types and puncher and climbers and GC candidates. When did you kind of start evolving towards the role that you are in now because you have a very specific role on the Quick-Step team?
Tim Declercq 05:45
I could during, believe it or not because in the under 23 I was still quite fast. I won the national championship in the sprint and also my first year with Top Sport I won the race in the sprinter, but as I developed as a professional rider, I could feel that I ended up in the in the pro ranks I lacked a little bit the exclusivity to do the very nice results.
I was a lot of times there in the final like we were if you were away with seven, eight guys, I was always seventh or eighth so I could be there when it was a long, long and hot race when the exclusivity of some of the other guys was already a little bit gone, but it was quite hard to get other teams convinced that I could have my role in the world to peloton, but then luckily I got the chance from Patrick LeFevre who I had to do some testing there and he had the faith that I could do it because I had the physical capabilities I think not to win the races myself, but to be a very good domestique and I was confident in myself that I was made to do this that there was that this role would suit me best and I’m still very, very glad and proud to still do it nowadays.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 07:30
Yeah and you are like you said you’re a domestique and more specifically, you are the athlete, the cyclist that they send to the front of the peloton if a breakaway goes out and I guess normally the commentators will always say that your job is to keep the breakaway from getting too far ahead or eventually you might have to pull them in. You’re going to be part of the machinery that’s going to start eating up the time gap and getting your guys in position for a sprint or something. So that that’s your daily, almost daily job. I guess it’s fair to say. Right?
Tim Declercq 08:15
For sure in the tour. There are also some other time like in the climbs I have to stay a lot of time with our sprinter Fabio and also calculate a little bit the time limits. We don’t have to go for us it’s not full of course on the climbs, but then in the valleys we have to try to make time up so then we have to go full gas also on the downhill and also sometimes my job is also to bring guys in the front for an important point. This is not always seen so much of course, but this is also quite an important part of the job.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 09:00
Yes and this year was tough because the team lost Fabio Jakobsen, the designated sprinter, an outstanding sprinter and so that really already early in the tour, Quick-Step kind of had to re-shuffle a bit and think through things and so tell me about that. I mean what happens when the team you kind of organized everything around a certain key your approach and then you crash out, somebody crashes out. What do you do then?
How to Adapt to a New Cycling Team Dynamic
Tim Declercq 09:29
Yeah, of course. The team designed it to think what was our best shot at taking victories and, of course, our best shot I think was taking pictures in the sprint with Fabio, but this year’s Tour de France was exceptionally hard also.
The parkour and we thought our best shot would be to try to win as early as possible, but then unfortunately the first day I think we did a very good job, very good lead out, but we got boxed in a bit and then the second sprint chance, he crashed. And then we had to go to the mountains and I think also for him, when you crash and even if you have nothing broken with all the skin you lose, takes so much energy from the body. And I think the body is craving and saving all the time to him, just give me some rest because I need to recover from this and you hammered the body with all those mountain stages which are extremely hard for sure for somebody like him who has a lot of anaerobic capacity but lacks a little bit of aerobic engine to get comfortable over all those mountains. So then we knew it was gonna be very tough to still have that victory because this was our best chance, but we got a nice surprise from our Danish friends. Kasper Asgreen who was…
Dr. Stephen Seiler 11:12
You almost got two victories from him and one of those, the first day he beat, I work with a team called Uno X and they had a guy in the in the in the break as well and the funny thing about that guy, I almost don’t think he should be a professional cyclist. I think he should be one of these guys that does the Race Across America or something. He’s just a diesel, but he was in the break and then he wasn’t. Kasper’s got a little bit more of that, that sprint at the end. So he took that victory and then he lost by about what the width of a tire the next day. So Quick-Step came out of it pretty good in the end, but it didn’t look great for a lot of days because you guys were used to winning a lot of stages, I guess would be fair to say.
Tour de France Competitors
Tim Declercq 12:10
About your guy a few weeks, Jonas, did a very good too, maybe he even got the better chance if they didn’t let him sit behind [Victor] Campenaerts, who is so very aerodynamic and I know in the break, they were fighting a little bit. Yeah, who’s got to be in the middle of Campenaerts and it had to be him so.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 12:30
Well, he was a junior rider. I mean, he was the lowest guy on the hierarchy. So he got put in the position of death. That’s what was everybody was talking about, but in addition, Jonas is probably, it’s another discussion topic. Jonas is super fit, he’s got a strong engine, he’s got a lot of durability, but I think sometimes when you have that, maybe you use it too much. In the sense that, you guys is as good as you are, you still have to have this strange combination of being extremely fit, but at the same time, being very cynical and protecting and letting everybody else do as much work as possible. Eating off the plate of the other people before you start eating your own I think was a famous line and I’m not sure that Jonas has learned that trick to the to the fullest yet.
Tim Declercq 13:34
He will. He will.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 13:35
He will and you don’t get to so much. You did get to do a breakaway this year.
Tim Declercq 13:42
Yes, that was also nice. We knew we probably were still in the in the tour then, but we knew the stage was gonna be too hot in the end for him. So unfortunately, we only got away with three, but in total, we were three very strong riders. I think we let the bones suffer quite a bit at the end, but also the final was very hard. So but yeah, it was nice one time to get me back and also we got quite some nice numbers that day. It was it was a nice day out.
Declercq’s Race Data
Dr. Stephen Seiler 14:18
Well are you allowed to talk about numbers?
Tim Declercq 14:21
I think for this stage before I had anything public on Strava, but I think yeah, you can also do quite a lot with all this data. I think for one day I can share it. I think that day we did was a race of 207 kilometers. The break and I had 355 normalized power for the whole day with neutralization and so it was kind of a big day. Yeah, without the grades of course you normalize is always higher if you do the 32 second sprints, but it wasn’t allowed this. So the average channel normalize was quite close. It was a good day out.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 15:06
Oh, man, three minutes of roughly 350 watts for five hours a bit.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 15:13
Yeah. That is just unbelievable and that speaks to what you’re good at because 350 for you is pretty close plus-minus to your first lactate turn point, right?
Tim Declercq 15:13
Tim Declercq 15:30
Yes. Depends a little bit on how you measure it because sometimes I have. Yeah, it depends if it’s done in the lab or if it’s done on the field sometimes it’s a little bit of a difference. Yeah because sometimes we do the critical power model and some depends which ID you use and always there’s a little bit of difference between which method you use. I personally, I think it’s still, even though it’s not so race specific because it’s on the lab, but I have the most confidence in still elected measurements from the lab because it’s all continuous and I do have most faith in this, but this is personal. This is my personal opinion, of course.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 16:23
Right and there’s so many different thresholds in terms. FTP and CP and 20 minute power and blah, blah, blah, but all of it tells us that I mean, any of us that have cycled know that pushing 350 watts for hours is a huge output and so the only way you would be able to do that is if it’s pretty close to, it can’t be too far above LT one. You just wouldn’t be able to do it. To turn out five hours of work and you’re doing this pretty often at the front of the peloton. I guess that’s a pretty typical power value when you go to the front, right? You’ll hold 340, 350 for two, three hours. Would that be fair to say?
Tim Declercq 17:09
Yes, of course, it depends a little bit if you ride with two or three guys who also. Then you do a little bit more, of course, when you hit the front and you can do four hundreds every time and then the wheels you can recover a bit, but if you have to do it alone, this would be indeed, in the beginning you go and the end the final of course you need to push a bit more, if there’s still something left in the tank because always the breakaways, they also speed up at the end and then you have to be ready.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 17:43
Yeah. Speaking of being ready, I mean nowadays, it seems like the tour and maybe it’s because the cameras are on earlier so we can see from the very first kilometer and there’s breaks, the initiation of breaks is starting almost from kilometer zero. Are you having to, are you warming up? Like getting ready to respond to a break from kilometer zero? Are you having to do some warmup work?
Tim Declercq 18:19
I thought of this, but mostly I don’t because the first of all, the neutral is always quite long in the tour. A lot of time already up to 10k and also yeah for sure, in a one day race. It’s also part of being mentally ready. If you’re mentally already ready and you do the neutral of 10k, most of the time you are ready and also in the tour there was most of the time not too much interest in going into break because they thought we always keep them too close, but if you see with the breaks exceeding I think for the next year, for sure there will be there will be more interest again. Joining that break if they still see that it’s possible to stay in France, which is also nice once in a while, of course.
COVID’s Impact on Declercq’s Season
Dr. Stephen Seiler 19:14
Yeah. If I go back to your career and your job and so forth. When I look at you over the last 5,6, 7 years. COVID definitely has played a role, but if we take the years like 17, 18, 19, you were racing about 70 plus times a year and then COVID comes along and the number of races went down a bit. You also got COVID one of those years. What, three times. It was a pretty tough season, what two years ago.
Tim Declercq 19:49
That was 2022. I only got it two times, but one time I got a little bit of complications not too severe, but then I also was positive just before the tour. I got nothing, not even a cough or anything, but I was positive on a PCR. So I had to miss the tour, but I’m still happy.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 20:13
So it’s been tough, but there were no part. Were there any COVID positives in the tour this year?
Tim Declercq 20:18
I don’t from my from knowing not. I think there was also in general in the population, when I speak to our team doctors, there was very little COVID going on in the population. So was a little difference compared to the Giro.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 20:38
Yeah. A typical season for you will start already end of January maybe and then progress through some small stage races and so forth and then you go into the classic season in March and April and then you start gearing up for the tour. I guess you may have done some altitude training.
Tim Declercq 21:03
Preparation for a Grand Tour
Dr. Stephen Seiler 21:06
So you do a lot of stage races and those are usually between four and eight days and then there’s this big jump for fresh professional cyclists. You’re either doing stage races that lasts about a week or you’re doing a Grand Tour, which is three weeks. There’s really nothing in between. There’s no 14-day stage races or 10, it’s either four or five, six, seven, eight, or 21. So these three weeks stage races, there’s three of them, the Grand Tours. You’ve done Grand Tours I think six times right now.
Tim Declercq 21:43
Yes, or something like that.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 21:43
Tour de France and you’ve completed five of six, which in itself is a tough feat because it’s a hard deal. Take us through the preparation. How different is a Grand Tour from all the other hard races you do?
Tim Declercq 22:05
Alright, it’s kind of strange because if you look, for example, at things like HRV. There’s a little bit of variation, but I think you already kind of hit your low after the first four or five days and then more or less remain stable. Of course, if there was an easier race it goes up again, but I think that’s also what most of us cyclists feel a little bit. So, you get tired, but like don’t get too much more tired. If it’s one week or the third week, afterwards, you get a lot more tired.
The Wednesday, for example, after Grand Tour, then it’s terrible, then you’re done. You’re not the nicest person to be around because it’s like all the postponed stress response. It’s remarkable how even we can still, in the second to last day, I still pushed very nice numbers. Okay, not my best, I have the ID, this is not something that’s maybe scientifically correct or investigated, but my idea is always a little bit distorted peak powers go down, but like in the thresholds shown you become, so I’m not gonna say, if I don’t know if this efficient is the right words, but you can just go on and on and on and on. So like, pushing 380 watts the whole time, you can just push it almost endlessly. Yeah, the short, the two-minute peak power or the one-minute peak power, you will not make any more in the last week, but for the rest, the performances don’t go down, but even for me and I sometimes even have the idea that the best climbers, they almost improved during a Grand Tour.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 24:17
What we have to say that I mean, you guys are being selected for the tour, in part because you tolerate it, you recover. Even in World Tour level cyclists, there are some that can handle a Grand Tour and there are others who do not. and they’re not being selected. Is that fair to say?
Selecting Riders for a Grand Tour
Tim Declercq 24:43
Yeah, I think so. Yes because of course, they also select the real sprinters to try to take the stages, but with racing nowadays and with the level that’s improved so much, you see that the true sprinter really has difficulties of making it to Paris because how the aggressive racing, if you have to stay with a sprinter, he always dropped on the first climb already and then fight the whole day. Like, it’s really remarkable. I think the people, sometimes I read a little bit on Twitter, they say, you should have the time gets more severe that nobody goes, I can assure you if you would have a camera with a sprint that it’s just the whole day that I’m on the limits. And then of course, they film when we crossed the line and then we’re always smiling, of course because we made it through then they think we just went when this is the whole day. It’s kind of hard and also saw with a lot of guys who saw really, really some very tired legs in the last week.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 26:02
That I think also we need to understand those of us who are listening that when we talk about a sprinter being bad in the mountains, everything’s relative and these so called ‘bad climbers’ would beat 99% of cyclists. I think it’s fair to say, I mean, they are excellent. They’re super fit, they’re pushing big watts, but in that just super select group than they are specialists and they don’t have the climbing ability. I think almost anybody listening to this podcast, don’t go out there and challenge a world tour sprinter to a climb. You’ll get beat. I can almost say with certainty, you’ll get beat unless you happen to be a world tour rider yourself. That’s fair to say, isn’t it?
Tim Declercq 26:59
Yeah, there was a quite a famous Belgian YouTuber who he did an Ironman, which was very nice. It’s called Average Rob and they tried to beat the time of Phillips in one day on the last climb and even for their standards, they always go slowest the last climb if they see they have still time enough, but still. He asked me how many watts he had to push, I think with his weights of around 80 kilo. I said, “Yeah, if you don’t push 320, then for sure you’re not gonna make it,” and so a lot of that. That’s, of course, still quite tough for, but a normal and then it’s only for one climb, we have to do it even the sprinters for 21 days in a row.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 27:56
It’s just amazing what you guys do, day in and day out, but as in everything, there are levels and there are these climbers that they set the standard and then you guys, there’s what 15%, you have to stay within 15%.
Tim Declercq 28:19
Now the system has completely changed because you always have a coefficient of a stage and then that coefficient it changes depending on the average speed the first guy makes. So the higher the average speeds, the more percentage you have. So there’s quite a bit of calculation going on sometimes because you can never make time up or what you’ve lost, you’ve lost. For example, the time. Time limits got to be 32 minutes and you’re at the bottom of the climb and they have 30 minutes, then you go home.
Declercq’s Grand Tour Routine
Dr. Stephen Seiler 29:07
You’re done. Oh my goodness. Well, you know, tell me because I was in Bilbao and I was in Copenhagen last year for the start of the tour and my goodness, if you’ve never been to one of these Grand Tours or at least the Tour de France, it is an incredible circus. I mean it is there’s just so many vehicles, so many trucks and it’s a traveling show. It’s the third most watched sporting event in the world, I believe is what I read behind the World Cup in soccer and the Olympics. So it’s just tens of thousands of people every day, but it’s a moving circus because every day you’re packing up and you guys are staying in hotels, you’re cycling, you’re busting your butt and every day. Can you walk us through the routine? Now, obviously, you’re not getting bombarded by journalists because you’re not a GC candidate or whatever, but you’re still having to go through a lot. So tell us, what’s the routine?
Tim Declercq 30:18
Yeah, my roommate Yves, we always eat Blanca, we always try to sleep as long as possible. You have some guys who always want to get up early, but we try to sleep as long as possible. The first of all, we sometimes we have the blood checked every time, the weight check in the morning and then we go to breakfast, which is there we have our own individual plan of how much we have to eat and also have the scale. Then most of the time, we go back to the room very quickly to brush the teeth and pick up our bags, we go to the bus. Mostly we arrive one hour 30 to two hours before the race. Have the tactical meeting. Then we have to pin on the numbers, everything. We go to the sign on and then we take our foods. We do the race and then during the race, I try to log all my carbohydrate intake, as well. There’s a very nice app for this, it’s called “Eat My Ride,” where you can have things, like for example, your isotonic drinks or what you can eat.
Then you put this in and then if you synchronize the device afterwards, also the nutritionist can know how much you’ve eaten in the race. So then they calculate for our dinner because we only eat twice during the day. We eat a little bit after the race, we have a recovery snack, that’s also made. Then most of the time, we also have to travel a little bit after the race with the bus. We get at the hotel. Sometimes we take the ice bath, if you have time for this. Depending on situation, we do it before or after massage. Then we eat. In between I try to call my wife and my daughter, but that’s sort of always quite tough to plan it in. That we eat and then mostly it’s 10 o’clock, 10:30 in the night and then me and Yves sometimes he watch together to recover the race and we watch the Belgian show … to wind down a little bit to go to sleep, but it’s hard to get to sleep before 12 o’clock because it’s always so late and that’s a bit how the day goes. It goes incredibly fast. It’s unbelievable.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 33:20
What time you wake up in the morning? Are you getting eight hours a day?
Tim Declercq 33:24
Yeah. Sometimes it depends, of course. Sometimes it’s quite early, but sometimes you can also sleep until 10 and I can assure you. It’s your body has no, mine at least has no problem to sleep until 10 because you’re obviously quite tired and also you get into the routine of going late to sleep and later waking up. A bit how it goes.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 33:54
Well, I mean, you’ve revealed and I kind of knew this, but you’re a bit of a nerd, I think and that’s probably why we are kindred spirits and you have a master’s degree in Sports Science yourself. So let me get this straight. You are cycling at I don’t know, 340, 350 Watts and you’re punching in your data in an app on a phone or on your Garmin while you’re riding. Am I getting this right?
Tim Declercq 34:31
Yes, yes. Yes, cycling has changed a bit over the last 20 years.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 34:42
Does this sport science geekiness that you do have because I know you do like to talk, think about and look at what’s going on with different things. The nutrition, different training models and so forth. Are you seen as a resource for the team or is a pain in the ass?
Tim Declercq 35:06
I think a little bit of both. It’s of course nice to know some of the underlying principles, but I think it’s going to suit me more maybe after if I could do something like to become a coach after my career because now in this moment, it’s one thing about to know maybe some of the underlying mechanics or pathways that there are two different ways of stimulating the PGC1 Alpha, like you have the one where you NPK, which is more intensity and the other one, which is with Carcinoid, which is more about endurance, but in the end, this doesn’t give you any direct advantage, of course because all the plans are still. It’s like coaches have already known this for years and have already been designed with programs for many years and it’s also not too big of an advantage, but it’s of course nice to know some of the underlying things and know why you do certain trainings. I think it’s helped the motivation a lot.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 36:32
Yeah. I mean, that’s the reality is and I’ve tried to say this is that, in general, sports scientists almost never come up with anything new, but they try to explain what the athletes figure out. What the athletes and coaches figure out in the daily grind. You guys are in a laboratory every day, in a way your own laboratory of performance in training.
So you figure stuff out, but you may not know the signaling molecules or the physiology, but I appreciate our discussions because I know you’re interested in the underlying mechanisms and on the training side like you say it doesn’t seem like that much has changed. It does seem like that on the nutrition side. At least you know during races we’re kind of in this new territory because the amount of carbs that are being processed, the carbohydrate intake in my understanding. I mean, have you seen a huge change in the last six seven years?
Declercq’s Diet Changes Over the Years
Tim Declercq 37:42
Absolutely. I think this is also I think, of course there are many things everybody the way that there’s restrain now in the world of peloton has improved a lot. I think since they really know how to work with the power meters that’s one thing. The altitude training. Also, I think most teams also get more polarized training model also a little bit, this also explains a little bit I think, but indeed I think the biggest improvement in cycling in the last years, in my opinion, for sure been the carbohydrate intake. I think if I compare it to 10 years ago, I was still eating a lunch bomb on the bike, which is, I don’t know if everybody knows.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 38:38
No, what is that?
Tim Declercq 38:39
It’s like almost like a cake so fatty. It was very nice to eat when I was going slow in the bunch, but if you compare it now everybody is trying to hit those 120 grams an hour in the very intense races. I struggled a bit with this because I have quite a weak gastrointestinal system, but even with me I don’t know if this could be, but I had the idea that even during the tour my ability to process more carbohydrates even improved because on the last week I oftentimes ate one 120 grams an hour, which is normally not so easy tolerable for me. My gut system kept on working quite well also thanks to the carings of our doctor and I think this also makes a huge difference.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 39:42
So four, five hours on the bike at 120 grams an hour, that’s a lot of carbs going in. Since you’re recording everything and you guys know more about what you’re taking in and almost anybody, how many calories are you taking in a day during the tour, on average?
Tim Declercq 40:03
Of course, yeah. We don’t see exactly the data, but I think in total, I think I have days of 8, 9000 calories a day. You have to, of course, maybe the majority wins on the bike, which is also, I think a huge difference that’s easily overlooked, like this is not only an advantage in the day itself, but also for the for the upcoming days.
If you, for example, would only eat 60 grams of carbs, then you would eat such a massive amount that a plate of pasta that comes over your eyes, so that that will not be tolerable to eat it afterwards and if you can eat 90 to 120 grams on the bike. The amount you need to eat afterwards to stay on the same weight this is less. I think that’s also a reason why the recovery of most is going so much better.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 41:07
Absolutely. I guess that means that you never become super hypoglycemic you know you’re kind of protecting from those really bad situations that maybe riders would have experienced years ago, where they would just go completely empty both glycogen and blood glucose. I guess that’s not happening these days, no.
Tim Declercq 41:31
I think I eat less of course sometimes you still have it if you haven’t eaten at the last part when you think oh yeah, we are dropped from the bunch, we still have time to get in time and then you forget to eat and then suddenly and then you can feel the dizziness all over, but yes, indeed. I think this has changed a lot also in the past. You never saw somebody eat the gel when they were in a typical pattern. They look at you and they say are you eating a gel in the integral petal with not racing for a nice place, but now everybody’s doing it until the last moment.
Future of Cycling
Dr. Stephen Seiler 42:15
The gel budget has increased. Now also the group itself gets gels. Oh my gosh. Well, where do you think it’s all going? I mean, I guess you got some years in the tank left. What are the big changes that are gonna happen or do you feel like it’s kind of peeking out on the tech side?
Tim Declercq 42:45
You will always think that everything is peeking out, but still for sure they will find something new maybe if you would have asked me two or three years ago for sure. I would also think maybe now they are already there. They cannot improve so much anymore, but still the science keeps on evolving. I think one thing that I kind of look forward which will have a massive impact I think for sure on the training side is when the real time lactate monitors will be there. I know they are working on this some companies are ready for testing.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 43:25
Will the UCI allow it though?
Tim Declercq 43:28
No. It will not be in the race itself, but I think from a training point of view this will change a lot because you still have the day-to-day variability.
Also in training I don’t always have the idea your thresholds are on a fixed number day by day and I think you can you will be able to train even still a lot better, but for the rest it’s difficult to see what the future will bring, but I hope they will not keep on going faster because the level has risen so much and also the way that’s raised like you have to give credit in the end to the tactic of Jumbo Visma when they had made the race super hard because they knew that this would be the best tactic to break the day. It was very hard for the bunch of course because the pace of the of their group I can’t even call it the peloton anymore, even if it was quite a heavy guy like Christoph Laporte pulling was always 5.5 at least once per kilo on the climb. So and in the end it works so you have to give them credit, but the whole bunch of course suffers. So it’s like a lot of this.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 45:10
It’s like fighters like mixed martial arts fighters saying, Well, I have to take three punches in the face to be able to get the other guy knocked out with my punch and they took a lot of beating. Jumbo Visma beat themselves up and you could say that Tadey, he was good. He only cracked once or maybe twice at the time trial, but that was enough. It’s just one bad day.
Why Cycling Is a Team Sport
Tim Declercq 45:40
Got down there. Not only the two of them, but for sure. Those two that are phenomenal riders and even to have them him crack once or twice, it’s enough and it’s a huge accomplishment, even though maybe he didn’t have the perfect preparation, which you could still maybe see the most I think in the last weeks, of course because like you always say it’s training is always, most of all thing about consistency and if you lose two, three weeks, not just before, but in the preparation of a Grand Tour where you need to be on such a high level for three weeks.
I think it’s never an advantage in my eyes, but still credit to everybody who rode like this and also even to the domestique of domestiques. He was on the podcast also, quite a lot of time, said, Chris, I admire him. I admire him a lot. It was a just a bit of shame his GC Chris was lost in the last day because of the opera crash. That was a bit of a shame for him.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 47:11
Yeah. Well, yes, Sam is kind of the climbing equivalent of you, in the sense.
Tim Declercq 47:19
He’s maybe a bit better.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 47:21
Well, I mean, he just has an amazing ability to just go out in front, but you have to wonder maybe at some point in his career, he made a decision. It seems like he could be a GC candidate himself, but maybe he just doesn’t like that pressure. I don’t know what, but it’s hard to not see him as a guy that could go on to another team and be the guy, the main guy, but he doesn’t choose that.
Tim Declercq 47:52
No, no, but still like I was talking a little bit with him during the race and we were talking about the Twitter accounts, that sounds like GC and then with his crash the last day, we were in the same group, we were only riding for like, position 60 or 70, I think and I came to him and I felt so sorry because he would have made the top 10 for sure in the GC and I said, “I feel so sorry for you. Are you okay with the crashes?” and one of the first things he said to me were like, “Yeah, GC causes that,” but it took to a church was it was very inspiring, because yeah, everybody else with to walk I lost, I lost my top 10 spot in the GC and a product that was making one of the best or the best uphill domestique of course.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 48:51
Yeah, he’s just so willing to give all for his team and I think that’s the same as you. Every day. Day after day, go into the front doing that job and then you’ve told me before that the payoff is if your guy comes out comes over the line first in the sprint, then you’ve contributed to that and that’s that true team. I mean, cycling is a team sport and you’re a team player.
Tim Declercq 49:22
That’s an unforgettable moment always indeed, when you’ve done a little bit for a team or at least you tried to make the best effort possible and then to hear that they’ve won the race and you even though it’s only a very small amount they have to finish it off. I cannot do it myself, but you feel like you’re a very, very small part of the victory is yours and that’s always one of the best motivations to keep on doing this job.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 49:59
Well, I don’t think it’s such a small part, but it’s not the visible part because you are able to almost do the work of a couple of riders to push two or three, maybe three hours. That means that you save the power output of other teammates that are then going to be able to grind out the lead out and that last 10 kilometers where things just really go bananas, but they’re not going to be able to do that if they’re having to drain themselves early and so you’re able to cover a lot of kilometers, so that they can do that last 10 or 15 with just amazing qualities. I don’t think it’s a small contribution. I think it’s a pretty big contribution and probably Quick-Step understands that and every team needs a Tim Declercq. I think everybody they’re looking for those types.
So I’ve found mine and we get to talk, but you said you’re doing a three week, I lined up some numbers and for those who are interested, I believe it was the winner used 82 hours in the tour. I think you came across like five hours behind.
Tim Declercq 51:18
That’s a lot. When you hear it like this.
Tim Declercq’s Hours on Hours of Training
Dr. Stephen Seiler 51:22
I know. It’s not my goal to say how far behind you are, you’ve done your job and you go to the group though and you’re already starting to recover for the next day, but what I was trying to get at was I was doing some math and that means you rode 87 hours of actual tour, then you’re on your so-called rest days. I guess you rode for what an hour and a half, something like that. So you got two rest days in three hours. So now we’re up at 90 hours and then you got warm up and cooldowns and whatever else you guys do. So it’s 30 plus hours a week and you’re grinding threshold, a lot of that time.
So you’re doing basically exactly what I would say not to do if you were training. You’re in threshold zone all the time, for three weeks, 30 hours a week. So it’s kind of basically a protocol for overreaching or overtraining, that you’re pushing yourself. Is that fair to say?
Tim Declercq 52:30
And the worst part for you is actually that if you see they’re not performing so much less, even if they do three weeks of threshold.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 52:41
Amazing. I have no problem saying you guys are phenomenal, but I think you’re weird. You’re weird, you’re not normal.
Tim Declercq 52:54
But indeed, it’s like you say and it’s I don’t know, there has never been, I think there are no scientific studies also about this, like how do you have to train afterwards. For example, the guys who go to the go to the world because, like I said before, it’s so strange how the body handles the amount of stress, like we still feel good, even if there would be one more stage and you’re mentally prepared for this, you would still be able to do it, but it’s like when the mental stress is gone and then your body feels after one or two days, you get into in the recovery mode and then it says, but now you can’t recover and when you’re on the bike then, it’s terrible and I’m lucky to have a coach like Tom Steels who has a lot of practical knowledge.
And there it’s more about the practical knowledge, I think, than the scientific knowledge of how you have to train afterwards because there are no studies about this, it’s like your body feels so strange, you have to find a balance between enough recovery and also still pushing a little bit still the engine that you don’t collapse and in total because it’s like your body is craving for the recovery, but on the other hand your overall fitness is so high, so it’s a very strange feeling also when you race after a big tour it can go both ways.
You can be super, can also be terrible, but you feel very strange because it’s when you go just on a bike ride your body wants to push only 200 watts, you feel always empty, but it’s like if you push 200 watts or 400 watts. Okay, of course it feels more bad for 400 Watts, but it doesn’t feel so much more bad. If you do races after this and you come in a good way out of a Grand Tour, you feel terrible, but you just can go very hard. It feels, you’ll never have a good feeling, but you still can read this.
Professionals Don’t Always Race Traditionally
Dr. Stephen Seiler 55:21
It’s fascinating. Now and I know, like I used to follow Torjuso and one time he came to Christian Song where I live after the tour and they do these kind of show races these criteriums there. I don’t know, I’m not sure they’re actually real races, but they’re kind of like whatever city you’re in. Whoever the main rider is from that city, he gets to win or something. Almost, it seems. Do you do any of that stuff?
Tim Declercq 55:54
I didn’t want any of my hometown in Ruth’s Lara, but actually, I think it’s not a bad way to get over the Grand Tour because it’s short and of course, you have done enough volume I think during the week before, but still pushes little bit still the intensity and that your body doesn’t talk too much. Too much asleep and even though it’s not the worst kind of racing, of course for us still. We have to go quite hard. It’s not that’s for sure. Not the walk in the park. So I think this could be this can be a good way to if you don’t have to do them every day. I think it’s not so bad to do this. If you still have goals after the Grand Tour.
Declercq’s Goals for the Future
Dr. Stephen Seiler 56:49
Yeah and speaking of goals, what’s going to happen for you? I mean, right now, I guess this last week has been pretty darn easy. I mean, you’ve basically been recovering and spending time with the family and so forth, but what’s next?
Tim Declercq 57:04
Of course, you can have quite a lot of recovery, but also what also is not that you do have a rest period for one week because then the body would completely collapsed and you will not be able to get it working again. So I will restart with Hamburg and Renew Tour which is the old iniquity, which is still a nice race. I’m still also on the reserve list for the worlds in Glasgow, but I don’t think and also I don’t hope I really don’t hope that somebody becomes sick or ill. So and then it’s all about making a nice sense of the season and then hopefully have a good base to build on for the next one.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 57:53
Okay, but no Vuelta.
Tim Declercq 57:55
Dr. Stephen Seiler 57:56
You won’t be called on for that.
Tim Declercq 57:57
No, no, no, no, no.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 57:58
So one Grand Tour is enough. I mean, is it such a hard deal? I guess a few writers have done two.
Tim Declercq 58:07
Yeah, It depends also, if you have the luxury and also to have guys that can do the best possible preparation with altitudes, camps and everything. It’s kind of hard to still do a three week altitude camp after the tour to fully prepare the Vuelta. Of course you can also still do with without an altitude camp, of course, but I think if they want to send the best possible team for Perenco, which has of course a very good shot at trying to win the Vuelta back to back. So yeah, I think it’s best for them to advance for the team to show up with a team that’s completely prepared with altitude camps and everything. So completely ready.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 59:08
On a different schedule so that they peak at the right time. Yeah. Well, I really appreciate you taking time out to talk. I know you’ve got family and other responsibilities, but I think you gave a lot of insight into the realities of the pro peloton and I’m sure there’ll be a new opportunity. We’ll have another chat, but I’m gonna let you go.