It’s a conundrum top teams were chewing for some time.
And it turns out the answer is all about how hard a rider pedals into Paris.
“Riders and teams talk about how you finish a grand tour. You see guys that are finishing grand tours and their performance is visibly degrading. Then you can see other guys that are visibly getting better relative to the rest of the peloton as the grand tour goes on,” Joe Dombrowski told VeloNews.
“That has a big impact on how you start the next grand tour.”
Doing a double begins with number one
Doing the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double is deemed one of the most demanding feats in modern pro cycling. Backing the Vuelta onto the Tour is little less leg-sapping.
Primož Roglič made converting Tour defeat into Vuelta triumph his “thing” in the past two years, and so Jumbo-Visma knows well how to tune its workhorses for two grand tours in one summer.
“Their recovery for the Vuelta all depends on how they finish the Tour de France,” Jumbo-Visma trainer Mathieu Heijboer told VeloNews.
“When you look now at Jonas [Vingegaard] or Wout [van Aert], they finished this year’s Tour really well – you could see that in the stage 20 TT. But mentally they were exhausted because of the pressure on them from kilometer zero to the end of the day, every day.
“They have to be in the front, they have to be focused on the competitors, they have media, all that stuff. Those guys need rest, and they need mental rest.”
Mental fatigue is one reason why GC guys rarely double the Giro and Tour, or Tour and Vuelta.
This season, riders like Jai Hindley and Richard Carapaz laid low after the Giro and only booted back shortly before the Vuelta.
“Riders finishing a Tour mentally finished go off the bike or do just very short recovery rides to keep the body moving a little,” Heijboer said.
“They need to find the hunger for the bike and for competition before they try to train hard again. That only comes back when you step away a little bit.”
The art and science of the engine restart
It’s a different story for riders that aren’t pushing for the final podium in the first half of their double.
Sprinters, stage-hunters, and domestiques target their efforts and guard their mental matches for days when it matters most – a luxury not afforded to a GC leader.
In many cases, their rebuild starts fast, all under the very beady eyes of nutritionists, medics, and trainers.
“As much as you want to just do nothing after a grand tour, it can be pretty important to keep riding and ticking over – but not to blast the intensity,” Astana stage-hunter Dombrowski said.
Jumbo-Visma’s climber ace Sepp Kuss took less than one week off after the Tour before he began churning big rides and bigger vert to restart his engine for the upcoming Vuelta.
Dombrowski did the same when he began his five-week turnaround between this year’s Giro and Tour.
Only a handful of short soft-tapping sessions readied the 31-year-old for three and then four-hour rides through the Cote d’Azur in the week he flew out of Italy.
“It can be pretty important to keep riding and keep ticking over a bit, because then you can extend that form,” Dombrowski said.
Extending the form even a few days after a grand tour is a tricky act that easily goes off-balance.
Just ask Tadej Pogačar, who blew out the back as soon as the pace went up when he took on Clasica San Sebastian six days after he finished second in the Tour de France. He’s now expected to hit the couch until the very end of August.
Meanwhile, Kuss kept the intensity down for around one week after the Tour before “operation Vuelta” began.
A series of over-under intervals during a five-hour mountain ride with fellow pro Mike Woods in the 10th day after the Tour saw Kuss hit the hard restart for Spain.
“If a rider completes a grand tour but isn’t really exhausted and finishes it well physically – like our riders that weren’t going to San Sebastian – they keep continuing doing endurance rides, but not like five hours, but still like two to three hours,” Kuss’ trainer Heijboer said. “Only after a while of easy do they start with efforts.”
Exactly how a rider rebounds from a three-week race is as much an art as a science.
Younger riders rarely do a direct double until they discover how much their system can handle after the heat of a grand tour.
A more experienced rider is able to adapt their load according to what they learned works for them. Kuss rode for around seven hours the week after the Tour, while big-engine Dombrowski did double that after he finished the Giro.
“I did 14 or 15 hours the next week to keep me ticking for the Tour,” grand tour veteran Dombrowski said. “So, still a really pretty easy week but also not just doing nothing either.”
There’s little room for rest in the modern WorldTour.