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A Little Rest For The Weary

While the concept of a rest day in a three-week stage race is very welcome, it is equally dangerous for riders. The body is more than happy to accept the rest, but breaking the routine of racing can cause trouble. Rest Day RoutinesRacing on the day after a rest day can be like starting a car on a cold winter morning. You might be able to get the engine to turn over, but it takes a while for it to run smoothly. For riders, the danger is that they will feel sluggish or heavy on the first stage following the rest day. In order to prevent this situation, it is important for everyone to spend

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By Chris Carmichael

While the concept of a rest day in a three-week stage race is very welcome, it is equally dangerous for riders. The body is more than happy to accept the rest, but breaking the routine of racing can cause trouble.

Rest Day Routines
Racing on the day after a rest day can be like starting a car on a cold winter morning. You might be able to get the engine to turn over, but it takes a while for it to run smoothly. For riders, the danger is that they will feel sluggish or heavy on the first stage following the rest day. In order to prevent this situation, it is important for everyone to spend some time on the bike during the rest day.

The rest day ride is not just a light cruise around the block. The US Postal Service boys will ride about three hours today and spend a considerable amount of that time close to race pace. Their bodies are accustomed to the speed and power output of racing, and a day without similar stress can be too much of a disruption.

It is important for riders to continue with most parts of their race-day routines during the rest day. They awake at the customary time, eat a similar breakfast, and go through many of the same motions they would during a normal stage. There is a rhythm to stage racing, and once that rhythm is disturbed, it can be hard to find again.

Riders must be careful to continue eating and drinking sufficiently during the rest day. While their energy expenditure is lower than on race days, their bodies are used to processing a high number of calories and a lot of fluid. Elite athletes have very high metabolic rates and burn a lot of calories even when they don’t ride. They have to be conscious of this fact and supply their bodies with enough calories to avoid going into a caloric deficit during the rest day.

The rest day gives the body a chance to use calories to replenish depleted energy stores, repair damaged tissues, and reinforce the immune system. Because of these processes, the riders only reduce their caloric intake slightly. Instead of taking in 6000-7000 calories, riders may only take in 4500-5000 calories. The makeup of their caloric intake remains similar to race days as well. Lance Armstrong aims to have 70% of his calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein, and 15% from fat.

Looking Forward
Fortunately, the stage immediately following the rest day is not overly hard. It is a relatively benign stage along the Mediterranean coast that only features one category 3 climb. Even riders struggling after the rest day shouldn’t have too much trouble on this climb, especially since it comes a full 60 kilometers before the finish. Were tomorrow’s stage to include major mountain passes in the Pyrenees, it would be more concerning.

It is also fortunate that the individual time trial is on Friday instead of Thursday. A time trial right after the rest day would be very hard, and a rider struggling to cope with the effects of the rest day could lose massive amounts of time. Instead, riders will have a chance to get back in the groove of racing before they tackle the 47-kilometer individual race against the clock.

Lance Armstrong is looking forward to Friday’s time trial. He didn’t feel wonderful in the Alps, especially for the first two mountain stages. His legs started to come around during Stage 9, and he told me afterward, “I’m getting back into my Tour de France groove.” That’s very good news because he needs to have a strong performance in the time trial.

With four days in the Pyrenees swiftly approaching, it is important for Lance to put some time into climbers like Iban Mayo and Francesco Mancebo. It is even more critical for him to maintain or extend his lead over his primary rival, Jan Ullrich. Ullrich is in great shape, and is only two minutes behind Armstrong after riding the Alpine stage with a fever and stomach problems.

Tyler Hamilton has also been riding remarkably well, especially considering his broken collarbone. He has started having more wide-ranging effects on his body, though, and his back started bothering him as a result of compensating for the injury. His legs have been great, and he could have a great time trial if he can handle riding in his time trial position for about an hour.

Ideally, I would like to see Armstrong finish the time trial 45 seconds to one minute ahead of Ullrich, at least 1:30 ahead of Hamilton, and over two minutes in front of Mayo, Mancebo, and Vinokorouv. If Lance’s legs really have come around, as he says they have, these goals should be achievable and Lance can go into the Pyrenees with a healthy lead.