Inside the push to bring glucose monitors into the pro peloton
The UCI currently forbids the use of continuous glucose monitors in competition. Insiders are pushing back on the ban – is that a good or bad thing?
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This is part two of a series diving into the pioneering continuous glucose monitoring technology that could change the game for pro racers and weekend warriors alike. Stay tuned for hands-on reviews, insights from racers, and more.
Read part one: How continuous glucose monitoring could change the game
Power meters, race radios, recovery trackers … what’s next? Rider fuel gauges?
Well, yes, maybe.
Continuous glucose monitors (CGM) are making waves as the next big thing in pro cycling, but they’re currently banned from use in competition.
It may not stay like that for long though. Insiders are pushing back on UCI rules preventing the use of monitors that enable riders to track just how much gas is in the tank at any given time.
Supersapiens boss Phil Southerland is leading the charge to see the pioneering tech allowed into the peloton.
“To me, the simplest reason they’re banned is lack of understanding, education,” Southerland told VeloNews. “We’ve made countless attempts to secure meetings with the UCI leadership and their leadership committees, all of which have been turned down.”
Also read: Bobby&Jens: Southerland talks glucose monitoring and the origins of Team Type 1
Southerland has vowed to push for change in his bid to optimize athletic performance through the use of CGM.
Supersapiens is among a handful of companies developing the CGM technology long used by diabetics that are now being applied to high-level endurance sport. Southerland and many others believe the monitors could radicalize the pro peloton in the way that power meters did when they trickled into use in the 1980s.
“At the end of the day, people want to see the best athletes competing against each other,” he said. “They don’t want to see Julian Alaphilippe attacking and then Wout van Aert has no gas in the tank so he can’t follow.”
The UCI stipulated this summer that “devices which capture other physiological data, including any metabolic values such as but not limited to glucose or lactate” are not authorized in competition.
Officials explained it as a move to prevent the robotization of a sport founded on instinct and spectacle.
“The fans don’t want to see Formula One in bike racing,” UCI Innovation Manager Mick Rogers recently told Cycling Weekly. “They want surprises, they want unpredictability.”
So how could an introduction of CGM change racing?
Bonk alarms and safety bells
Pro cycling is a totally different world – or science – from what it was even 10 years ago.
Power meters, diet plans, and recovery trackers permeate every moment of a rider’s day. Race radios, GPS units, and app-driven briefings dictate tactics in racing.
“Everything is controlled. Your training is monitored, the body fat checks, we wear a [Oura] ring to see our sleep to see how fatigued, how fresh we are in the morning,” Heinrich Haussler told VeloNews. “We’re just trying to become like robots – better, stronger machines.”
The use of CGM technology could push the sport that one step further toward computer game-level control.
Fueling guru and Jumbo-Visma nutritionist Asker Jeukendrup sees no limits to how far CGM technology could go in training and racing.
“I think in the future, the algorithms will be so good that you can basically you can get an alarm 20 minutes before saying ‘if you don’t eat now, you’ll be in trouble,’” Jeukendrup told VeloNews.
Some would say that spectacular mid-race explosions are part of the rich tapestry of racing, and that battles with the “bonk” add another element to competition. Knowing how to avoid a hunger-flat is something that should be learned, just like descending, riding in the bunch, or cornering at speed.
Van der Poel eventually came home in 43rd place, 10.52 down. Now that, my friends, was a bonk.
— Michael Hutchinson (@Doctor_Hutch) September 29, 2019
Advocates of CGM point out that the technology has a vital safety role to play, however.
Chris Froome is a huge believer in the technology. The multiple Tour de France champ used CGM to dial in his diet this summer and sees it as having an important safety role in racing.
“It’s a shame we’re not allowed to race with it. From a safety tool, it serves a lot of purposes,” Froome told VeloNews last week.
“It can notify people when they’re heading into hypo-glycemia, which is dangerous. You see guys toward the end of races, when they’re fried, or low on sugar, their reactions time are not as quick. And they’re not as coherent as they should be, that’s how crashes can happen.
“If you can get a bit of a warning before you reach that point from a safety point of view, that’s got to be a win.”
Supersapiens sensors are currently not for sale in the USA due to pending approvals from the FDA.
Red tape also prevented Supersapiens from conducting a make-or-break clinical trial that could have helped push them into the peloton last year.
The UCI shut down plans to have Jumbo-Visma rigged up to the sensors through last year’s Tour de France due to a lack of European Conformity approval at that time.
“We had this once in a lifetime opportunity to do a clinical research trial, get the power data and fueling data, the glucose data of these athletes over three weeks in France, and two days before the Tour, they [the UCI] said, ‘not allowed,’” Southerland said.
On brand. If they can’t understan’ it, they ban it.
— Jonathan Vaughters (@Vaughters) June 6, 2021
ASO chief Yann Le Moenner is a big believer in CGM. He’s now working to help Southerland secure a meeting with UCI chief David Lappartient as Southerland works to unlock a perceived lack of understanding of the benefits of the devices.
“The offer’s been there from day one to fly to Switzerland, sit down, have a meeting. And unfortunately, those have all been turned down,” Southerland said.
“We shall push forward because it’s for the best interest of the athletes and athletes succeeding means they’re going to inspire more people to get on bikes.”
For now, there’s no timeline for the ban being overturned. Only riders with exemptions – such as the Type One diabetics on Team Novo Nordisk – can use CGM in competition, while other athletes are restricted to use in training.
Power meters, heart rate monitors, and earpieces have all become an integral part of racing. Mid-ride bonks will remain a mainstay a little while longer, too.