Jumbo-Visma and the ‘game changer’ baking soda system that’s shaking up pro cycling
Primož Roglič helped develop it, Wout van Aert loves it: How Jumbo-Visma and nutrition pioneers Maurten created pro racing's latest must-have.
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Sodium bicarbonate. It helps bake cakes and clean your kitchen.
And now it’s become the hottest performance enhancer in the pro cycling.
An innovative bicarb-based product created by nutrition nerds Maurten and already in use by riders like Wout van Aert, Lotte Kopecky, and Primož Roglič is turning racing’s biggest gamble into the latest must-have marginal gain lusted for throughout the WorldTour.
“We’ve taken a baking product you find in almost every home, and for the first time ever, we’ve made it possible for anyone to use it to boost athletic performance,” Maurten representative Herman Reuterswärd told VeloNews.
Maurten is the manufacturer of the groundbreaking carb-laden hydrogel drinks and gels that are guzzled en masse in the men’s and women’s WorldTour.
Now, the Swedish brand is causing a stir with its “Bicarbonate System.”
It’s a three-part product that helps athletes push harder and fatigue slower, but without the somersaulting stomach side-effect that plagued many when old-school “bicarb loading.”
“It’s a big step. We’ve taken something that people have struggled to consume for decades and removed all the possible negatives from it,” said Maurten scientist Joshua Rowe. “I think that’s a game changer, and it looks like athletes do too.”
Racers at the UAE Tour told VeloNews the whole peloton is buzzing about the commercial launch of a product that helped Roglič power to Olympic gold in Tokyo and Kopecky outfox Annemiek van Vleuten at last year’s Strade Bianche.
“If you look at the World Tour level there are dozens of riders from teams we don’t sponsor that are placing orders. We have a fascinating order book,” Reuterswärd joked.
And away from the WorldTour, Maurten boasts some big-name advocates for the bicarbonate system. Speed skater supremo Nils van der Poel, trail running legend Kilian Jornet, and record-breaking track runner Joshua Cheptegei are among the many bringing the bicarb hype.
From the kitchen cupboard to the Olympics, via Jumbo-Visma, SD Worx, Intermarché
Sodium bicarbonate – also known as baking soda or bicarbonate of soda – is a product that’s been found on kitchen shelves and cleaning cupboards for decades.
Head down to your local superstore and you can pick up a packet of the raising agent for a fistful of loose change if you want to make your bread, cakes and pancakes light n’fluffy.
Its abrasive qualities also made it a mainstay for wiping through household grease and grime.
And for almost as long, the suspect-looking white powder has been found in the kitbags of athletes from all across the sporting spectrum.
“Even when I was a professional [in the mid-2000s – ed], I was using it. You’d see sprinters taking it with about 30 K to go,” Jumbo-Visma performance director Mathieu Heijboer told VeloNews in a recent call.
“It gives a small benefit, but it certainly helps. But the side effects always meant it felt like a risk.”
“Bicarb loading” helps buffer the acid produced in working muscles that makes them “burn” and fatigue.
Simply put, a slug of sodium bicarbonate slows the chemical processes that result from hard efforts, and so gives both fast- and slow-twitch athletes the edge.
But it’s not all rosy.
If you’ve seen riders bolting out of the bunch to dive behind a bush or heard of abandons due to “G.I. distress,” the sickness, bloating, and diarrhea that can come with using bicarb could be the cause.
New product alert -> @MaurtenOfficial Bicarb System🚨
Let’s find out what @rogla thinks about #maurten Bicarb🎥 pic.twitter.com/0fI0L6jXc7
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) February 27, 2023
While other brands were experimenting with skin creams and lotions, the geeks at Maurten have found a way to get bicarb into the blood by having athletes eat a jello-like mixture that protects the stomach. And crucially, it doesn’t bring the risk of turning bib shorts brown.
Jumbo-Visma was involved from the very start of the years-long development process of Maurten’s must-have marginal gain.
Links between the Swedish brand and Jumbo-Visma’s lead nutritionist Asker Jeukendrup saw the team’s fleet of world-toppers become bicarbonate guinea pigs from as far back as 2019.
Roglič even used the in-development product before his victory over adversity at the Tokyo Olympics.
More recently, the nutrition brainiacs also worked with racers from SD Worx and Intermarché-Circus-Wanty in a back-and-forth process of training camp tests and laboratory tweaks until its formulation was ready for lift-off this February.
‘It’s opening a new world for some riders’
Heijboer told VeloNews most of his fleet of classics and stage racers started using the raw and unreleased system in 2021 before a sponsor-enforced break last year.
But now in 2023, Jumbo-Visma is fully loaded with bicarb, and loving it.
“This system is opening a new world for some of our riders who weren’t able to use bicarb before. I think it’s really a big change and a big advantage for riders who weren’t able to use it before,” Heijboer said.
As well as preventing G.I. distress, the new product also doubles bicarb absorption rate, meaning the gains are still coming seven hours deep into the longest monument or world championship race.
Heijboer couldn’t reveal if Van Aert used it at Milan-San Remo this weekend, but you can be he probably did.
“Using bicarb isn’t all about how a rider’s legs ‘feel,'” Heijboer said. “We’ve seen the power outputs for 20 or 30-second sprints is higher with bicarb. The riders cope better with the lactic acid which is produced in those hard efforts.
“So it definitely improves perception, but also output. That’s why riders like it so much.”
Using sodium bicarbonate isn’t for absolutely everyone though.
Heijboer said Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard is one of a handful of his team that steers clear of baking soda, while other recent users told VeloNews they were skeptical of its impact.
But the doubters aren’t stopping Maurten from being so confident in the power of its new system that its top brass is already talking about the ethics of using it. Sodium bicarbonate isn’t restricted by WADA and other doping bodies, but Maurten believes that might change now the brand has revolutionized its use.
For now however, the WorldTour might get a little bit faster thanks to a basic baking product.