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Multi-stage races: the challenge of recovery

Whether in recreational bike tours like the Great Victorian Bike Ride or in important professional stage races, many cyclists ride day after day. In the Grand Tours—the Tour de France, the Giro D’Italia and the Spanish Vuelta—individual stages may be up to 200 km and the events may last up to three weeks. Such constant hard work places enormous stress on cyclists’ fuel and fluid reserves, and if they are not topped up fully, the deficit carries over to the next day.

Riders need to adopt special nutritional strategies to assist recovery overnight as well as meeting the needs of each stage. The main factor in success is not being the best on any one day but being able to do it again tomorrow. This was highlighted by the feat of Greg LeMond, who in winning the 1990 Tour de France became the first rider to gain overall honours without having won a single stage along the way

Recovery nutrition is covered in Chapter 5. Particularly relevant to cyclists are the sections on fluid and carbohydrate replenishment and, in the case of long tours, maintaining adequate total nutrient intake. From a practical point of view, nutritional arrangements for multi-day events may be left up to individual competitors or teams, or they may be part of in the overall organisation of the event. Often, accommodation and meals are included in the race or tour package.

These may vary from camp sites with army-style cooking to hotel hospitality. The disadvantages of relying on the event organisation for food include unsuitable food, a need to follow their feeding timetable rather than one designed to meet your needs, and the need to compete with many other people for the same food.

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It may be safer to arrange part or all of your race diet and catering yourself—especially if the race organisation is unfamiliar to you or if your nutritional needs are crucial to good performance. It doesn’t hurt to bring some of your own supplies, especially the specific foods and drinks that are part of your race and post-race eating strategies. Professional teams in important races will often come with a full back-up team and an aggressive nutrition plan.

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