Curiosities of the Tour de France unpacked: veiny legs, big rides on 'rest' days and cola guzzling explained

Ever wondered why riders have such veiny legs? Do riders share rooms? How does a 60km ride count as a rest day? We take a look at the burning questions and those you never thought to ask

Image shows Nairo Alexander Quintana walking to the team bus.
(Image credit: Getty Images: Tim de Waele)

The 2022 edition of the Tour de France is well underway - and if you’ve been following the racing action, there’s probably quite a fair few points that might have piqued your curiosity. That is to be fully expected - a lot is left going on behind the scenes that the cameras aren’t capturing.

Google's autocorrect can provide us with a wealth of information around the general public's deepest thoughts about the pros. For instance, it seems there are enough people desperately searching for ‘how do cyclists pee whilst racing the Tour de France?’ that the search engine is serving up this suggestion for everyone. 

Naturally, we couldn’t leave them hanging, and our answer to how exactly cyclists do pee during top level races can be found here. There’s an almost dizzying array of other questions, too, which we'll get fully stuck into here.

We will take a look at Tour de France performance trends and, continuing past the finish line, we’ll also reveal what the riders get up to in their team buses and talk more about how the pros deal with the hotel-to-hotel life that makes up the three weeks of a Grand Tour.

For answers to more questions about the Tour de France be sure to pick up a copy of the July 21 edition of Cycling Weekly magazine.  (opens in new tab)

Why are Tour de France cyclist’s legs so veiny?

We’ve all got veins in our legs quite near to the skin surface, but they are hidden by a layer of fat just under the skin. 

Tour de France cyclist's legs appear to be uber-veiny for two main reasons: firstly, they have much less body fat than ‘ordinary’ people, and secondly, their veins and arteries have adapted to carry more blood around their bodies. The cardiovascular adaptations are numerous, but a large increase in vein and artery diameter is one of them. You can read more about the science behind why Tour de France rider’s legs are so veiny here.

What do Tour de France riders do on their rest days?

They ride, and not just a little amble around the streets. Most will be on their bikes for two hours and some even more. 

In the early days of Team Sky, Russell Downing found out why after the first rest day of his Grand Tour debut in the 2011 Giro d’Italia: “It was a hard race, the weather was bad and by the first rest day I was really tired. The others asked if I was going with them, but it was cold and raining and I said I’d go on the turbo in the hotel basement instead. I did that for about 45 minutes, just very easy, then went back upstairs to lie down. Next day I was nailed for the whole stage, just hanging on. I was okay the day after, but I’d learnt my lesson and rode with the boys on the next rest day. If you don’t ride reasonably hard on the rest day, your body thinks you’ve stopped and switches off ready for deep recovery. You’ve got to keep it firing for the whole three weeks.” 

Image shows Wout van Aert's rest day Tour de France ride.

(Image credit: Strava)

Why do Tour de France riders drink Coca-Cola?

Most team nutritionists would rather the riders didn’t drink coca cola, and some teams even forbid it.

That said, there’s also always one small can of coke in the musettes Trek-Segafredo gives its riders. Drinking a regular fizzy drink such as a cold can of coke after a stage is good for morale – and preserving positivity in a brutal three-week race is vital.

Of course, the most important nutritional consideration for riders is getting enough calories to meet the extreme demands of the race. If you’re wondering how they achieve that, here we look into what exactly goes into fuelling the riders of the Tour de France.

How light and lean are the Tour de France climbers?

Double Tour de France stage winner, the recently retired Irish pro rider Dan Martin was a climbing specialist. His racing weight was 62kg, which is light for his 5ft 9in height, but some shorter climbers weigh under 60kg. However, being super-light is no longer the preserve of the pure climbing specialists. Defending Tour champion Pogacar is the same height as Martin and only slightly heavier at around 66kg, while 2019 winner Egan Bernal, also 5ft 9in, is a true featherweight at just 60kg. 

The riders mentioned start the Tour de France with body fat percentages well below 10 per cent, but nutritionists are careful not to allow ‘cutting’ to go too far. 

In fact, it can be better to offload a little muscle, as Dr Rob Child, a performance biochemist who worked with several World Tour teams, explains: “It’s sometimes worth losing a bit of muscle to reduce weight because very low body fat has health implications. Tour de France performance is governed by the cardiovascular system, not by the maximum force applied to the pedals. Pro riders don’t need huge amounts of muscle to pedal at 400 watts for 20 or 30 minutes, and that’s often the key to performing well overall in the Tour. They need a highly developed cardiovascular system, not big muscles.” 

Image shows Tom Pidcock climbing an ascent.

(Image credit: Getty Images: Michael Steele)

What is a soigneur in cycling and what are their duties during the Tour de France?

Soigneur is the French word for ‘carer’, and basically soigneurs care for riders. They prepare them for each stage, looking after them at the finish and back the hotel, with massage and rehab therapies. And they care in other ways too. 

Dirk Nachtergaele, a Belgian pro team soigneur for over 40 years says: “A soigneur is also like a priest. We are the one who riders can confide in, confident that anything they tell us goes no further. They can complain about another rider, the sports director even; they can talk about problems at home – anything. They know we will not tell anyone what they said. That role as confidante is as necessary in a team as being a skilled therapist.”   

What do Tour de France riders do to recover between stages?

The standard of hotels used by the Tour has improved a lot in recent years, so that helps with sleep and recovery. Even so, teams provide further ‘home comforts’ by carrying all their own bedding, including mattresses and pillows. They also have their own washing machines in the team buses and equipment trucks. Everything is done to promote good sleeping habits and hygiene. 

Riders generally do room-share, partly through tradition but also because it’s good to have company. Pairings are decided diplomatically, though.

 To read the full feature that answers:

 - What FTP and watts per kilo does it take to be a GC contender?

 - Do riders drink alcohol during the three weeks?

 - How heavy are the heaviest riders in the race, and how do they get over the mountains inside the time cut?

 - And many more questions…!

Pick up the July 21 edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. It'll be on sale now in newsagents, supermarkets and online (opens in new tab). If you want more content like this you can subscribe, save on the cover price (opens in new tab) and get it delivered every Thursday. 

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