'I liked to smoke a cigarette during the Tour de France, it calmed my nerves': Cycling nutrition before bread and water

Early bike racers shunned bread and water in favour of steak and booze. Chris Sidwells pulls up a seat at the retro banquet

Vittorio Adorni, Jacques Anquetil and Felice Gimondi eating spaghetti during the 1966 Giro d'Italia (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

(Image credit: Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Salty dried herrings, rare steak, red wine with sugar, pigeons, weird fruit and vegetable concoctions, even tobacco and hard liquor – they’ve all been part of the diet of a pro cyclist. There were things that had to be avoided, too: tap water, chips, the middle bit of baguettes and oranges after 6pm. These nutritional guidelines were part of the professional cyclist’s code ‘Le Métier’, handed down the generations and known only by insiders. It was a very different world.

When cycling emerged as a sport, towards the end of the 19th century, long-distance races soon began to catch the public’s attention – events such as the 360-mile Bordeaux-Paris and the 750-mile Paris-Brest-Paris, both ridden in one go rather than in stages, unlike the later Tour de France. Long races required lots of fuel, but competitors ate normal meals. Even during races, there were sit-down feeds, although some innovators, usually the best riders,

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1