The pressure of being a Grand Tour rider are unimaginable to most of us.
Incessant training regimes, measures to avoid illness and the huge differences in racing schedule make three-week contenders a different breed to most cyclists.
But there is one aspect of Grand Tour racing that can impact more than just your results – the diet.
Rohan Dennis, the reigning time trial world champion, is the latest rider who grew concerned for his wellbeing after setting himself targets in the three biggest stage races.
Dennis, who has joined Team Ineos for 2020 after a turbulent season last year, said he feared developing disordered eating habits as he looked to become a Grand Tour contender in the next few years.
In an interview with The Adelaide Advertiser, Dennis said: “I don’t know if I want to go down that road and I’ll be honest with you, I started to eat and not eat and was on that slippery slope of a complex or disorder.
“It got to a point where I was putting on weight, I would have one beer but then feel guilty and wouldn’t eat at training the next day, so then I couldn’t train properly, I wouldn’t do a good session, eat minimal and bonk again. Then you think you’re s**t, you feel down and you keep going.”
In 2017, Dennis began a planned four-year transformation into a Grand Tour contender, hoping to emulate time trial specialists like Sir Bradley Wiggins and Tom Dumoulin, and appeared to be making in-roads as he finished 16th in the 2018 Giro d’Italia.
Last season he finished second in the Tour de Suisse behind eventual Tour de France winner Egan Bernal (Team Ineos), marking another milestone in his pursuit of one of the iconic jerseys.
But the 29-year-old then unexpectedly abandoned the Tour de France during stage 12, which played into ongoing tension with his team management with Bahrain-Merida finally terminating his contract in September.
The experience has prompted Dennis to re-think his Grand Tour ambitions.
He said: “I’m not sure if it’s really worth going through the stress of trying to match that. I’m more comfortable with still having a life off the bike and being the best in the world at something.”
Dennis said he had dropped down to 68kg from his ideal time trial weight of 70-71kg before the 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire, where he claimed a second consecutive TT title. He says he took diet supplements creatine and whey protein to get back up to weight.
Eating disorders have been an increasing concern in the cycling world, with Jani Brajkovič revealing he had been dealing with his own unhealthy relationship with food and a diet expert recently warning that she had seen an increase in cyclists with eating disorders.
Chris Froome, the Team Ineos leader and four-time Tour de France winner, recently revealed some of the pressure a Grand Tour rider faces when it comes to diet.
Speaking on Watts Occuring, a podcast hosted by his team-mates Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe, Froome said he has been able to keep his weight down during his long recovery because he hasn’t had the same appetite while not training.
Froome, who hasn’t raced since his awful crash during the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné, said: “To be honest, it wasn’t that hard [keeping the weight down]. I think given that I wasn’t riding my bike every day, or exercising that much every day, I didn’t have the same kind of cravings I would normally have.
“Riding six hours a day you’re just starving all the time, starving day and night. For the first time in ages I just wasn’t that hungry.”
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