Search icon

Fitness & Health

04th Jul 2018

What it takes to compete in the Tour De France

UAE Team Emirates cyclist Dan Martin discusses the training, nutrition and psychological advantages needed to succeed in the most prestigious race on Earth

Alex Roberts

Ever wondered what it takes to perform in the most prestigious stage race on Earth?

The Tour de France starts this Saturday, July 7th. It is seen as the ultimate challenge for the world’s top cyclists, with continuous competition spread across a variety of landscapes and difficult terrain.

All riders competing in this historic race are at the top of their game, making for fierce competition and highly entertaining viewing.

JOE spoke to Dan Martin, a pro cyclist with UAE Team Emirates. Martin has spent over a decade in the UCI Top 100.

JOE: What does it take to maintain elite-level performance?

Martin: “It’s an all-round lifestyle. You have to live and breathe it and it takes immense passion to be a top cyclist.

“It’s a 24/7 process which may be different to other sports, the commitment is essential all year round, on every single day. You need to be very committed. Even a two or three hour cycle takes five or six hours out of your day with all the preparation needed. It’s a full time job.”

Are there any physical challenges that you’ve had to overcome in your professional career?

“Cycling involves learning about your body and listening to its signals. Your body needs to be in tune to perform and tackle any physical challenges.

“I also found out I was lactose intolerant during winter genetic testing, so I made adjustments to my diet there.”

What does your daily diet look like during the Tour De France?

“Balance is best. I go for everything in moderation, not a strict diet, definitely not without carbs or fat.

“I have worked with a nutritionist but my own experience has also been really important.”

“When I wake up, I’ll have a sizeable bowl of porridge, bit of fruit and a black coffee. The Italian team try and dictate that high carb always means high pasta, but I’m not eating that for breakfast! I’ll stick with porridge for my carbs.

“There’s also a lot of protein in oats which people forget about.”

Martin is clear that food eaten during the race has to be practical.

“We consume a lot of nutritional drinks rich in electrolytes and quick sugars. In terms of solid food we go for rice cakes, protein bars, energy bars and gels.”

After the day’s cycling is over, refeeds are needed. Your body needs to stock up on energy that has been depleted from all those hours out on the bike.

“I’ll have a bowl of egg white rice with a cooking oil and parmesan cheese. The cheese helps to keep the protein up, too. I will also have freshly-chopped fruit salad. There may also be some sneaky dark chocolate in there.”

“For dinner, I go gluten free with my carbs during big races and that works for me. I’ll have fish, chicken or turkey for protein and red meat only once per week.”

What supplements do you swear by?

“Outside of recovery drinks and energy gels, I think fish oils are very good – to get omega, 3, 6 and 9 fats into the body.”

What kind of in-gym training have you been doing in the run-up to the Tour De France?

“I’m actually one of the few that does a lot of gym work. I will do resistance training three times per week, with the bulk of my training done during winter.

“Squats and leg press form the basis of my routine, in particular the unilateral (single leg) press. The purpose is to replicate pedal stroke and work on muscle fibre density.

“I don’t test my one rep max as I’m not a strength or power athlete, but I usually go for 30-40 reps of a 75kg squat for 10-12 reps.”

Whatever your level of competition, Martin’s leg workout looks an absolute killer.

Mental health is hugely important, not least in sport. How do you stay on top of stress, especially during the Tour De France?

“I learned meditation techniques to help me relax and give my body the time to recover.

“We live such busy lives now that the hardest thing to do is just lie down and relax. De-stressing and mindfulness has also helped my performance.

“Psychological edge is massive in sport. You need to remind yourself at times that all it is is a bike race. Worrying won’t change anything.”

Martin also provided JOE with a 10-minute HIIT workout you can perform on a bike.

  • 40 second cycle at 95% of maximum effort
  • For the next 20 seconds, drop the effort level but keep cycling lightly

That’s one round. Aim for 10.

This can be done on a hill or climb if you’re experienced, but can also be performed on a flat surface.

Organised by ASO, the 2018 Tour de France will finish in Paris on Sunday July 29th, where the winner will be crowned on the Champs-Élysées.