If you watched or heard us commentate on Stage 18, you would have seen Chris Froome wave his arms around with 5kms from the summit of Alpe D’Huez. He was signalling to his back up team that he was suffering from 'the bonk.' The French call it Fringale. He had simply not eaten enough, his blood sugar was low and he was about to, literally, run out of energy.
For Froome yesterday was a lucky escape. His priority after suffering the bonk was just to get to the line where his helpers would be able to start the recovery process. He would have immediately received more substantial nourishment from his team support.
Nutrition and hydration for riders is of the utmost importance if you are to avoid that dreaded ‘bonk’ where your body feels empty, you get a sudden complete lack of strength, you can feel lightheaded, even a sense of disorientation and dizziness. You must keep enough quality fuel going in for the body to function at its optimum level.
He was signalling that he needed something quickly. He was then given some energy gel which is quickly absorbed by the body. This was an illegal move this far into the race, and he was fined and given a 20 second penalty.
It is important of course to eat well-balanced meals, but because of the nature of professional cycling and long stages that really only means two meals a day. The evening meal must have the correct percentage of proteins, vitamins and carbohydrates. Pre-race meals are more carbohydrate based.
The key to the rest of the day is little and often. Sometimes this means even having to force something down when you don’t feel hungry. This of course means eating on the go and eating food that is easily digested.
Timewise, riders must start to eat within 20 minutes or so of the start, then on a regular basis throughout the stage. This is easier said than done when you’re cycling flat out.
Yesterday Froome suffered from the bonk because the back-up car that follows them around suffered a mechanical problem meaning that Froome could not get his food at the bottom of the climb.
Today the riders are blessed with high quality ready-made bars, gels and drinks, but when you are racing for 23 days and many hours a day, this stuff can get monotonous, and fruit tarts, rice cakes, fruit, even bread rolls with cream cheese or honey will be included in the rider’s pockets and musettes. A little variety is essential.
Once the stage is over, the riders will have another quick snack; recovery drinks are essential. The next day’s stage may only be 18 hours away but what you put into your body is just as important as the rest and the much needed massage.
It was a minor blip for Froome yesterday, but the dangers are there today and you can be assured that he won’t make the same mistake again. Time will tell if he came through yesterday unscathed or not. But one thing is certain, the 20 second penalty he received for getting food from the car is one that he would have happily taken.