Tour de France: Behind the scenes with Belkin

The Belkin cycling team in action in Yorkshire

The chef for the Belkin cycling team is explaining one of the unusual food ingredients which it is hoped will give its riders an extra edge in this year's Tour de France.

"Beetroot," declares Jesper Boom, and goes on to explain why the purple root vegetable can help give the Amsterdam-based team's riders a crucial advantage in each race stage.

"Beetroot has high nitrate content, which helps the muscles to use oxygen more efficiently," he says.

It is one of his catering tasks to ensure in advance that there are adequate supplies of beetroot at each of the hotels the team stays at.

"If beetroot is not on their regular menu then I ask them to go and buy it specifically for us, so that it is ready for our arrival."

'Travelling circus'
Louis Delahaye of Belkin Pro Cycling team Louis Delahaye makes sure the team is in peak physical and psychological condition

Start Quote

We bring much of the food from Holland ”

End Quote Jesper Boom Belkin team chef

Dutchman Boom is the younger brother of the team's renowned rider Lars Boom, and has worked with Belkin Pro Cycling- recently known as Rabobank and then Blanco - for two years.

The large behind-the-scenes operations which support a football World Cup or Formula One racing team are well-known, but a Tour de France team also needs major support.

Jesper, 26, is just one of some 20 backroom staff beavering tirelessly away to ensure that everything possible is done to give the Belkin team's nine riders the best chance of success in the race.

As he talks to the BBC website, other members of staff, all decked out in matching black polo shirts buzz about the team's hotel lobby, co-ordinating their many daily tasks in support of the riders.

line break
Belkin Tour de France team
Bauke Mollema, of team Belkin Pro Cycling
  • 9 cyclists
  • 5 soigneurs (carers)
  • 4 coaches
  • 3 mechanics - with the option of a fourth
  • 2 hospitality/commercial staff
  • 1 chef
  • 1 doctor
  • 1 osteopath
  • 1 communications manager
  • 1 director of cycling/MD
  • 1 person to look after transport and hotel bookings
line break

It comes at an uncertain time for the team, with title sponsor Belkin pulling out at the end of the year, and the hunt for a new major backer under way.

But there is no sign of any slacking, as the team members gear up to work 16-hour days for the next three weeks.

Team Belkin mechanic Vincent Hendriks shows how Tour de France racing bike tyres are made

"A Tour de France team is like a large travelling circus," says Louis Delahaye, one of the team's four sports coaches, who has the specific role of high performance manager.

"The public only sees the riders but they could not function without the unseen support staff."

This solid base to the team's cycling pyramid includes everything from osteopaths to mechanics, from logistics staff to PR people.

How to set up a Tour de France bike's saddle and handlebars

Ice vests

Delahaye's main task is to ensure that his riders are in peak physical, nutritional and psychological condition.

More specifically it can mean deciding which snack bars to give the cyclists before, during and after race stages.

Meanwhile, technical tasks include ensuring there are scientifically-based cooling regimes in place for the riders, not only after race stages, but also pre-cooling cyclists before time trials.

A Belkin bike being used in the Tour De France One of the high-tech Belkin bikes being used on the UK stages of the Tour

While leg muscles are warmed, core body temperature is lowered by giving the riders ice vests to wear ahead of the start.

Another essential duty is to make sure that the riders are properly rested, a task achieved by transporting each individual cyclist's personal mattress from team hotel to hotel each day throughout the race.

'Rock band'

If Delahaye sees the team as a circus, soigneur (French for "one who provides care") Richard Cremers sees a Tour de France team on the road as being more akin to a major music act.

He is one of the essential assistants responsible for a range of duties including feeding, clothing, massaging and escorting riders.

"If you don't like cycling you really shouldn't do this job. It is very long hours, but very exciting too," says the 50-year-old. "It is a bit like being on a rock band tour, lots of logistics and a different town or city each day."

Two Belkin cars, one van, and the team coach A selection of the Belkin team's motorised convoy

The team's huge truck, coach, three vans and five cars certainly resemble the sort of travelling convoy more associated with an international music act.

'Roller-coaster ride'

The ultimate responsibility for ensuring the team is as successful as possible in the race, while also keeping the show on the road, falls to the team's director of cycling and managing director Richard Plugge.

At present the 44-year-old also has the pressure of finding a new title sponsor.

"Being director of cycling is a real roller-coaster ride, but I like roller-coaster," he says. "I don't walk away from challenges.

"I am really confident we will get a replacement sponsor, because cycling is one of the biggest sports, particularly in Western Europe," he says. "It is also big in California, and growing in Australia and China, particularly the latter."

line break

Belkin Tour de France supplies

  • 11 mattresses
  • 36 aero suits, 45 bib shorts, 54 race jerseys, 250 podium caps
  • 63 bikes
  • 140 wheels, 220 tyres
  • 250 feeding bags, 3,000 water bottles
  • 2,190 nutrition gels, 3,800 nutrition bars
  • 10 jars of peanut butter, 10 boxes of chocolate sprinkles, 20 bags of wine gums, 20 jars of jam
  • 80 kg of nuts, raisins, apricots and figs, plus 50 kg of cereals
line break

In the longer term Plugge says that the funding model has to change for Tour de France teams, away from its present sponsor-heavy financial set-up.

And he has a clear vision of the new sort of economic arrangement he would like to see.

This includes selling merchandising to fans as well as selling the experience of meeting the team's riders. Selling rider data and image rights is also a possibility.

In addition he says the sport is ripe for wealthy individuals to pump in money, in a similar way as seen in football over the past decade.

He says there is a place for sponsors, who are important, but not so that teams are as heavily dependent on them as they are now.

"We have seen the sport suffer somewhat in previous years but I think we will see a great change economically in cycling in the next three to five years," he says.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    Cut up cards

    More help is needed for people who are too poor to go bankrupt, according to a report out today. The Centre for Social Justice says 300,000 people in the UK can't afford the £525 (to the official receiver) and £180 to the (courts) to be legally declared bankrupt. Andrew Tate, from R3 - the insolvency trade body - thinks people should be allowed to pay the fees off over time.

    YUKOS AWARD 10:40: World Service

    The Court of Arbitration in The Hague said Russia must pay the compensation after finding it forced the company into bankruptcy. The claimant's lawyer, Emmanuel Gaillard, said there would be no opportunity for Russia to contest the ruling: "As to appeal, there is no appeal... The tribunal has listened to both parties... the Russian Federation had ample opportunity to be heard in this case, the judgement is there. After 10 years of battle, the tribunal says they violated international law."

    HOUSE PRICES 10:24:
    A grpah showing house price growth in the last year

    Average house prices in London were only 0.1% higher in June compared with a month earlier. But that still puts them 16.4% higher than the same month a year ago. The average price of property in the capital in June was £437,608. That compares with £172,011 in the rest of England and Wales.

    HOUSE PRICES 10:11:

    In fact, average house prices in seven out of 10 regions in England and Wales fell - yup fell- in June compared with the previous month. Only London, the South East and the West Midlands saw an increase in average property values. The West Midlands was far and away the star performer in June with average house prices up 1.9%.

    HOUSE PRICES 09:58:

    On an annual basis, the West Midlands saw a 4.7% increase in average house prices, while the South East saw house prices jump 7.8%. At the other end of the scale, house prices in the North East are up just 0.8% since June last year.

    HOUSE PRICES 09:48:
    A street of colourfully painted houses in London

    Average house prices in the UK in June were unchanged - yes that's right unchanged - says the Land Registry. It is the only one whose index measures the actual sale price. It's not the first house price data to show a levelling off and one or two have even suggested slight falls. One reason could be April's tougher mortgage affordability rules but that's unlikely to be the only explanation.

    Trinity Mirror share price

    Loyal shareholders in newspaper group Trinity Mirror will be rewarded for their patience. The company said its full-year results would be better than expected and it hoped to pay a dividend for the first time since 2008. First half profits are down 2% at £48.2m.

    09:26: Breaking News

    The arbitration court in The Hague tells Russia to pay Yukos shareholders $50bn in compensation, says main shareholder GML. Russia forced Yukos into bankruptcy and sold its assets to state-owned businesses for political purposes, says GML's lawyer.

    Commuters at Kings Cross Railway Station

    Here's an interesting tip off from the Guardian about Labour's election pledge to let cooperatives and mutually-owned companies run Britain's rail services. The party's pledge to give public sector bidders the same rights as private companies to bid for rail franchises will be outlined on a visit to Glasgow later today. Labour will say that employees and passengers could take a far greater role in running the railways.

    FRACKING LICENCES 09:14: BBC Radio 4
    Balcombe fracking

    More from Mr Hancoc, who tells the Today programme that "of course" there is some local opposition to fracking but the public in general understands the need for energy security and largely agrees with fracking. He couldn't name a local community pleased about the prospect of fracking, but points out there is a £100,000 grant for local communities and says they will benefit from the proceeds of fracking as well.

    YUKOS AWARD 09:04:

    More from Reuters on compensation for Yukos shareholders. There's another case going on in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg on behalf of all Yukos shareholders. That is expected to announce its decision on Thursday. They're claiming Yukos was unlawfully deprived of its possessions by the imposition of bogus taxes and a sham auction of its main asset.

    Mothercare share graph

    Mothercare shares have fallen sharply - 11% - after the company released a statement saying it had had no contact with potential US bidder Destination Maternity since early June. It said firmly it wants an independent future. Shareholders can't be said to be universally delighted about that prospect.

    MARKET UPDATE 08:36:

    European markets have started the day steadily enough. There was some positive data from China with industrial profits growing at a stronger pace in the first half of 2014 than a year earlier. The biggest rise on the FTSE 100 so far is Reckitt Benckiser - up nearly 3% to 5220p - following its positive trading update.

    • The FTSE 100 is 0.17% higher at 6802.99
    • Germany's Dax is lower by 0.05% at 9639.04
    • France's Cac-40 is 0.30% higher at 4343.41
    FRACKING LICENCES 08:29: BBC Radio 4

    Energy minister Matthew Hancock tells the Today programme there is "potentially" quite a bit of shale gas under the ground. That would be good news for our energy security, he adds. Areas need to be explored to see if there is shale gas in the ground first. Companies currently exploring for shale gas will then automatically be allowed to exploit it.


    Ryanair shares have jumped 5% in the wake of its statement earlier this morning, predicting higher profits.

    MARKET UPDATE 08:10:

    Asian stock markets are hovering near three-year highs, with China taking the lead after data showed a robust rise in profits earned by industrial firms. Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.46% to 15529.4, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng is up 1% to 24,456.5.

    YUKOS AWARD 08:04:

    Yukos was run by what was then Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The $50bn (£29.4bn) the Hague court is said by Reuters to be awarding the shareholders is half the $100bn they were asking for. The claim is from subsidiaries of Gibraltar-based Group Menatep. Menatep now exists as holding company GML and Khodorkovskyis no longer a shareholder either entity.

    ARGENTINA DEBT 07:56: BBC Radio 4

    One more from Mr Caicedo on Argentina's debt woes. He says default will be very damaging for the country because it has been trying to normalise its relationships with capital markets and that will go out the window. He adds that will also mean Argentine provinces won't be able to go to the markets to raise cash by issuing bonds of their own - and that will start to feed into their ability to pay wages to government employees, among other things.

    YUKOS AWARD 07:45:

    Reuters has a report - citing unnamed sources - that the Hague's arbitration court has ruled in favour of a group of shareholders in former oil giant Yukos against Russia, awarding compensation of around $50bn. That's half the amount originally claimed.

    A shelf full of Reckitt Benckiser products

    Reckitt Benckiser - which does a host of branded goods from condoms to cleaning fluid Cillit Bang - reports a 4% rise in sales for the past six months. Profits rose 16% to £1bn. The company has also decided to spin off its Suboxone pharmaceuticals business in the next 12 months, ending months of speculation over the shrinking division's future.

    OVERPRICED HEALTHCARE 07:36: Radio 5 live

    Private healthcare is 15% overpriced, estimates Bupa. The healthcare group itself has been criticised in the past by regulators for lack of clarity around its policies. Bupa boss Damien Marmion says they're working on that: "We have addressed it substantially, but will continue [to deal with the matter]."

    FRACKING LICENCES 07:27: Radio 5 live

    More on Fracking. David Hunter tells Wake up to Money the industry will obviously will need to regulated properly. "It is right that we are clear on how tight regulation should be," he says, but "it's also clear we should be spending more time assessing the potential of fracking" given energy security concerns, he adds.

    Pushchairs on sale at a Mothercare store

    Mothercare has responded to the news US rival Destination Maternity has gone off the idea of bidding for it with a corporate shrug. A statement says it "notes" the offer withdrawal and also "notes" it has had no contact with Destination Maternity for about six weeks. It says under new boss Mark Newton-Jones it is now "fully focused" on its turnaround plan.

    OVERPRICED HEALTHCARE 07:13: Radio 5 live
    Bupa sign

    Private healthcare is overpriced, says ... private healthcare provider Bupa. Damien Marmion, its managing director of UK Insurance. He says the whole industry is to blame, especially the price charged by hospitals. He says prices need to go down by about 15%.

    Ryanair plane landing

    Irish airline Ryanair reports better than expected first quarter earnings. Pre-tax profits rose to 223.6m euros (I£176.8m) in the three months to 30 June up from 88.5m euros a year earlier. Full-year profit guidance is up, too, to between 620m euros and 650m euros for the full year.

    FRACKING LICENCES 06:49: Radio 5 live

    Fracking will not necessarily lead to lower energy prices, David Hunter from Schneider Electric tells Wake Up to Money. It is important that the UK assess the potential of fracking, especially given Europe's currently fractious [a-hem] relationship with Russia. It's more about energy security than lower prices, Mr Hunter says.

    GSK BREAK-UP? 06:40:
    Horlicks jars

    The Financial Times goes with the boss of drugs giant GSK is considering breaking up the company, should its consumer healthcare division be worth more as a standalone company. And yes, that division owns Horlicks, as well as mega-brands like Aquafresh and Corsodyl.

    ARGENTINA DEBT 06:32: BBC Radio 4

    More on Argentina's debt woes. It is risking falling into default for the second time in 12 years, says Carlos Caicedo, senior principal analyst on country risk at IHS Global Insight. In fact, this looks like the most likely outcome after the Argentine economic minister failed to arrive in New York for talks on Friday. Leading Hedge Fund NML Capital believes Argentina will definitely default on its loans, he adds, and the government's refusal to meet and talk with its creditors isn't helping matters.

    ARGENTINA DEBT 06:23: Radio 5 live

    It is more than 10 years since Argentina announced it couldn't pay back its debts. Most bondholders accepted a deal to get back a small percentage in exchange for writing off those debt. But some bonds are owned by US hedge funds who want full repayment. Argentina says no, but there's a court deadline on Wednesday. Deborah Zandstra, a specialist in debt restructuring at Clifford Chance, tells Wake Up to Money the move will have wider repercussions: "Essentially Argentina is being put into a position of defaulting on its bonds. That will trigger cross defaults on its other debts."

    FRACKING LICENCES 06:09: BBC World News
    Brenda Kelly

    Brenda Kelly from IG Index is reviewing the newspapers on World News. "It is interesting to compare the Guardian's coverage with the Telegraph. The Guardian says there will be drilling but the Telegraph says it won't. There are a huge amount of environmental issues - the amount of water used, the risk of small earthquakes, for example. All energy firms will have to provide an environmental statement if they are going to drill near sites of natural beauty."

    FRACKING LICENCES 06:03: Radio 5 live
    Barton Moss Results from test drilling for shale gas at Barton Moss, Salford are being analysed

    Energy companies are being invited to bid for licences to extract oil and gas from large areas of Britain, using the controversial process known as fracking. The technique will be all but banned from national parks and other environmentally sensitive areas. Mike Bradshaw, professor of Global Energy at Warwick Business School, tells Radio 5 live people are concerned: "We've got very limited experience of fracking in the UK. So we don't know the answer to many of the questions that people have about what fracking will look like under UK and EU regulations which are very different from those that exist in the United States."

    06:01: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks, as ever you can get in touch with us by email at and on twitter @bbcbusiness.

    06:00: Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    Monday morning. Here we are. Fracking is under the spotlight as companies start to bid for licences to drill for shale gas. Stay with us for the pick of the business news from the BBC and elsewhere.



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.