There were a number of reasons why the 2020 Tour de France was different. The time difference between the winner and runner up was 59 seconds. Eating while biking is a survival skill in a race where athletes push themselves to the absolute limits of human capacity.
The modern Tour de France is a showcase for elite athleticism and everything that such high performance requires, including equipment made from advanced materials and carefully planned nutrition. After a hundred years, cycling's biggest race hasn't always been the precisely-choreographed feat that it is today.
The 11th stage of the Tour de France will take place today. The riders will travel just over 94 miles from Albertville to the Col du Granon, ending their ride with a brutal mountaintop finish. Roughly halfway through the stage, most likely on a flat stretch of road before the big climbs, team assistants called soigneurs will station themselves in a feed zone. They will hang their musettes from one hand to the top of their straps. The Tour doesn't allow feeding from the right side of the road, so nearly 200 riders will squeeze to the right side.THE GASTRO OBSCURA BOOK
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The Tour de France was started in 1903 by newspaper editor Henri Desgrange in order to revive the circulation of his publication L'Auto. The first Tour was designed for maximum spectacle, with one or more days of rest in between. The average stage length was double that of the modern average. The sixty riders started the race.
Rules were constantly changed in the early Tours as organizers tried to find the right competitive balance. The cooperation between riders is very important in modern cycling. Cyclists take turns riding at the front of a group to protect fellow racers from the worst of the wind resistance and make the ride easier. Even sponsored riders had to participate in the early Tours as solo because Desgrange frowned on professional teams and collaboration. Riders had to bring all their supplies with them and arrive at the finish with any equipment they had when they started. The problem of food was solved by some of the rules.
People were able to stop where they wanted at the beginning. Henri Pépin was a wealthy amateur who paid two riders to pace him and take turns at the front of the 1907 Tour. Pepin's group sometimes took more than a day to complete a stage. Eating at rural establishments could have health risks. The kitchens were not as sanitary as they are now. Illnesses and food poisoning were a regular occurrence.
The benefits of bringing your own food can be seen in this. There were few options for carrying things. There were no pockets in the first jerseys. There was no need for a heavy bag. The timing of the musettes arrival suggests a possible origin. French soldiers in World War I carried canvas satchels with long straps instead of full packs. The Tour de France resumed from its wartime hiatus in the 1920s, and many of the professional riders fought in the war. The military and cycling musettes are probably related.
Riders carried their musettes from the beginning of the race. Cyclists like to eat ordinary food if it is easy to consume on a bike. As team riding became the norm and support staff began providing food to riders mid-stage, sandwiches, cake, and flasks of port wine or other alcohol were common.
Jacques Anquetil, a cycling legend who rode (and won) his first Tour de France in 1957 and went on to become the first five-time winner, once asked for an omelette on race day. To get him a cool glass of Chablis, he asked his teammates to serve him.
Soigneurs are masters of their craft, and teams have both rider nutrition and musette handoffs down to an art. David Lozano is a nine-year veteran of the UCI ProSeries and an 11-time Spanish national champion in mountain bike and cyclocross. He says he was still in diaper when they worked their first race. We can learn from them.
Energy bars and gels, as well as bottles for hydration, and occasionally a can of Coke, are included in modern musettes. The Tour de France riders need to consume at least 5,000 calories a day to keep up with the energy they use on the bike, so team chefs provide breakfast and dinner before and after each stage.
The key to handing a musette to a rider is to hold the bag high enough that the rider can grab the strap close to the bag. The musette is less likely to hit the bike. Soigneurs are up early to make sure the safest places for a handoff are found. Even with the best preparation, things can go wrong at any time.
It's quite dangerous. There is always a bag flying or a bottle on the ground. It's easy to have mistakes when there are some movements in the group. After a successful handoff, a cyclist will sling the musette strap around their neck and sort through the contents. A sudden dive for a musette just out of reach, or a sudden swerving to miss a bottle, can cause a domino effect and take down half the peloton.
On the very first day of the Tour, the American rider crashed after hitting a bottle in the road. The crash left Craddock with a broken shoulder blade, but he continued the race, using it as an opportunity to raise money for a damaged cycling track in his hometown of Houston. The lanterne rouge, the last-place rider, was celebrated throughout the Tour.
The musette is sometimes to blame. The long, thin strap can cause a lot of trouble when it meets a rider's handlebars or wheel. Beyond the feed zone is also at risk. Lance Armstrong caught the strap of a young spectator's musette during the 2003 Tour after getting too close to the side of the road. One of the most dramatic moments of the modern Tour was when he roared back for a stage win despite hitting the deck hard.
The drama of the feed zone has already affected this year's Tour. Another team's soigneur, seeing that he was about to miss his rider, stretched farther into the road to hand off the musette and hit the Frenchman in the face.
Even with all the risks, musette handoffs continue. None of the teams have caught on to the other options. musettes level the playing field for teams that don't have as much money. In a single day race, they have 20 stationary feed zones. There needs to be a lot of team vehicles. Not every team has this possibility.
The down-to-earth spirit of a sport that has very few barriers between its fans and its stars is what he feelsmusettes are in. The biggest guy on the road can stay close to a fan. Staying on the ground is more passionate than keeping the feet on the floor.
It's what makes cycling so special.
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