The Tour de France is nothing if not grueling. To overcome the three-week test of endurance and speed over 2,200 miles, cyclists rely on a team of other cyclists, doctors, mechanics, chefs and more. Ahead of the 104th Tour, starting Saturday, we went behind the scenes with Team Cannondale-Drapac, one of three U.S.-based teams that qualified, to find out just what it takes to compete in the world's most iconic cycling race.
Wheels on the Bus
When the riders aren't cycling or sleeping, they're on the team bus. This locker room on wheels transports the riders and staff between stages and carries enough food and gear to keep them in top shape. The riders spend one to three hours on the bus each day, and navigate around just two feet of aisle space to make themselves snacks, use the bathroom and charge their phones.
Besides the nine riders, the team consists of drivers, mechanics, chefs, doctors, directors and a group known as soigneurs -- who pretty much do it all. The word soigneur comes from the French soigner, meaning "take care of." Among their many tasks: laundry, lunch (they make up to 40 sandwiches a day), massages and bike maintenance.
On a Role
Just as each member of the staff has a different responsibility, each of the nine riders plays a unique role in bringing the leader to victory.
General classification rider
The general classification rider is the alpha. Think LeBron James. Get him the ball -- or in this case the lead -- and let him do the rest. Just as LeBron doesn't hand out towels during crunch time, this rider doesn't drop out of the pack, known as the peloton, to fetch water bottles, nor does he worry about getting jackets or food. His sole focus is donning the yellow jersey. Normally there's only one GC rider per team, but this year Cannondale will start the race with both Andrew Talansky and Rigoberto Uran.
If the GC rider is comparable to LeBron, the protected rider is like Kyrie Irving. He's good enough to win it on his own -- and like Irving he may sometimes try to -- but he's not the first option. More likely, Cannondale will ask him to target a stage victory in hopes of saving as much energy as possible to help out the GC.
Think of these two riders as company men. They break away from the peloton for short bursts to get TV time for their sponsors but have virtually no shot of winning the Tour. Hey, someone has to pay the bills.
Domestiques, French for "servants," are the Tour's version of offensive linemen. The five riders form a bubble around the GC rider to protect him from challengers' attacks, let him draft behind them to save energy and offer their bikes in emergencies. They also drop back to the team car for anything the leaders need, from water bottles to rice cakes to rain jackets. Egos are checked at the door.
Since it is hard to picture the staggering amount of food a typical cyclist consumes daily, we simplified the menu to three foods. Warning: Do not try this at home!
Behind the team bus comes a tuneup shop, laundry and kitchen rolled into one. The mechanics' truck makes life easy -- until the gas bill arrives.
*Illustrations by T.M. Detwiler