When Mathieu van der Poel crossed the finish line in the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, he celebrated by raising his hands from the handlebars held in place by a stem that brings back some vital information.
As attentive viewers of the technical gallery that CyclingTips published from the race might have noticed, a printed chart affixed to van der Poel’s stem exposed his nutritional plan for the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
While the practice of printing course details on an easy-to-read guide on the stem is a centuries-old tradition, putting a regimented nutrition plan there is less common – and all the more intriguing considering how Van der Poel’s day went. In the wake of his victory, CyclingTips dug a bit to get more details on Van der Poel’s nutrition plan for Flanders and we managed to get some fascinating insights into the Dutchman’s approach.
As Alpecin-Fenix performance manager Kristof de Kegel explained to CyclingTips, spelling out all the details on when and what cyclists will consume can make a big difference in a race.
“The general principle is that in a race as long as the Tour of Flanders, over six hours of power production, the nutritional window is crucial. So timing, total amount of nutritional elements, energy intake, are very crucial, “said De Kegel.” When I explain this to pilots, I compare it a bit to sleep. If you lose two hours of sleep, if you lose that window of opportunity, you will never be able to recover it.
“It’s the same with nutrition for sure, when you’re in a high-intensity competition. For this reason, we make a timing, based on the kilometers or hours of the race or otherwise, on the amount, most of the time, of carbohydrates. This is the energy, the amount of carbohydrates they need to ingest by the hour, because if you lose something in the second hour of the race, you will pay in cash for the fourth, fifth or sixth hour of the race. So it’s just a reminder for the pilots. We have a lot of riders who follow him really well on the sticker ”.
The value of a regimented approach to nutrition has been clear to the team for some time. Therefore, De Kegel and his colleagues put together custom plans and attached what they call “nutrition stickers” to the stems of cyclists dating back to the Amstel Gold Race that Van der Poel won in 2019.
“We’ve had this nutrition plan for a while now, the adhesive, because it’s really important,” De Kegel said. “I think if you saw what happened to Mathieu van der Poel in Harrogate, in the World Cup, it was just a power problem. We have to avoid these things as much as possible, and for this reason we remember that the principle is really well integrated into the team for the moment. “
The Flanders Van der Poel Nutrition Sticker offers a look at how Alpecin-Fenix conveys the cyclist’s nutritional plans via simple symbols, with each symbol representing a specific feeding method.
Any guesswork on what 🙂 is? pic.twitter.com/49jKzpT0kD
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According to CyclingTips, the filled circles are rice cakes, the rectangles are energy bars, the gel-like graphics are, well, gels, and the bottles are energy drink bottles. The smiley face emoji visible at km 200 – just before the penultimate ascent of the Oude Kwaremont – represents a caffeine gel. Within each feeding method, different colors represent different options.
Using this relatively simple method, Alpecin-Fenix can inform cyclists of what and when they will consume during a race. As the nutrition sticker from Van der Poel in Flanders shows, the method of feeding evolves during a certain event.
“Depending on the timing of the race, the type of carbohydrates is changing a bit,” said De Kegel.
“Change from, at the start of the race, you see rice cakes and bars on the stem, and that goes up a little more in gels and things that are easier to grab a little faster and absorption [is] a little faster towards the final of the race ”.
All in all, that’s quite a lot of calories in the form of carbohydrates – and it is truly enough for Van der Poel in particular, whose elite physical characteristics include an elite ability to process fuel. As De Kegel explained, Van der Poel consumes between 100 and 120 grams of carbohydrates per hour in a race like the Tour of Flanders.
Using the traditional four-calorie-per-gram conversion of carbohydrates, for the Flanders winner that’s 400 to 480 calories in carbohydrate form per hour, which is a little more than your average cyclist would consume on a ride.
“You can train your instincts to maximize absorption. If you just ask a tourist to eat 90 grams per hour, he’s probably not used to it and his gut isn’t very trained to absorb that much, and he’s likely to have stomach problems, ”De Kegel said.
“We know a little bit about the limits individually from driver to driver based on the tests we do in the training fields at the start of the season and also based on racing experience alone. Most motorcyclists have a tolerance to carbohydrate intake of between 80 and 100 grams per hour. Mathieu is from that point a bit exceptional in that his intake goes up to 120 grams, which he also really needs, because we all see the power he provides by the hour. So he burns it, and for that reason refueling is extremely important. “
In particular, De Kegel points out that the differences in a cyclist’s nutritional plan from one race to another are mostly determined by the temperature of the day.
“The type of carbohydrate intake is different if it’s 10 degrees or if it’s 25 degrees, because if it’s 25 degrees you’ll have the same type of carbohydrate more fluidly, so with more bottles and fewer rice cakes, for example,” he said. said De Kegel. “It was a bit colder than Flanders, so the bottles are not the main priority, for example at the beginning give them a little more rice cakes. This can change from race to race.”
Obviously, the plan worked well on Sunday as Van der Poel leapt to his second career race win. It marked another success for a method that has worked well for Alpecin-Fenix for some time and, given the track record, it seems like a no-brainer that the team will continue to use its “nutrition adhesives” for the near future.