– By Chris Carmichael –
Wounds make racing more difficult, not only because of the pain, but also because the healing process requires energy you could otherwise be using to get power to the pedals. One of my coaches who works with NASCAR drivers compares riding with wounds to driving a racecar with the tire pressure too low. You may have 500 horsepower under the hood, but to keep up with the pack, you have to produce 525 to overcome the added resistance caused by the low tires. Put another way, you may have 400 watts of sustainable power under the hood, but 5% is being siphoned off to heal your wounds.
To make matters worse, even though your body is diverting energy to feed the healing process, it’s still receiving less energy than you’d normally use for that purpose. As a result, the wounds don’t heal as fast as they would if you weren’t racing. So now, you’re neither racing at your best nor healing as fast as you could.
Vino and Klodi are likely looking forward to the rest day more than most.
A medical doctor would probably say that a single day without racing won’t have much of an impact on how quickly wounds heal or lead to significantly better performance the following day, but at the Tour de France, a day without racing has tremendous healing powers. There are about 40-42 hours from the end of Stage 8 and the beginning of Stage 9, as opposed to about 18 hours between back-to-back stages. That’s two nights of sleep, at least half a dozen meals, and numerous opportunities for therapeutic treatments like massage, icing, and much more. The human body can do a lot in 42 hours when it’s not also burning 5000 calories during a 4-hour mountain stage in the same time period.
Technology has also greatly improved the riders’ chances of being able to overcome injuries and continue riding. The blue and pink tape you’ve seen on riders’ legs, for instance, helps alleviate stress on tendons in order to help riders avoid tendonitis. You’ll often see it on riders who have crashed because a stiff back or hip may have changed their position on the bike enough that they’re using their muscles and tendons differently. The repetition of 90 pedal revolutions a minute for four or more hours a day is enough to lead to overuse injuries very quickly. The tape can keep that from happening.
Riders also use medical-grade superglue to close some smaller cuts, and this has the added benefit of sealing the wound as well as closing it. With all the sweat and water bringing road debris into contact with wounds, it’s easy to end up with an infection at the Tour de France. And your body is in no condition to fend off invading bacteria, either. Sealing small wounds with superglue, and larger ones with “second-skin” products like Tegaderm®, does wonders for preventing infections. And even if you’re just using gauze and netting, all those pads have triple-antibiotic ointment on them to keep the wound moist and kill bacteria before they make riders sick.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that the rest day will make things all better. The rest day can be welcome relief and time to heal, but it also disrupts the rhythm of physical exertion that riders have gotten used to. Alexander Vinokourov and Andreas Kloden of the Astana team might look like entirely new riders tomorrow, or they might struggle to find the rhythm and power necessary to even stay with the peloton. The day after the rest day is a dangerous stage because you never know how riders are going to feel. The dead sometimes rise, and the angels of the mountains sometimes lose their wings.
• Chris Carmichael coached Lance Armstrong throughout his 15-year cycling career. For more information on Carmichael Training Systems’ 9+3 Coaching Offer, the Do the Tour…Stay at Home_ audio workouts with Lance Armstrong, and our free Tour de France Newsletter, visit TrainRight.com.