What Team Sky will eat at the Tour de France

Anybody who has even embarked on a long, hard bike ride will know the importance of good nutrition. Eat the wrong thing (or not enough of the right thing) and you run the risk of bonking; more accurately known as hypoglycemia, a condition where your body has exhausted all of its glycogen stores and hits the wall.

Bonking even happens to the best of the best. Lance Armstrong famously bonked in the Col de Joux Plane in the French Alps in the 2000 Tour de France. No doubt it was only the cocktail of drugs in his bloodstream that saw him hobble home.

Australia's Stuart O'Grady, a professional cyclist from 1995 to 2013 and former winner of the Paris-Roubaix, knows all about eating to ride. 51698009 caught up with O'Grady at his Velo Precinct training centre and restaurant in Adelaide this week and asked him about the nutrition he followed on the bike.

Euro style diet

"I guess you learn really quickly what works and what doesn't," O'Grady says. "As an Australian you get used to having cereal for breakfast, so I went off to Europe and I'm eating three bowls of cereal and feeling horrible all day on the bike. I eventually took on a more European style of diet of bread and ham and cheese and eggs."

O'Grady says what you eat on the bike comes down to personal preferences. "You've got to like whatever food you've shoved in your pocket, or you won't eat it and then you will bonk," he says. "I used to take little ham and cheese sandwiches to keep me going, or bananas, raisins and nuts. I'd avoid the short sharp hits like chocolate bars. They will give you an instant boost but it wears off really quickly and leaves you feeling worse."

For most of his professional career, O'Grady tipped the scales at just 71 kilograms. He says that after a ride he would want to eat everything he could get his hands on, which isn't good in a sport where every gram counts. "To solve that problem I'd grab a protein shake post ride because that would fill me up and stop me eating so much," he says. "I was lucky that I have a half decent metabolism and have never had a sweet tooth."

Viva le Vélochef

Cyclists could do worse than follow the advice in this new cook book by Henrik Orre, the chef for the Norwegian National Roadcycling Team. Vélochef combines Orre's passion for food and his love of cycling to create 80 nutritionally balanced dishes aimed at helping cyclists gain their optimal racing and training performance. In creating the book, Orre has collaborated with some of the best cyclists in the world, including Emma Johansson, Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Richie Porte.

Beautiful photographed by Patrick Engstrom, Vélochef would make a great gift for the MAMIL who likes to be well fed. The tome is divided up into three sections: pre vélo, vélo and après vélo, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at Team Sky, and Milanese frame-builder Passoni.

Orre kicks off Vélochef with some suggestions as to what constitutes a well-stocked pantry for serious cyclists. Among the ingredients he recommends are rolled oats, buckwheat noodles, coconut oil, rice flour and dates.

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The stage is set

51698009 spoke with Orre at Team Sky's Service Course in Belgium, where he was ramping up operations for this Year's Tour de France. Orre told us he starts preparing meals 24-hours before each stage.

"I look at what the stage will be like, and if it's a hard long mountain stage the riders need to have a meal the day before that is rich in carbohydrates," he says. "Our goal is to get the guys to eat more carbs without thinking too much about it. I may feed them a risotto or a lasagna; we call these hidden carbs, and it means they will eat a bigger portion than if I just put plain rice or plain pasta in front of them."

Orre says on the morning before a stage, the cyclists will have a bowl of porridge made from water and simple steel cut oats, to which he adds cinnamon and coconut oil for palatability. The porridge is followed by a ham and cheese omelette for protein.

On the bike, Team Sky eschews the commercial energy bars for Orre's homemade rice cakes. "It's the main thing the guys eat while they're riding," says Orre. "My book contains the basic recipe, but we make them in up to a dozen flavours. They will eat one every 30 minutes so they don't get a hunger flat."

Use your muesli

In Vélochef, Orre also shares his recipe for muesli bars, which consists of just two ingredients: runny honey and a good quality fruit muesli. Another option to shove in the jersey pocket is buckwheat waffles with banana and almond filling.

By far the largest portion of the book is devoted to what to eat after training or competing. Most recipes are quick and easy to whip up, so you can spend more time resting, rather than in the kitchen. Dishes include lasagna, sashimi, baked chicken breasts with soba noodles, and tiramisu.

"Two of the most popular recipes when it comes to feeding Team Sky at the end of a stage are the chicken casserole, and the seared tuna with cabbage. I make those quite often," Orre says.

As for how much to pile on the plate, Orre reckons he leaves that up to the cyclists themselves. "They all know that the more weight you take off, the less you have to carry up those hills, so I leave portion control up to them," he says. "In saying that, I think most people would be surprised by how much these guys eat during Le Tour. They eat a lot!"

His tip for the winner of this year's Tour? "Chris Froome. He's as well prepared as ever and at the end he will prove the strongest. But of course, he'll need to stay out of crashes; Le Tour is three weeks of constant battle."

Rice bar recipe

This is to me the absolutely best bar to take on a ride and it has also become the favourite among the cyclists in Team Sky. It's easy to make and eat and gives loads of energy. One batch makes about 20 tasty energy bars.

Ingredients

  • 500 g carnaroli rice (risotto rice)
  • 800 ml water
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 300 g cream cheese
  • 100 ml agave nectar

Method

Use a rice cooker if you've got one.

  1. Boil the rice, water, coconut oil, cinnamon and coconut sugar.
  2. Let it boil until all the water has been absorbed.
  3. Fold the cream cheese into the rice while it's still warm.
  4. Mix in the agave nectar and blend thoroughly.
  5. Pour into a 3-litre plastic bag with a zip lock.
  6. Flatten the bag and leave in the fridge overnight.
  7. Take the bag out of the fridge and cut the rice mix into 5 cm x 5 cm squares.
  8. Wrap the squares in aluminium foil.

Add pistachios or other nuts to add variety.

Velochef: Food for Training and Competition is out now through Hardie Grant.

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