Riding Grand Tours
We caught up with legendary Svein Tuft for a quick interview on the do’s and don’ts of riding at a Grand Tour, one of the toughest challenges for any pro cyclist during their career.
How do you start your day during a Grand Tour like the Giro?
Generally, I like to get some time in nature and see the sun asap. If there’s an ocean nearby, then I make the effort to get there. This is my optimal reset for a stage race. It’s taken some years to realize the benefits of this approach, but I’ll tell you, when you feel it, it’s very addictive.
Tell us how you manage to stay fueled during a Grand Tour.
At a certain point in a Grand Tour you’re just trying to get energy in. It can be tricky because most of the time the first options are the sugary simple carbs. I try to balance that. Good fats through coconut oil, avocado and eggs are the best options and teams are providing these things more as riders are demanding them.
How do you fuel for five-hour endurance training ride versus a five-hour stage at a Grand Tour?
There can be a big difference between the two. A five-hour stage in the mountains of a Grand Tour around stage 18 can get tricky. Your body is at its limit and you are just trying to absorb as much food as it will allow, whereas during training you can really control the nutrition. Sometimes while out touring I might not eat for the first four hours. Obviously the intensity is totally different, but I will say a big part of the carbohydrate demand for cyclists in racing has a lot to do with the brain demanding simple fuel. Racing is so different from what you can try to replicate in training. A big part of that energy demand is caused by the stress of being in a bunch and making a million tiny decisions in split seconds.
There is still a lot of talk about riders using painkillers, antiinflammatories, etc. Is this happening?
These things are crutches for a lot of riders who feel they need to add things when they think their body is not capable. I think the reason these things are still around is because of the placebo effect. Until we can break that mentality, I don’t see it stopping. In my opinion, a 22 year old who feels it’s necessary to take painkillers and anti- inflammatories to get through the day should really reassess how they’re going to be feeling at 40!
What are your thoughts on gadgets and devices that athletes can use for recovery?
Ha! I’m constantly trying to get gadgets and electronics out of my life. To the point where screens and the blue light emitted from them I find extremely annoying. I think humans are pretty amazing and invent some incredible devices. But what I’ve come to learn over these years is that we will never trump Mother Nature. The Earth, cold creeks, sunlight, magnetism, oxygen-rich forests, salt mineraldense oceans, plants and animals, to name a few. I’ve been down a lot of recovery rabbit holes, but nothing comes close to the simplicity nature offers.
You’re on Twitter but have no website, Facebook, or Instagram accounts. Are you a bit anti-social?
Ha! As I’ve stated, I’m trying to get as far away from those things as possible! I think these types of social media have developed quicker than our primitive brains can adapt. When I look around today out in the world, people are obsessed and somewhat zombie-like as they scroll through their feeds of useless information. I also think the hard drives in our brains are only capable of retaining so much information. These attention-grabbing platforms just seem to rob you of living a healthy, productive life and, unfortunately for many, sending them into the dark holes of depression.
Is pro cycling putting the health of the riders first or is the focus always on performance?
I think this is getting much better as teams really start to look at the big picture. Instead of turning riders out every one or two years if they don’t perform, teams are working on a more positive holistic approach to help riders achieve what the team originally saw in them. In such a performance- and results-based environment, I don’t think it’s a super-easy decision for cash-strapped teams, but it’s the only way. I’ve always viewed cycling as one part of my life and not sacrificed my long-term health just to be a good cyclist. So I looked outside of the box and began to alter my environment to offset the stress. Balance is the key. When I’m home, it’s all about grounding back to my reality and when I’m leaving it’s about mentally preparing and accepting what I’m getting myself into.
If you were managing a Grand Tour team, describe your ideal day from pre-race to bedtime to optimize performance and health?
Ideal days are when you can get on the bike feeling like you haven’t just raced 10 days in a row and can sleep with ease in the evening. I still get these days at the age of 40 and I chalk it up to this. The mornings where I can get in the sea, feel full sunlight on my body, barefoot, and feeling the earth below me. I’ll go through a movement routine and work the kinks out of the body. I’ll do some different breathing techniques to take the stress out of the diaphragm. Then off to brekky where our A-1 chef Nicky has the nutrition aspect covered perfectly. After the stage when you I get to the hotel, I’ll take a walk and find my morning place for the following day. Walk a bit barefoot. Recount the day. What went right and wrong. Back for massage. Good dins again with Nicky. Followed by another walk, hopefully to see the sunset. I’m a big believer in getting that redorange light in your eye before bedtime. Oh! One last thing. Nothing beats a good dip in an ice-cold creek in the mountains. This trumps all ice baths!!!