Germ warfare keeps Froome healthy
When Chris Froome glides victoriously along the Champs Elysses wearing the yellow jersey, he will have cycled 2199 miles, climbed thousands of feet over three mountain top finishes and careered through 635 cities.
All have been physical challenges of epic proportions. But, for Team Sky, the 32-yearold’s all-but certain fourth Tour de France victory will, in part, represent a triumph over one of the tiniest challenges humankind faces every day - germs. For each of the 198 cyclists in the competition, catching a cold can be more catastrophic than crashing.
With immune systems depleted from exhaustion and a lack of sleep, riders’ bodies can succumb to the ravages of germs that thrive in extreme heat and the crowds of adoring fans lining their route. This year, Team Sky’s hygiene protocol is the strictest yet after embracing techniques more akin to hospital operating theatres.
Every day, an advance squad of cleaners, armed with antibacterial wipes, disinfectant sprays and powerful vacuum cleaners, has been dispatched to hotels to meticulously clean each room the nine weary riders sleep in.
‘‘The entire staff knows how important hygiene is,’’ said Dave Brailsford, Team Sky manager. ‘‘We make sure people take ownership of making sure they do their bit and also look out for areas where we can do better.
‘‘It works if you personalise it. We ask, ‘How would you feel if Chris Froome got sick because you gave him a bug?’ If riders getting sick is in any way avoidable, we do our absolute best to avoid it. We have staff who go ahead to the hotels before the riders arrive they clean all the TV controls, the taps and the lavatories.’’
The squad also targets the team bus: every seat, armrest, handle and button is wiped to kill off any lingering germs. Sanitary instruction stickers are posted throughout the coach.
At the completion of each day’s racing, Team Sky soigneurs, the staff who provide massages, carefully remove the competitors’ racing clothes, bag them and take them to one of nine washing machines, one for each cyclist. The machines are fitted into the team truck that travels ahead of the race. The clothes are washed separately to avoid accidentally transferring infections through the saddle sore competitors’ sweat stained garments.
If that were not enough, every member of the support crew is issued with a hand sanitising gel dispenser and strict orders to use it before the slightest human contact is made with the athletes.
Journalists are also given a squirt of the gel before interviewing competitors. The war on germs continues in the kitchen truck where meals are prepared and the riders eat. The truck is off limits to anyone but the sportsmen, who settle down to a meal in one of the cleanest dining rooms imaginable.
The toll from bugs was evident last week. George Bennett, the New Zealander, was forced to abandon the race on Tuesday after coming down with a fever. Thibaut Pinot, the Frenchman, pulled out after being laid low with a cold. Then, Marcel Kittel, the German, blamed stomach problems and a cold for a crash in the Alps.
Prevention, Sky Team has learned, is far better than cure.