Sports scientists from KU Leuven are attending the Tour de France on the second rest day. They will test the Soudal Quick-Step riders and analyse the physical impact of the efforts exerted over the past few weeks. Using blood and urine samples, they gain insight into how the riders’ metabolism adapts during the Tour and which protein fluctuations are or aren’t beneficial for sustained performance.
The peloton is two-thirds of the way through the Tour, with the final week leading to Paris still presenting significant challenges. This includes the queen stage, which features 5000 meters of elevation, and a final difficult stage through the Vosges mountains. Proper guidance is absolutely vital to maintaining riders’ health and fitness.
Changing metabolism during the Tour
The Belgian team Soudal Quick-Step closely collaborates with KU Leuven to provide support for their riders. The Exercise Physiology Research Group tests each rider individually at the start and finish of the Tour, as well as on rest days. They take blood and urine samples and analyse recovery and sleep quality using a ring worn by the riders before and after the stage. The riders also complete a questionnaire on how fit and rested they feel to compare their personal experience with the objective data obtained from the samples.
“We use the blood and urine samples to create a protein profile of each individual rider,” explains PhD researcher Ruben Robberechts. “What’s the impact of three weeks of intense physical exertion on a rider’s metabolism? What protein fluctuations occur, and how do they affect performance, recovery and sleep? Those are important parameters in order to maintain top-level performance throughout the Tour.” In case of significant deviations or unexpected fluctuations in a particular rider, the team is immediately notified, allowing them to take prompt action, even during the Tour.
Individual rider profiles
“Our collaboration with Soudal Quick-Step has been going on for several years and is a win-win for both parties,” says Chiel Poffé, leader of this project. “As scientists, we gain new insights into high-performance sports and the physical strain involved. In turn, the team learns more about the individual needs of their riders and, if necessary, can adjust training and nutrition in preparation for or during important races.”
“Thanks to the researchers’ analysis and advice, we can optimally monitor and support our riders at an individual level. By doing this several years in a row, we learn a lot about the changes in each rider’s metabolism and protein profile, and we gain insight into their specific needs regarding training, sleep, and nutrition,” said team doctor Philip Jansen of Soudal Quick-Step.