The riders about two-thirds through the Tour de France look in need of a good meal.
Many, like Garmin-Slipstream’s Bradley Wiggins, have so little body fat that the veins in their arms nearly poke through their skin. Others, like Astana’s Lance Armstrong, are so gaunt that their cheeks have turned concave.
Despite appearances, the riders at this three-week, 3,500km race are not starving. How could they be? Besides cycling kilometer after kilometer, eating is their second most time-consuming activity.
They eat breakfast in the morning. They snack before the race. They eat on the way to the starting line, and twice more on the road. Then they eat again as soon as they cross the finish line — before going to their hotel to snack.
Then, what do you know, they finally eat dinner, topping off their day of systematic gorging. They consume about 5,000 to 8,000 calories a day — two to three times that of an average American man. Without that fuel, they would never be able to finish this grueling competition.
“When you start to get really extreme fatigue, what tends to happen is you start to lose your hunger, your appetite,” said David Millar, a British rider for Garmin-Slipstream. “Your body just starts to shut down, you can’t eat. It’s almost like your body is trying to get you to give up the race. When that happens, that’s always a scary thing. Because when you don’t eat, that’s it. It’s over.”
With that in mind, teams like Garmin-Slipstream, based in Boulder, Colorado, have gone out of their way to keep the riders sated, feeding them nutritious and tasty meals as well as recovery drinks, whether they want them or not. All the teams are searching for every advantage.
For Garmin, that meant hiring Sean Fowler, an American chef who runs a restaurant, El Raco d’Urzs, in the Pyrenees. The team had eaten there during training sessions and hired him on the spot.
Fowler, 43, and a native of Wondervu, Colorado, has a lofty risumi. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he is thought to be the first American chef at the Tour de France.
“To have Sean cooking and all the fresh stuff makes a big difference,” the rider David Zabriskie said. “He’s even making me beets, which I like a lot. Helps move things along.”
It is relatively common for teams to hire chefs for this important race. But some, including the holder of the yellow jersey for the past week, AG2R La Mondiale, still do things the old-fashioned way: they eat whatever the hotel restaurant serves. And, most of the time, that is “27-minute al dente pasta,” Wiggins said. Other riders agreed.
“If you’re eating the soggy French pasta, it does give your body kind of a nasty, just heavy, bad unhealthy feeling,” Zabriskie said. “The way we are doing it is just one more little thing that helps.”
Every day at the Tour, Fowler cooks exclusively for Garmin’s nine riders, to the chagrin of team management. His sister, Laura Fowler, a schoolteacher, made the trip from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to help out.
On a typical morning, they will gather their cooking gear and take it to the motor home in which they follow the race. They make sure to arrive early at the team’s next hotel, to inspect the kitchen.
If it is not up to Sean Fowler’s standards for cleanliness, which has happened a few times at this Tour, he will cook in the motor home. He takes precautions to keep the riders safe from food poisoning or other gastrointestinal problems, which could be devastating to their performance. In his motor home, he wields utensils and pots and pans like a careful samurai because the space is cramped.