Phillipe Gilbert has had a resurgent season in 2017, winning a pair of one-day classic this spring. However, he won’t finish the Tour de France. Kiwi climber George Bennett was one of the most pleasant surprises of the race’s jaunt into the Pyrenees, but he too won’t make it to Paris. Star riders Marcel Kittel and Thibaut Pinot also both left the race this week. So why are so many high-profile racers abandoning right now? They all have butt and lung problems.
The Tour de France is a roving caravan that forces hundreds of support staffers, riders, team chefs, and officials into close proximity for almost one month. Teams and fans from around the world congregate to share their love of cycling, but they also haul their regional strains of bacteria to the race. Every year, a good chunk of the peloton is felled by severe colds or digestive issues, and this race has been no exception (Kittel left after a crash but he was also very sick). Pushing ones body to its physical limits every day for three weeks leaves the immune system vulnerable, and one bad day can destroy a rider’s entire Tour. When the stakes are so high and the risks so acute, teams cope with extreme measures.
The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Robinson spent some time with teams and riders at the race this week and reported back with some incredible details. Not only are sick riders regularly quarantined, pumped full of drugs (not those sort of drugs), and fed separately from their teams after falling ill, they are protected from catching a bug at all costs. Cannondale has staffers douse their hands before handing anything to a rider mid-race, while making their riders quaff a shot of raw ginger juice. Orica-Scott’s chef cooks every dish with garlic for an immune boost, and Sunweb goes to absurd lengths to keep its sleeping quarters pure.
Team Sunweb, meanwhile, is one of several at the Tour to haul its own mattresses, pillows and anti-allergenic sheets all over France, no small feat when you’re staying in a different room every night for three weeks.
Unsurprisingly, Team Sky stands above all other teams in their attention extreme to cleanliness. The infamously detail oriented team is hauling nine separate washing machines across the country, one for each rider.
Sky’s germaphobia involves, for instance, dispatching an advance team to every hotel at the Tour armed with antibacterial wipes and vacuum cleaners before the riders arrive.
“They clean all the TV controls, the taps, the toilets, all the areas that are vulnerable to touch,” Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford said. “They Hoover the rooms. They Hoover under the beds. They give it a good old clean.”
While that’s happening, other Sky staffers are tasked with rubbing down every seat and surface on the team bus from the moment the riders start a stage. Then, once they cross the finish line, Sky’s soigneurs, who help look after team members, are on hand to cart off their race clothes to nine separate washing machines—one for each rider. The idea is to further decrease the chances of saddle-sore infections being transmitted from one set of shorts to another. Sanitary instructions are posted all over the bus so everyone remembers what the stakes are.
Sounds better than all garlic everything.