I always liked Barry Hoban’s reply to the eternal question of what to do on a Grand Tour rest day. It was eloquently reported as stay in bed and only eat apples. I’ve no idea if that’s what he really did, but I wish I had come up with that answer because I like sleeping and I like apples. Oranges, on the other hand, have always been a struggle and don’t even get me started on Germany’s favourite, bananas. Apparently, intolerance to the former could be a lack of iron, but the latter is a stroppy rebellion against something which has always made me gag when I tried to eat it in a race and nothing at all to do with potassium, starches or sugar.
Of course the easiest way to get around the dilemma of what to do is not to have a rest day at all, an experience I’ve had at the Vuelta on a few occasions, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a viable alternative to a bed-in protest and some choice fruit. Trust me when I say the agonising over whether to do one or two hours riding at a pace of your own making is largely preferable to the one imposed by maniacs with numbers on their backs.
However, once the decision is made that outdoor cycling will be part of the recovery process, the problem then is how much and, more importantly, how hard. This, you need to understand, is a potential minefield for the team management and it requires careful thought.
The team leader types, thinking they have to sweat a bit, will inevitably wish to ride hard as they’ve been in the wheels, hiding, saving energy, whist their worker bee team-mates have been striving away, sheltering, chasing, closing gaps. The freshness scores will be somewhat different and there might not be the same enthusiasm when hills are mentioned or a series of refreshing sprints suggested as wake-up efforts.
Unless it’s a team time-trial the next day, sending out the whole squad isn’t always a good idea. They could all still be friends but by the rest day, it’s more likely that some nerves will be frayed and tolerance levels of particular colleagues won’t be at their optimum. Groups it is then, so those who wish to sweat can do so and those who want a short ride to a nice little café to sit in the sun for an hour can chose which camp they are in.
Those who are sick, injured or on the verge of a mental breakdown are probably best going out on their own and having a cry.
Then it’s lunch, which is a bit strange as it’s not something you’ve been allowed for at least a week and you’re told not to eat too much because you might put on weight. Nobody touches their dessert.
What comes next proves the existence of karma. The ordinary, unexceptional, unnoticed riders get to see family, friends and loved ones for some well-earned normality, while the show-offs get a media meeting with the press. More sweating for the earnest.
Andorra, scene of the 2016 Tour’s initial rest day, might not seem like a great choice of venue – all grey concrete and miserable mountains – but first impressions can be deceiving. I’d venture that it’s almost ideal. Want an easy option? Then descend down into Spain and the meander back will be enough to warm you up. Need a good workout? Head towards France and enjoy the views going up to Pas de la Casa.
There’s no way you can walk anywhere, as it’s too hilly for cyclists’ legs and it’s usually too cold to sit outside and talk. Even if it is sunny, the buildings are so tall you’ll be in the shade, so best stay in the hotel and appreciate the big windows and fine heating.
When you wake up after the obligatory nap then you can do what most people do when they visit Andorra. Go shopping. Whatever you want, you’ll find it. The latest and greatest in electrical, jewellery, watches, leather goods or automotive bling is but a stone’s throw away. Stuff you never knew existed, but want anyway, is waiting for you and your credit card.
The only calculation to be made once tempted is whether you can get it home or not. Knowing we were in Andorra at the Tour of Catalunya one year, I did some research and decided I’d buy a carbon exhaust for my Honda CBR600F if I came across one at a good price. I found one in the first place I looked but, upon measurement, realised it wouldn’t fit in my case or remain undamaged bouncing about in the mechanics’ van.
Reluctantly I moved on. To a Nintendo 64 console. It was a struggle, but once I squashed most of my race kit into a plastic bin liner, Mario and Co survived the journey in my super reinforced suitcase. Hours of recovery time may have been wasted each evening on that race when the Nintendo got plugged in, but it was fun and that’s not something that immediately springs to mind when you see that the second Tour rest day is in Berne. You have to take your chances when you can.
From issue 63 of Rouleur, on sale now