Cycling may not be the most glamorous sport in the world, but it’s definitely one of the most demanding. To make the grade at a professional level, you need exceptional strength, speed, and endurance, and not to mention, exemplary mental toughness.
Part of the sport for almost 17 years, former professional cyclist Jens Voigt gave Men’s Health an insight into the life of a professional cyclist. If you’re looking to train at that level, here’s what you need to do:
How To Train
Cyclists focus on sprints while they’re training ahead of a new season, riding for short intervals of time but keeping the intensity up. They gradually increase the distance covered, but the intensity doesn’t change. During the season, about 80-90 per cent of the training consists of just cycling.
The rest of the time is spent in the gym, building up a core and upper body strength. As for me personally, I also took part in other sports like swimming, running, and inline skating just to keep in shape during the off season.
What To Eat
Cyclists stay away from soft drinks, because they contain a lot of processed sugar. Instead, they consume multi-molecule sugar, which you get from bread and fruits. Staying hydrated is extremely important as well, so they drink a lot of water.
For breakfast, I preferred to have muesli or cereal. While riding, the body needs to refuel, so I always kept something handy. Power gels are easy to consume, and muesli bars are good for energy too. Bananas are also a good option—just cut it in two, wrap it in aluminium foil and put it in your pocket for a handy snack! For dinner, we usually get chicken or fish because it’s easier to digest.
It’s important not to experiment too much with your diet, especially during the season. You can always experiment in the off season!
The Facts And Figures
• A professional cyclist covers 35,000km in a regular season, about half of which are racing kilometres.
• An easy week means riding 350km, while during a tough week, it could go up to 800-1000km.
• The longest distance I ever rode at a stretch was 410km, for a charity event. It took me 26 hours to finish! Competitively, it was a race in Italy that was almost 300km.
One can’t be a professional sportsperson for nearly two decades and not have some interesting stories to tell. Here are a few of Jens’ favourites:
The Replacement Bike
This was during the 2010 Tour De France, when I had a big crash. By the time the doctors put me back together and gave me the all-clear, everyone had moved far ahead of me, and my bike was a wreck. I started looking around for help, and saw a car passing by. It had three children’s bikes strapped to the roof, and suddenly I had an idea. I asked the driver if I could borrow one of the bikes, and he agreed after I convinced him I wasn’t going to run off with his kid’s bike. I even gave him my crashed bike as collateral!
By the time my team realised that I would need a new bike, I had already ridden 15km on the child’s bike, and my knees were hurting quite badly. My team had left my replacement bike with a policeman in the next town, with instructions to catch my attention as I passed by. I was hard to miss, a grown man on a child’s bike, so the policeman flagged me down and handed over my new bike. I even managed to rejoin the rest of the riders after that!
The Indecent Proposal
In another race, I was given the responsibility to build up a lead for my teammates, which I did. After I let them pass, I slowed down a bit, so I was behind the leaders but not as far back as the chasing pack. I had some time to ride alone, and I was riding with my head down, thinking of my strategy for the rest of the race when suddenly I heard a loud voice calling my name.
The voice was shouting, “Jens, I love you!” and “I want to have your children!” which got my attention. While I had my head down, I realised that the voice was not a female voice! I looked up to see a fat man, about 55 years old with a big beard running towards me, shouting all this! He was so fat that it looked like his stomach would burst out of his jersey at any time!
I burst out laughing as I passed him, and I will never forget that man!