Reaching the final victory in a race that lasts for three weeks like the Tour de France is something destined only for a select elite of professional cycling. It is not only about having the physical qualities necessary to fight against the best, but also tactics, knowing how to read the race, withstanding pressure and a small dose of good luck also play an important role.
Qualities and preparation
Obviously, when we talk about a cyclist capable of winning the Tour de France, we are referring to competitors with innate abilities that are already superior to the rest of the peloton, which, in themselves, are authentic physical wonders.
If we put it into data, this would include having, among other values, a very high VO2max, a parameter that, although it can be improved with training, is mainly determined by genetics. This value, which defines the amount of oxygen that the body is capable of processing, would be like the displacement of the cyclist’s engine.
With the conditions necessary to shine, preparation takes on a crucial role. Traditionally, when training methods were more traditional, it was an art to arrive in the right shape for a specific event like the Tour de France. Today science is capable of measuring all the parameters that affect the cyclist’s performance to adjust training to the millimeter to achieve the desired shape at the right time.
In this evolution of training, power meters have been of great importance, a tool that allows exact and instantaneous measurement of the intensity of the effort that the cyclist is making, as well as providing complete information on his capabilities.
Weight and watts
The image of cyclists tuned to the limit, with marked bones and veins showing through the skin is a classic of this sport. Even more so in the Tour de France, the most important race of the year where the professionals come as thin as possible and with a tiny percentage of body fat.
Despite the fact that all cyclists go to the Tour de France tuned to the extreme, there are many types of cyclists and, obviously, those with a more muscular constitution or with great height are always going to be heavier than those petite cyclists.
This parameter is of vital importance when the stages regularly exceed 3,000 meters of altitude difference, even reaching 5,000 meters when it comes to facing the great alpine giants. Some mountains that require an effort that today is measured in watts, the power that a cyclist needs to generate to ascend at a certain rate.
Obviously, those heavier cyclists are going to need more power when ascending, so they will more easily reach their limits. To relativize it, the effort is usually expressed in the form of watts/kilo.
Well, according to the data collected in recent years, a potential Tour de France winner has to be able to ascend generating more than 6 W/kg for more than an hour, stage after stage.
This rules out heavier riders because of the massive amount of power it would take to achieve that ratio.
In general terms, in current times a cyclist must weigh less than 70 kilos to face this race with guarantees, finding pure climbers around 60 something that penalizes most on the flat and the time trial. As a reference, Tadej Pogacar has a declared weight of 66 kg, which is surely something less in a race like the Tour de France.
Throughout history, the profile of the winning rider of the Tour de France has been changing, although always, at least since 1910 when the French race introduced the first high-mountain stage, with the constant requirement of good performance on ascents. A feature that has been gaining more importance in the face of the decline of the time trial stages.
However, in this 2022 edition of the Tour de France, the cyclists will have to face an atypical time trial of more than 40 kilometers that has once again highlighted this specialty that requires the cyclist to work on aerodynamics, specific training to hold the position on the time trial bike for more than 40 minutes and the ability to apply a lot of power constantly throughout its route.
Nor should we forget the dreaded first week, with flat stages in which the peloton circulates at very high speeds, with high doses of stress that suppose a significant wear and tear for the less skilled and in which a candidate to win the Tour must be able to save as much strength as possible.
The importance of having a team that supports the leader is essential to avoid wasting strength and that the candidate for victory is able to be in the best conditions when the time comes when the favorites have to face each other.
The team protects its leader at all times, helps him return to the group in the event of a breakdown, constantly provides him with water or the necessary clothing and takes him out of the wind. In addition, having a powerful team allows you to carry out different tactics that force your rivals to make an extra effort that can make the difference between leaders who, on many occasions, have even forces.
The psychological factor is vital in cycling. Not only to provide a capacity of suffering that allows you to continue pedaling with all your strength when your legs burn from the effort.
In the case of a candidate for the Tour de France, it means coping with all the stress associated with that position, such as the protocols at the start and finish, the interviews, having to be constantly attentive to the movements in the race, as well as knowing how to read the race and Give the appropriate orders to your teammates.
Ambition and self-confidence in the possibilities are other essential qualities for those who aspire to win the Tour de France, but also a cool head to know how to shoot the bullets they have at the right time to give the race a good kick and, at the same time, knowing how to hide the weaknesses in those bad days that all cyclists suffer at some point during three weeks and that often go unnoticed.
All that we described above are, to a greater or lesser extent, factors that can be weighed and on which the cyclist has a certain margin of action. However, in a race, often as crazy as the Tour de France, luck plays an important factor.
The one known as the luck of the champions is the one that allows you to avoid the dreaded falls or that, in case of being involved in one, causes minor damage to be settled. The luck of not suffering a mechanical breakdown at the most inopportune moment.