Mending broken bones at the Tour de France
Meera - But as well as mending broken bikes, the cyclists may need broken bones mended, which is when team medic, Shannon Sovndal, is called into action. I found out more about his role.
Shannon - There's a couple of aspects: One is preparing them for the race and making sure that they're just healthy and in top form. The second is the kind of obvious one the doctors perform after they crash, we take care of whatever injuries they have. Then the third is kind of just health maintenance, you know, if they have saddle sores, road rash, things that are ongoing for the race. Then finally, there's a psychology aspect of it as well - keeping them motivated, making them think that they can keep doing this day after day.
Meera - Physically speaking then, what makes a good cyclist?
Shannon - Really, it's a physiological problem for cyclists, because they're pure endurance athletes essentially. There's not a tonne of technique in cycling when you compare it to other sports like swimming, or something like that. So, it's really can they go fast and create a large oxygen output for a long period of time. That's really what makes a great cyclist - it's their ability to do a large amount of work over a period of time.
Meera - What about the different types of cyclists? So the climbers and the sprinters, what's different about them physically?
Shannon - Generally, the climbers are going to be light. Anything that you're carrying extra is heavy to get up a hill. So it's all about, you know, the amount of work done and what distance you get for that work. So a light small cyclist can go uphill faster and they generally have the ability to put out a large amount of power for an extended period of time, whereas a sprinter can put out a huge amount of power for a short period of time. And to do that, they usually need to be bigger, they just need to have more muscle bulk, more muscle fibres, to actually put out that power output.
Meera - And what about things like muscle fatigue? They're cycling for hours a day, everyday for three weeks here. So that's got to play a vital role, just the recovery from that.
Shannon - Absolutely. What the sprinter is good at is suffering for the day and then he can still call on his body to do that short burst of work, even when his muscle fibres are fatigued, whereas a climber will ride the whole day and then at the end has to climb up another category climb. So he can still do another 40 minutes of extended work. And then for any cyclist in the Tour de France, the ability to recover for the next day is key. If they can't do that, they're going to be out of the race.
Meera - What about these cyclists that you hear who have got a broken rib and like a broken arm, and they'll carry on for like 200 kilometres up a mountain still, or still win a sprint race. I mean, surely that can't actually be good for your body?
Shannon - The Tour de France is not good for your body ,first of all, for any cyclist. The cyclist's job, is to suffer like that if he has a broken bone. They're just tough guys. They're mentally tough, period, because that's what their sport revolves around. A big component of being a professional cyclist is suffering. They've got to shut off their brain and say, "Whatever pain I'm having, I just work through."
Meera - Talking of injuries, what's the worst you've seen?
Shannon - Very bad head injuries are the most concerning thing, and, certainly, everybody should be wearing a helmet. You ask any professional cyclist almost, and they'll tell you that they've at some point been saved by their helmet. I mean, literally, saved. You know, your helmet falls off your head after you crash and you're okay. But head injuries, you know, the most severe and then your spine, those kind of things - everything else you know, you actually can get through, kind of.
Meera - Team doctor, Shannon Sovndal, explaining the physiology and increased pain thresholds of professional cyclists.