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A day off at the Tour de France: Not exactly restful

Tour de France cyclists still head out for a ride and juggle press conferences and massages. Back in the day, riders had 14 days off and some even swam in the Mediterranean.

By Jon BrandCorrespondent / July 18, 2011

SaxoBank-Sungard cycling team director Bjarne Riis of Denmark (left) and three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain lead a team training ride in Rochegude, southern France, on July 18 – the second rest day of the Tour de France.

Laurent Cipriani/AP

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Montpellier, France

There’s no racing today at the Tour de France: the cyclists – from race leader Thomas Voeckler to last-placed Andrey Amador – have a much-needed day off.
It is the second of two rest days during this three-week Tour, which ends next Sunday in Paris.

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This strategically placed pause is a chance for riders and team staff to recharge before the grueling Alps stages later this week.

It will be far from a spa day, however.

On rest days, cyclists keep a busy schedule. It’s just a lighter version of their race routine: riding bikes, talking to press, and trying to stay off their feet. Sometimes, though, routines are interrupted.

Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha, a rider for Team Sky, couldn’t have guessed he’d spend part of the first rest day in a hospital.

But after being clipped by a French television car during last Sunday’s Stage 9, he was on the doctor’s table being examined for broken bones, not in the saddle, during his team’s rest-day ride.

“You’d like to keep the routine, of course, but this morning I had other things to do besides ride my bike,” he told the Monitor last Monday.

It could have been worse for Flecha. The first fatality in Tour history happened on a rest day in 1910 – France’s Adolphe Hélière was stung and killed by a jellyfish while swimming in the Mediterranean.

A typical day

Jellyfish and crashes aside, a typical rest day starts with a training ride. Each team will pedal for about two hours; that's a walk in the park compared to a typical five-hour Tour stage.

The ride is a chance for cyclists to flush out lactic acid and keep their minds focused on racing.

Some riders choose to train for longer. When Spain’s Alberto Contador and his Saxo Bank-Sungard team finished their 25-mile ride during last Monday’s rest day, one cyclist – Richie Porte – continued climbing the Cantal mountains in south-central France.

Porte was inspired to continue by the verdant landscape, which reminded him of his native Tasmania.

“It was beautiful out there,” he told the Monitor. “And actually, the further I went, the better my legs felt.”

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