Adapt To Be Fuel Efficient.
At a very basic level - the fuel cyclists consume is partly coming from glycogen sourced from carbohydrates and fats. The harder they ride, the more glycogen the body needs, the more carbs they need. The issue the cyclists face is that the body can only store enough glycogen to power them at their rate of exertion for a few hours, maximum.
To ensure the pro-riders are able to fully maximize their glycogen intake, they ‘train low, ride high’, this means training on a low carb intake diet so the body adapts to be ruthlessly efficient at turning fat into fuel. Then during the 3 weeks of the Tour De France, they can increase their carb and fat intake in line with their extra physical output.
Start Recovering Before You Finish.
Riders commonly intake calories on the bike right from the beginning of each stage, usually around 300 - 400 per hour that they’re in the saddle. This comes in the form of energy gels, sports drinks, rice cakes or flap jacks. Anything that can be easily consumed and easily digested while on the go.
One of the worst things that can happen to a rider is running out of glycogen stored in the body halfway up a hill climb at the end of a long stage - you’ll literally see some of the most elite cyclists in the world unable to push the pedal over. You will not be able to move consistently without a constant fuel source.
Don’t Miss Your Refueling Windows.
It’s generally understood that there are two key windows for refueling post race, one within 30 minutes and the other within 3 hours.
That first refueling window within 30 minutes is typically 300 calories with a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to proteins. Possibly some pasta, rice and a protein shake. This combination of carbs and protein allows the rider to re-synthesise glycogen more efficiently than just carbs alone.
The second meal is much higher in protein to aid muscle-protein synthesis, something like chicken and avocado or salmon and sweet potatoes. Then the rider will consume another meal similar to this before bed.
While each athlete will have their own individualized refueling strategy, each of them will be aiming to maximize every calorie that enters their body and turn it into forward motion.