How to Eat like a French Cycling Pro

July 29, 2013–By Jen Benepe–Reported from Avignon, France. (Second of several articles focusing on Team Europcar.)

The dining portion of the Europcar food bus, with Luc Bousseau presiding. All nine of Team Europcar’s riders eat here for every meal except while they are racing. (C) Jen Benepe

The French team Europcar which is sponsored by the car rental company of the same name, was the first pro cycling team to create their own food bus.

Among the nine professional riders on the team are Thomas Voeckler, who rode in the Yellow Jersey for 9 stages in the 2011 Tour de France, and Pierre Rolland, who secured a stage victory on the Alpe D’Huez the same year.

Voeckler suffered from a broken collarbone less than two months before the Tour this year, and was unable to match his previous performance.

But that didn’t stop the team from trying over and over again to score stage victories.

Rolland’s epic performance in stage 19 of this year’s Tour to Le Grand Bornand where he stayed away of the peloton for several of the major climbs, including the majestic and dizzying Col de la Madeleine, has won the hearts of the French.

And what more appropriate than a French team food bus? After all French food is supposed to be some of the best in the world.

We had the opportunity to take a short tour of the Europcar food bus which was conceived and is now overseen by chef Luc Bousseau.

Chef Bousseau prepares pasta on rest day. Each portion is measured to make sure riders eat just the right amount each day. (C) Jen Benepe

The French-trained chef developed the idea of a traveling food bus while working with Fleury Michon, one of the key sponsors of the Europcar team, and their food bus was the first to be created for pro cycling teams.

Bousseau has been with the company for 30 years now, and the team benefits from the food company’s vast food network.

“Our objective is to create good health,” said Bousseau. “If they eat badly, that’s a food risk,” which can affect their performance in the race.

All of the food is prepared and eaten in the truck on a daily basis, with the exception of the foods which are eaten during the race.

Bousseau shows me their dining room where the table has been set for dinner tonight for the Europcar team.

For breakfast, riders have something traditional–tea, coffee, cereal, lots of fruit, ham, cheese, and pasta.  No yogurt is served however, said Bousseau.

The most important thing after a tough day out on the course, riding let’s say 200 km in the boiling hot sun?

Outside the food bus, which was parked outside the hotel and served as the only food source for Europcar riders. (c) Jen Benepe

“Good food starts with good recuperation,” said Bousseau.

Without rehydration after a long day, riders will not be able to recharge for tomorrow.

At around 8:30 PM they will be ready for dinner. But don’t think the food these guys eat is as monastic as that of the Saxo-Bank Team in 2011 (Alberto Contador’s team then,) when we scooped a story about their food truck.

Tonight, which was rest night in Avignon, France, Bousseau had prepared a cold Gazpacho soup made with tomatoes from a vegetable base.

He was also preparing a pasta in regulated portions, so riders don’t gain too much weight. And contrary to the regimen prescribed by the Saxo team (in 2011) this team can eat red meat whenever they want to.

Part of the reason may have to do with the fact that Fleury Michon specializes in meats. They even have a Facebook page that shows the world that they sponsor the Europcar team and prepare their food. A picture of Bousseau with two other staff chefs is featured on the page.

There is a “like” from –ironically enough–Alberto Contador.

The Europcar food bus has its own Facebook page–which has been “liked” by Alberto Contador.

But it’s also clear that the French believe in good eating as long as its not overdone. That means in portions that are reasonable and don’t cause weight gain.

Too much weight means they won’t be able to compete, says the team doctor, Hubert Long who before joining the team, worked for the International Cycling Union (UCI) in Aigle, Switzerland.

To make sure they don’t gain weight, riders are weighed every five days and if they’ve gained, they must cut back on caloric intake. But riders also must not lose weight, because to do so may cause them strength in performance.

Long works with Bousseau to adjust each rider’s intake accordingly, he said.

Dr. Long also watches the team’s vitamin intake, ensuring that they get adequate vitamins C, B-12, B-9, Magnesium, and vitamin A.

What does he suggest for cramps? “Cramps don’t exist with good training,” was the answer. But when I insisted, he answered,

Bousseau (right) and his sous-chef preparing dinner on rest day at the Tour de France, 2013. (c) Jen Benepe

“magnesium.”

Every 24 hours he measures the riders’ blood and urine for depletion of specific minerals and vitamins, and if they are lacking in something specific, he addresses their deficiency.