The fourth stage of the Tour de France is the mother of all challenges. As well as sending riders through six sections over precarious cobblestones, it forces them to stick it out for 223.5 kilometres – longer than any other stage on the Tour’s route.
So what do the pros need to remember when performing this kind of strenuous activity, what do they get out of taking on these stages and why do they have to ride over cobblestones anyway? Judith Haudum of the BMC Racing Team reveals all.

Sprint Stage, Stage 4, 223 km, Seraing – Cambrai

Why do they include such long stages?

Maybe some of you remember the first stages of last year’s Tour de France. Many crashed and some big names had to abandon the race in the very first week. Stage 4 is also one of those that many people in the peloton fear. It is a long stage, the longest of this year’s Grand Boucle, and it also includes some cobbled sections.
If you wonder why the Tour includes such long stages, one reason might be that the demands of such a stage are different. Today they are different because you need to be in be in a leading position in the final part of the race. On top of that, they need to face the challenge of the cobbles after more than 170 kilometers. So it will be crucial again to fuel up well. The stage is all action. And the action makes it a fun stage for riders, media and spectators alike. Hopefully, there are no crashes and the riders stay safe and make it to the finish fully fit.

Is there any difference in the feeding strategy on such flat, long stages?

In the mountains you fuel up in the climbs or in the flat parts, because the speed in the descent is too high. You fill your mouth with a gel or a bar on the mountain top and you chew on the descent but it’s difficult to drink or eat riding at 80 km/h. On a flat stage it is easier to fuel up. Some riders are tasked with bringing bottles from the race car to their team mates. It works pretty well and is convenient for the team leader. For the guys who go back to the team car to get the bottles, it is a challenge sometimes to make it back between the cars to the group but usually they are pretty good at it.
It is also easier to grab a feed bag in the feed zone. During a mountain stage, it is difficult and sometimes the wrong time to grab a bag; on the flat, you see your staff members and can grab a musette. It’s full of food: panini, cake, banana, Powerbar gel, Powerbar Energize bar, PowerBar Isoactive. Every rider can take what they want.
Depending on the stage, some foods differ but there are always gels and bars and bottles.

Another difference in stage four is the final part: you also need to be prepared for the cobble sections. You need up to 90 g of carbohydrates per hour to get the energy needed, and this is a real challenge when you’re riding on cobbles. You need to hold your handlebars, so how can you pass the food into your mouth? If you miss a good moment and the time between one feed and the next one is too long, you lose some power and you fatigue faster.

Is there any difference in recovery after this stage?

The recovery will be like after every other stage. Refilling energy stores and starting into recovery right away are priority. So when the riders cross the finish line, they will grab drink from the soigneur. They have various drinks in their backpack. They also have some PowerBar protein bars if a rider wants to chew on something. Our soigneurs usually do a great job at the finish line. They are there until the last rider crosses the finish line, give out drinks, towels, fresh clothing. Whatever is needed, the soigneur usually has it. And this is also what makes a difference and is important for a good recovery. If you have nothing to eat and drink, how can you recover for the following day?

Judith Haudum is 33 and comes from Salzburg in Austria. The qualified sports scientist, lecturer and expert in sports nutrition works with the BMC Racing Team, which Powerbar supplies with high-quality sports nutrition as its sponsor.