What Do The Pros Do on a Tour de France Rest Day?

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reviewed by Rory McAllister
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Beneath the fiery intensity of the Tour de France, rest days flicker as an oasis of recovery, rejuvenation, and strategic reevaluation for the riders.

This isn’t your typical rest day with your feet kicked up. Instead, it’s a meticulously choreographed interlude.

Dive in with us as we delve into the backstage of these all-important rest days – from the tactical scheduling influenced by route difficulties, logistics, and transfer times, to the recovery rides keeping riders limber and ready.

We’ll uncover:

  • Light Training
  • Nutrition And Hydration
  • Physical Therapy
  • Mental Recovery
  • Sponsor Duties
  • Contract Negotiations
  • Planning And Strategy

Strap in as we ride behind the scenes of the pros’ rest day in the world’s most challenging cycling race!

Jonas Vingegaard talks to the media on a Tour de France rest day.
© A.S.O./Morgan Bove

Light Training

Even on rest days, cyclists typically keep the wheels turning. These “active recovery” sessions, as they are often called, are designed to enhance recovery rather than increase fitness.

It’s a delicate balance, ensuring that the body stays loose and limber, while not straying into the realm of physical stress that would counteract the purpose of a rest day.

The specifics of these light training sessions are typically guided by training zones, which are levels of exercise intensity defined by heart rate, power (measured in Watts), and sometimes cadence.

Cyclists use these zones to structure their training, ensuring they’re working at the right intensity to achieve their goals.

The aim is to stay in the lowest of these zones – often called the ‘recovery’ or ‘zone 1’ – which is characterized by a relaxed pace that doesn’t unduly stress the body.

A cycling team climb a hill on a recovery ride.
© A.S.O./Morgan Bove

Heart Rate

Heart rate serves as a key indicator. Cyclists aim to keep their heart rate within the first zone, usually around 50-60% of their maximum heart rate.

This low-intensity exercise helps facilitate blood flow and nutrient delivery to tired muscles without causing additional fatigue.


Power output, measured in watts, is another important factor.

Cyclists aim to maintain a low power output, often below 50% of their functional threshold power (FTP), which is the maximum power a rider can sustain for an hour.


Cadence, or the rate at which a cyclist pedals, is typically kept consistent and moderate.

A steady cadence, generally around 85-90 revolutions per minute (RPM), helps keep the muscles loose without putting undue stress on the joints or causing fatigue.

These sessions are usually about two hours long, but the duration can vary based on the rider’s fatigue levels and the nature of the upcoming stages.

The emphasis is on maintaining a relaxed pace that allows the riders to unwind, enjoy the surrounding scenery, and engage in light-hearted conversation with teammates.

By keeping it easy and stress-free, cyclists ensure they’re well-rested and ready to tackle the next stage of the Tour de France.

Two Jumbo-Visma riders pause to take in the view on a training ride.
© A.S.O./Morgan Bove

Physical Therapy

The physical demands of the Tour de France can leave cyclists with various aches, pains, and potential injuries. Hence, days off provide a critical opportunity for addressing these issues through physical therapy and massage.

Physical therapy sessions are targeted towards relieving discomfort, preventing injuries, and optimizing physical condition.

They may involve a range of techniques and treatments, such as stretching exercises, joint mobilizations, and the use of therapeutic modalities like cryotherapy.


Stretching exercises help maintain and improve flexibility, which can be compromised due to repetitive cycling motions. This increased flexibility can lead to better performance and a lower risk of injury.

Joint Mobilizations

Joint mobilizations are manual therapy techniques that physiotherapists use to alleviate joint pain and increase the range of motion.

These can be particularly beneficial for the spine and lower limb joints that can become stiff or misaligned due to prolonged cycling postures.


Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, helps reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. There are several ways to administer cryotherapy. The most common method is the application of ice packs or cooling compresses to the injured or inflamed area.

Other techniques include ice baths, where the individual submerges the entire body or a portion of it in ice-cold water, and leg sleeves.

There is also whole-body cryotherapy, where the person steps into a specialized chamber that uses liquid nitrogen to create extremely cold temperatures.

Cold temperatures cause the blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow to the area and thereby minimizing inflammation. The cold can slow nerve activity, which can lead to a reduction in pain signals being sent to the brain.

After the cryotherapy, the treated area will respond to the cold by increasing blood flow once the body warms back up. This increased circulation can bring necessary nutrients and oxygen to the area to support the healing process.


Through a variety of techniques, massages can stimulate blood flow to muscles while aiding in the removal of waste products like lactic acid.

Additionally, massages help relieve muscle tension and break down adhesions or ‘knots’ that can restrict movement and cause discomfort.

They also have a significant impact on the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and mental recovery, which is just as vital as the physical one.

Mental Recovery

Cyclists may engage in mindfulness practices, reading, listening to music, or simply enjoying some quiet time.

Family plays an integral role too. Whether it’s a phone call home or a quick meet-up with loved ones who are nearby, these moments of connection can provide emotional upliftment that fuels the next racing effort.

Sponsor Duties

Rest days are not entirely about rest. Cyclists often have commitments to sponsors that need to be fulfilled.

This could involve appearances at promotional events, product endorsements, or social media activity.

Media engagements also feature prominently, with interviews, press conferences, and photo shoots.

Contract Negotiations

Athletes’ performances in races like the Tour de France can significantly influence their career trajectories.

Rest days often provide a much-needed pause in the action not only for the cyclists but also for their agents and team managers. This downtime can be the perfect opportunity to engage in contract negotiations.

Free Agents

Free agents, or cyclists whose contracts are nearing their end, are often the primary focus of these negotiations.

Rest days represent an ideal window for agents to meet with various teams and discuss potential offers. The performance in the ongoing Tour, coupled with their historical records, plays a vital role in these discussions.

For example, a cyclist who has consistently been a strong performer in the mountain stages may be particularly attractive to teams that need to bolster their lineup for these challenging parts of the race.

Similarly, a rider who has demonstrated exceptional time-trial abilities could be the missing piece for a team aiming to improve in this discipline.

Contract Extensions

In addition to potential transfers, contract extensions are often negotiated as well.

For cyclists who have performed well and are viewed as valuable assets by their current teams, rest days can serve as an opportunity to negotiate the terms of contract extensions.

Aspects such as salary, team role, and length of the contract are commonly discussed.

Importantly, these negotiations can also be influenced by the wins achieved or the results obtained in the ongoing Tour.

A stage victory or a strong overall position can dramatically improve bargaining power, often leading to more lucrative contracts or favorable terms.

Planning and Strategy

Teams reassess their strategy for the remaining stages of the Tour.

Cyclists and their staff will analyze the upcoming route, understand the potential weather conditions, and study their rivals’ strengths and weaknesses.

These discussions can profoundly impact the tactics adopted for the rest of the race and ensure that the riders are fully prepared to get back in the saddle and give their best performance.

Nutrition and Hydration

The body needs fuel to repair damaged tissues, restore energy reserves, and support overall regeneration. This is where a well-planned and scientifically-backed nutrition strategy comes into play.


Carbohydrate intake is a key component of the rest day diet. When a cyclist pedals, they predominantly use glycogen – a form of glucose stored in the muscles – as fuel.

After several stages of intense racing, these glycogen stores can become severely depleted. 

Consuming carbohydrate-rich foods helps replenish these stores. This is critical because maintaining adequate glycogen levels allows for exercising at higher intensities.


Protein is another dietary focus. High-intensity cycling causes microdamage to muscle fibers, and protein intake supports the repair and regrowth of these fibers.

By consuming enough protein, cyclists can speed up their recuperation phase and maintain or even improve their muscle mass over the course of the Tour.

Contrary to what one might think, rest days are not an invitation to indulge in a feast. 

Instead, the focus is on consuming regular, balanced meals. Overeating can lead to gastric discomfort and weight gain.


Hydration is equally important. During stages, substantial amounts of fluids and electrolytes are lost through sweat. Maintaining proper hydration aids in numerous bodily functions, including nutrient transport and waste removal.

Electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, are minerals that help maintain fluid balance, muscle contractions, and neural activity.

Replenishing these through the diet or supplemental drinks is necessary to prevent muscle cramps, fatigue, and cognitive impairment.

The Role of Nutritionists

Sports nutritionists play a pivotal role in rest day nutrition strategies. They calculate the specific needs based on factors like body composition, metabolism, and the demands of the upcoming stages.

They then devise meal plans that meet these requirements while also introducing variety to prevent monotony and food fatigue.

The rest days at the Tour de France are filled with activities and processes that may seem like work to most of us, but to the professionals, it’s a time to recharge, strategize, and refuel.

It’s not merely a pause; it’s a different kind of performance, equally as important as the race itself.

This serves as a testament to the fact that winning a race like the Tour de France necessitates more than just strength and speed; it also requires strategy, recovery, and careful resource management.

We hope this behind-the-scenes journey has provided you with a fresh perspective, highlighting the crucial role each element plays in a cyclist’s overall performance.

Did any aspects surprise you? Are there any practices you might adopt in your own cycling routine? Do you have any questions or areas you would like us to explore further in future articles?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below, we are eager to hear from you!

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Quentin's background in bike racing runs deep. In his youth, he won the prestigious junior Roc d'Azur MTB race before representing Belgium at the U17 European Championships in Graz, Austria. Shifting to road racing, he then competed in some of the biggest races on the junior calendar, including Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, before stepping up to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix as an U23. With a breakthrough into the cut-throat environment of professional racing just out of reach, Quentin decided to shift his focus to embrace bike racing as a passion rather than a career. Now writing for BikeTips, Quentin's experience provides invaluable insight into performance cycling - though he's always ready to embrace the fun side of the sport he loves too and share his passion with others.

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